70th General Assembly: Obama, Putin, Rowhani spar over Syria at UN

Published: September 29, 2015
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Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon and Vladimir Putin speak over lunch at the UN headquarters. PHOTO: REUTERS

Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon and Vladimir Putin speak over lunch at the UN headquarters. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS: 

As presidents of US, Russia and Iran sparred over the crisis in Syria in duelling UN speeches on Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Europe to do more to confront the migration crisis as he opened the 70th General Assembly.

Russian President Vladmir Putin urged the UN GA to unite to fight the Islamic State group and said it would be a disastrous error not to support Syria’s sitting president Bashar al-Assad.

“We must address the problems that we are all facing and create a broad anti-terror coalition,” Putin said in his address, his first to the world body in a decade.

It is, he argued, an “enormous mistake to not cooperate with the Syrian group which is fighting the terrorists face-to-face.”

US President Barack Obama said Washington was ready to work with Russia and Iran against Islamic State militants, but took a swipe at them for supporting Assad, whom he dubbed a child-killing tyrant.

“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict,” he said, but made clear his opposition to Moscow and Tehran’s current policy of arming and supporting Assad. Putin blamed the rise of violent extremism on the US’ military interventions in Iraq and Libya, which he said had unleashed chaos in the Middle East.

Rather than a bulwark against militant extremism, Obama argued, Assad drives Syrians into the arms of such groups by dropping “barrel bombs to massacre innocent children.”

Putin rejected this view, arguing that the IS group sprang out of the chaos left behind after US-backed forces ousted Saddam Hussein from Iraq and Muammar Qaddafi from Libya.

Putin criticised the current US policy of training and arming local rebel groups. He also urged Muslim spiritual leaders to stop people from being recruited by militants.

Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani, though, warned of a void in Damascus following Assad’s exit. “If we are to succeed in fighting terrorism, the government in Damascus cannot be weakened. It must be able to carry on the fight.”

“As we aided the establishment of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and also Yemen,” Rowhani added.

On the refugee crisis, Ban said that more must be done by Europe and other nations.

“We should not be building fences or walls. But above all, we must look at root causes in countries of origin.”

Obama said that the US was prepared to take in 200,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

Rowhani said that long term peace lies in economic development of the conflict-hit areas.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised support for a permanent UN police squad and African peacekeeping as he vowed a peaceful rise for the Asian power.

Paying his first-ever visit to the United Nations, Xi said that China, would “take the lead” in setting up an 8,000-troop “permanent peacekeeping police squad” that could be deployed at short notice.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2015.

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