Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has assured Secretary-General Kofi Annan that he will cooperate with the United Nations-sponsored independent probe into the terrorist assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, following an interim finding that pointed to both Lebanese and Syrian involvement.
Speaking to reporters during an official visit to Egypt, Mr. Annan said Syria had indicated it will cooperate fully and "I myself have had the chance to speak to President Assad after the passing of the [Security Council] Resolution and he confirmed that to me."
Resolution 1636, passed unanimously last week, called on Syria to detain Syrian suspects identified by the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, and clarify all unresolved issues. It holds out the possibility of "further action" in the case of non-compliance.
Answering questions after meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Mr. Annan noted that recently Syria "has had a good record in implementation" of UN resolutions, cooperating on Resolution 1559 on withdrawing its troops from Lebanon.
"The last Lebanese elections were free and fair without any interference from the outside, as far as we know," he said, referring to another clause of Resolution 1559, "and I would expect Syria to continue the cooperation with the investigation and work with Mehlis.
"I think if they do cooperate and we get to the truth and the culprits are brought to the dock and made accountable that should be the end of it. I think whoever did this should be punished and the message must go out that the impunity will not be allowed to stand."
Asked about sanctions on Syria in the case of non-compliance, Mr. Annan stressed his expectation that Syria should cooperate fully. "If Syria were not to cooperate and sanctions were to become a possibility, and probability, obviously the Council will have to decide what type of sanctions it will impose," he said.
But, he added, his answering the question on sanctions "does not imply that the Council is planning sanctions. The whole thing is in the hands of the Syrians and the Syrian government, if they cooperate fully and we get to the truth, I think that should suffice and that is what I would urge them to do," he declared.
Fielding questions on other topics, Mr. Annan said "things are not moving fast enough" in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and he called the Arab League plan for an Iraq Reconciliation conference was a very good initiative.
"If we are not able to help the parties in Iraq reconcile, elections alone are not going to resolve their problems," he said. "So I am extremely encouraged by the Arab League initiative to bring the parties here to Egypt for talks on reconciliation and we at the UN support that fully."
In his talks with Foreign Minister Gheit, Mr. Annan also discussed Lebanon and Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He also met with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
The Secretary-General also visited the "Smart Village," a technology centre built by the Egyptian Government outside of the capital, where he toured a number of high-tech projects, accompanied by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. The two had met earlier to discuss development issues in Africa.
Meanwhile, Mr. Annan's wife Nane visited the National Council of Women together with Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt. She also visited a slum upgrading project designed to promote peace through poverty reduction, community participation and youth engagement, and she met with a group of prominent Egyptian women active in development issues.