INTERNATIONAL

Syria sanctions threat dropped

UNITED NATIONS: Key Security Council members dropped the threat of sanctions against Syria on Monday in a last-minute effort to get all 15 Council nations to back a resolution demanding that Syria cooperate with an investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The resolution co-sponsored by the United States, Britain and France had called for possible economic sanctions if Syria did not comply, citing the U.N. Charter. But Russia and China objected strongly to mentioning sanctions while the investigation into Hariri's killing is still under way.

Another concession

The new text, obtained by the Associated Press, dropped the reference to the U.N. Charter, saying only that if Syria does not cooperate ``the Council, if necessary, could consider further action.''

In another concession to try to get Russia and China on board, the co-sponsors also agreed to drop an appeal to Syria to renounce all support ``for all forms of terrorist action and all assistance to terrorist groups.''

U.S. ambassador John Bolton told reporters that Foreign Ministers of the five permanent veto-wielding nations agreed to changes because of ``the prospect of getting a near-unanimous vote in the Council.''

Despite the changes, he said, ``it's going to be unmistakably a clear message'' and ``a strong resolution.''

He predicted the resolution would get at least 12 ``yes'' votes, and no veto.

The United States urged Foreign Ministers of the 15 Council nations to attend Monday's meeting, to cast their country's vote on the resolution and thereby send a high-level message to Syria of the international demand for action. Almost all of the ministers flew to New York for the meeting. 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.''

Final negotiations

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa also flew to New York on Sunday to attend the Council meeting.

The final negotiations on the text began on Sunday night at a dinner hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the Foreign Ministers of the four other permanent Council nations — Russia, China, Britain and France.

Washington, Paris and London 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 February 14 bombing that killed Hariri and 20 others.

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