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Syria's War

Breaking news coverage of developments in Syria's War and the broader regional conflict, including allegations of the deadly use of chemical weapons and the international community's response

  • Transcript of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press conference prior to the opening of the 68th session of the General Assembly 

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I am pleased to join you for my traditional press conference as we kick-off the 68th session of the General Assembly.

    This is a crucial period for global cooperation.

    Syria is the biggest peace, security and humanitarian challenge we face. 

    Let us be clear: the use of chemical weapons in Syria is only the tip of the iceberg. 

    The suffering in Syria must end.  Next week, as world leaders gather here, I will make a strong appeal to Member States for action now.

    Many other issues on our agenda also merit urgent attention – not only other conflicts but also important questions of sustainable development, health, hunger and climate change.  I understand that you had a good press conference with the President of the General Assembly. Over the coming days, we will put a spotlight on these, as well.

    At least 131 Heads of State or Government will be here next week -- one of the highest turnouts in United Nations history.  At least 60 Foreign Ministers will join them.

    I will meet with as many world leaders as I can.  I am determined to pack a lot into these encounters.  We have much to discuss.

    In my speech to the General Assembly, I will call on world leaders to uphold their political and moral responsibilities to serve, to listen, to invest, to respond to the rising and justifiable demands of people across the world for lives of freedom and prosperity.

    We are moving ahead at full steam towards the crucial year of 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  We will showcase MDG successes throughout the week and at a special partnership event on Monday.

    The global discussion on the post-2015 development agenda is also well under way.  I will use next Wednesday’s special event to officially launch my report, “A Life of Dignity for All”, which contains my vision of the transformations we need.

    This month will also see the release of another critical report: the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Its message will surprise no one: the heat is on all of us.

    I also want to stress the importance of the very first event of the week: the Assembly’s high-level session on disabilities and development.  Fifteen per cent of the world’s people – a huge portion of humankind – live with some form of disability. The post-2015 agenda must take their needs and aspirations into account.  A world that recognizes their rights is a world that will benefit all of us.

    The situations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Mali and the Central African Republic will also be high on the agenda, as we assess new approaches we are taking in peacekeeping, diplomacy and support for countries in transition.

    We will hold a meeting of the oversight mechanism for the peace agreement that the United Nations brokered earlier this year for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region. And the Middle East Quartet will meet for the first time in more than a year to support the resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. 

    The next week or two will bring many opportunities for common progress.  But success will depend on ever deeper levels of cooperation – and contributions from our partners.

    In that spirit, I look forward to joining Stevie Wonder and thousands of other good friends of the United Nations at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park.  I hope you will all join that event. We will raise our voices for action against poverty – the number one struggle of our time.

    We have a full agenda.  But the events of the past days have shown once again the power of the United Nations to uncover the facts – to resolve differences – to help avoid bloodshed and forge consensus for peace and progress. 

    We must harness that spirit for action to address our immediate crises and achieve our longer-term goals.

    Thank you for your attention.

  • Ban: Any perpetuators who have used chemical weapons under any circumstances must be brought to justice; should be process of accountability
  • Ban: Ultimately all these issues should be resolved by dialogue in a peaceful manner; hopes leaders can set a date for Geneva II #Syria
  • Ban: The Syrian crisis is the most serious, worst crisis we have experienced in 'many, many years;' there are many other issues as well
  • US: US, Russia, Britain, France, China to meet in New York on Tuesday to discuss draft UN Security Council resolution on #Syria -@Reuters
  • Ban: I know that Security Council reform is one of the very serious and top aspirations of many member states
  • Ban: The finding by the investigators was indisputable, 'overwhelming.' Based on scientific facts, we must not take business as usual
  • Ban: What is encouraging is that Kerry, Lavrov have agreed on framework agreement for how to deal with chemical weapons #Syria
  • Ban: At least 131 heads of state, governments will be here next week, one of highest turnouts in UN history
  • Watch live: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon holds a press conference
  • Syria's main opposition group on Tuesday demanded a swift international response following the UN report confirming the use of chemical weapons in Syria, while Damascus slammed the US, British and French foreign ministers, accusing them of trying to impose their agenda on the Syrian people.

    The Foreign Ministry statement appeared to be in response to demands by foreign ministers of France, Britain and the U.S. that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down even as the West increases efforts to bring the warring sides to an international peace conference.

    "Assad is the legitimate president chosen by the Syrian people and will remain so as long as the Syrian people want this," the ministry said.

