Overshadowed by larger concerns, Syria gets its moment at UN

Updated 29 Sep 2019

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 28. — Reuters
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 28. — Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: Overshadowed by this year’s larger concerns, the war in Syria got some attention on Saturday as challenges posed by conflicts, poverty, inequality and the climate emergency continued to dominate world leaders’ speeches at the UN General Assembly.

Syria’s plight remains one of the world body’s thorniest issues as the country has been devastated by more than eight years of war. But global worries over rising tensions in the Gulf region, the earth’s warming temperature and the trade war between the United States and China this year have eclipsed the plight of the Syrian people.

The UN is hoping that the recent creation of a committee that would draft a new Syrian constitution will put the country on track for a political solution.

But in a speech before world leaders, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem took what appeared to be a hardline stance insisting that the committee not be subjected to deadlines and be run entirely by Syria with no preconditions set by other countries in a possible indication of the challenges ahead.

“The committee must be independent. Its recommendations must be made independently, without interference from any country or party,” al-Moallem said.

While most of Syria has returned to government control, the opposition-held bastion of Idlib in the northwest, and the US-backed Kurdish groups in the oil-rich northeast, still elude the grasp of President Bashar Assad.

In a wide-ranging speech that he, like many of this year’s speakers, dedicated to the theme of multilateralism, Vatican’s secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin also highlighted the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians as “an area of perennial concern.” The Amazon, which has been ravaged by a surge of fires this year, also warranted a special mention.

Parolin also urged the world to do more to protect women and children who have been raped and victimized in wars. He did not mention the clergy sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church.

America’s foreign policy was a popular target in Saturday’s speeches: Al-Moallem blasted the United States, and Turkey, for maintaining a military presence in Syria, and Cuba’s foreign minister denounced the Trump administration for its decision to impose a travel ban to the US on former Cuban President Raul Castro.

“This is an action that is devoid of any practical effect and is aimed at offending Cuba’s dignity and the sentiments of our people,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla thundered. “It is a vote-catching crumb being tossed to the Cuban-American extreme right.”

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2019