Putin Pulls Assad’s Chestnuts out of the Fire

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debkafile‘s sources close to the investigation report that Syrian president Bashar Assad has managed to hold back his strongman brother-in-law Gen. Assef Shawqat from interrogation at UN headquarters in Vienna as a suspect in the Hariri assassination. By Friday night, Nov. 26, the Syrian ruler had bowed to the UN investigator Detlev Mehlis` ultimatum to let the suspects be quizzed outside Syria. But debkafile discloses he did so on his own legal terms and without the senior suspect. He also obtained from Mehlis a pledge that no arrest warrants would be issued against the remaining five. But above all, we reveal, he persuaded Russian president Valdimir Putin to underwrite Mehlis’ pledge to comply with his terms and promise to veto any anti-Syrian resolution tabled by UN secretary Kofi Annan, the US or France condemning Syria’s failure to cooperate with the international probe.
The high-ranking Syrian officers the UN investigator demanded to question outside Syria are:
Gen. Assef Shawqat, head of Syrian military intelligence and strongman of the Baath regime, Gen. Rustum Ghazaleh, Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon at the time of the murder and current overlord of all Syria’s intelligence agencies, his deputy Col. Jam’a Jam’a, Gen. Bajhat Suleiman, head of Syrian intelligence council, Brig-Gen Zaafar al Yusuf, head of Syrian intelligence signals department, and Brig. Abdel Karim Abbas, head of its Palestine Dept. Gen. Shawqat has escaped the probe for the moment.
debkafile reveals a further setback for the Mehlis inquiry: A key witness was found dead Saturday, 26 Nov, in a deep wadi near the village of Batrin on Mt. Lebanon. In the interim report he filed in October, he placed high value on the evidence of the eight cell phone lines, which were used by the assassins and the Syrian intelligence officers directing them at the time of the crime. The phones were purchased at a shop in Beirut port owned by Nawar Dora. It was his body that was discovered.
Friday, Nov. 25, DEBKA-Net-Weekly revealed the Syrian president’s terms for allowing his top officials to be questioned outside the country in an exclusive report:
Syrian president Bashar Assad tried every possible dodge to keep all six high officers away from Detlev Mehlis and his interrogation of the Rafiq Hariri assassination.
But the UN investigator, whose final report must be in by December 15, is equally determined to get hold of them on his terms. Meanwhile he is methodically building up his case against the men in high places of the Assad regime.
An urgent request sent by Syrian foreign minister Farouk a-Shara Wednesday, Nov. 23, for the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s intercession, was not a genuine attempt to break out of the impasse over the six officers; it was yet another stratagem to play for time.
Shara did not specify what compromise he had in mind, or where Damascus stood on the issue. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that seven Syrian conditions were laid down at a secret meeting that took place in Barcelona on Nov. 18 between Mehlis and the Syrian foreign ministry’s legal adviser Riad Daoudi. Our sources have obtained the text of those conditions:
1. Mehlis must publish an official disavowal of the testimony presented by one of the central witnesses in the investigation, Muhammad Zouhayr Asseddiq, a Syrian intelligence officer who fled to Saudi Arabia and then Paris. In his interim report to the UN Security Council, Mehlis termed Asseddiq the key witness of his investigation.
Our sources note that the UN investigator would undermine his own report if he disowned this witness.
2. The UN investigators must undertake not to bring masked witnesses into the same room as the six Syrian officers.
Syria is aware that the UN team has Syrian and Lebanese witnesses in addition to Asseddiq and wants to avoid an incriminating confrontation with the six suspects.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources offer here some particulars of the UN inquiry’s surprise witnesses.
3. The UN inquiry must notify Damascus of any witnesses of the same type as Assediq.
4. The UN Secretary must provide guarantees that no foreign intelligence service will be co-opted to the Hariri investigation or given access to the testimony given to the team.
This stipulation is unrealistic. In his interim report to the Security Council, Detlev Mehlis thanked the various intelligence services who assisted and are still assisting his inquiry.
5. Before starting to interrogate the six Syrian officers, the UN investigator must make a public statement praising Syria for fully cooperating with the inquiry team and affirming that it has not complaints against Damascus.
6. The UN and Mehlis in person must pledge not to stage any confrontation between the six Syrian officers and the four Lebanese officials in detention in Beirut as suspects in the Hariri murder.
7. Before getting down to questioning the Syrian officers, the UN investigator must take one of two steps: either bring absolute proofs that the two apartments rented in the Hamra district of Beirut as headquarters for the assassination operation were visited by Syrian officers – or, admit publicly that no such proofs exist and the charges against those officers are false.
Publication of either statement would gravely undermine the credibility of all parts of the Mehlis report.
President Assad is now demanding that the UN secretary treat Syria’s seven-point ultimatum as a compromise solution for the crisis over the six Syrian officers.

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