Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat-Saudi Arabia helped broker a deal between Syria and the United Nations over the questioning of five Syrians about the killing of Rafik al Hariri, Saudi King Abdullah told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah said he proposed to French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that a U.N. team question the Syrian officials in Geneva or Vienna, rather than in neighboring Lebanon.
His comments followed Syria”s announcement on Friday that it would allow U.N. investigators led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis to question five officials at U.N. offices in Vienna.
In an interim report, Mehlis said he had evidence of Syrian and Lebanese involvement in the murder of Hariri, Lebanon”s former prime minister who died in a Beirut blast last February. Syria denies any role in the killing.
Mehlis had insisted on questioning six top Syrian officials.
king Abdullah said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad initially rejected Riyadh”s approaches to help resolve the issue.
"I sent Prince Bandar bin Sultan on special missions to Paris and Damascus. … He flew to Damascus to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and they reached an agreement," King Abdullah was quoted as saying.
U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is a regional political heavyweight and King Abdullah has close ties with Syria. Hariri had Saudi citizenship and was close to the Saudi royal family.
One diplomat said last week Saudi Arabia was playing an "active and constructive" role in finding a face-saving formula for Syria to allow the questioning to take place, without meeting its demand for a prior legal deal.
"Abdullah was very clear that those who were responsible must be brought to justice, and that that is non-negotiable," the diplomat said.
Bandar is the former Saudi ambassador to Washington who has since been appointed secretary general of Saudi Arabia”s national Security Council.
King Abdullah also stated that as saying Iraq will need another five years before it will see stability.
"I worry about what is happening in Iraq … Death does not differentiate between Sunni and Shiite," the monarch said. "Iraq needs five years to stabilize."
Abdullah said he had urged tribes in Iraq to stay out of the violence which has gripped Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, but he added that Iraq”s future lies in its own hands.
Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim state with a significant Shiite minority, is concerned that Sunni Muslims have been marginalized in Iraq as the country”s majority Shiites finally emerge from decades of repression.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has also warned about the growing influence of Shiite Iran in Iraqi affairs.