Friday, September 02, 2005

U.S. to Put New Pressure on Syria

I am copying several articles on the latest Mehlis report developments. Four top Lebanese military officials allied with Syria, arrested in Lebanon, have been charged preliminarily by Lebanese authorities in the Hariri murder. Mehlis, the German investigator, says the four are suspected of planning the murder. More suspects are likely to be arrested in the coming weeks. Links to Syria are being made, and President Asad seems to have his head in the sand, claiming he is cooperating with the investigation even when the head of the investigation says he is not.

France and Washington are determined to work together. Their combined energies can go a long way in the UN Security Council to enacting new sanctions on Damascus. Only Russia has demonstrated any inclination to protect Syria in the past, and this has been mostly symbolic. It did not veto UN resolution 1559, as Syria hoped it would.

The big question will be how Syria responds to the growing pressure. Past Syrian crisis management habits suggests that it will go into a defensive tuck, remain silent, denying all wrong-doing, and wait to see what the world comes up with in the way of punishment, then it will figure out the least costly way to respond.

Syria responds this way for two reasons. 1. Its diplomacy is based on intimidation and not legal norms from the beginning, so it doesn't have legal procedures to fall back on. 2. It has only the weakest understanding of how foreign governments and international agencies really work. This means it cannot develop quick strategies of response. 3. There are so few decision makers at the top, that the foreign policy establishment, if it can be called that, has no plan B's ready and waiting. Because decisions from the top are considered infallible, options in case of failure are not developed.

Will this lead to a downfall of the regime, as many in the West say or hope it will? I don't think so. The Asad regime has weathered many bad crises without showing signs of serious division. The only real split under Hafiz al-Asad was in 1984 when it seemed that he was dieing, which provoked a premature succession crisis. We have seen no indications of failed coup attempts in the past, which would indicate serious rifts within the leadership. Syria's successful history of keeping its leadership together contrasts sharply with Iraq's history of periodic leadership purges.

Much will depend on how Washington and Paris apply increased pressure on Syria. Whether the sanctions which are developed broadly focused on the economy, or narrowly focused on individuals.

U.S. to Put New Pressure on Syria

Initiative Also Has Goal of Helping Lebanon Rebuild Politically

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005; Page A06

The Bush administration plans to launch a new effort at the United Nations this month to tighten the squeeze on Syria and to help Lebanon rebuild politically, according to senior U.S. officials. The U.S. initiative, backed by France, comes as Lebanon filed preliminary criminal charges yesterday against four pro-Syrian generals in the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The plan's two steps are part of parallel international efforts to hold the government of President Bashar Assad of Syria to account for its current and past meddling in Lebanon, and are bolstered as the U.N.-led investigation into the Feb. 14 assassination narrows its focus on Syria's allies and agents in Lebanon. The goal is to "juxtapose" greater pressure on Syria with international help for Lebanon as it works to regain sovereignty, particularly because the Syrians have not pulled out all of their intelligence agents, said a senior administration official.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held an unpublicized meeting Tuesday at the White House with the U.N. envoy for Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, French national security adviser Maurice Gourdault-Montagne and U.S. national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley to discuss Lebanon and Syria, according to U.S. officials and European diplomatic sources. The French and U.N. envoys flew in specifically for the meeting.

Rice is now planning to host a meeting with European and Middle East allies to discuss new joint efforts when she attends the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in two weeks. Deliberately excluded will be Assad, who will be visiting the United Nations for the first time as head of state, U.S. officials said.

"We're creating a context that will have a supportive position for Lebanon and for Syria not to be comfortable," said a senior administration official, who, like others, requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy involved.

"If I were in Bashar's shoes, I'd look again about coming to New York. It's not going to be the spotlight he expected," he added.

U.S. and European officials say they have been pleased and surprised by the boldness of the German U.N investigator, Detlev Mehlis, in unraveling the Hariri assassination, which rocked Lebanon, unleashed a new political movement and forced Syria to end its 29-year military occupation of Lebanon in April. The investigative team has developed "rock-solid evidence," said a well-placed source familiar with the investigation.

Mehlis is due to submit his report by Sept. 17, as the U.N. General Assembly opens. Although he is expected to request an extension, sources say the arrests this week are only the first of developments based on information obtained so far.

As a result of information uncovered by the U.N. investigation, Lebanese prosecutors filed preliminary charges yesterday against four top military officials allied with Syria, according to the Associated Press. The four will appear in front of a magistrate for further questions today, a session that will determine whether formal charges are filed.

The four generals are Brig. Gen. Jamil Sayyid, former head of General Security; Brig. Gen. Ali Hajj, former director general of the Internal Security Forces; Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar, former director general of military intelligence; and Brig Gen. Mustafa Hamdan, head of the presidential guards.

The State Department called on Syria yesterday to cooperate, after its early balking. "We have made it very clear that it is essential that all parties cooperate with Mr. Mehlis's investigation," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "The Lebanese people are owed an answer, they deserve an answer as to who was responsible for the assassination of Mr. Hariri. Mr. Mehlis is making good progress in his investigation."

If Damascus is found to be involved in the car bombing that killed Hariri, a billionaire who led a campaign against Syria's domination of Lebanon before his death, then the Syrians "are in trouble," warned the senior administration official.

As the investigation deepens, U.S., European and U.N. officials are talking about the next steps, including how a potential trial would unfold and whether it should be held in Lebanon, according to U.S. and European officials. Although some want Lebanon to be able to confront its past as a step toward securing its future, others fear that Lebanon's judicial system is not strong or sufficiently free from Syrian control to conduct a fair and independent trial, U.S. and European officials said.

