Assad to Talk to U.N. Investigators in Hariri Slaying

From the Associated Press

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his top deputy have agreed to meet for the first time with the commission investigating the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, according to a report released Tuesday.

The meetings, expected this month, would mark a significant reversal for Assad and Vice President Farouk Shareh, who had refused to heed interview requests from the commission. The investigators have repeatedly accused the Damascus government of failing to cooperate in the inquiry on the truck-bomb attack that killed Hariri and 22 others Feb. 14, 2005.

Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Asef Shawkat, Syria's military intelligence chief and Assad's brother-in-law.

Serge Brammertz, who was appointed to take over the investigation in January, wrote in the report to the U.N. Security Council that his commission had reached a deal for extensive Syrian cooperation. He said Syria had signaled that it might arrest those his team suspects of involvement, a request it had previously resisted.

"This understanding will be tested in the upcoming months," Brammertz wrote.

Syria has denied involvement in Hariri's death. The assassination led to demonstrations against Syria's decades-long dominance of Lebanese affairs and heightened international pressure on Damascus to withdraw its troops, which it eventually did.

Brammertz's report was intentionally shorter on specifics than his predecessor's two reports, which exhaustively detailed the evidence suggesting Syrian and Lebanese involvement in Hariri's killing.

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