Syria Faces U.N.

Syria had few vocal supporters ahead of a Security Council vote Monday on a tough resolution demanding Damascus cooperate with the U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search).

Even Security Council (search) members concerned by some provisions of the resolution did not object to sending Syria a stern message.

The United States, France and Britain had little doubt the council would approve the resolution.

The three countries co-sponsored the resolution to follow up last week's report by a U.N. investigating commission, which implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others. The report also accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the probe.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that adoption of the resolution by foreign ministers "is to show the intensity of the concern, and to make it very clear at the highest level what we expect."

The latest draft would require Syria (search) to detain anyone the U.N. investigators consider a suspect and let investigators determine the location and conditions under which the individual would be questioned. It would would also freeze assets and impose a travel ban on anyone identified as a suspect by the commission.

Those provisions could pose a problem for Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) as the suspects include his brother, Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence.

If Syria does not fully cooperate with the investigation, the draft says the council intends to consider "further measures," including sanctions, "to ensure compliance by Syria."

Ahead of Monday's vote, foreign ministers from the United States, France and Britain dined with their counterparts from Russia and China, who oppose the resolution's threat of sanctions.

The dinner Sunday night at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was a last chance for the five permanent veto-wielding council nations to discuss the resolution.

There was no immediate word from the ministers on their two-hour dinner meeting attended by Rice, Russia's Sergey Lavrov, China's Li Zhaoxing, Britain's Jack Straw and France's Philippe Douste-Blazy.

Lavrov and Li, who met alone for about 45 minutes before dinner, refused to say how they will vote. "Just wait and see," Li said.

Russia said last week it opposed sanctions against Syria, its longtime ally. Late Sunday, Lavrov said that Russia fully backs further U.N. inquiry into Hariri's murder but criticized what he described as attempts to turn the Security Council into an investigative body.

"We are concerned that the draft resolution's co-authors are not just trying to support the commission, but also to meddle into its sphere of responsibility," Lavrov told Russian reporters in comments broadcast by Russia's Channel One television.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Friday the resolution has the nine "yes" votes required for adoption and will likely have more by the time of the vote. "I don't foresee a veto," he said, a view echoed by his French and British co-sponsors.

But council diplomats said that if Washington, Paris and London want to get unanimous support from all 15 council nations — which would send a more powerful message to Syria — they will have to drop the sanctions threat.

Otherwise, the resolution will likely be adopted with 12 "yes" votes and three abstentions — Russia, China, and Algeria, a non-permanent council member and its only Arab representative, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment ahead of the vote.

The United States urged foreign ministers of all 15 Security Council nations to come to New York for the vote to send a high-level message to Damascus that the international community is demanding its cooperation with the probe — and almost all the ministers are coming.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa also flew to New York Sunday to attend the council meeting and meet with some of the foreign ministers and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

As al-Sharaa headed to New York, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem toured Gulf countries in what appeared to be an effort to rally Arab support ahead of Monday's council meeting.

Syria's official news agency, SANA, quoted Moallem as saying he was bearing a message from the Syrian president to the leaders of Gulf countries concerning "the dangers Syria faces" as a result of the U.N. action.

In Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Moallem delivered a message from Assad to King Abdullah "on the current situation in the region ... and the debate under way in the Security Council concerning the (Hariri) investigation," SANA said.

Moallem traveled to Qatar on Sunday where he told reporters that the resolution was prepared in Washington, Paris and London prior to the release of the report by the U.N. investigation.

SANA quoted him as saying the resolution was "dangerous" and aimed at hurting Syria, not uncovering the truth in the Hariri assassination. But Moallem said that Syria will "continue to cooperate" with the U.N. investigation despite "legal and political gaps in its report."

Assad on Saturday ordered that a judicial committee be formed to investigate Hariri's assassination. A presidential decree said the committee will cooperate with the U.N. probe and Lebanese judicial authorities.

While Syria has rejected accusations of its involvement in Hariri's killing, it buckled under international pressure and withdrew its soldiers from Lebanon in April, ending a 29-year presence in its smaller neighbor.