Now that the much needed and hoped reform of the UN Security Council has been laid to rest for the foreseeable future, intrigues and innuendos can resume with strategies and deals cut in dark corners. Or around breakfast tables as was the case this week in the official residence of the Secretary-General of the United Nations who hosted US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an unannounced meeting. When two leaders meet secretly for breakfast, chances are that they have most sensitive business to conduct – such as the Syrian conundrum and the Mehlis report into Rafik Hariri”s assassination, "to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of all aspects of this terrorist act, including to help identify its perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices," expected to be transmitted yesterday evening to Members of the Security Council.
What is evident today is that the Mehlis investigation has assumed a life of its own and is far from being a mechanism established to "assist" the Lebanese authorities -nor was it ever intended to do so. That is why Annan and Rice had to meet early last Tuesday to strategize for the next phase. For in addition to the Mehlis report, the Larsen report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 on the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and the disarmament of militias was also due this week. When I asked the Secretary-General about the political exploitation of the Mehlis report, he responded "I hope the report, which is a technical one, is not going to be politicized … from where I sit, I”m determined to make it as technical as possible". And so as to prove his point, the issuance of the Larsen report has been delayed until early next week. The UN Secretariat is obviously keen to de-link the report of Mehlis, the German prosecutor, from that of Larsen, the Norwegian diplomat. No matter how one looks at it, however, Syria is in deep trouble.
Notwithstanding the stated intentions of Annan, the fact remains that whether it is conclusive or inconclusive, whether it nominally accuses Syrian officials or operatives, or merely blames Damascus for failings, the Mehlis report will undoubtedly be exploited by all interested parties, in Lebanon and abroad. In New York, the next act has begun as France and the United States in all likelihood have already started to prepare their next Security Council resolutions in anticipation of the Mehlis and Larsen reports. With the smell of the late Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan”s death still in the air, the temptation to step up the pressure on Damascus is the logical step. Mehlis is said to have already requested the exhumation of Mr. Ghazi”s body to allow for a UN autopsy.
It is hard to imagine how the first ever investigation mandated by the Security Council into the assassination of a private citizen, albeit a very prominent former Prime Minister, will not be politicized. Notwithstanding the expected extension of the Mehlis investigation to mid-December, as requested by the Lebanese government and as allowed under Resolution 1595, Council members are already talking about international tribunals and sanctions regimes. However, this will not happen overnight as the five Permanent Members of the Security Council are not all on the same wavelength – with Russia and China likely to be against the imposition of sanctions on Damascus at this stage.
When I see the energy and resources deployed to investigate the assassination of the late Hariri and the zeal to implement Security Council Resolution 1559, when scores of other resolutions collect dust, I cannot help but think that the UN has its strange way of operating. At last September”s UN Summit, on the 15th to be precise, the General Assembly applauded General Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel; the man found "personally responsible" by the Kahane Commission of Inquiry, set up by the Israeli Knesset, for the Sabra and Shatila butchery that left 3,500 people dead, and which the UN Security Council had at the time described as a ”criminal massacre”. A crime of war and a crime against humanity that had started on the 15th of September 23 years ago, and which, to this day, also awaits justice.