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Moscow Hopes That Damascus Will Not Let It Down

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya.) On October 31, diplomats from Russia, China, Algeria, India, Brazil and several other countries prevented the UN Security Council from passing a legally dubious resolution, which had been proposed by the United States, Great Britain and France.

The draft resolution, which threatened Damascus with sanctions, could have placed the Middle East on the verge of another conflict. Now it seems that Russia and its partners have assumed responsibility for Syria.

However, this may prove to be a temporary victory, as Syria is not at all pleased about the resolution.

The UNSC will return to discussing the Syrian issue after December 15. The question is whether Syria will let its partners down.

"Most importantly, the United Nations Independent Investigation Commission on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri headed by Commissioner Detlev Mehlis is called on to investigate this crime in line with UNSC Resolution 1636. This is our main achievement," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Mehlis' preliminary report said that Syrian secret services were involved in the crime.

"The resolution's co-authors deemed it possible to heed the proposals of Russia and other UNSC members to a certain extent. Russia and its partners did not want the resolution to be politicized, but rather used as a tool in the investigation process. Nor did we want that document to contain unjustified threats and to violate the universal principle of the presumption of innocence," Lavrov explained. One can therefore talk about Moscow's unqualified success in this respect.

Russia and several other countries managed to exclude some provisions that had nothing to do with the investigation of Hariri's death. For his part, President George Bush interviewed by Al Arabiya news channel on the eve of the Security Council meeting said that serious pressure must be exerted on Damascus. According to President Bush, the Syrians must understand that they cannot conceal terrorist groups undermining the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Damascus must also stop interfering in Lebanese affairs. Moreover, Syria must prevent militants from entering Iraq and killing people who support democracy there.

Syria was threatened with sanctions, if it refused to cooperate with the international community. But Russian diplomats and their colleagues said unequivocally that this course of action was counter-productive. No country can cooperate with others, if it is pronounced guilty a priori, and if it is subjected to coercion. Russia, China, Algeria and several other countries have amended the UNSC resolution. Instead of proposing sanctions, this document suggests that the UNSC can consider other measures, if Syria refuses to cooperate. Damascus believes that this scenario is not ideal but more acceptable than the initial document. According to Lavrov, "this resolution is not ideal, but it is a start."

Moscow stresses that specific differences between UNSC members during the latest debate "should not serve as a pretext for not complying with its main demand, namely, the need for full and conscientious cooperation with the Independent Commission." "This concerns Syria first and foremost," Lavrov stressed and added that the Syrian leadership was willing to cooperate. Damascus must now convince everyone that its intentions are sincere.

Lavrov's diplomatic language implies that any loud-mouthed statements are inappropriate today. Syria must convince everyone of its innocence. However, Washington, London and Paris are certain of Syria's guilt. Damascus considers this situation to be unacceptable. Nonetheless, one must fight fire with fire, methodically depriving the adversary of his trump cards.

"Russia will see to it that Syria fulfil specific promises as regards cooperation with the Independent Commission. President Vladimir Putin and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Al-Assad recently discussed this issue over the phone," Lavrov noted. Moscow will try to ensure a professional and unbiased investigation by the Mehlis commission. But any efforts on the part of Moscow, Beijing and the Arab League would prove futile, if Damascus started playing political games.

Everybody still remembers a recent statement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who quoted Imam Khomeini as saying that the Zionist regime must be wiped out, and that, with God's help, the world would soon be free of the United States and Israel. At that time, Russia's Foreign Minister made it clear that those demanding the discussion on the Iranian nuclear file at the UNSC had received additional arguments in favor of their position. Russia failed in its efforts to prevent the politicization of the Iranian issue. Tehran simply let Moscow down. Another example comes to mind: Saddam Hussein tried to play for time until the last moment, and Moscow's efforts to prevent another Iraqi war eventually proved futile.

Damascus must therefore display extreme caution and wisdom. Bashar Al-Assad, who faces tough problems, is not alone on the international scene. Most members of the international community support and trust the Syrian leader. Many countries, Russia included, would lose, if he loses.

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