27 Sep 2013

Key makes combative speech to UN

6:36 pm on 27 September 2013

Prime Minister John Key has told the United Nations General Assembly it can not wash its hands of the Syrian crisis.

Mr Key's comments came moments before a crucial Security Council meeting on Syria began on Thursday, and he urged the council to adopt a resolution which dealt with the use of chemical weapons and which protected Syrian civilians.

John Key at the United Nations General Assembly.

John Key at the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: Tilly Blair

The Security Council has reportedly apparently agreed on a resolution on the matter at its special meeting.

Before the meeting began the five permanent members of the council - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - had made a deal on what needed to be done.

But any formal agreement of the whole council might not be announced until Saturday.

Earlier, in his speech to the General Assembly, Mr Key had denounced the council's lack of action to end the conflict.

"This organisation would not also have been a powerless bystander to the Syrian tragedy for over two years if the lack of agreement among the Security Council's permanent members had not shielded the Assad regime."

Disagreement blamed

Mr Key blamed disagreement among the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France for shielding the Syrian regime during the past 2-1/2 years of conflict in that country. He says the council must be reformed.

"We now seem to have a practice whereby the permanent members can not only block council actions through the veto, they also appear to have privileged access to information and can stop the council from meeting if it does not suit their collective purposes.

"Such behaviour has damaged the reputation and credibility of the wider organisation and must be challenged."

Mr Key says that is the approach New Zealand will adopt if it is elected to the Security Council for 2015/2016.

PM wants Syria held to account

Mr Key also urged the Security Council to hold the Syrian regime responsible for using chemical weapons to attack its own people.

He said the Security Council cannot ignore the report and those responsible for the attacks must be brought to account.

Any resolution passed by the council must also establish an effective mechanism for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons and provide for the protection of civilians.

Worries have also been raised about the extent of influence al Qaeda has over opposition groups in Syria.

Mr Key says it is a legitimate concern but not everyone agrees how serious it is.

He says a couple of leaders he has spoken to do not believe al Qaeda is a significant problem in Syria.

However, he concedes other countries are worried about its influence in the country.

Mr Key has already spoken at a special meeting on disarmament, at which he repeated New Zealand's concerns about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.