UNITED NATIONS, (AFP) – The UN Security Council holds a ministerial meeting Monday to vote on a tough resolution threatening Syria with economic sanctions if it does not fully cooperate with the probe into the murder of Lebanon”s ex-premier.
The text, co-sponsored by the United States, France and Britain, has been revised several times to take into account the concerns of some members, including veto-wielding Russia and China, opposed to any mention of such sanctions.
But the United States and France, which drafted the text, said they were optimistic that a large majority of the council would endorse it.
US and French diplomats said 13 foreign ministers were expected to attend Monday”s session, which follows the release of a report by UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis implicating senior Syrian security officials in the murder of Lebanese former premier Rafiq Hariri in Beirut last February.
"What we see is unanimous support for a very strong, very clear signal to Syria," the US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said. "I don”t foresee a veto."
To be adopted, a resolution needs the support of at least nine of the council”s 15 members and no veto from the five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
France”s UN envoy Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said the co-sponsors had gone out of their way to accommodate the concerns expressed by dissenters.
"We hope that it will be approved by all," he added.
The latest amended draft circulated late Friday would require Syria to detain any of its nationals UN investigators view as suspects and call on all states to impose a travel ban and a freeze of assets on all individuals designated as suspects in the slaying.
A committee comprising all Security Council members would be set up to oversee sanctions on individuals, including approving exceptions.
But the draft retains its most controversial provision, stating that the Security Council "expresses its intention to consider further measures pursuant to Article 41 of the (UN) Charter, if needed to ensure compliance by Syria."
Article 41 permits the council to decide what measures other than the use of force may be used to assure compliance with its decisions, such as economic and diplomatic sanctions.
"It is premature and unjustified to talk of (state) sanctions when the investigation is still going on," said Algeria”s UN envoy Abdallah Baali, a view shared by China, Russia and Argentina.
The UN probe led by Mehlis, an experienced German prosecutor, is to continue at least until December 15 at the request of the Lebanese government and with the approval of UN chief Kofi Annan.
Baali also objected to two paragraphs demanding that Syria stop meddling in the internal affairs of Lebanon and stop supporting terrorism.
As a concession, the co-sponsors moved the reference to stopping support of terrorism from the text to the preamble, where it would effectively have less force.
The latest draft also "insists that Syria not interfere in Lebanese domestic affairs", instead of "decides that Syria not interfere…" as stated in the earlier version.
A US diplomat said the text in its current form was unlikely to be amended.
In response to the growing international pressure, Syria on Saturday announced it was setting up its own enquiry into the Hariri murder.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has maintained that no Syrian official played a role in the murder, but anyone found to have done so would be punished as a traitor and possibly sent to an international court.
A confidential version of the Mehlis report contained witness testimony linking Assef Shawkat, Assad”s brother-in-law and head of military intelligence, to the murder.
But Damascus said it would not arrest top security agents implicated by the UN murder probe unless there is serious proof of their involvement.