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Syria rejects U.N. resolution


U.N. Security Council

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Syria has angrily rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution that demands Damascus cooperate fully in the investigation into the killing of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri or face "further measures."

The United States, France and Britain had sponsored the resolution after a U.N. report published in October blamed Syrian security forces and its Lebanese allies for the bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others in Beirut on February 14. Syria denies the accusations.

Last-minute diplomatic haggling on Monday deleted a direct reference to the threat of sanctions on the Syrian government.

Still, tensions spilled over in a rare public argument at the Security Council table on Monday.

Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said the U.N. report convicted Syria before it faced trial, and he wondered why the United Nations had assumed its forces were guilty just because they were in Lebanon at the time of the bombing. (Full story)

He said accusing Syria of having advance knowledge of the killing was tantamount to charging that U.S. officials knew about the September 11 attacks on America.

"We would have to point out accusations at the U.S. security organs as having been aware of terrorist attacks that were perpetrated in 9-11-2001," said al-Sharaa.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was quick to respond to his comment, calling it "as the most grotesque and insensitive comparison." Other diplomats said it underscored Syria's isolation and the need for a warning.

Buthaina Shaavan, Syria's Minister of Expatriates, told CNN: "I assure you Syria wants to cooperate and wants to know the truth about Hariri's death.

"In the end I hope the world will know the truth that Syria did not have anything to do with this terrible crime."

The assassination of Hariri, a veteran Lebanese politician who had become a critic of Syria's military occupation of Lebanon, triggered massive protests that eventually led to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon.

The resolution is under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which holds open the ultimate possibility of the Security Council considering the use of force with failure to comply.

Speaking in Monday's meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the resolution "made it clear that failure to comply with these demands will lead to serious consequences from the international community." She called the Chapter 7 resolution "the only way to compel the Syrians" to cooperate.

The resolution calls for U.N. investigators to report to the Security Council on Syrian cooperation by December 15 or "anytime before" if the investigation sees a lack of cooperation.

It also calls for sanctions on people suspected of involvement in the "planning, sponsoring, organizing or perpetrating" the assassination -- including travel bans and freezing of assets.

A Security Council committee will be formed to help designate those individuals along with the Lebanese government and the U.N. investigative commission.

The resolution requires suspects to be arrested and detained for questioning by the U.N. inquiry commission led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. He and his investigators have the authority, according to the resolution, "to determine the location and modalities" for any interviews.

Both Russia and China -- which had opposed the threat of sanctions against Syria -- warned against hasty moves to sanctions against the Syrian government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the final resolution "not ideal" but said it showed the "determination of all members of the council to find the truth."

Eleven of the 15 Security Council members were represented by their foreign ministers -- including all five veto-holding permanent members -- underlining the importance placed on the vote.

The resolution also allows a further extension beyond December 15 if the Lebanese or the U.N. inquiry deem necessary.

CNN's Richard Roth contributed to this report.

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