UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The 15-nation Security Council weighs its response on Tuesday to a U.N. investigation that accused Syria of hindering its probe into the slaying of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The council first hears an oral presentation from Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor who led the inquiry. Mehlis said in a report delivered on Monday that his team had found new evidence implicating Syria in the truck bomb murder of Hariri and 22 others last Feb. 14 in Beirut.
At the same time the 15-nation body this week is expected to extend the investigation into Hariri”s death for up to another six months as requested by Lebanon and Mehlis, who will be leaving the probe. And France said it was willing to expand the inquiry to include others killed in Lebanon, including Gebran Tueni, a newspaper publisher and lawmaker assassinated in a car bombing on Monday.
"If there is a request coming from the Lebanese government, my delegation will support such a request, and we will do our best to have the council going in the same direction," said France”s U.N. ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.
But the most controversial issue facing the council is a resolution, adopted Oct. 31, that threatens "further action" against Syria if it did not cooperate fully with Mehlis”s team. This could lead to sanctions.
Both Sabliere and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters on Monday that Damascus had not yet met council requirements, despite some improvement.
"What precise steps we consider have not yet been decided, but there”s no ambiguity here," Bolton said. "That is no cooperation."
But splits in the council are expected, with Algeria”s U.N. Ambassador, Abdallah Baali, saying Syria”s cooperation had improved after a slow start. Russia and China also are usually opposed to sanctions.
"I think at this stage it”s premature to decide whether or not we”re in favor of measures," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said after he presided over a council meeting that condemned Monday”s murder of Tueni.
In October, Mehlis”s team had implicated the top Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies in the Hariri killing. Since then he said his probe reinforced that finding.
"The detailed information points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aimed at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services," he wrote.
Mehlis said that Syria had burned some papers relating to Lebanon and pressured one witness, Hosam Taher Hosam, to recant his testimony. He said the commission had received credible information that Syrian officials had arrested and threatened some of Hosam”s close relatives in Syria. But lawyers for Hosam denied there was any threat.
Mehlis said to date there were 19 suspects, whom he did not name, including five Syrian officials questioned by his team in Vienna earlier this month. Two of the witnesses interviewed in the Austrian capital said Syrian intelligence documents about Lebanon had been burned, the report said.
The death of Hariri, an opponent of Syrian domination of his country, transformed Lebanon”s political landscape. The killing led to a pullout of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades.
Tueni, who had expressed fears he would be killed, had also been questioned by Mehlis last June 25.
Hariri, according to Tueni, had told him Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened to "blow him up and any of his family members and that they would find them anywhere in the world," according to Mehlis”s October report.