UNITED NATIONS: The United States is willing to work with Iran and Russia to try to end the Syrian conflict, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday but insisted there could not be a return to the status quo under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Obama described Assad as a tyrant and as the chief culprit behind the four-year civil war in which at least 200,000 people have died and millions have been driven from their homes internally or abroad as refugees.
“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict,” Obama said at the annual gathering of world leaders.
“But we must recognise that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.”
In voicing a willingness to deal with Iran and Russia, both staunch backers of Assad, Obama was openly acknowledging their influence in Syria and swallowing a somewhat bitter pill for the United States.
Tehran has armed the Syrian government and, through its backing of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has helped Assad fight rebels seeking to end his family’s four-decade rule. Russia has recently engaged in a military build-up in Syria, where it has a naval base that serves as its foothold in the Middle East.
Obama is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later on Monday on the sidelines of the gathering, for talks that could provide some hint on how it might be possible to end a conflict that has defied years of diplomatic efforts.
Refer Syrian crisis to Criminal Court: UN chief
The U.N. secretary-general for the first time called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Ban Ki-moon’s state of the world address to leaders from the U.N.’s 193 member states came shortly before Obama, Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were to speak to the U.N. General Assembly in the morning session alone.
The U.N. chief insisted on a political solution to the conflict in Syria, now well into its fifth year with more than a quarter of a million people killed.
Ban said five countries “hold the key” to a political solution to Syria: Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. He said “innocent Syrians pay the price of more barrel bombs and terrorism” and there must be no impunity for “atrocious” crimes.
The Syrian conflict is “driven by regional powers and rivalries,” Ban said. On the sidelines of this week’s meeting, leaders and diplomats from the major players are trying to address them.
Obama, without naming names, told the assembly that “we see some major powers that assert themselves in ways that contravene international law.”
He said of Syrian President Bashar Assad, “when a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not a matter of a nation’s internal affairs.”
The U.S. is prepared to work with any country, including Russia and Iran, to resolve Syria’s conflict, Obama said.
He also took jabs at Russia and China, again without naming names. “The strong men of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow,” Obama warned. And he added in a critique of restrictions on speech, “You can control access to information … but you cannot turn a lie into truth.”
Other crises at the center of this week’s discussions include the related refugee and migrant crisis, the largest since the upheaval of World War II.
Ban warned that resources to address these crises are dangerously low. “The global humanitarian system is not broken; it is broke,” he said. The U.N. has just half of what it needs to help people in Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen, and just a third of what’s needed for Syria.
The U.N. chief, in unusually hard-hitting words, also urged the world to unite against the “blatant brutality” of extremist groups including the Islamic State. He blamed “proxy battles of others” for driving the fighting in Yemen, and he warned against “the dangerous drift” in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it is essential for the international community to pressure both sides to re-engage.
Monday’s address by Putin, who has showed up the U.N. gathering for the first time in a decade, was one of the most highly anticipated. The Russian president also was set to meet Obama on the sidelines Monday afternoon.
Others set to speak Monday included French President Francois Hollande and Cuban President Raul Castro, who also has a meeting planned with Obama.
Some, including Obama, Xi and Hollande, already addressed the General Assembly over the weekend during a separate global summit on sweeping new U.N. development goals for the next 15 years.