Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a letter sent to Washington, London and Paris, pledged to bring to trial any Syrian linked to the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, The Washington Post said yesterday.
Assad, in the letter dated Sunday, denied involvement by his government in the February 14 car bombing and warned that any international pressure brought to bear on Syria would have "serious repercussions" in the region.
Assad's letter, a copy of which the daily obtained in Damascus from diplomatic sources, is aimed at US and French moves in the UN Security Council to press for full Syrian cooperation in a UN probe that has implicated senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials in Harari's death.
"I have declared that Syria is innocent of this crime, and I am ready to follow up action to bring to trial any Syrian who could be proved by concrete evidence to have had connection with this crime," Assad said in the letter.
The letter suggested that Assad's government would cooperate in the UN investigation to deflect criticism, The Washington Post said.
However, the Syrian leader warned against the UN report being used as a political tool to pressure Syria. The Security Council is currently split on whether to impose sanctions to force Syrian cooperation or wait for the UN report to be completed on December 15.
"Such use of this report will have big, serious repercussions on the already tense situation our region goes through, at a time we are more in need to have objective and constructive positions that would help the countries of the region to achieve stability," Assad said in his letter.
The pledge to prosecute any Syrian proved implicated in Harari's murder is, according to the daily, Assad's "most substantive response" to the report by UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis.
A spokesperson for the US State Department, however, was skeptical about the move.
"Once again Syria has demonstrated by its policies and its actions that it's out of step with the international community and in this instance specifically, by its failure to correctly read the tea leaves and fully cooperate" with the UN investigation, J. Adam Ereli was quoted as saying.
"That is why you have a Security Council that's meeting to come to some conclusion about what to do about that failure to cooperate," Ereli said. "So it's a little late now for Syria to try to be making up for past failures."
(China Daily October 27, 2005)