Source AP ©

Syria's foreign minister:"Damascus won't deal with the international tribunal"

Syria's foreign minister said Damascus won't deal with the international tribunal in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"It will not affect us because we have already informed the Security Council that we will not deal with the tribunal," Walid al-Moallem said of the court approved by the United Nations.

Al-Moallem also reiterated Damascus' line that Syria will not cooperate with the tribunal if it infringes on Syrian national sovereignty. A U.N. investigation implicated Syria in Hariri's death, but Damascus denies involvement.

"The issue of the tribunal concerns Lebanon alone, and Syria will not concede its sovereignty to any party, no matter who that party is," he said at a joint press conference in Damascus with his visiting Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

"The Security Council's hasty decision to create the tribunal does not enjoy international or Lebanese consensus, aside from being an infringement on Lebanon's sovereignty," al-Moallem added.

The tribunal, which the U.N. Security Council voted to establish Wednesday, has been at the core of a political crisis between the Western-backed government in Beirut and the Syrian-supported opposition. Street clashes in recent months have killed 11 people.

Lebanon's U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had asked the Security Council earlier this month to establish the tribunal, citing the refusal of opposition-aligned Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene a session to ratify its creation.

But the reaction of Syria and its allies in the Lebanese opposition cast doubt that the factions would overcome their differences before a June 10 deadline set by the U.N. If the Lebanese parliament does not establish the tribunal by then, the Security Council will impose it.

Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group backed by Syria and Iran, said Thursday the Security Council had placed Lebanon under "international tutelage, without decision-making and sovereignty in an unprecedented development in the history of sovereign states."

Syria's government newspaper Tishrin said Thursday that a U.N. imposition of the tribunal could have "dangerous repercussions on the Lebanese national unity." The newspaper said the decision was part of an American-Israeli effort to exact revenge on Syria.

U.N. officials have said the tribunal could take up to a year to establish, and with the investigation ongoing, it remains unclear who would face trial.

Saad Hariri, son of the slain leader and head of the parliamentary majority, has urged the opposition to engage in dialogue. But the opposition's Berri was quoted by newspapers Friday as saying the government should resign first.

Berri has stressed that the government could resolve the standoff by ceding to the opposition's demands for a national unity Cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies would have veto power. Saniora has rejected that idea and resisted months of opposition campaigns to drive him out of office.