U.N. General Assembly Opens With Focus on Syria, ISIS and Refugees

U.N. General Assembly Opens With Focus on Syria, ISIS and Refugees


maxresdefaultUnited Nations, By Somini Sengupta,September 28,2015:-The United Nations General Assembly opened on Monday with all eyes on the war in Syria and the twin crises it has helped spawn: the unyielding spread of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the surge of refugees from the region into Europe.

“Dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker more disordered world,” President Obama said in his speech after the General Assembly’s 70th annual session formally convened. Conflicts and tyrants, he said, are “driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an epic scale.”

Punctuating the beginning of a day of speeches that included those by other powerful leaders including those of Russia, China, Iran and France, Mr. Obama advocated against those “who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. Charter are unachievable or out of date.”

In opening the General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also struck a sober theme, asserting that: “Inequality is growing, trust is fading, and impatience with leadership can be seen and felt far and wide.”

The remarks by Mr. Ban, who is approaching his last year as the secretary general, were unusually pointed.

He called to leaders to not stay in power beyond their constitutional terms in office, pressed permanent members of the Security Council to put aside their divisions, called explicitly for an “end to bombings” in Yemen, and named the five countries that, as he said, “hold the key” to peace in Syria: Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey.

Mr. Ban said 100 million civilians are in need of aid, for which the United Nations has pleaded for $20 billion. He rebuked the rich for not giving more, giving examples: One third of what the organization needs for Syria and Iraq has been received and for Gambia, whose children are among the hungriest in the world, nothing has come in.

He stepped up his criticism of countries that shut their borders to refugees. “I urge Europe to do more,” reminding the Continent’s leaders that “after the Second World War it was Europeans seeking assistance.”

He marked two pieces of good news. He praised the nuclear pact that the world powers reached with Iran. And with some relief, he noted that the world had come together to stop the Ebola virus from spreading.

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, who was the first to speak, scolded those countries that have tried to prohibit refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, pointing out that Brazil hosts Syrians and Haitians now as it opened the doors to Europeans and Asians a century ago. “In a world where goods, capital, data and ideas flow freely, it is absurd to impede the free flow of people,” she said.

Presidents Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and François Hollande of France were speaking later in the day.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, which is among Syria’s most dogged allies, was scheduled to step up to the lectern in the morning as well, along with King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country is swelling with 630,000 registered Syrian refugees.

Mr. Obama was scheduled to meet with Mr. Putin later on Monday, but there appeared to be little prospect of a handshake between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani. The Iranian mission announced on Monday that Mr. Rouhani would cut short his visit to New York and return to Iran a day early, just after his speech to the General Assembly, to be present when the bodies of about 130 Iranian victims of the stampede near Mecca are flown home on Tuesday.

The gathering at the United Nations comes at a time when the war in Syria seems at a pivotal juncture, with Russia increasing its supply of arms to the government of President Bashar al-Assad and Iran insisting, along with Russia, that the fight against terrorist groups take top priority, rather than Mr. Assad’s exit.

Mr. Putin was expected to call for countries around the world to join the effort to rout the Islamic State. That will most certainly be echoed by Mr. Rouhani, who said Sunday night in a meeting with journalists and foreign policy experts in New York that to defeat terrorists, Mr. Assad’s government “can’t be weakened,” according to news reports.

Taken by surprise on Sunday by the announcement of an understanding among Iran, Iraq and Syria to share intelligence about the Islamic State, American officials have so far said only that it is important to “coordinate” their military efforts against the militant group with the Kremlin.

Asked about the Obama-Putin meeting, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, president of the International Crisis Group, said that the situation in Syria had become too sweeping for either leader to ignore much longer.

“They should both recognize that Syria has reached a situation of stalemate, even if the Syrian actors will not acknowledge it, and that the continuation of that stalemate, even apart from the appalling humanitarian consequences of that stalemate, is strategically bad for both countries,” he said. “The more the conflict endures, the more it fragments, the more it radicalizes, the more intractable.”

Mr. Ban invited all the attending heads of state and government to a luncheon on Monday. The General Assembly session will then continue in the afternoon with an address by President Raúl Castro of Cuba, whose relations with the United States have thawed over the past year. PresidentMuhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, elected this year on a promise to rout Boko Haram extremists from the country’s north, is also expected to give his first address to the General Assembly.

Later Monday, Mr. Obama will lead a summit meeting aimed at strengthening United Nations peacekeeping missions. On Tuesday, a session is set to discuss how to counter violent extremism, including the flow of foreign fighters to terrorist groups. The next day, Russia will host its own Security Council session devoted to counterterrorism in the Middle East.

This week, world leaders will also wrestle with another consequence of the nearly five-year war in Syria: the flow of refugees into Europe. The German foreign minister is to host the world’s most industrialized nations, the Group of 7, to discuss the global migrant crisis, and the secretary general will lead a similar session in the General Assembly.

In Syria, the West’s diplomatic options have been further limited by its failure to stop the flow of foreign fighters into the arms of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and by the Pentagon’s failure to train and equip more than a handful of Syrians to take on the group.

France announced on Sunday that it had carried out airstrikes against what it called Islamic State training camps, even as Mr. Hollande insisted that “the future of Syria cannot be with Bashar al-Assad.”

Britain and the United States have likewise carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State, avoiding, as Russia likes to point out, Mr. Assad’s positions on the battlefield.    (New York Times)