No Deal for Syria: The US Feels this is a Chance to Get Rid of the Regime
Robin Wright of the Washington Post explains that Syria is looking for a deal with Washington to protect it from the worst aspects of the Mehlis investigation. The Americans and French are not willing to make such a deal, she explains.
Michael Young, quoted in the Guardian, explains that there will be no deal because, "I think the Americans and French basically feel this is a chance to get rid of the Syrian regime."
Here are the articles:
Syria Seeking Deal In U.N. Hariri Probe
Investigation Into Killing Deepens
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 23, 2005; Page A15
Syria is trying to negotiate a deal to prevent punitive action by the United Nations if, as is widely expected, the Damascus government is linked to the Feb. 14 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, according to U.S. and European officials.
Over the past month, the government of President Bashar Assad has been inquiring about the potential for a deal, roughly equivalent to what Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi did to end tough international sanctions imposed for his country's role in the 1988 midair bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the officials said. Gaddafi eventually agreed to hand over two intelligence officials linked to the bombing for an international trial, a move that began Libya's political rehabilitation.
But the United States, France and U.N. officials have all recently signaled to Syria that they will not compromise on the completion of a full investigation into the slaying of Lebanese reformer Rafiq Hariri -- or subsequent legal steps, wherever the probe leads, the officials said.
The U.N. investigation moved this week to Syria, where Detlev Mehlis, the chief investigator, interviewed the two most recent Syrian intelligence chiefs in Lebanon and their aides in the probe into the bombing that killed Hariri and 19 others as they drove through Beirut, the capital.
Since the arrest last month of four top Lebanese security officials with close ties to Damascus, Syria has been concerned, said a U.S. official familiar with the overtures. Mehlis, who has taken the investigation far deeper, far faster than initially expected, "is coming up with stuff that is making people in Damascus nervous," the official said. Like others, the official would discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity involved.
Overtures from Damascus have included vague suggestions of a willingness to hand over certain unidentified security individuals in exchange for guarantees that any subsequent trial would not try to point fingers any higher in Syria, according to several Western officials familiar with Syria's moves.
On Monday, a senior State Department official said there was "universal support" for a fully independent investigation "unfettered by any attempt to influence the result. The outcome must follow the facts where they lead." He spoke after the first meeting at the United Nations of a core group of nations working to help Lebanon end years of political domination by Syria.
The investigation has been facilitated by an unexpected flow of information from Lebanese security sources as well as at least two well-placed Syrian officials, according to Western sources familiar with the probe. Some have been moved to Europe, the sources said.
For Assad, a former ophthalmologist who inherited power after the death of his father in 2000, the stakes of the U.N. investigation are high -- and extend well beyond the probe of the Hariri killing.
"Bashar is moving toward the moment of truth, the defining moment of his presidency," said a senior European diplomat familiar with the U.N. probe. "The Mehlis report is due on October 25, and if he reports that this goes all the way to the top of Damascus, there will be a political earthquake."
If the U.N. investigation does name Syrian officials, Assad will be under pressure to arrest and try the alleged perpetrators -- or face international condemnation and punitive actions such as economic or diplomatic sanctions, say U.S. and European officials.
U.S. and European officials are already discussing a new U.N. resolution to ensure that anyone cited or indicted as a result of the U.N. investigation is formally held to account. "If the investigations lead to evidence of the involvement of a high-ranking official, [he] should pay for it, no matter how high-ranking," the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said in an interview published yesterday in the Arabic daily al-Hayat.
Solana, who participated in the core group talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday, also said it would be "very bad news" if Syria were implicated. "We will have to seriously consider the repercussions of such conclusions," he said.
But turning over some of his own officials could also jeopardize Assad's tenuous hold on power and risk his security staff taking action against him, say U.S. and European officials.
One European official said Assad might have avoided some of the focus and pressure on his government if he had acted shortly after the Hariri assassination, which sparked a political upheaval inside Lebanon and forced Syria to end its 29-year military occupation of its smaller neighbor.
In a further step in the investigation, Lebanon arrested four more men yesterday accused of facilitating communication in the assassination plot, the Associated Press reported. Court officials said the four are accused of withholding information, forgery and providing cell phone access to people involved in the attack. The investigation has studied thousands of calls made before and after the assassination. Six other Lebanese underwent formal questioning this week, the Associated Press reported.
