BEIRUT,(Reuters) – Chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis is close to giving up on Syrian cooperation after Damascus insisted on a legal deal before allowing the quizzing of six officials, Lebanese political sources said on Friday.
Mehlis could notify the Security Council by early next week of a lack of Syrian cooperation in his inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, paving the way for a showdown between the world body and Damascus, they said.
"It seems we are at a deadlock," a Lebanese political source closely following the investigation said.
"Mehlis appears ready to declare Syria non-cooperative which would open a new chapter in this issue and place Damascus on a collision course with the Security Council," he said.
A Security Council resolution on Oct. 31 demanded Syria cooperate fully with Mehlis or face unspecified further action.
Mehlis then summoned six top Syrian security officials, including the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad for questioning in Lebanon — where he has power to arrest them.
Syria rejected Lebanon as a venue and Mehlis, after turning down a Syrian offer for questioning them in the Golan Heights, proposed either Geneva or Vienna as venues.
But Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said on Thursday only agreement on a legal framework for cooperation would open the way for the interrogation. Mehlis had been expecting a final Syrian answer on the venue on Thursday, Lebanese sources said.
The sources said that though Damascus appeared insistent on holding the questioning on its soil, it could relent if it got a deal that would guarantee any suspects would only be arrested and tried in Syria.
But they said Mehlis would not agree to such restrictions as the Security Council resolution is clear on unconditional cooperation.
The sources said Mehlis could report back to the council before a Dec. 15 deadline and a lack of Syrian cooperation could see him calling for an international court to try Lebanese and Syrian suspects.
Shara said Syria was not looking for a showdown with the United Nations but would not shy away from any confrontation "imposed on us".
In an interim report last month, Mehlis said he had evidence of Syrian and Lebanese officials” involvement in Hariri”s murder in a Feb. 14 bombing that also killed 22 others.
Syria denies any role in the killing.
Lebanon has already charged four pro-Syrian security generals in connection with the assassination on Mehlis”s recommendation.
On Thursday, U.N. investigators questioned a Lebanese army colonel named in the Mehlis report as one of the officials in charge of wiretapping Hariri.
They questioned two former trade union leaders on Friday but it was not clear over which aspect of the crime.