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Bush: Military action against Syria ‘last option’

President Bush said military action was a last resort in dealing with Syria and he hoped Damascus would cooperate with a probe into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri.
/ Source: Reuters

President Bush said military action was a last resort in dealing with Syria and he hoped Damascus would cooperate with a probe into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri.

“A military (option) is always the last choice of a president,” he told Al Arabiya television in an interview aired on Tuesday when asked about a U.N. investigation that implicated Syrian officials in the killing of Hariri.

“I am hoping that they will cooperate. It (military action) is the last -- very last option,” he said. “But on the other hand, you know -- and I’ve worked hard for diplomacy and will continue to work the diplomatic angle on this issue.”

Reuters obtained a transcript of the Bush interview, conducted in Washington on Monday, from Dubai-based Al Arabiya.

Set of demands
Bush said Syria had to meet a set of demands from the international community, including expelling Palestinian militant groups, preventing insurgents from crossing its borders into Iraq to fight U.S. forces, and ending Syrian interference in Lebanon.

“Nobody wants there to be a confrontation. On the other hand, there must be serious pressure applied,” he said.

“In other words, there are some clear demands by the world. And this (U.N.) report, as I say, had serious implications for Syria, and the Syrian government must take the demands of the free world very seriously.”

Hariri and 20 others were killed on Feb. 14 by a bomb in Beirut. The U.N. report by German investigator Detlev Mehlis said the decision to kill Hariri “could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials” colluding with counterparts in Lebanon.

Syria has vigorously denied the accusations.

Mehlis is due to brief the U.N. Security Council about the results of his probe on Tuesday.

U.N. resolution on Syria?
Diplomats said the United States and France were working on a resolution demanding Syria cooperate with the investigation but may not seek to impose sanctions immediately.

Bush would not be pinned down on what action Washington would take if Syria does not comply.

“I certainly hope that people take a good look at the Mehlis report ... there’s clear implications about Syrians involvement in the death of a foreign leader,” he said.

“The United States was willing to help, work with other countries, and we will, to make sure that out of the United Nations comes a clear message,” Bush said.

Asked if the United States would support a call by Hariri’s son Saad for an international court to try his father’s killers, Bush said the decision lay with the United Nations.

“Well, we want people to be held to account.  And I’d be glad to talk to other leaders to determine whether or not that’s the best course of action. But certainly, people do need to be held to account. And the first course of action is to go the United Nations,” he added.