30 Sep 2012

UN inaction over Syria threatens reputation - McCully

2:33 pm on 30 September 2012

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has criticised what he calls the failure of the United Nations over Syria, in a speech to the world body in New York.

Mr McCully addressed the UN General Assembly on Saturday during the annual series of speeches by nations to the organisation.

He said New Zealanders find it hard to believe that 25,000 people can be killed and many more injured or displaced in Syria, yet the UN Security Council is unable to agree on a course of action.

Mr McCully told Radio New Zealand News that one cause of the inaction is the widespread use of veto by the five permanent Security Council members.

"I think there's a general sense of frustration here that the reputation of the United Nations in general, and specifically the reputation of the Security Council, is taking a real hammering and something needs to be done."

Russia and China have used the veto to block UN resolutions on sanctions against the Syrian regime.

Mr McCully said the use of the veto has expanded beyond its original purpose, which was to protect the national interests of permanent members.

He says it would clearly be unworkable to get rid of that veto now but its use by the big five could be reduced.

"It's being used in much wider circumstances than that and I've called for restraint on their part, voluntarily, so that they restrict themselves to that zone of national interest, rather than the sort of widespread use of the veto that we've become used to."

The council is composed of five permanent members - China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States - and 10 non-permanent members elected for two year terms.

New Zealand is seeking a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the 2015-16 term.

Middle East talks

In his speech, the Foreign Affairs Minister used the opportunity to press for direct talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership.

The Palestinians are preparing to renew an application for full member status of the UN, which has been opposed by several Western leaders.

While New Zealand looked forward to seeing the text of a resolution on Palestinian status, Mr McCully said, this remained a poor substitute for direct talks between leaders who live half an hour away from each other by car.

He also called on the Israeli Government to put on hold all settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and engage in talks to achieve a durable solution.

Mr McCully also referred to Iran's nuclear ambitions, urging the country to step back from a course that he said risks dangerous escalation.

Pacific region

During his address, Mr McCully told the United Nations the Pacific region suffers many environmental problems such as illegal fishing and over-dependence on fossil fuel.

He said later that New Zealand set out to help the Pacific during its term as head of the Pacific Islands Forum, and that the role of regional bodies has a good deal of respect at the United Nations.