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U.N. Roundup: Syria’s Neighbors Speak Up

At the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, speeches by leaders from Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and Lebanon tackled the crisis in Syria.

Written by Susannah George / New York and Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

 These four countries have been integral regional players in Syria’s war, putting them at the heart of what’s become the most-debated issue at this year’s conference in New York.

The U.N. Security Council is working to approve a resolution that would begin the disarmament of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles. The agreement does not address the ongoing violence on the ground in Syria, but some diplomats here hope it will create momentum for what’s known as Geneva II, peace talks bridging the regime and the opposition.

Here’s a roundup of what the leaders of four key regional players said on the General Assembly floor:

Jordan: Stretched Beyond its Limits

“My Friends, global security will long be shaped by what is happening right now in the Middle East,” said King Abdullah. “The Syrian crisis is a global humanitarian and security disaster. Escalating violence threatens to hollow out the rest of that country’s economic and political future.”

He reminded fellow leaders that “we have a duty to reject these destructive forces.”

Jordan has been inundated by more than 525,000 Syrian refugees, with Zaatari, a camp along the Jordan-Syria border, now the fourth most populous “city” in the country. The influx has strained the already-stretched Jordanian economy to its limit, an issue to which Abdullah has previously called attention.

At the U.N., he warned that his country’s hospitality has its limits. “Jordanians have opened their arms, to those in need, as we have always done,” he reminded the assembly. “But I say here and now that my people cannot be asked to shoulder the burden of what is a regional and global challenge.”

Lebanon: Maintaining “Sensitive Balances” 

Lebanon’s fragile ethnic makeup is feeling the pressure of hundreds of thousands of refugees who stream over the border and through the Bekaa Valley from Damascus. At the U.N., President Michel Sleiman did not directly address sectarian tensions, which reached a boiling point this summer with bombings in southern Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. Sectarian strife, exacerbated by the conflict’s spillover, is taboo in a country still recovering from its own 15-year civil war.

But Sleiman did make a coded reference to what he called Lebanon’s “balances.”

“The numbers of incoming refugees from Syria, way beyond Lebanon’s capacity of assimilation, [are] exceeding one-fourth of Lebanon’s population,” he said. “As you know, Lebanon is a country with an exiguous geographical area, limited resources and capabilities, and sensitive balances.”

Turkey: Asking for More Help

Unlike Lebanon, Turkey has been a vocal supporter of the Syrian opposition.

“With each day we lose in indecision, the more remote the prospects for a peaceful Syria become,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, warning against continued inaction from the West and calling on the international community to do more.

“After the Syrian people took to the streets against the regime, many international statements were made to support their cause, strong in their wording and promises. For the Syrian people, these apparent commitments raised their hopes. Yet many nations remained at a comfortable distance. Meanwhile, the Syrian people’s cries for help went unheeded.”

Turkey, with more than 500,000 refugees flooding its southern cities, has also become a main port of entry to Syria for ammunitions smugglers, extremists and other factions, leading its government to worry about what could come next should the West not choose to intervene.

Qatar: Millions of Dollars to Syria

Hosting meetings and conferences, the small emirate has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into Syria.

“The State of Qatar has always opted to become an active and effective party … at the international level,” said Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Thani, its emir, pledging that his country would continue to play what it feels is a key role in Syria.

“The State of Qatar aims to be a hub for dialogue and discussion among different parties to conflicts, and not to be a party in these conflicts. We aim also to open windows for cultural and information dialogue between peoples.”

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