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Overshadowed by larger concerns, Syria gets its moment at UN

By MARIA SANMINIATELLISeptember 28, 2019
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Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Walid Al-Moualem addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Walid Al-Moualem addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Overshadowed by this year’s larger concerns, the war in Syria got some attention Saturday as challenges posed by conflicts, poverty, inequality and the climate emergency continued to dominate world leaders’ speeches at the U.N. 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 U.N. 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 U.S.-backed Kurdish groups in the oil-rich northeast, still elude the grasp of President Bashar Assad.

In one of the earliest speeches of the day, the Holy See highlighted the Syrian conflict — along with the one in Yemen — as one of the world’s most urgent challenges and advised the international community to work together to “put an end to the suffering of so many people.”

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 U.S. 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.”

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a travel ban on Castro and his immediate family on grounds of human rights abuse, saying they would not be allowed into the United States.

Castro is no longer president of Cuba but remains at the top of the Cuban Communist Party.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Aya Batrawy contributed to this story.

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