Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Key gives UN's top 5 the word over Syria

Prime Minister John Key has stuck by his criticism of the giants on the United Nation's Security Council despite their apparent breakthrough last night on a resolution to deal with Syria's chemical weapons.

In a strongly worded speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Mr Key said the United Nations was not living up to its duties, citing its inability to act to halt the death of civilians in Syria.

He reserved his strongest criticism for the five permanent members - Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China - over their veto powers and for making deals among themselves without reference the other members of the Security Council.

He said the council had "become hostage to the interests of the most powerful".

Mr Key's speech came just after American diplomats tweeted that Russia and the US had agreed on a draft resolution on Syria, which could be voted on today.

But later, he said he stuck by his criticism.

While he would welcome a resolution requiring Syria to surrender its chemical weapons, he said the permanent five members had assumed too much power for themselves.

"One thing is that there are almost two Security Councils going on at the moment. Even this evening, the permanent five look like they are getting nearer to a resolution, they've tweeted that and now they are going back to the other Security Council members. That's not the way the Security Council should work."

Asked what he believed the five nations might think of his criricism, he said some might agree.

"In the end, the United Nations isn't about the five most powerful people who are permanent members, it's a place where 193 countries come together to voice views."

He said his speech was deliberately strongly worded because New Zealand was seeking a seat on the Security Council "and I think it's important New Zealand lays out the foundation stone for what we believe in, what we would do if we were on the Security Council."

New Zealand has opposed the veto power for the five permanent members since the UN was set up after World War II and Mr Key said it was particularly obnoxious when it was used to shelter other countries in cases such as genocide.

He would like to see any resolution on Syria include the right to sanction it for non-compliance, although that did not necessarily mean the use of force.

The draft resolution is expected to empower the UN to consider sanctions - but another vote would be required to impose those, and Russia could veto that.

Mr Key will leave New York to return to New Zealand today after 10 days in Europe and Britain.

In New York yesterday, Mr Key also met former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton at a reception hosted by former US President Bill Clinton.

- NZ Herald

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