Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- As Syria asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday to intervene and help broker a “cooperation protocol” between Damascus and the probe team into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Paris signaled “time was running out” for President Bashar al Assad.
A high-ranking French official told Asharq al Awsat UN investigator Detlev Mehlis “might not wait until 15 December” to present his findings to the Security Council and inform it the Syrian authorities have not cooperated with the probe and that he would be taking the necessary steps in that regard.
France “wants the Syrian President to stop his delaying tactics… the interest of Syria requires him to cooperate and to cut off the rotten branches even if this is a painful operation”, in reference to the request by Mehlis to question six officials in Syria including the president’s brother in law, Asef Shawkat.
He described the Syrian regime’s behavior as “committing mass suicide” by “letting time pass and playing tricks” on Mehlis and on the Security Council and “refusing to cooperate” to uncover the truth about who killed Hariri on 14 February. He blamed Assad for “putting forward proposals he knew in advance it would be difficult to consider.”
The French source warned that Paris, Washington and the international community would not hesitate to ask the Security Council to impose sanctions on Damascus if they discovered that “the final warning” given to the Syrian authorities with the adoption of Resolution 1636 “was not taken seriously”.
On French policy regarding Lebanon and Syria, the source said Paris “understood the fears of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and other countries which did not want to see a new conflict emerge adjacent to Iraq and this is also one of our concerns.”
Syria, however, “should not rely on this fear to refuse to act” and should realize that “no other options are available except real cooperation” with the UN probe team. The source rejected Syrian protestations that the investigation was an excuse and that the target was the regime in Damascus. In fact, the regime’s reservations were “the excuse of someone who did not want to act”.
The sources feared Syria would chose policies that “will drag the region to the abyss”, including Lebanon. Paris believes that Damascus had “ways to shake Lebanon’s stability which is why the international community has to remain alert and warn Damascus to the dangers ahead.”
Commenting on differences between the French and U.S governments on how best to deal with Damascus, the high-ranking official warned, “Syria should realize it is digging its own grave and providing a service” to president George W. Bush and others in the region.
So far, Paris “had opposed regime change and advised the US not to follow this route” but it “will find itself in a difficult position and will not be bale to hold on to position if Syria did not” act and begin to cooperate fully with the UN investigation.