Annan seeks to allay Arab fears over Syria

CAIRO (AFP) — UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sought Tuesday in Cairo to assuage Arab fears over possible action against Syria but urged Damascus to cooperate fully with the international probe into the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.
“The message must go out that impunity will not be allowed and I think for most of the [UN Security] Council members, that is the objective and that will be enough,” he told reporters.

He was speaking after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, on the second day of a visit during which he is also due to meet President Hosni Mubarak.

“I would expect and urge Syria to continue its cooperation with the investigation,” Annan said.

The UN Security Council last week passed Resolution 1636, urging Syria to cooperate with UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis or face the consequences.

A preliminary report on the investigation pointed to the involvement of the Syrian and Lebanese security services in the massive bombing that killed Hariri on February 14.

If the perpetrators were “made accountable, I think this will be the end,” Annan said.

“Recently Syria has had a good record in implementation of UN resolutions. They did cooperate on Resolution 1559” on the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April, he added.

“What is important is that Syria cooperates and they must get the message loud and clear. All the 15 members of the Security Council want Syria to cooperate in the investigation,” he went on.

When asked if an “Iraqi scenario” in which foreign powers resort to military options against Syria if it does not comply with the international investigation, Annan tried to appease regional fears.

“I hope nobody is thinking of going in that direction. No-one in the Security Council is thinking in those terms and as I have indicated, the objective is to get to the truth and punish the perpetrators and send a message that impunity will not be allowed to stand,” he said.

“And I think we have enough problems in the region not to open other fronts,” Annan added.

“The UN resolution does not specifically threaten sanctions and if Syria does not cooperate, they [the Security Council] will look at what direction to take,” he also said.

Annan, who also met Arab Secretary General Amr Musa and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, was due to deliver a speech later Tuesday at the American University in Cairo in memory of an Egyptian UN official killed in the August 2003 truck bombing against the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad.

Egypt has acted as a mediator between Western powers and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, urging the international community to show restraint and avoid measures that could provoke a regional flare-up.

Annan also dismissed suggestions that a Syrian inquiry commission, which was formed by presidential decree after the release of the UN probe report and began its work Thursday, would be an obstacle to the international probe.

“It could help the work of Mehlis. Mehlis himself suggested when he appeared before the Security Council that it could be a good idea for the Syrians to set up their own investigation,” he said.

After meeting Musa and before his talks with Nazif, Annan said Mehlis might choose to interrogate Syrian officials in Damascus or elsewhere.

Abul Gheit said for his part that Annan favoured holding a trial of those involved in the Hariri assassination in Lebanon, rather than in an international court.

“Mr Annan said that the investigation could pave the way for a trial on Lebanese territory, but options remain open for an international trial,” he told reporters.

After meeting Annan, Musa immediately departed on a regional tour that will include talks in Syria with Assad.

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