The US and UK ratcheted up pressure on Syria yesterday, saying a UN probe implicating it in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was "very serious" and the world must act.
Washington is already trying to arrange a quick, high-level UN Security Council meeting to consider a response to the inquiry that named senior Syrian officials as suspects in the February truck bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told BBC Television in a joint interview the investigation strongly implicated Syria and indicated attempts at a cover-up.
"I am quite sure that when the international community gets together we will decide what to do but it cannot be ... just left lying on the table," Rice said.
"This really has to be dealt with."
The UN report said the decision to kill Hariri "could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials" colluding with officials in Lebanon.
It named senior Syrian security officials, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother and brother-in-law, and their Lebanese allies, as suspects in the murder that transformed Lebanon's political landscape.
Syria dismisses report as political
Syrian officials have dismissed the report as political and said the charges were false but left the door open for future cooperation with the probe.
"If there is any demand coming from the commission we will discuss it with the commission and we might agree," Foreign Ministry official Riad al-Daoudi said when asked whether Damascus would allow investigators to quiz Syrian officials.
Straw, who has been touring Alabama with Rice, said: "The report indicates that people of a high level of this Syrian regime were implicated."
He added: "We also have evidence from the ... report of false testimony being given by senior people in the regime. This is very serious."
The report said the Syrian authorities, after initially hesitating to help, had cooperated "to a limited degree." But several individuals had tried to mislead investigators "by giving false or inaccurate statements," it said.
Straw said on Friday UN Security Council members would consider sanctions, but acknowledged the West had to work to win support from all members for its pressure on Damascus.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has already extended the investigation, which suggests no strong action is expected until the probe ends on December 15.
Assad told CNN in an interview a week before the UN report was published that he could not have ordered the killing. He said the involvement of any Syrian would be considered treason and would be punished in Syria or internationally.
In the first arrest since the report was released, a suspect accused of calling pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud minutes before the murder was detained over the weekend.
(China Daily October 24, 2005)