Assad Bristles at Criticism by the West (AP) By ZEINA KARAM DAMASCUS, Syria 11/10/05 3:12 PM)
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DAMASCUS, Syria -- A defiant President Bashar Assad said Thursday his
government would cooperate with a U.N. investigation that implicated
Syrian officials in the killing of a Lebanese leader, but he warned
he would no longer "play their game" if Syria "is going to be harmed."
Hours later, President Jacques Chirac of France, a key member of the
U.N. Security Council, warned of sanctions against Syria if
Assad "persists in not wanting to listen or understand."
"It is not conceivable, admissible, acceptable for the international
community ... that Syria refuses to cooperate," Chirac said in Paris.
In his hard-line speech at Damascus University, Assad also said the
chief U.N. investigator into the killing of Rafik Hariri had rejected
Syria´s terms for interviewing six Syrian officials. He gave no hint
of how the matter would be resolved, but the Security Council has
warned Syria it must cooperate fully with the investigator, who has
the right to determine the place and conditions of such interviews.
"We will play their game" and cooperate with the United Nations,
Assad said. But that cooperation will "stop when Syria is going to be
Assad also attacked Prime Minister Fuad Saniora of Lebanon, a country
which Syria dominated until it was forced in April to withdraw its
troops in the outcry that followed Hariri´s assassination. He said
Saniora had failed to honor a pledge "not to allow Lebanon to be a
passage for conspiracy against Syria."
Syria has come under intense pressure from the West and the United
Nations since a truck bomb killed Hariri and 20 other people in the
Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Feb. 14. A U.N. interim report into the
killing found that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were
involved, and accused Syria of only limited cooperation with the
Last week, the Security Council resolved that Syria must cooperate
fully with U.N. investigators and upgraded their powers to summon and
Assad made clear Thursday that Syria would not be cowed.
"President Bashar will not be the president who will bow to anyone in
this world. We bow only to almighty God," Assad said, drawing
applause from the auditorium and a chant of "With our soul, blood, we
redeem you, oh Bashar!" from the crowd outside.
The president said the chief U.N. investigator, Detlev Mehlis, had
rejected Syria´s offer to allow its six officials to be questioned in
the U.N. offices in Syria or at the Arab League headquarters in
Cairo, Egypt. Assad did not say where Mehlis wanted them to be
interviewed, but a Lebanese official close to the investigation has
said the United Nations proposed a venue in Lebanon.
The names of the Syrian officials have not been released, but they
reportedly include Assad´s brother-in-law, Gen. Assef Shawkat, the
military intelligence chief.
In Washington, the State Department dismissed Assad´s offer. If
Mehlis "wants something he should get it, and he should get it
without delay and without complication and without obfuscation,"
deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.
Arab media had expected Assad to take a conciliatory tone with the
United Nations and possibly announce political reforms. Arab
governments have called on Syria to cooperate and avoid further
Security Council action.
But in his 80-minute speech, Assad repeated Syria´s hard-line
"Syria is innocent in the absolute sense" of Hariri´s murder, Assad
said. "Syria is not involved at the government level or at the
individual level. The problem is merely a political one in the
context of events."
Assad said Syria was facing a coordinated media campaign because of
its support for the anti-Israeli Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon,
Palestinian militants and its opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"Had there been a compromise (in Syria´s position) ... there wouldn´t
have been a problem," he said.
He added that Israel stood to gain from the pressure on Syria and the
unrest in the region.
"The Israeli factor was suspiciously present in all the events
witnessed by the region, and the developments proved that Israel was
the most prominent and the major benefactor from these events," Assad
said. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 11/10/05)
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