Well over 100,000 people may have died in his country in the civil war that has ranged for the past several years, but for Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, there is only one problem fit to be discussed at the UN: Israel.
Speaking at the General Assembly Monday, Muallem made a passing reference to the civil war, before aiming his verbal sword at Syria's neighbor to the south.
“The events in my country do not cause us to lose our way,” Muallem said. “We intend to reclaim the Golan that Israel is occupying.”
Israel, Muallem said, was the cause of most of the trouble in the Middle East, hinting that it was one of the forces behind the “foreign rebels” he and Assad say are attempting to unseat the Syrian leader. He also demanded that Israel give up any weapons of mass destruction it may have.
“Now that Syria is joining the international ban on chemical weapons, we stress that removing weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East will not be possible unless Israel participates,” he said. Over the weekend, Assad said that Syria didn't need chemical weapons anymore, as it now had weapons of mass destruction that were much more powerful for use against Israel.
In his speech, Muallem also praised the apparent warming of relations between Iran and the U.S.
“We hope that this opening will lead to a true improvement of relations between the two countries,” he said.
Last Friday, U.S. President Barack H. Obama conducted a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with the two discussing mutual relations and plans for negotiations on the regulation of Iran's nuclear program.
On the question of Syria's use of chemical weapons during the civil war, Muallem said that if anyone in the country used them, it was not Assad's army.
“We in the government were the ones against chemical weapons use, and we were the ones who asked for an international panel to determine which group was behind its use,” he said.
Regardless, he added, Syria would keep its word on disarming from chemical weapons. “We are a country that is known to keep its word,” he said. “I assure you that Syria will observe all international agreements and work with international agencies agains the spread of chemical weapons,” he added.