Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- according to a French Official, a coordination meeting was held in Rome yesterday, between officials in charge of the Middle East desks at the foreign ministries of five major European states, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Spain.
The source also revealed that European diplomats discussed two issues, the Lebanese-Syrian dossier and the Palestinian issue with the aim of agreeing on a unified stand between the five capitals.
The meeting coincided with discussions held by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with President Chirac and her French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy in Paris as part of continuous coordination between Paris and Washington on Lebanon.
The significance of these meetings lies in its level and timing. It follows the suicide of the Syrian interior minister, Maj Gen Ghazi Kanan, and Syrian President Al-Assad”s statement that he is ready to hand over to international judiciary any Syrian official if convicted in the case of the assassination of Al-Hariri.
The meeting comes a few days ahead of the publication of Judge Mehlis” report on the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, the late Rafik al-Hariri. In addition, it follows a recent visit to Washington by President Chirac”s adviser (Morris Gurdo Montani) to discuss subsequent steps and scenarios regarding the Lebanese issue.
In a statement to Asharq al-Awsat, French sources said that Mehlis has actually refrained to date from revealing the content of his report. However, other sources indicated that Mehlis, himself a German, informed the German authorities of the results that he reached.
The French sources expected the UN secretary general to extend Mehlis” mission to the end of this year. The UN secretary general is in favor of this extension, which is also supported by the United States, France, and Britain. The extension does not need a new international resolution.
Most importantly though, the French source said that there are consultations under way to assign Mehlis to take up a subsequent mission regarding trials that will follow the publication of the report.
According to one of the circulating scenarios, Mehlis will be assigned a mission to follow up on the trial of Syrian officials whose involvement in the assassination of Al-Hariri might be proven by the investigation. In addition, he may be assigned to continue investigating some aspects of the assassination relating to the Syrian side.
According to information available to Asharq al-Awsat, discussions at the UN Security Council and between influential states focus on studying "all possible scenarios", including imposing sanctions on Syria and looking at the level at which the "Syrian involvement" in the assassination of Al-Hariri will be regarded as an individual”s responsibility or the responsibility of the Syrian state.
The French sources say that the request to set up an international tribunal will be contingent on the Syrian authorities” refusal or reluctance to try those involved in the assassination. The Syrian authorities” refusal or reluctance will prompt the UN Security Council to set up such a tribunal and warn Syria to cooperate, or else a host of restrictions and sanctions will be imposed on them.
According to these sources, the real aim behind the extension of Mehlis” mandate until the end of the year is to enable Lebanon to continue to benefit from the international umbrella, represented by Mehlis, in the stage that will follow the report.
With regard to the trial of the Lebanese (suspects), it will be conducted in Lebanon under Lebanese laws, unless the Lebanese judiciary asks for international help or the Lebanese authorities believe that if the trial is held in Lebanon, it will lack the necessary conditions to ensure that it will be free of pressures.
Asharq al-Awsat learned that contacts were held between Damascus and Washington through mediators to reach an understanding under which Syria will fulfill US demands in Iraq, especially on the control of its border with Iraq and prevention of infiltration (of fighters) in exchange for US guarantees not to act against the Syrian regime and give up efforts to bring the regime down.
But Washington, according to the same sources, refused to bargain over Lebanon”s independence, uncovering and trying the killers of Al-Hariri, and implementation of resolutions regarding Lebanon, 1559 and 1595.
As for the "suicide" of Maj Gen Ghazi Kanan, the French sources raised a number of "questions" on the official Syrian version. They said that Damascus has for days now been asserting that Mehlis” report does not contain charges against Syria. The sources asked that if this is the case, why Kanan committed suicide. In any case, the French sources believe that the "suicide" of Kanan "reflects the crisis of the government" in Damascus, given his position and closeness to the top authority in Damascus.