    The statement comes after the UN report was released Monday - the first official confirmation by impartial experts that chemical weapons were used in the August 21 attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

    The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said the UN report offered "damning and irrefutable evidence" and clearly shows that only the Syrian regime could have carried out the attack last month.

  • Russia still suspects an August 21 poison gas attack in Syria was a provocation by rebel forces and says a report by UN inspectors does not answer all of its questions about the attack, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

    Speaking following talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius a day after UN inspectors confirmed the use of the nerve agent sarin, Lavrov took a different view to France and other Western states which blame Syrian government forces for the attack.

  • French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday was holding talks in Moscow with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in an attempt to bridge disagreements over a new UN resolution on stripping Syria of its chemical arsenal.

    France has been pushing for a tough Security Council resolution and has blamed the Syrian government for the sarin attack on Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21.

    Fabius, who met with British and American counterparts Monday, will send together with Britain a draft resolution which demands a threat of sanctions if President Bashar al-Assad does not comply with the disarmament plan agreed over the weekend in US-Russian talks.

    However Lavrov on Monday said any resolution using threats was detrimental to Syria's chemical disarmament plan and to a long-term peace plan for the war-torn country, where 110,000 people have been killed over the past 30 months.

  • Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on Syria: 

    The Council heard this morning from the Secretary General on the findings of Dr. Sellstrom and his team of chemical weapons experts. Before I say anything else, let me do as I assume my colleagues has done which is to express the great admiration that the United States has and President Obama has personally for the inspectors who put their lives on the line to try to bring back this evidence so the world would know what happened on August 21st.

    It is no secret that they ran into significant security problems on the ground, but that did not stop them from moving forward. And again, seeking and in the end succeeding in bringing this important information back. So we have great admiration for them.

    As you have already heard from the Secretary General and from my colleague Ambassador Lyall Grant, the UN report confirms unmistakably that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21st.

    Now, the mandate of the chemical weapons team, was as you well know, not to investigate culpability, but the technical details of the UN report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack. We will analyze the UN’s findings in greater detail, very carefully.

    But based on our preliminary review, I will note one particular observation. We have associated one type of munition cited in the UN report – 122mm rockets – with previous regime attacks. We have reviewed thousands of open source videos related to the current conflict in Syria and have not observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket.

    In addition, and I just want to underscore something that Ambassador Lyall Grant shared, Mr. Sellstrom noted in response to a question from Russia that the quality of the sarin was higher than that of the sarin used in Saddam Hussein’s program. Again, higher than the quality of that used in Saddam Hussein’s program. Mr. Sellstrom also stated that the weapons obtained on the site, on the scene of this monstrous crime, were professionally made. He said that they bore none of the characteristics of improvised weapons.

    We understand some countries did not accept on faith that the samples of blood and hair that the United States received from people affected by the August 21 attack contained sarin. But now Dr. Sellstrom’s samples show the same thing.

    And it’s very important to note that the regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.

    Let me also remind you of what we know coming into today's briefing. In the days before the attack, Assad’s chemical weapons experts prepared for an attack. They distributed gas masks to regime troops. They fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 12 neighborhoods that the regime had been trying to clear of opposition forces. And here again I want to underscore, it defies logic to think that the opposition would have infiltrated the regime-controlled area to fire on opposition-controlled areas. And again, it also is worth underscoring that this is the largest chemical weapons attack in 25 years. And that is something that the Secretary General stressed. The largest attack since Halabja.

    As I have found over the last weeks, the more countries around the world are confronted with the hard facts of what occurred on August 21, the more they recognize that the steep price of impunity for Assad could extend well beyond Syria. That is why President Obama sought to mobilize the international community to act to deter and degrade Assad’s ability to use or proliferate these weapons.

    In one week, the United States has made great progress in our effort to bring these weapons under international control. This substantial progress could not have been achieved without the threat of force and President Obama’s decision to explore this diplomatic path.

    The framework reached between the United States and Russia provides a path for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, which could end the threat that these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people, but to the region and the world.

    Let me say a word, building on Ambassador Lyall Grant’s comments, about next steps. Action moves now to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and here to New York. The United States and Russia are presenting a draft decision to the OPCW, which calls for special measures for stringent verification and an accelerated timeline for destruction.

    Meanwhile, the US and Russia have agreed to support a Security Council resolution to reinforce the anticipated decision of the OPCW Executive Council, provide for verification and effective implementation, and request the Secretary General recommend to the Security Council the appropriate UN role in eliminating Syria’s CW program. We also agreed, as you know, that in the event of Syria’s non-compliance, unauthorized transfer or CW use by anyone, that we will impose measures under Chapter VII.

