France and US Cooperate on UN Draft Resolution Against Syria

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Paris ( - The United States and France are joining forces on a U.N. draft resolution demanding Syria's cooperation in a U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The draft resolution, introduced Tuesday by the U.S., France and Britain, demands that Syria detain any of its nationals suspected of involvement in the killing. If Syria refuses to cooperate, the resolution calls on the Security Council to evaluate stricter measures, including economic sanctions.

The text of the draft resolution does not ask for sanctions against Syria because that step was opposed by Security Council members Russia, China and Algeria. However, sanctions could be imposed if Syria continues to refuse cooperation with investigators.

Hariri was killed last February 14 in Beirut most likely because he opposed Syria's domination of Lebanon.

A U.N.-mandated investigation found that both Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in the killing.

However, the chief investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, accused Syria of misleading investigators with false statements and refusing to cooperate, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to be questioned. Syria has denied the accusations.

Lebanon already has charged 10 people in connection with the assassination but no Syrian officials have been charged. Mehlis's preliminary report, which was released last Thursday, found that President Assad's brother-in-law may have been involved.

On Wednesday, French President Jacques Chirac met with Saad Hariri, the son of the slain Lebanese leader, who said he was opposed to imposing U.N. sanctions against Syria.

Hariri said he favored instead an international tribunal to judge his father's killers.

The conciliatory position expressed by Harriri -- that only the perpetrators, not Syria, should be punished -- is shared by France, according to analysts.

"Saad Hariri is a realist just like Rafik Hariri was a realist," said Philippe Moreau Defarges, a senior research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations. "The son knows that it would be taking a catastrophic risk to impose sanctions against Syria. It would be a more realistic solution to just punish the assassins and France believes that too."

While the draft resolution at first glance represents an effort by France and the U.S. to express their condemnation of Hariri's assassination and to patch up troubled relations from the Iraq war, it could, in the long term, reveal fundamentally different approaches that the two countries have towards dealing with non-democratic governments in the Middle Eastern region.

"America's long term goal is probably Assad's ouster but the French are more prudent and would like to see a negotiated outcome where no force is used," said Moreau Defarges.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said the draft resolution was part of America's "agenda against Syria." Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and other American officials have in the past criticized Syria for allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq from its borders.

In an interview with Al Arabiya television, President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that military action "is the last - very last option," and his administration would continue trying to make diplomacy work.

For now, discussions are under way at the U.N. as the U.S., France and Britain gather support for the draft resolution, which could be considered during a foreign minister level meeting at the Security Council next Monday.

The draft resolution calls on Syria to detain any suspects in the killing and make them available for questioning by U.N. investigators. It calls for a travel ban on the suspects and a freezing of their assets.

The draft text also calls for President Assad to answer questions about Hariri's assassination.