U.N. Is Expected to Pass Measure Pressuring Syria
October 31, 2005
By WARREN HOGE and STEVEN R. WEISMAN
(must register to NY Times to view original article)
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 30 - Security Council diplomats worked out final
details on Sunday on a tough resolution against Syria, an action that will
forcefully step up international pressure on the country's embattled
president, Bashar al-Assad, and deepen his government's struggle to ward off
Diplomats from the resolution's three co-sponsors, Britain, France and the
United States, said they expected passage on Monday and did not foresee a
veto from either China or Russia, the two countries most reluctant to punish
The resolution threatens Syria with economic penalties if it does not give
full cooperation to the United Nations investigation that has identified
high-ranking security officials as suspects in the assassination of a former
Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
The measure also orders Syria to take into custody and make available to the
investigators people they suspect of involvement in the killing.
That provision in particular could pose a problem for Mr. Assad, a
relatively inexperienced leader perceived as weak and vulnerable in the
power politics of the Middle East. Among the suspects are his brother, Maher
Assad, and his brother-in- law, Asef Shawkat, the chief of military
intelligence, who is considered the most powerful man in the country aside
from the president.
The expected censure of Syria comes at a time when Mr. Assad's government
has been thrown on the defensive by a deeply incriminating report on the
Hariri killing delivered Oct. 20 by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor who
leads the United Nations investigation.
Mr. Hariri, an opponent of Syrian domination of Lebanese politics, and 20
others were killed Feb. 14 when a bomb detonated in a Beirut street as his
convoy passed. The murder was followed by large and angry demonstrations in
Beirut against Syria, which had been obliged by a Security Council
resolution last September to withdraw its troops and intelligence agents
from Lebanon and end its 29-year control of Lebanese public life.
The United States has been keeping pressure on Syria, accusing it of
allowing insurgents to cross its border into Iraq and demanding that it
close the offices of militant Palestinian groups in Damascus and cease its
longtime support for anti-Israel guerrilla groups like Hezbollah.
Although the Middle East has been rocked by the war in Iraq and leaders
there fear that turmoil in Syria could spill into their countries, none of
its neighbors have come to Syria's defense over the Hariri killing.
That inability of Syria to enlist vocal defenders is reflected at the United
Nations, where even Security Council members troubled by some provisions of
the resolution have not disagreed about the need to send Syria a stern
message about its responsibility to cooperate with the investigation. That
includes Algeria, the council's lone Arab member.
"There is a unanimous feeling within the Council that there must be greater
cooperation from the Syrians," Richard A. Grenell, the spokesman for John R.
Bolton, the United States ambassador, said Sunday.
Mr. Grenell declined to be specific about the anticipated outcome of the
Monday vote, but he said that nothing had occurred during the weekend to
alter optimistic statements on Friday night from Mr. Bolton. Predicting that
the measure already had the nine votes needed for passage, Mr. Bolton said,
"I don't foresee a veto."
Casting the American vote on Monday will be Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, the leader of the American diplomatic campaign to isolate Syria. She
is joining foreign ministers from the other Security Council states in the
higher-level "ministerial" meeting of the panel that the resolution's
sponsors requested to give it added force.
The foreign ministers of the council's five permanent members - Britain,
China, France, Russia and the United States - held a private dinner in New
York Sunday at which the resolution was to be discussed.
Ms. Rice and other American officials have said they do not seek "regime
change" in Syria but rather "behavior change." As an example, they point to
Libya, where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi decided in 2003 to admit the existence
of his weapons programs, agree to dismantle them and thereby start to shed
his country's pariah status.
Even for those wishing to see Mr. Assad's removal, there is a fear that his
successor could come from the ranks of either his family or cronies in his
government of Allawites, a minority Muslim sect, or from the fundamentalist
Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular organization among Syria's majority
"For the first term of his presidency, the Bush administration had a long
list of complaints about Syria that got longer after Iraq," said Flynt
Leverett, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution who worked
in the White House at the start of this presidency. "Since the second term
started, I think they've been moving toward an undeclared policy of regime
change, as long as it doesn't require too much effort by the United States,"
Mr. Leverett added. "It's regime change on the cheap."
In Damascus, Syrian officials say the United States has broken off
communication with the country, withdrawing its ambassador and not
responding to Syrian concerns. That silence has Syrian officials concerned
that the American goal is to pull down the government. "What do you do if
the other party won't talk?" Bouthaina Shaaban, the minister of expatriates,
To cope, Syria has reached out to the international community, including
Arab leaders, trying with little success to promote the idea that it had
nothing to do with Mr. Hariri's death. In that connection, Syria sent its
deputy foreign minister, Walid al-Mualem, on a tour of Persian Gulf states
on Sunday. On Saturday, President Assad said he would set up a commission to
conduct Syria's own investigation into the assassination.
He also said border agents would be more cautious about visitors - a
reference to Arabs who do not need visas and may be intent on infiltrating
Iraq. Syria has also proposed domestic changes, like giving Kurds
citizenship, to promote national unity.
The text of the Security Council resolution, first circulated last Monday,
has been revised to meet the objections of individual countries. It calls on
all states to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on anyone who is
designated a suspect in the Hariri slaying. A Security Council
committeewould be established to oversee these individual penalties and to
rule on approving exceptions in cases like religious travel and emergency
In its most contentious provision, the resolution states that to ensure
compliance by Syria it will "consider further measures" under Article 41 of
the United Nations Charter. That article permits the Council to decide what
diplomatic and economic penalties may be used against a state.
The revised text still includes the threat of penalties but it makes several
adjustments to meet the objections of dissenters. In one concession, the
co-sponsors moved a reference to Syria's need to "cease all support for all
forms of terrorist action and all assistance to terrorist groups" from the
text to the preamble, a section of Security Council resolutions that has
less force. In another, language saying that Syria "must stop interfering"
in Lebanese domestic affairs was changed to "that Syria not interfere."
The Mehlis investigation has been extended to Dec. 15. Until then, Mr.
Mehlis is to return periodically to report to the Security Council on Syrian
cooperation or lack of it.
Warren Hoge reported from the United Nations for this article, and Steven R.
Weisman from Washington. Michael Slackman contributed reporting from