Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told a news conference on Friday that the breakthrough in negotiations with the United Nations came after Syria received "reassurances" that its sovereignty would be respected.

"The (Syrian) leadership has decided to inform Mehlis that it accepts his suggestion, as a compromise, that the venue to listen to the five Syrian officials be the UN headquarters in Vienna," Moallem said.

Moallem said the date for the questioning would be set after contacts with Mehlis.

There was no immediate comment from the UN investigation team.

The official said the individuals, whose names were not released, would return to Damascus after the interviews.

His announcement came a day after Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa criticised Mehlis for refusing Syrian offers on where and how to question the Syrian officials that the commission wished to see.

Number of officials

Reports have said Mehlis wants to interview six officials, including the chief of Syria's military intelligence, Brigadier-General Assef Shawkat, who is the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

 

But Moallem said only five were needed for questioning.

 

"As far as I know the number of those wanted are five," he said. "I don't know where you got the sixth name."

 

Mehlis has not publicly said whom the commission wants to interview.

"The (Syrian) leadership has decided that the venue to listen to the five Syrian officials be the UN headquarters in Vienna"

Walid Moallem
Syrian deputy foreign minister

The UN commission, mandated by the Security Council, is investigating the death of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who was killed with 20 others in a massive truck bombing in Beirut on 14 February. 

The commission, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, issued an interim report last month that implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in the assassination.

The UN Security Council has told Syria that it has to cooperate fully with the Mehlis commission and warned it of "further action", diplomatic code for sanctions, if it fails to do so.