President Bush on Friday called on the United Nations to convene quickly to deal with a U.N. investigative report implicating Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The report strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement,” Bush said after helping dedicate a new pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Southern California.
The U.N. report, which Bush called “deeply disturbing,” established a link between high-ranking Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies in Hariri’s murder Feb. 14 in Beirut.
The report, issued Thursday to members of the U.N. Security Council, did not implicate Syrian President Bashar Assad directly, but said his government did not cooperate with the inquiry.
Bush said he called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier in the day and instructed her to call upon the United Nations to convene a session “as quickly as possible to deal with this very serious matter.”
Bush was not specific about what steps the international community should take to make sure Syria is held accountable. He said the United States has started talking with U.N. officials and with Arab governments about what steps to take.
“Today a serious report came out that requires the world to look at very carefully and respond accordingly,” Bush said.
Rice wants Syrians held accountable
Rice, on a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., said the international community must find a way to hold Syrian authorities accountable.
Rice declined to discuss the next steps, beyond saying that some kind of international mechanism must be established. “Accountability is going to be very important for the international community,” she told reporters.
Separately, another top State Department official said Hariri was the victim of a “political crime” that could not have been carried out without the involvement of senior Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials.
“We would like to see those responsible for this crime and others in Lebanon brought to justice,” Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch said in Washington.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli declined to say what course of action the Bush administration might take. But when asked if military force would be used against Syria, he said, “We are seeking a diplomatic solution to this problem.”
Syrian president’s brother-in-law named
Chief investigator Detlev Mehlis’ exhaustive U.N. report linked the brother-in-law of Syria’s president to the Feb. 14 car bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others, and said Lebanese intelligence officials helped organize it.
Rice said there is strong support among U.N. members for an extension of Mehlis’ mandate, perhaps until Dec. 15.
Welch, speaking at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, said the Bush administration had begun discussions at the United Nations and with Arab and other governments on how to act on the report, which he described as “very serious and deeply troubling.”
Welch said some Arab governments share the administration’s concern about Syria’s “destabilizing” actions in Lebanon, but he declined to identify with whom the United States was finding initial support.
“The report concludes there is probable cause to believe the (assassination) decision could not have been taken without the collusion of top Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials,” Welch said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw accompanied Rice to Alabama to underscore their view that the United States and Britain are engaged in a shared effort to promote democracy worldwide— a quest often beset by difficulties.