Syria was still considering a request by the UN team probing the February 2005 killing to meet President Bashar al-Assad, but an interview with Farouq al-Shara, the foreign minister, was acceptable, the diplomats said on Wednesday.

"The request is being considered while other capitals are in contact with Syria on the same subject," a diplomatic source said. "As announced before there is no objection that the committee meets Shara. That position did not change."

A senior Saudi official is expected to discuss in Damascus on Wednesday the issue of Syria's cooperation with the investigation. The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt held talks on the matter in Saudi on Tuesday.

The US has warned Syria that its top officials should submit to the interviews in line with a UN Security Council resolution that called for it to comply fully with the inquiry or face unspecified "further action".

Syrian denial

Syria
has denied any role in the killing and has not commented on the request for an interview with its president, although it previously invited Detlev Mehlis, the chief investigator, to meet with Shara.

Mehlis, the chief UN investigator,
implicated senior Syrian officials

The diplomatic sources gave no details on the possible date or venue of any meeting with Shara but said it would be outside Syria. The investigation team had no comment on the report.

Investigators questioned five Syrian officers in Vienna last month. Mehlis said in a report to the council later in December that the five were among 20 Lebanese and Syrian suspects in the murder.

Mehlis's team had questioned Emile Lahoud, Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, over the murder and ordered the arrest of four Lebanese generals who were in charge of the country's security at the time of the crime.

UN investigators also want to meet former Abdel-Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian vice president now living in Paris, as soon as possible.

Khaddam said in a television interview that al-Assad had threatened al-Hariri months before he was killed in Beirut on 14 February 2005.