How Much Longer Can He Keep the UN Investigation at Bay?

Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN team of inquiry into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, arrived in Damascus Monday, September 12, carrying four document files to put before president Bashar Assad for discussion.

He did not indicate their contents, but assumed correctly that Syria’s spies in Beirut, who are still plentiful, would have tipped their masters on the materials in his briefcase.

They are listed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources:


File No. 1 contained a tape Mehlis received from the British MI6 secret service of a telephone conversation that took place two hours after the February 14 assassination at the Monroe Hotel in Beirut’s upscale Hamra district opposite the spot at which Hariri’s convoy was blown to smithereens. It recorded a senior Lebanese intelligence officer talking to a Syrian counterpart in Damascus. As soon as it was picked up by the British Middle East monitoring center in Cyprus, its contents were conveyed to British premier Tony Blair and foreign secretary Jack Straw, who the following day, used the information to pin the assassination publicly on Syria.

File No. 2 contained the numbers of Syrian intelligence officers’ cell phones which they used for conversations with Lebanese officers prior to the murder, while it was going on and subsequently. The UN secretary’s Middle East envoy Terje Larssen, when he stopped over in Cairo this week en route from Moscow to Paris, told Egyptian officials that Mehlis has a list of 30 Syrian intelligence officers he wanted to question.

File No. 3 contained bank statements recording the movements of funds from Syrian officials to Lebanese security officers who assisted in setting up the Hariri murder. Those documents were obtained for the UN inquiry by the Lebanese prime minister Dr. Foud Siniora, a former banker himself.

File No. 4 contained the draft of a secret agreement between Mehlis and the Lebanese government, setting out the assistance government officials undertook to render his inquiry, the intelligence dossiers they would make available to him and the conditions in which he was permitted to make his inquiries and interrogate suspects in detention.

The UN investigator planned to show President Assad this document and ask him to sign a similar document on behalf of the Syrian government.


Syrian officials come up with ridiculous conditions to block the UN investigation


However, Mehlis did not get that far.

Instead of taking him to their president, the Syrian officials who received him escorted him to the foreign ministry and its legal adviser Riad Daoudi. After this interview, the UN official announced diplomatically that the Syrians had been fully cooperative and he would be returning to Damascus shortly.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Beirut sources reveal that, far from being cooperative, Daoudi laid down three conditions for the pursuit of UN inquiries in the Syrian capital that were too ridiculous to be considered.

1. Submission in advance of the names of the individuals he wished to interview with his questions for them.

2. All interviews would take place at the Syrian justice ministry in the presence of ministry officials.

3. All his meetings, interviews and interrogations in Damascus must also be attended by Egyptian and Saudi judges.

Mehlis sharply rejected the stipulations and announced they would be turned over to his superiors, UN secretary general Kofi Annan and the Security Council.

The investigator is now waiting for the UN’s 60th anniversary events to be over so that Annan can direct him how to proceed.


Will Assad cut and run?


The Syrian president was one of the few world leaders absent from festive General Assembly 60th anniversary session in New York – not because he chose to stay away, but because Washington told him that he alone of his entourage would be admitted to the United States on a diplomatic passport; the other members, including the president’s wife Osma and his bodyguards, would have to apply to the US consulate for ordinary visas.

Assad decided against the trip.

His ally in Beirut, president Emil Lahoud, was informed by Washington that if he attended the UN session, he would not be received by any US official or invited to receptions the Americans had arranged for heads of state. Lahoud would have preferred calling off his trip, but acquiesced to Assad’s insistence that he put in an appearance at the event.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly has picked up a rumor making the rounds of the Gulf emirates this week, according to which the Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin-Khalifa al Thani advised the Syrian president to help himself to most of the funds in the Syrian state bank and settle with his family in Qatar. In any case, he said, the Americans are determined to topple him. According to the rumor, al Thani warned him that two former Syrian big shots, whom the Syrian president purged, former vice president Khalim Haddam and ex-chief of staff Hikmat Shehabi, were in negotiation with Americans in Paris and had offered enough incriminating information about Assad’s activities to get him removed. The Qatari ruler reportedly pointed out that, by hanging on too long, the Syrian ruler risked sharing the fate of Saddam Hussein – ousted, imprisoned and standing trial.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources believe that the only grain of truth in the rumor may be an invitation from Sheikh al-Thani for Assad to move to Qatar where he would be treated with respect. But the fact that this rumor is afloat in Gulf ruling circles points to their opinion of his situation.

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