UN's standing on the line over how it deals with Assad, Obama warns

If world body can't agree on dealing with Assad, it will show it can't enforce the most basic of international laws, he warns assembly

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 6:03am

The United Nation's reputation would be greatly diminished if it did not agree to a resolution on Syrian chemical weapons that included consequences for President Bashar Assad if he did not dismantle his stockpile, US President Barack Obama said yesterday.

"If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws," he said in his address to the General Assembly.

The eyes of the world have turned to New York this week as dignitaries and envoys from nearly 200 member states attend what is seen as one of the most pivotal General Assembly meetings in recent history.

At the forefront is what to do about Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

The United States and Russia have brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons. But the countries are at odds on what the possible consequences would be if Syria doesn't comply.

"We believe that as a starting point the international community must enforce the ban in international weapons," Mr Obama said.

The agreement between Washington and Moscow came as Obama was pushing Congress to approve a strike against Syria for a chemical weapons attack last month on civilians that the Obama administration says was carried out by Assad's regime.

The subsequent diplomatic steps agreed to by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov placed the threat of force on hold.

Still, the Russians have challenged the administration's claims of Assad culpability and Assad has blamed rebel forces for the attack.

Obama aggressively pushed back against those claims in his speech. "It's an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack," he said.

Obama also said while the international community had recognised the stakes involved in the civil war, "our response has not matched the scale of the challenge".

He announced that the United States would provide US$339 million more in humanitarian aid to refugees and countries affected by the Syrian civil war, bringing the total American aid devoted to that crisis to nearly US$1.4 billion.

Obama reiterated his demand that Assad cannot continue to lead Syria, but said he would not use US military force to depose him.

"That is for the Syrian people to decide," he said. "Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country."

He called on Assad allies to stop supporting his regime. "The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy," Obama said. "It's time for Russia and Iran to realise that insisting on Assad's role will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the first leader to address the assembly, launched a blistering attack on the US over its widespread spying on her country.

"The argument that illegal interception of information is allegedly intended to protect nations against terrorism is untenable," Rousseff said. "Brazil knows how to protect itself."

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse