UNITED NATIONS (AP) — After countless speeches, meetings and behind-the-scenes discussions, the unending war in Syria remained the unsolved problem that loomed over this year’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.
As the week-long meeting of the UN General Assembly ended Monday, there were no breakthroughs on a civil war that has vexed diplomats, paralyzed the Security Council and raised new questions about the relevance of the United Nations.
Anyone willing to look closely, however, might spot a few glints of movement: the new international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi saying he saw an “opening” for a solution and was working on a new approach after visiting Syria, the Emir of Qatar and other leaders in the region calling for some kind of Arab-led intervention. But as the fighting in Syria raged on, and there was no sign of action that could end the escalating war, details on these few nuggets were hard to come by.
Talk about Syria, however, was heard everywhere.
Over seven days of speeches, Syria was discussed by one country after another, from Albania: Syrians “are suffering a primitive bloodshed by a regime that has irreversibly lost its legitimacy to lead;” to Zambia: “Humanity has again been embarrassed by this unnecessary carnage.”
Dozens of nations excoriated the regime of President Bashar Assad for its role in a conflict that has killed at least 30,000 Syrians, according to activists.
Even the world’s top diplomat joined in. After Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Syria’s foreign minister Monday, the UN chief’s press office issued a blunt statement.
“The Secretary-General raised in the strongest terms the continued killings, massive destruction, human rights abuses, and aerial and artillery attacks committed by the government,” it said. “He stressed that it was the Syrian people who were being killed every day, and appealed to the government of Syria to show compassion to its own people.”
Ban again went after Syria in a meeting later Monday on the threat of chemical weapons, alluding to the widely-held belief that the Assad regime has stockpiles of them. Ban warned that the “use of such weapons would be an outrageous crime with dire consequences.”
Assad had a few defenders, like Iran, Cuba and, most notably, Russia. Moscow, Syria’s biggest protector, has joined with China to block three attempts by the US and European Union nations to pass Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring the Assad regime into negotiating a peace deal, the last threatening sanctions.
As the General Assembly wound down Monday, and diplomats left behind empty seats in the chamber, Syria got its chance to defend itself.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem described a vast global conspiracy bent on bringing down his government.
The media was provoking extremists, al-Moallem said, and inventing a refugee crisis — 300,000 Syrians have fled, according to the UN.
The Americans, Europeans and fellow Arabs were all to blame for meddling in Syrian affairs by calling on Assad to step down. Neighbors like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were arming and financing “terrorists” who were trying to overthrow Assad, he said.
“This terrorism which is externally supported is accompanied by unprecedented media provocation based on igniting religious extremism sponsored by well-known states in the region,” the minister said.
After mentioning “terrorist” or “terrorism” 24 times in his speech, al-Moallem then said the government was ready to negotiate with the opposition and “work together to stop the shedding of Syrian blood.”
“Propaganda” was the swift replay from the chief opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which released a statement saying the latest offer of peace talks came from a “brutal and delusional Syrian regime” that “continues to pay lip service to diplomacy.”
Members of the opposition acknowledged that neighboring Arab countries are supporting the rebels, but said the Assad regime has only itself to blame after its bloody response to protests that began peacefully 18 months ago.
“It is the regime’s mindless, brutal and criminal military crackdown that pushed the Syrian people to ask for help from the international community, from NATO and from the devil himself if necessary to protect them,” Haitham Manna, a Paris-based Syrian dissident and senior member of the National Coordination Body opposition group, told The Associated Press.
The entire week at the UN, which included a high-level meeting of foreign ministers on Syria, amounted to little more than “hand-wringing,” said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow and Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Time would have been better spent planning for a transition if and when Assad finally falls, he said.
“It’s those who are taking the shots against the Assad regime that will be calling them after Assad is gone,” he said. “How will the UN deal with that?”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.