Ban says Syria strike could worsen conflict
04 September, 2013
NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested on Tuesday that a military strike on Syria over the use of chemical weapons could worsen the country's conflict.
But Ban also insisted that the bitterly divided major powers on the UN Security Council have a "collective responsibility to humankind" to unite and halt the use of chemical weapons.
Without opposing any military strike that the United States and some of its allies are considering, Ban urged caution.
"We must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate the political resolution of the conflict," Ban told a press briefing at the UN headquarters.
He said that the use of force was only legal when it was in self-defence or with Security Council authorisation, remarks that appear to question the legality of US plans to strike Syria without UN backing. He suggested that a US attack could lead to further turmoil in conflict-ravaged Syria, where the United Nations says over 100,000 people have been killed in the country's two-and-a-half-year civil war.
Ban was speaking to reporters after President Barack Obama won the backing of two top Republicans in Congress in his call for limited US strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Obama said on Saturday he was "comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable."
Russia, backed by China, has used its veto power in the Security Council three times to block resolutions condemning Assad's government and threatening it with sanctions. Assad's government, like Russia, blames the rebels for the August 21 attack.
The United States has bypassed the United Nations in the past when the council was deadlocked, such as during the Kosovo war in 1999. At that time, Washington relied on NATO authorisation for its bombing campaign.
Ban also questioned whether the use of force to deter Syria or other countries from deploying chemical arms in the future could cause more harm than good.
"I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons," he said. "The turmoil in Syria and across the region serves nobody," he said. "I appeal for renewed efforts by regional and international actors to convene the Geneva conference as soon as possible."
The United States and Russia announced in May that they would organise an international peace conference on Syria to revive a stalled plan agreed in June 2012 in Geneva that called for a Syrian political transition and end to the violence. But neither the government nor rebels want to negotiate, and plans for a new conference appear dead, diplomats say.
Ban said that if UN inspectors determine that chemical weapons were used in Syria, the Security Council, which has long been deadlocked on the civil war, should overcome its differences and take action.
"The Security Council has a duty to move beyond the current stalemate and show leadership," he said. "This is a larger issue than the conflict in Syria. This is about our collective responsibility to humankind."