    Let me be clear. The US position has been consistent throughout this process and will remain so going forward. We have insisted on a plan for the removal and destruction of chemical weapons that is timely, transparent, credible and verifiable. The obligations on the Syrian government must be clearly established. And this effort must be enforceable.

    We believe the US-Russia framework, if fully implemented, can achieve this. We also think it can lay the foundation for a political solution to the underlying conflict and keep the political process moving forward toward Geneva II. The question before the Security Council today is whether we will shoulder the responsibility of agreeing to take the kind of credible, binding action demanded by this horrible event. And that is the decision we must make.

  • US envoy to UN says #Syria government has Sarin gas, 'no evidence' the opposition has Sarin-@Reuters

  • Selected quotes from Ban Ki Moon's press conference in New York on latest UN report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria:

    "This is a war crime. It is the worst use of chemical weapons on civilians in the 21st century"

    "I urged UNSC to act immediately. After two and half years of tragedy, it is time for UNSC to show leadership"

    "Communities who once lived in relative harmony are now torn by sectarian division"

    "I hope this will serve as a wake-up call"

    "It is for others to decide [who is responsible] for this crime [but] they must be held responsible" 

  • Britain's UN envoy Sir Mark Lyall Grant says that the UN's chemical weapons report leaves 'no remaining doubt that it was the regime' behind the August 21 attack in Syria that US officials say left more than 1,400 civilians dead.
  • Carney: Our position in support of opposition remains unchanged, stepped up assistance #Syria - Live blog:
  • Ban Ki Moon: As soon as we have an agreement w/Syrian govt, UN team will return to #Syria to continue investigation for final report.
  • Q. Who's to blame? Ban Ki Moon: It was team's job to determine whether/what extent CW were used, not who used them. For others to determine
  • Ban: UN team has determined Sarin was used on a relatively large scale. Investigators' job to determine if #CW used not who used them #Syria
  • #UN mission will return to #Syria as soon as it can to investigate other incidents that it was established for - Ban Ki Moon
  • Ban: There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons, use of chemical weapons anywhere is a crime #Syria
  • "This is a war crime" - #UN Chief Ban Ki Moon, adds it's largest CW use agnst civilians since Saddam did it in Halabja #Syria
  • #UN Ban speaks with chief #cw inspector Ake Sellstrom by his side. #Syria

  • Secretary of State John Kerry will host Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi for a meeting on Thursday. The State Department says that Syria will be among the topics discussed, as well as North Korea.
  • UN leader Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council on Monday that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a "war crime" and demanded the threat of sanctions to back a plan to
    destroy the arms.

    Ban made the comments in closed consultations of the 15-nation Security Council at which he told how doctors found people dying in the street after a sarin gas attack near Damascus on August 21, diplomats at the meeting told AFP news agency.

  • #FMDavutoglu discussed the crisis in Syria with the U.S., the UK and France Foreign Ministers

  • Turkish foreign minister says will inform UN, NATO members on circumstances of Syrian helicopter downing-@Reuters
  • The UN has released its report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area of Damascus:

    In transmitting simultaneously to the Security Council and the General Assembly the 
    report on the incident which took place on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area of 
    Damascus (see annex), the Secretary-General expresses his profound shock and regret at 
    the conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in 
    numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children. The 
    Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons 
    and believes that this act is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for the 
    Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of 
    Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary international 
    law. The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those 
    responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument 
    of warfare. 

    Read the whole report.
  • France's Fabius says UN inspectors' report shows 'no doubt' Assad government responsible for Aug. 21 chemical attack-@Reuters
  • France's Fabius says UN inspectors' report shows 'no doubt' Assad government responsible for Aug. 21 chemical attack-@Reuters
  • Turkish official says Turkish jet shot down Syrian helicopter that entered Turkey's airspace, the Associated Press reports
  • Speaking before a meeting held by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs this morning, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it "absurd" that we would allow the Russians to be in charge of the containment of Syria's chemical weapons when they doubt the source of the attack.
  • The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria is investigating 14 alleged attacks with chemical weapons or chemical agents in Syria since it began monitoring Syrian human rights abuses in September 2011, the commission's chairman Paulo Pinheiro told a news conference.

  • A photograph of a new report confirms that the deadly nerve agent sarin was used in deadly gas attack in Damascus on August 21, the Reuters news agency said.

    By zooming in on the photo, which shows Ake Sellstrom, the chief UN chemical weapons investigator, passing on the document to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the report states: projectiles containing "the nerve agent sarin were used."

    The report will be officially released later on Monday.

