BEIRUT, Lebanon – The United States and Britain jointly criticized Syria on Sunday and called for international action to be taken over a U.N. investigation that implicated Syrian officials in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search).
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice didn't discuss any specific actions that the United States might push for when the U.N. Security Council (search) considers the investigator's report Tuesday, but said the matter "really has to be dealt with."
"These are very serious charges and they have to be debated at the level of foreign minister," Rice told British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview during a tour of her home state of Alabama with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search).
Straw pointed to testimony about "false testimony being given by senior people" in Syrian President Bashar Assad's (search) regime.
"The report indicated that people of a high level of this Syrian regime were implicated," Straw said.
The comments came as Syria's deputy foreign minister denied the U.N. report's statement that he threatened Hariri 13 days before the Feb. 14 assassination.
Diplomats at the United Nations and in Washington say U.S. and French officials have been talking with Russia and other nations about anti-Syria resolutions to put before the Security Council, including the possibility of punitive economic sanctions.
The U.N report tied top Syrian officials to the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Hariri, who was an opponent of Syria's domination of Lebanon. It also said Syria's government did not cooperate with the investigation into Hariri's murder.
Syrian officials deny any involvement in the murder and insist they have cooperated.
Syria's deputy foreign minister Walid Moallem (search) said he never threatened Hariri, as the report claimed.
"This is totally untrue," Moallem said in a call to a talk show on Syrian state television, which was monitored in Beirut.
"I did not go to Premier Hariri to make threats," Moallem said. "I went to him to inform him about my mission and ask him to cooperate in order for the mission to succeed."
The U.N. report, released Thursday night, said a tape of a conversation between Moallem and Hariri has Hariri complaining that security services were waging a campaign against him.
"But Lebanon will never be ruled from Syria. This will no longer happen," Hariri said, according to the report.
It said Moallem responded that Hariri was in a corner. "Please do not take things lightly," the report quotes Moallem as saying.
The report said the tape "clearly contradicts" Moallem's testimony to the U.N. commission investigating Hariri's killing. He "falsely described the Feb. 1 meeting as 'friendly and constructive' and avoided giving direct answers to the questions put to him," the report said.
The U.N. investigation said the bombing that Hariri and 20 others in Beirut could not have been carried out without the complicity of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services.
At the time, Syrian troops controlled Lebanon, but the killing set off mass demonstrations and international pressures that forced Syria to withdraw its army in April after a nearly three-decade occupation.
Syrian officials have dismissed the report's findings as unproven allegations based on "gossip" from anti-Syrian elements.