Editorial: New Zealand in best seat to make UN work for Syrians

New Zealand devoted a great deal of its diplomatic resources to getting a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the past two years, as it is doing now for Helen Clark's bid to become the UN's next Secretary General.

Many New Zealanders might wonder why we bother, until they hear the Prime Minister lament the council's performance on Syria in his speech to the General Assembly yesterday.

"The internal politics within the council and the sheer complexity of the Syria crisis have obstructed a unified council response," he said, "but we believe no matter how difficult and sensitive the issues, the council cannot watch the situation go from bad to worse for the Syrian people."

Today, he chairs a special meeting of the council on the Syrian crisis. It comes after two incidents in the past few days, one an accidental strike by US forces on Syrian troops backed by Russia, the other a bombing of a UN aid convoy near Aleppo that has been blamed on Russia or the Syrian Air Force.

The blame and counter blame could blow apart the truce negotiated between the US and Russia that offers some relief for civilians in the firing line if not a lasting solution to the war.

A lasting solution seems further away than ever now that the territory held by the so-called Islamic State is receding. Turkey has entered Syria, ostensibly on the side of the US but really to prevent Kurds gaining from the Islamic State's retreat.

The only thing uniting all sides, except Russia, is opposition to Bashar Al-Assad's regime. But with Russia's backing, Assad looks capable of surviving.

As long as he is there, the rebellion will continue, refugees will continue to flee the country and they will not feel they can safely return.

New Zealand has already run a special council session on Syrian since taking the chair this month. If anything constructive came of that it has been set back by the incidents of the past few days.

The most that Key hopes to achieve today is for the council to put aside questions of blame for the latest attacks and preserve the truce under which Russia stops the Syrian Air Force attacking rebel-held centres so that aid can reach them.

That is the least the UN needs to achieve as world leaders address the General Assembly in a September session dominated by Syria and the wider refugee problem. Syria is by no means the only source of refugees from war, repression and poverty, accounting for about 4 million of the 21 million people seeking resettlement in another country.

Most of the Syrians are in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. Entry to Europe through Greece has been stopped by a deal between the European Union and Turkey last year.

But that has not stopped immigration becoming a defining issue in European and US politics this year, fuelled by occasional acts of "terror". One such bombing occurred in New York on the eve of the UN's proceedings this week.

The UN might be a clumsy and mostly ineffectual forum for resolving the world's tensions but it is better than nothing. New Zealand believes it could be much better and right now it has got the best position to try to make these meetings work.

- NZ Herald

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