BEIRUT

Middle East

Ban vs. Moallem: promises, promises

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem awaits the peace talks in Montreux January 22, 2014. (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann)

MONTREUX, Switzerland: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sparred with Syria’s foreign minister Wednesday when he tried to cut short the minister’s speech at the “Geneva II” international peace conference.

Walid Moallem had already spoken for more than twice the 10-minute limit at the talks in Switzerland when Ban interrupted to urge him to bring his comments to a conclusion, but the intervention proved fruitless.

“You spoke for 25 minutes,” Moallem shot back. “I came here 12 hours in the airplane. I need a few minutes to finish my speech.”

“Can you just wrap up in one or two minutes?” Ban persisted.

“No I can’t promise you. I must finish my speech,” came the reply from Moallem, who used his address to accuse rebels of disemboweling pregnant women, raping them dead or alive and bombing mosques.

He also told participants that it was up to Syrians to choose their leader, not foreign powers who are calling on President Bashar Assad to step down, and pointedly accused Turkey and Gulf Arab states of fueling the violence in Syria.

Ban said he would have to give other speakers more time if Moallem did not stop, an appeal which also failed to impress the Syrian minister.

“You live in New York, I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this hall. This is my right.”

Ten minutes later, with no end in sight, Ban tried again.

“I will finish one sentence,” Moallem told him.

“One sentence or two. Just to keep your promise, one sentence,” the U.N. Secretary-General said.

Syria always keeps its promise,” Moallem answered, before wrapping up his hard-hitting, 35-minute address about a minute later.

At the start of the talks, aimed at ending Syria’s near three-year conflict, Ban had urged all participants to “refrain from language that could undermine chances of success at the conference,” and to stick rigorously to their allocated time.

“I regret to tell you that from the beginning, this constructive mood and rules which I set and you agreed has been broken ... I hope that this will not be repeated.

“Please refrain from making any accusation from any specific countries and refrain from inflammatory remarks which must unnecessarily provoke the participating countries in good faith. I really appeal to all of you,” Ban told the participants.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2014, on page 4.

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