Syrian crisis ‘tragedy of the age’, says Morsi at UN

The Middle East took centre stage at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi making his debut speech, during which he voiced staunch opposition to the possibility of foreign military intervention in Syria.


The Middle East dominated proceedings at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi delivering his debut address hours after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave his final speech before the 193-member assembly.

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi speaks at the UN General Assembly

Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected-president and a key figure within the country’s powerful Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, took to the podium for the first time Wednesday, with a wide-ranging address that laid out his vision for an ambitious foreign policy.

Calling the current situation in Syria the “tragedy of the age,” Morsi said he would not rest until the crisis – which opposition groups say has claimed at least 30,000 lives - comes to an end.

But Morsi also expressed his firm opposition to a foreign military intervention.

“Egypt is committed to pursue the sincere efforts it has been exerting to put an end to the catastrophe in Syria, within an Arab, regional and international framework - one that preserves the unity of this brotherly state, involves all factions of the Syrian people without racial, religious or sectarian discrimination and spares Syria the dangers of foreign military intervention that we oppose,” he said.

Arab world divided over Syria

Morsi’s comments at the UN General Assembly highlighted divisions among Arab countries over the crisis in Syria.

In his UN General Assembly address on Tuesday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said that since the Security Council was unable to act, Arab countries should intervene in the crisis.

"I think that it is better for the Arab countries themselves to interfere out of their national, humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed in Syria," he said.

In an interview with the AFP Wednesday, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki also threw his weight behind the idea of an Arab peacekeeping force in Syria.

"A peacekeeping operation by Arab nations is something we could well imagine," Marzouki was quoted as saying. "We have really pushed for a peaceful solution, but if it is necessary, it must be an Arab peacekeeping force, yes."

Morsi prioritises Israel-Palestinian conflict

Morsi also used his speech to highlight the Israel-Palestinian conflict, calling it a top priority before the UN General Assembly.

"The first issue which the world must exert all its efforts in resolving, on the basis of justice and dignity, is the Palestinian cause," Morsi said.

He added that UN resolutions on the conflict had not been effectively implemented and that Palestinians "must also taste the fruits of freedom and dignity" that other countries in the Arab region have won over the past year.

"It is shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence," Morsi said.

He decried Israel's continued building of settlements on territory that the Palestinians have claimed for a future state in the West Bank and maintained that the UN must find a way to provide "immediate and significant measures to put an end to colonization, settlement activities, and the alteration in the identity of Occupied Jerusalem."

Ahmadinejad’s last stand

Morsi’s address followed Ahmadinejad’s much anticipated speech, his last at the UN General Assembly before he steps down from power following the June 2013 presidential elections.

Ahmadinejad, who is known for his fiery oratory style, accused the West of nuclear “intimidation”. But the Iranian president steered clear of the more virulent rhetoric about Israel he has used in the past.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at UN General Assembly

"Arms race and intimidation by nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction by the hegemonic powers have become prevalent," Ahmadinejad said in Wednesday's speech.

"Continued threat by the uncivilised Zionists (Israel) to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality," he added.

Representatives of the US, Canada and Israel chose not to Ahmadinejad’s speech. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

The Iranian government faces mounting international pressure over its controversial nuclear programme, which western powers say is a smokescreen for the country’s ambitions to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran denies the charge but there has been mounting speculation that Israel could launch a military strike against Iran's bunkered nuclear facilities.

US President Barack Obama told the UN assembly on Tuesday that the United States will "do what we must" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will meet in New York on Thursday to discuss the increasingly tense nuclear showdown.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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