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Syria After Mehlis: How the Lebanese Prime Minister’s Assassination Will Affect U.S.- Syrian Relations

The nearly concluded United Nations inquiry into the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri could have grave implications for Syria. The investigation, led by Detlev Mehlis, a prosecutor from Germany, is expected to deliver a scathing report detailing high-level Syrian involvement in the murder of Hariri. If this proves correct, it could trigger international sanctions against Syria. Former Senior Director for Near Eastern Affairs under George W. Bush and Brookings Senior Fellow Flynt Leverett, in addition to Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian expert on minorities and human rights in the Middle East and visiting fellow in the Arab Democracy and Development project at Brookings, will discuss the implications of the Mehlis investigation for Syrian and U.S. policy. Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center, will moderate the discussion.

How the Bush Administration responds to the Mehlis report will have a potentially profound impact on its Iraq policy and its wider efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. The report could bolster the administration to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate with the inquiry, end alleged meddling in Lebanon and Iraq, and halt support for Palestinian militants. The investigation appears to have already affected Syrian politics, raising the possibility of changes inside the regime. One leading official who had been deeply involved in Syria’s Lebanon policy, the interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, reportedly committed suicide on October 12.

Leverett is a leading authoring on Syria and recently authored Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial by Fire (Brookings, 2005) which gives a detailed analysis of the Syrian regime. Ammar Abdulhamid is head of the Damascus-based DarEmar publishing house, and is a well-known advocate for minority rights, democratization, and stronger civil society in Syria. Both will talk in depth on the repercussions of the report and the future of foreign policy between the nations.

A question and answer session will follow remarks.

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