  • US and allies seek UN resolution ‘enforcing’ Syria deal

    The United States, Britain and France renewed a push Monday for a U.N. resolution aimed at "enforcing" a pledge by Syria to destroy or hand over its chemical weapons arsenal.
    During talks in Paris on Monday, leaders from the U.S. and France insisted that a military response to the Aug. 21 chemical gas attack that killed hundreds remains on the table, and the countries are pressing for a U.N. resolution reflecting that.

    "Each of us here today are here to emphasize the same thing -- that what we achieved in this agreement has to be translated into a U.N. resolution. It has to be strong, it has to forceful it has to be real, it has to be transparent, it has to be timely -- all of those things are critical -- and it has to be enforced," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "If the (President Bashar al-) Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable and we are not serious, they will play games."

    The U.S. and Russia have brokered an agreement between Syria and the international community that would avert the immediate threat of a military attack from the U.S. government.

    The agreement calls for an inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program within one week, with all components of the program out of the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

    Read more.
  • UN inspectors submit Syria chemical weapons report

    U.N. chemical weapons inspectors turned over a highly anticipated report on last month's alleged gas attack in Syria to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday. The attack, in which the U.S. says more than 1,400 people died, nearly escalated into a U.S.-led punitive military strike against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- with some countries urging for the report to be completed before taking action.

    The report's release comes two days after Russia and the United States agreed on a framework for the removal of Syria's chemical weapons -- averting military action if Assad turns over his chemical weapons to the international community for destruction.

    Ban will brief a closed session of the U.N. Security Council on Monday morning and the General Assembly later in the day on the report's findings. He is scheduled to hold a press conference at 12:50 p.m.
    Ban said Friday that he believed there would be "an overwhelming report" that chemical weapons were used in the attack.

    The inspection team, led by Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, was mandated to report on whether chemical weapons were used in the Aug. 21 attack and, if so, which chemical agents were used -- not who was responsible.

    Read more.
  • Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby issued a written statement saying he welcomed the agreement between the US and Russia about chemical weapons in Syria  as "a step to reach a political settlement," and he considered that "this agreement will help in providing better circumstances to go to the Geneva II conference to achieve a political compromise necessary for Syria".

    He called on "all parties, capable of performing an effective role through the UN Security Council to secure a ceasefire on all Syrian territory, in a bid to allow the success of this agreement and prepare better circumstances to provide humanitarian and medical aid necessary for the Syrian people and go to Geneva for negotiations to reach a necessary peaceful settlement in Syria". [Al Jazeera]
  • Syria's Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar said Sunday that the chemical weapons agreement between Russia and the United States was a "victory" for Damascus, won by its Russian allies. Reuters reports:

    "This agreement, an achievement of Russian diplomats and the Russian leadership, is a victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends," Ali Haidar told Russian news agency RIA.

    "We welcome this agreement. From one point of view, it will help Syrians exit the crisis, from another, it has prevented a war against Syria, having taken away the pretext for one from those who wanted to unleash (it)," he said.

    It was not clear if the comments by Ali Haidar, who is not in President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle of decision-makers, reflects the president's views.

  • French president says military action against Assad regime in #Syria still an option - @AP
  • A UN resolution framing the Russia-US deal on removing Syria's chemical weapons must include the threat of some kind of sanction in the event that Syria does not comply with the accord, French President Francois Hollande said on Sunday.

    Speaking on French prime-time television, Hollande said resolution could be voted by the end of the week. He added that a political and diplomatic solution to the wider Syrian conflict was possible but stressed that the option of military strikes must remain on the table. [Reuters]
  • Obama defends handling of Syria as Damascus thanks 'Russian friends'

    President Barack Obama suggested Sunday that "remarkable" progress on Syria’s chemical weapons was the direct result of U.S. pressure, as a minister in Damascus thanked "Russian friends" and Moscow’s diplomacy for the breakthrough.

    In an interview with ABC’s This Week, Obama defended his handling of the crisis, insisting that U.S. policy had been consistent throughout.

    "As a consequence of the pressure that we’ve applied over the last couple of weeks, we have Syria for the first time acknowledging that it has chemical weapons, agreeing to join the convention that prohibits the use of chemical weapons. And the Russians, their primary sponsors, saying that they will push Syria to get all of their chemical weapons out of the county," Obama said.

    But his comments came as the first response from Damascus put Russian diplomacy at the heart of the agreement.

    Speaking to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, Syria’s minister for national reconciliation Ali Haider, claimed the U.S.-Russian agreement as a "victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends."

    He added that "Russian diplomacy and the Russian leadership" had prevented a war against Syria.

    Read more.
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