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Rice: Syria on notice over Hariri

'Grave concerns' over sponsorship of terrorism

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

Syria
Lebanon
United States
Rafik Hariri

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has put Syria on notice, warning that further action would be taken by the U.N. Security Council if Damascus continued to obstruct the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"The United States has grave and continuing concerns about Syria's destabilizing behavior and sponsorship of terrorism," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a written statement.

"Syria must cease obstructing the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and instead cooperate fully and unconditionally, as required by U.N. Security Council resolutions."

A U.N. investigation has so far found evidence it believes indicates top-ranked Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in the killing of Hariri, who died in a massive explosion when his motorcade was bombed in Beirut last February.

The probe also criticized the level of Syrian cooperation and urged Damascus to be more forthcoming with investigators.

Syrian officials have denied any involvement in his slaying. However, the former Syrian vice president, who has fled the nation, recently came forward, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made direct personal threats against Hariri, months before he was assassinated.

U.N. investigators last week asked to interview Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.

In her statement Wednesday, Rice said the United States would refer the matter back to the U.N. Security Council if Syrian "obstruction" with investigators continued.

She also warned Syria to stop its intimidation of, and violence against, members of the Lebanese opposition of Assad's regime.

"Continuing assassinations in Lebanon of opponents of Syrian domination, including most recently the murder of journalist and Member of Parliament Gebran Tueni on December 12, 2005, create an atmosphere of fear that Syria uses to intimidate Lebanon," she said.

"Syria must cease this intimidation and immediately come into compliance with all relevant Security Council resolutions."

Rice said the United States "stands firmly" with the people of Lebanon in "rejecting any deals or compromises that would undermine" the investigation.

She also called for "full implementation" of U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament and disbanding of Hezbollah and other militias.

"Syria must once and for all end its interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon," she said.

The United Nations on Wednesday named an experienced prosecutor with the International Criminal Court to succeed Detlev Mehlis as head of the U.N. investigation. Serge Brammertz, a 43-year-old Belgian, will "proceed to Beirut to take up his assignment as soon as practicable," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Hariri's killing led to massive protests and renewed international pressure on Syria to withdraw troops and intelligence assets from Lebanon, which it had dominated since the end of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war.

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