UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council plans on Thursday to extend by six months the inquiry into the death of a former Lebanese prime minister but Western powers were forced to compromise on the scope of the probe.
France, the United States and Britain had wanted to expand the work of the U.N. commission investigating the murder of Rafik Hariri to other politically motivated killings in Lebanon over the past year, if the inquiry team was able to do so.
But some council members urged caution, and a new text late on Wednesday authorized the commission to give "technical assistance" to Lebanon for attacks since Oct. 1, 2004.
The measure also asks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to recommend ways to broaden the commission”s mandate to cover other attacks. The head of the U.N. team, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, said the commission would need at least 50 additional staff in addition to the 93 now in place in Beirut.
All 15 council nations agreed to extend by another six months, until June 15, the investigation into the killing of Hariri and 22 others by a truck bomb in Beirut on Feb. 14.
"It was felt you cannot just expand the mandate of the commission," Algeria”s U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Baali, told reporters. "You need to study the resources to be added."
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.
On Monday, a leading anti-Syrian journalist and lawmaker, Gebran Tueni, and three others were killed by a car bomb in a motorcade in a Christian suburb near Beirut. It was the third politically motivated attack since Hariri”s death in February, costing a dozen lives.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton contended the commission could immediately help the Lebanese government on the Tueni murder because "that crime scene is still viable."
”NOWHERE TO RUN, NOWHERE TO HIDE”
"We”ll be talking in capitals like Moscow and others to press our point of view," Bolton told reporters.
On Monday, Mehlis gave the council a 25-page report saying new evidence reinforced his earlier contention that implicated Syria in Hariri”s assassination. He said Damascus had moved too slowly to cooperate with his team.
In response, Syria”s U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, insisted Syria "had nothing to do with this heinous crime."
Russia, China and Algeria are seeking to tone down language in the text that is critical of Syria, which could be threatened with sanctions if it does not cooperate. But negotiations are expected to continue until the last minute before the inquiry commission”s mandate expires late on Thursday.
"We are concerned about making it clear to Syria they have to comply with their obligations." Bolton told reporters, adding that Damascus had to realize "there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide."
France, which drafted the resolution, did so after a request by Lebanon on Tuesday for the U.N. investigation to cover other politically motivated murders and for the United Nations to form a tribunal of an "international character" to try suspects.
On the tribunal, the resolution asks Annan to help Lebanon identify the scope of such a court but did not agree to establish it.
The draft expresses deep concern that Syria attempted to hinder the Mehlis investigation and only produced officials for questioning in Vienna this month after "arduous discussions and considerable delay."
But Algeria”s Baali said language on Syria "is still raising some problems and we expect some further discussions to have everyone on board."