NEW YORK - Despite the American administration's strong condemnations of Syria since Friday, the United States prefers not to take far-reaching steps against Damascus in the UN Security Council at this stage, diplomats in New York said yesterday.

The U.S., Britain and France are weighing their steps cautiously so as not to push Syria into a corner, the sources said.

Tomorrow `s council session is due to open with a briefing to its members by Detlev Mehlis, who headed the international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. The council members are then expected to question Mehlis, especially about the reliability of the witnesses and sources on whom he based his interim report. Mehlis's responses to these questions could contain details about Syrian involvement that he prefered to delete from his interim report.

The resolution that council members are expected to vote on after the report is summed up is unlikely to call for sanctions against Damascus, the sources said. "Behind closed doors, there is talk of sanctions," one Western diplomat told Haaretz, "but this is merely a reminder to Syria that such an option exists."

Although the U.S., Britain and France have been working on a draft resolution since Friday, it will be given to council members only today. However, the resolution is expected to urge Syria to cooperate fully with the international investigators, who have received an extension until December 15 to complete their report. "The fact that the council is awaiting an additional and final report from Mehlis will also prevent the inclusion of operative punitive measures, such as sanctions, in the current resolution," a senior UN source explained.