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343 Victims in Syria and 193 Victims in the United Nations

The Syrian issue was at the forefront of this year's annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly with different countries proposing a range of potential ways forward.

5 October 2012

This year's annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly overflowed with superstars that attracted media attention, either for the political suspense they inspired or as new appearances. It can be said that both Barack Obama as well as François Hollande's speeches constituted milestones in this annual diplomatic event. The Syrian issue was the common factor in both presentations with significant differences in their treatment of it as well as their proposals for solutions.

US President Barack Obama - who in a few weeks will face the elections booths that will hold him accountable in most part for his presidential accomplishments within the US and only marginally for his exterior impact - states that the Syrian regime must come to an end. He is not inventing the wheel in repeating this statement which has become like a tattered rag, so overdeployed is it by the US administration within its different echelons. On the other hand, and in an important electoral gesture, he spoke at length about Iran's nuclear programme and said that it must be considered, if it were ever turned into a weapon, an imminent danger to its Israeli ally, as though that ally constituted a really large banknote, and the surrounding countries merely leftover change. When the US President delivers a speech in front of world leaders, it seems he has no reticence in singling out Israel as if it were the only possible victim of a potential Iranian nuclear weapon. As for existing nuclear weapons in the region, most largely present in the state of Israel, along with their potential victims, these are merely for decorative purposes, nothing more, according to Mr. Obama's electoral convictions. These weapons do not threaten anyone, quite the contrary, they are a civil guarantee of global peace and stability.

For his part, French president François Hollande, who emerged for his first presentation before an international assembly after only four months had passed since his election as president, reminded the world of what can be called the syndrome of all French presidents, a commitment to humanitarian values. This is surly littel more than a new and old way of creating distance specifically in terms of accountability and responsibility.

He too addressed the topic of Syria at length, but appended to it the situation in Mali in order to offer his views on the global scene. His speech was more humble, hence his willigness to admit to a global deficiency vis-à-vis the Syrian conflict, which he considered the primary and most urgent concern. Wondering about the number of victims needed to mobilize emotions and actions, he underscored a situation of humanitarian crisis which he said the international community must face. Hollande made an honest request to the Syrian people to form a transitional government and promised swift recognition thereof.

As for the US side, there was nothing new but rather the reiteration of what it has been repeating for over a year. However, a worrying indicator that denotes a lack of insight and clarity on behalf of the Obama Administration is the resignation of David Hoff, the US Special Adviser for Syria, on the day of the speech.

Both the American and the French sides believe in the importance of supporting Lakhdar Brahimi's mission, the broad outlines of which he has not yet made clear. Brahimi "reassures" observers that he will need two months to weave his plan. On the other hand, official circles in Syria are mentioning a similar period of time needed to cleanse the country of "gangs"...  And so, world leaders continue to ascend the podium of the United Nations General Assembly to express their humanitarian solidarity, their humanitarian support and their humanitarian impotence. On the same day that Obama and Hollande delivered their speeches, 343 victims died in Syria, and another 193 victims are the United Nations member states.

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Daniel Hiebert Professor of geography at the University of British Columbia

Andrew Parkin Executive director, Environics Institute, Toronto

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Keith Banting Professor emeritus and Stauffer Dunning Fellow, Queen’s University, Canada

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