The United Nations chief urged the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons amid international fears the regime would further militarize its conflict with the opposition.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, within the sidelines of the General Assembly meetings in New York, that he had warned Assad against using his stockpile of chemical weapons.
“I have written a letter to President Assad urging and warning him he must not use under any circumstances chemical weapons,” Ban said.
In response, the U.N. chief said he “received a letter from the Syrian authorities saying that they will not use it and “I sincerely hope that,” he said.
A recent report suggested that the Syrian government may have moved some of its chemical weapons to safeguard them against opposition forces. The chemical weapons Syria is in possession of include sarin nerve agent, mustard gas, and cyanide, and the move of weapons has caused alarm in Washington, according to a report by The Associated Press.
“I am deeply concerned about allegations of possible relocation of some chemical weapons they must ensure that this will be strictly controlled,” Ban said.
The Syrian regime in July clarified that it would only use the weapons if it was attacked by outside forces.
Ban said that international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is now working on a new strategy on how to deal with the crisis in Syria, where at least 20,000 people have died and about 700,000 refugees have fled to border nations since anti-government unrest began in March 2011, according to the United Nations. Activist groups put the death toll at more than 30,000.
“We have many tools” to tackle the Syrian crisis, Ban said. “Kofi Annan’s six-point plan (which included an order earlier this year to Syrian army and the opposition to ceasefire) and the action group’s joint communiqué which was adopted in June in Geneva; these will have to be used.”
“But Lakhdar Brahimi has been listening attentively to the ideas and views of world leaders and he is going to have another round of consultations in the region and meet President Assad as soon as possible, then we will have some strategy how to deal with this,” Ban added.
The U.N. chief then referred to the Security Council’s inability to take further action on the conflict. Russia, Syria's key ally, and China have used their permanent member Security Council veto to quash resolutions targeting the Damascus regime.
“World leaders should be united as global leaders and take collective action on the basis of collective responsibility to history and to the Syrian people,” Ban said, adding: “at this time I sincerely hope the Security Council should take collective responsibility.”
Syria has to ‘respond’
But ultimately, Ban said it was up to the Syrian people to respond to such international calls.
“It is up to Syrian people, government and opposition forces. They have to listen to appeals and urge of international community.
“At this time we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation, at least 2.5 million people have been affected by this including refugees from Palestine and Iraq. We have to mobilize all possible humanitarian resources,” the U.N. chief added.
Ban also said further militarization of the conflict “is not an option,” urging countries that are believed to be “providing arms and other support to both government forces and opposition forces to stop.”
Syria's foreign minister on Monday accused the United States, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey of supporting “terrorism” by funneling arms, money and foreign fighters to the opposition.
“[Any countries arming the opposition] seem to be determined try to resolve this through military means but military means cannot resolve this one, only a political resolution can solve this problem,” Ban said.
Meanwhile, when asked about recent unrest sweeping the Middle East over a U.S.-made anti-Islam film which mocked the Prophet Mohammed, Ban expressed his condemnation to the video and the cartoons; however he said that there was no justification for violence.
“I have strongly condemned this video and the cartoon which appear to deliberately provoke and humiliate the values and beliefs of Islam.”
The unrest that swept the Islamic world resulted in deadly violence which killed several protesters across Muslim countries and four U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
“At the same time there is no justification for the violence to address this issue, the freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. At the same time no one should abuse this fundamental freedom of expression,” he said, adding that the topic will be addressed at the U.N.’s Alliance of Civilizations initiative.
Full interview to be aired on Al Arabiya News Channel.