Damascus may face international sanctions following arrests of pro-Syrian elements over Hariri murder Roee Nahmias
Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday that the United States and France are planning to slap sanctions on Syria in the coming days, particularly against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

There are reports of direct links between Assad’s regime on the murder of former al-Hariri, following information obtained through the questioning of the commander of the Lebanese Presidential Guard, and three former intelligence chiefs.

In addition, Larsen and European Union Secretary-General Javier Solana decided to push off a visit to Beirut following the "dramatic and surprising developments," in the international investigation currently underway in Lebanon.

U.S. and U.N. officials declined to divulge details of the meeting.

'Syria failing to cooperate'

Last week, a U.N. Security Council session saw a German judge present a report on the al-Harir slaying, in which Syria was accused of failing to cooperate with the investigation. Israel and Jordan were praised in the report for their forthcoming help with the investigation.

A short time after the report, the American and French ambassadors went on a media offensive, and accused Syria of attempting to sabotage the investigation.

In Jerusalem, diplomatic sources told Ynet that sanctions on Syria were certainly a possibility, but said that such a move would not happen immediately. The U.N. Security Council was not fond of sanctions, using the measure only when faced with no choice, said one source.

Resistance to sanctions by the Arab bloc of U.N. members, who would try to torpedo such a step and help Syria to escape punishment, were also a factor in the timing of the sanctions.

A potential flashpoint between Syria and U.N. member states may take place during the U.N.’s annual convention in New York in two week’s time. Assad had planned on arriving at the convention, but recent developments have thrown such an appearance in doubt, a diplomat in Jerusalem said.

Hariri killing suspects charged
BBC: Thursday, 1 September 2005,
Hariri supporters have celebrated news of the generals' arrest.

A Lebanese prosecutor has charged four pro-Syrian generals detained earlier this week in connection with the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The head of an international inquiry into the killing - who ordered the arrests - said the four were suspected of planning the murder.

But Detlev Mehlis said that they were only part of the picture, and that more investigation was needed.

Hariri's supporters blamed the murder on Syria, but Damascus denies this.

Lebanon's political landscape was transformed by his death and the event led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from the country.

Those charged are:

Maj Gen Jamil al-Sayyad, former head of General Security

Maj Gen Ali Hajj, former chief of police

Brig Gen Raymond Azar, former military intelligence chief

Mustafa Hamdan, Republican Guard commander.

Detlev Mehlis wants his UN mandate to be extended

The once powerful and feared generals will be questioned by a Lebanese investigative judge on Friday, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas.

According to Mr Mehlis, the four are suspected of involvement in planning the assassination of the former prime minister on the basis of testimonies and material evidence.

Mr Mehlis' mandate from the UN Security Council ends on 15 September.

The German prosecutor has indicated that this may be extended for the completion of his investigation.
Endgame on Hariri
Editorial Comment
Financial Times
Published: September 2 2005 03:00

The spectacle of four generals in an Arab country's security services being hauled in for questioning over the assassination of a politician is not just unusual. It is unique. Yet that is what happened in Beirut this week, as a United Nations-mandated investigation into February's murder of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, enters its final days. Every bit as much as the "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon this spring, this is a moment to savour.

The arrests suggest to the Arab public that the national security states and intelligence services that dominate them can be held accountable, for all the impunity with which they exercise their tyranny. That idea is profoundly subversive of the region's autocracies - and altogether welcome.

The security chiefs, moreover, are part of the chain of command through which Syria exercised its smothering occupation of Lebanon. That formally ended when the Ba'athist regime in Damascus was forced to withdraw its troops after the Hariri assassination led to a civic uprising and the fall of Syria's puppet government in Beirut.

Yet a string of assassinations since then, alongside threats against leaders of the anti-Syrian alliance now in government, suggests that the local satraps of Damascus are still in business. It was unsurpising, therefore, that Detlev Mehlis, the UN investigator, said yesterday that the suspects being held were "only part of the picture", and demanded co-operation from Syria.

In the same way Syria was obliged by UN Security Council resolution 1559 to withdraw troops and secret police from Lebanon, it has been ordered to help the UN investigation by the later resolution 1595. Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, says his government is co-operating but so far it has not.

If that continues, Syria should itself be held to account by the Security Council. Whether or not the Assad regime is ultimately found responsible for Hariri's murder, the facts remain that the suspects being held are all hand-picked Syrian agents and the UN has already documented Mr Assad's personal threats to Hariri, although the Syrian president denies them.

One of the suspects, moreover, is Mustafa Hamdan, commander of Lebanon's presidential guard and confidant of Emile Lahoud, the president, whose imposition by Damascus sparked the crisis. Mr Lahoud's reaction to the arrests was to vow to stay in office but his position is fast becoming untenable.

While Lebanese nervously anticipate a violent reaction to the latest turn in the Hariri investigation, its progress so far is exhilarating. Their own willingness to mobilise against Syrian intimidation, coupled with a rare alliance in the Security Council between France and the US to keep the pressure on Damascus, has brought Lebanon closer to freedom. It is vital for that Franco-American alliance to stay together now if Lebanon is finally to emerge from the shadow of occupation.
Syria Arrests 70 Arabs Attempting to Infiltrate Iraq
Arab News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
DAMASCUS, 2 September 2005 —

A Syrian official source said yesterday that Syrian authorities have arrested 70 infiltrators of various Arab nationalities, who tried to cross into neighboring Iraq.

The source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the detainees were from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait.

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