U.N. Is Expected to Pass Measure Pressuring Syria
October 31, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/31/international/middleeast/31syria.html?th=&adxnnl=0&emc=th&adxnnlx=1130761040-idCHtuNThg7erLANIQe1SA&pagewanted=print  (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 increasing isolation.

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 Syria.

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 Sunnis.

"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, said Saturday.

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 need.

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 Damascus.