Monday, February 14, 2005

The New York Times begins its story on the Hariri Assassination as follows:

U.S. Seems Sure of the Hand of Syria, Hinting at Penalties

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 - The Bush administration, condemning the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in Lebanon, suggested Monday that Syria was to blame and moved to get a new condemnation of Syria's domination of Lebanon at the United Nations Security Council.

American and European officials also said the administration was studying the possibility of tougher sanctions on Syria, effectively tightening penalties imposed in May, when Washington said the Syrian government had failed to act against militant groups in Israel and against a supply line from Syria to the insurgents in Iraq.

"We condemn this brutal attack in the strongest possible terms," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, adding that the killing was "a terrible reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to pursue their aspirations and determine their own political future free from violence and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation."

American officials said the killing was an ominous development on two counts: first, because it raised concern that Lebanon could plunge back into the civil war that it suffered throughout the 1980's, and second, because it underscored growing American impatience with the role played by Syria in the Middle East.

Mr. McClellan and other administration spokesmen said they had no concrete evidence of Syria's involvement in the killing of Mr. Hariri, a prominent opposition leader and critic of Syria's role in Lebanon, who died along with at least 11 others when a car bomb blew up next to his motorcade in Beirut.

And in fact the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, speaking at a news conference in Damascus, also condemned the attack.

But the target of the American criticism was unmistakable, as several officials condemned Syria's role in Lebanon as part of their comments on the attack.

"We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure," said a senior State Department official. "It's been a pretty steady progression of pressure up to now, but I think it's going to spike in the wake of this event. Even though there's no evidence to link it to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilized."

At the United Nations, the Security Council called for a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the bombing, but there was some doubt that the Council would vote to condemn Syria by name. In a resolution passed last year to condemn Syria's role in Lebanon, Syria was not specifically mentioned; there was only a reference to foreign forces in Lebanon.

Statement by Whitehouse and interview of US Press Secretary on Hariri Assassination.

The President was "shocked and angered to learn of the terrorist attack in Beirut today that murdered former Prime Minister Hariri and killed and injured several others. Mr. Hariri was a fervent supporter of Lebanese independence and worked tirelessly to rebuild a free, independent and prosperous Lebanon following its brutal civil war and despite its continued foreign occupation. His murder is an attempt to stifle these efforts to build an independent, sovereign Lebanon, free of foreign domination. The people of Lebanon deserve the freedom to choose their leaders free of intimidation, terror and foreign occupation, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559. The United States will consult with other governments in the region and on the Security Council today, about measures that can be taken to punish those responsible for this terrorist attack, to end the use of violence and intimidation against the Lebanese people, and to restore Lebanon's independence, sovereignty and democracy by freeing it from foreign occupation." And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

QUESTION: Scott, that statement seems aimed at Syria, if I read it correctly. The group that's claiming responsibility seems to have some ties with people in Saudi Arabia. Do you believe that this attack was coordinated through Syria?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, we do not know who was responsible for the attack at this point. It's premature to know that. There are some -- there is a group that has claimed responsibility, but that's why we've called for measures to hold those responsible, who committed these acts. And those are matters we'll discuss with others and discuss at the United Nations Security Council.

Q: Do you have reason to believe that Syria was somehow behind this?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, again, it's premature to know who was responsible for this attack. But we continue to be concerned about the foreign occupation in Lebanon. We've expressed those concerns. Syria has maintained a military presence there for sometime now, and that is a concern of ours.

Q: Scott, the President has been working on this issue for years now, primarily with French President Chirac, frequently. I recall during the readouts of meetings and conversations they've had, Lebanon has often come up.

MR. McCLELLAN: Correct.

Q: Is what happened today and the continuing Syrian presence a verdict on the ineffectiveness of the French-U.S. attempt to get Syria out there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think we've made very clear what are views are and what our concerns are when it comes to Syria. And we've expressed those views. We've talked with others about those views. We do have a Syria Accountability Act, and we have taken some steps under that, as well, as you are well aware.

Q: But I wonder what's -- has the French President's efforts to address this situation failed? Is there something tougher that needs to be done here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been working with the international community, as I pointed out. There's a Security Council resolution that calls for an end to foreign occupation in Lebanon. If you'll recall, Syria has been there for quite some time. It's inconsistent with the '89 accords that were agreed to, and we've continued to express concern about that. We've continued to work with our international partners to persuade and convince Syria that they need to leave Lebanon and let the Lebanese people decide their future.


At 2/15/2005 12:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here we go again! Doesn't the United States and the Security Council have more important things to worry about like North Korea announcing the possession of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching anywhere in the world.

At 2/21/2005 02:35:00 PM, Blogger John-Paul said...

No, because Kim Jong-Il, the bouffant Stalin, is restrained from using his questionable nukes by multiple factors, not the least of which is "regime-change" by China.

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