The U.S. government launched a scathing attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s speech at Damascus University, during which he offered limited cooperation with the U.N. investigation into the assassination of a former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli referred to the speech as “"appalling" and "outrageous," and accused Assad of threatening Lebanon even after the U.N. Security Council demanded Syria stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs.
However, government officials stressed that the U.S. does not plan on pushing for a regime change in Syria, but rather work to improve the current one’s conduct.
During his speech Assad said, “We will play their game and cooperate, but we will stop once the cooperation becomes detrimental to Syria."
Ereli said, “Let's remember, first of all, that the international community has made it clear to Syria that it must first fully cooperate with the (Detlev) Mehlis investigation and, second, cease all interference in Lebanese domestic affairs,"
Assad added that Lebanon has become a hub for conspirators, adding that current Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has broken his promise to “prevent anti-Syrian conspiracies from coming out of Lebanon.”
'Stop trying to negotiate and cooperate'
To this Ereli responded by saying, “The regime of President al-Assad just doesn't get it and doesn't understand where the rest of the international community is on this very important issue."
Government officials claim Syria is simply ignoring the U.N. Security Council’s three resolutions concerning Syria, the most recent of them (Resolution 1636) calling for Damascus's complete cooperation with the assassination probe.
"Assad's remarks today can only be seen as a defiance of those resolutions," the spokesman said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters on her way to the Middle East that, "The U.N. couldn't have been clearer. The resolution couldn't have been clearer or more detailed about what was expected of the Syrians. They're expected to answer affirmatively, yes, to whatever Mehlis needs to complete his investigation. I do not believe the U.N. Security Council resolution contemplated negotiating how they would say yes."
She said Syria must "stop trying to negotiate and cooperate," adding that she hopes anyone talking to Damascus encourages the government to comply "unconditionally and immediately."