UNITED NATIONS, September 24 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday told the United Nations General Assembly that the Syrian government must face “consequences” if it fails to adhere to a US-Russian plan to turn over its chemical weapons as Washington and Moscow remain deadlocked over whether the threat of military force should be used to enforce the deal.
“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,” Obama told the UN meeting.
In the wide-ranging speech, Obama addressed US policy in the Middle East and defended America’s role in securing stability across the globe. He also signaled an interest in greater engagement with Iran and stressed Washington’s preference for diplomacy in the Syrian conflict, though he reiterated that the threat of force is crucial to securing compliance from Damascus.
The United States is calling for a UN Security Council resolution that would allow military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad should it renege on its commitments to handover its chemical stockpile to international monitors under an agreement brokered by Washington and Moscow earlier this month.
Russia has said military threats cannot be part of a resolution, the text of which is being negotiated by the Security Council this week.
In his speech Tuesday, Obama alluded to other disputes with Russia over the Syria crisis, including what Washington calls clear evidence – including from a report by UN inspectors – of the Assad government’s responsibility for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that it claims left more than 1,400 dead.
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly suggested in recent weeks that they have evidence showing the attack was likely carried out by Syrian rebels seeking to frame Assad in order to secure outside military intervention against government forces.
“It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the [Assad] regime carried out this attack,” Obama said.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said Assad cannot have any role in a future Syrian government, a condition that Russia has called unacceptable interference in Syria’s internal affairs.
But Obama said Tuesday that Russia and Iran, allies of the Assad government, are playing a dangerous game by throwing their weight behind a Syrian leader “who cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.”
“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 realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: An increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.”
Obama also appeared to take a dig at Putin over an op-ed that the Russian leader published in The New York Times earlier this month in which he criticized Obama for calling Americans “exceptional,” calling such claims “extremely dangerous.”
“Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interest of all,” Obama said Tuesday.
Obama also indicated the White House is open to engaging with Iran following overtures from its newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, who suggested in an an op-ed published last week in The Washington Post that Tehran would like to “move beyond impasses” in its relations with the United States.
The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 1979 following the overthrow of Iran’s US-backed leader by Islamic revolutionaries and have been locked in a stalemate for years over the Iranian government’s nuclear ambitions.
But Obama said Tuesday that he had tasked Secretary of State John Kerry with pursuing “an agreement” on Iran’s nuclear program together with the European Union, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama said.
The White House has said Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful in nature.
Washington is “not seeking regime change” and respects “the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy,” Obama added.
“Real breakthroughs” on Iran’s nuclear program and an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement “would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa,” Obama added.
He called on the international community to support a two-state agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reject extremism on both sides.
“Let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice; let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace,” Obama said.