Here is what Michael Young has to say about the article at Hit and Run
Saving Bashar's Bacon
According to several sources, the latest being the Washington Post, Syria's Bashar Assad is trying to cut a deal to save his regime, which is likely to be blamed in an end-of-October United Nations report for the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. This would involve caving in to virtually every American demand on Syrian behavior in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the fate of the Golan Heights, and more. Yesterday, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Balad noted that a Saudi-Egyptian plan is in the works to reduce pressure on the Syrians.
Two thoughts come to mind: one, such a scheme will likely fail, since neither the U.S. nor France is willing to bail Bashar out, and the German investigator looking into the Hariri murder, Detlev Mehlis, is not someone likely to make deals (though U.S. sources suggest senior UN bureaucrats may be more willing to tone down his final report); and two, the Saudi-Egyptian plan (apparently presented to the Syrians by the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Bandar bin Sultan) is more likely an effort to engineer a peaceful transition away from Assad rule than an effort to save the president's skin.
Here is the Guardian's Story
Middle East tension rises as UN prepares to accuse Syria of Hariri assassination
· Defector claims to have heard plot being discussed
· Investigator to interview senior figures in regime
Ewen MacAskill, Rory McCarthy in Beirut and Brian Whitaker
Friday September 23, 2005
UN investigators will next month directly implicate the Syrian government in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, potentially igniting a new Middle East crisis.
According to a source close to the investigation, evidence pointing to Syrian involvement in the murder has grown - in particular, from a Syrian defector, who claims he was in the room when Hariri's assassination was discussed. "The defector is singing," the source said.
Evidence recovered by a team of six British divers off the Beirut coast, where Hariri's motorcade was blown apart, had also played an important part in the inquiry, the source added. The scene of the explosion was quickly covered over after the murder and much evidence lost, but the divers recovered human remains and car and truck parts from the seafloor.
Detlev Mehlis, who is leading the UN inquiry, is scheduled to present his final report on October 25. Four Lebanese generals have been arrested so far on suspicion of murder. But Mr Mehlis, a former German state prosecutor, will also name several influential figures in the regime as suspects in the killing, the source said.
The report will almost certainly lead to a showdown between the UN security council and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. The security council is likely to demand that Mr Assad - whose hold on government is fragile - hands over Syrians accused of involvement.
Mr Assad is virtually isolated internationally, with little support even among his fellow Arab leaders, so action from the security council could be swift, unlike its approach to countries such as Iran.
In the months before his death, Hariri angered the Syrian government by working to try to end two decades of Syrian occupation. Syria pulled out its troops after Hariri's death in the face of international pressure.
Mr Mehlis, who is described by colleagues at the UN as thorough, had been due to hand his report to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, this month but postponed it so he could visit Damascus to speak to witnesses. He is expected to begin writing the final report early next month.
This week Mr Mehlis visited Damascus where, according to a diplomatic source in Beirut, he interviewed Rustom Ghazali, Syria's former intelligence chief in Lebanon, and Walid al-Mouallem, the deputy foreign minister, who has been given responsibility for Lebanese affairs since Hariri's death.
A team of four investigators has been sent to Damascus to interview Asef Shawkat, the head of military intelligence and Mr Assad's brother-in-law, and nine other Syrian officials. All those being interviewed were, at this stage, classified as "witnesses", the diplomatic source said. Mr Mehlis would decide who, if any, should be reclassified from "witness" to "suspect", he added.
Much rests now on how high up the Syrian regime the investigation reaches. The source close to the investigation said he did not know if there was any evidence to suggest Mr Assad had knowledge of the assassination plot.
Most of the important decisions in the running of the country are made by a small group around the president, including his brother Mahir, who heads the Republican Guard, and Mr Shawkat.
"If it reaches up to a high level, even if they don't accuse Bashar himself, it will destabilise the Syrian regime tremendously," said Michael Young, the opinion editor at Lebanon's English-language newspaper the Daily Star. "I think the Americans and French basically feel this is a chance to get rid of the Syrian regime."
A Lebanese judge issued arrest warrants this week for four mobile phone dealers. The men, who are accused of withholding information, are thought to have sold telephone lines used at the time of the assassination.
Last week Lebanon's central bank agreed to waive strict secrecy laws to allow the investigators to examine the bank accounts of senior Syrian security officers, including Mr Ghazali and the interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, who was Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon before Mr Ghazali. Bank accounts used by the men's wives and families will also be inspected. The Syrian regime is known to have siphoned millions of pounds from the Lebanese economy during their years of occupation following the civil war.
There is also this story in al-Hayat in Arabic by Raghida Dargham on Iran and Syria.