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Syria launches diplomatic campaign to ease pressure | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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DAMASCUS (Reuters) -Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem was touring the Gulf on Sunday to drum up Arab support on the eve of a United Nations meeting to discuss possible sanctions against Damascus.

In an apparent effort to head off a tough draft Security Council resolution backed by the United States and France, Syria launched its own investigation on Saturday into the killing of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The inquiry, ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will question Syrian civilians and military personnel and cooperate with a U.N. inquiry that has already implicated senior Syrian officials in the February 14 assassination, officials said.

Mualem delivered a letter to King Abdullah from Assad on Saturday evening about Saudi Arabia”s support at a meeting of Security Council foreign ministers on Monday, which was expected to demand Syria cooperate or risk economic sanctions.

&#34King Abdullah confirmed the kingdom stands by Syria”s side against the pressures it is being subjected to by some international sides,&#34 Syria”s state SANA news agency said.

It said Mualem told King Abdullah that Syria was willing to cooperate with the U.N. team probing Hariri”s murder and that he would deliver messages to other Gulf states.

Assad discussed the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during Mubarak”s surprise visit to Damascus on Friday.

Egypt, which along with Saudi Arabia is a main U.S. ally and power broker in the region, says it wants to defuse tension between Syria and the United States.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara left for New York on Sunday. He will meet U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other foreign ministers, SANA said.

Detlev Mehlis, leading the U.N. investigation, urged Syria at a Security Council meeting last week to set up its own probe and to cooperate fully with international investigators.

Syria denies involvement and dismisses Mehlis”s report as politicised, but is under intense international pressure.

The United States and France say they are confident that Monday”s meeting will adopt a tough Security Council resolution against Syria, though Russia and China still have misgivings.

The draft threatens economic sanctions against Syria if it does not cooperate fully with the U.N. probe and imposes a travel ban and freeze on overseas assets of suspects.

The U.N. report found this month the decision to kill Hariri &#34could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials&#34 colluding with Lebanese officials.

It named senior Syrian security officials including Assad”s brother and brother-in-law and their Lebanese allies as possible suspects in the truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others.

Syrian Justice Minister Mohammad al-Ghafari told SANA Syria would investigate Syrians suspected of involvement and try any who were proven with conclusive evidence to have had a role.