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U.S. Calls for Syria's Cooperation in Hariri Probe

United States Calls for Syria's Cooperation in Hariri Probe

Friends of Lebanon group plans to organize donors' conference in Beirut

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated the U.S. call for Syria to cooperate with the international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

"We're interested in only the following with Syria: First of all, that there be full and complete cooperation with the Mehlis investigation and that the truth be found whatever that truth is,” Rice said at a press conference in New York September 19. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis to lead the investigation into Hariri’s murder.

Rice also said the United States want Syria to abide by the letter and spirit of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the removal of Syrian troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

"This is an issue of national sovereignty for Lebanon and Syria must respect the national sovereignty of Lebanon," she said.

Rice and Annan participated in a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom -- a group known as the "friends of Lebanon" -- during the opening of the 60th General Assembly session.

The group announced that it plans to organize an international pledging conference to be held in Beirut before the end of 2005.

"This sends a powerful signal to the world that the international community is devoted and committed to the future of a peaceful, prosperous, democratic, and sovereign Lebanon," Rice said.

Rice said that Syria "needs to get on the right side of the events that are going on in the Middle East."

"That means to cut off the routes that insurgents are using in Syrian territory to penetrate into Iraq and kill innocent Iraqis. That means to close off support to Palestinian rejectionists who are the single biggest threat to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement and to, again, make certain that nothing is being done to interfere in the affairs of Lebanon," she said.

The group of ministers met to demonstrate their commitment "to the new government of Lebanon as it works to reaffirm Lebanon's sovereignty, engage in vital reforms, and strengthen Lebanon's democratic institutions," Annan said in a statement after the meeting.

"We call on all regional states to respect fully the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and the sole authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout its territory and we pledge to work together and to reach out to others who want to support Lebanon to hold an international conference before the end of 2005," Annan said.

"Today Lebanon is at the threshold of a new dawn with the good will and support of the international community and the determination of the Lebanese people," Siniora said. "We have a real chance of achieving our goals."

"We really look forward to welcoming all of you in Beirut where we can share together the rebirth of a new Lebanon," the prime minister said.

Siniora said that the Lebanese people are "seeking the truth no matter how long it will take and which personalities it is going to touch and to implicate."

A transcript of Rice’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site. For additional information on U.S. policy, see Middle East and North Africa.

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