US Jumps at Syria Implication

Mon Oct. 24, 2005 4:34 PM EDT

Today is United Nations Day, marking the organization's 60th anniversary. As New York and UN offices around the world celebrate and commemorate with parades and fairs, a potential storm is brewing amid US interests in the Middle East.

The stir is caused by the release of the Mehlis Report, a 54-page document that provides the findings of the UN investigation into the car bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February. The latest controversy concerns Mehlis' implication of high-ranking Syrian officials with involvement in the assassination plot, along with a subsequent call by the U.S. for international sanctions against Syria.

Although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies any involvement in the bomb and the UN investigation has thus far not produced any proof that he had knowledge of a conspiracy, the report does name Assad's brother-in-law, General Rustum Ghazali, the former Syrian intelligence chief in Beirut, as a co-conspirator.

In recent months, the Bush Administration has had particular trouble with what it sees as Assad's refusal to assist counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq by stemming the flow of foreign fighters into the country. Der Spiegel describes the American contention "that Syria has assumed a role similar to that of Cambodia in the Vietnam War: It has become the staging ground for a shadow and proxy war" as incentive for the US to gain control of the Syrian front of the Iraq war.

The UN Summit in September resolved to consider the Secretary-General's proposal for a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy in the coming year. But while the General Assembly pushes for consensus on a definition of terrorism, the UN Security Council is again being called to take immediate action with its stronger-armed tools. The State Department hopes the UN will hold a ministerial-level meeting on October 31st to decide what Security Council measures will be taken against Syria. Notably, France is also interested in getting tough on Syria. Tomorrow, the Security Council will discuss the Mehlis report tomorrow in New York.