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War of words: UN chief’s heated exchange with Syrian foreign minister

Walid Al Muallem trades sharp words with Ban ki-moon as he spoke well beyond a 10-minute limit Mr Ban had requested.
Syria's Foreign Minister and head of the Syrian government delegation, Walid Al Muallem. AFP
Syria's Foreign Minister and head of the Syrian government delegation, Walid Al Muallem. AFP

MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND // The bell ran five times during Syrian foreign minister Walid Al Muallem’s speech today at the opening session of the Syrian peace conference, signalling he had exceeded the time limit.

But Mr Al Muallem refused to stop, setting off a tense exchange with the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon that showed the tensions in trying to resolve Syria’s bloody conflict.

Here’s the exchange.

Mr Ban: Can you just wrap up please.

Mr Al Muallem: I came here after 12 hours in the airplane, I have few more minutes to end my speech. This is Syria.

Mr Ban: How much do you have left now?

Mr Al Muallem: I think 5-10 minutes.

Mr Ban: No, no. I will give you another opportunity to speak.

Mr Al Muallem: No, I cannot divide my speech. I must continue ... I will do my best to be fast.

Mr Ban: Can you just wrap up in one or two minutes?

Mr Al Muallem: No, I can’t promise you, I must finish my speech. ... You live in New York, I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right.

Mr Ban: We have to have some constructive and harmonious dialogue, please refrain from inflammatory rhetoric.

Mr Al Muallem: It is constructive, I promise you, let me finish.

Mr Ban: Within 2-3 minutes please, I will give you another opportunity.

Mr Al Muallem: You spoke for 25 minutes, at least I need to speak 30 minutes.

Few minutes later, Mr Ban interrupts again. Mr Al Muallem says he has one sentence left, to which Mr Ban asks him to keep his promise.

“Syria always keeps its promises,” Mr Al Muallem replied, triggering approving laughter from the Syrian government delegation behind him and a wry grin from Mr Ban.

* Associated Press

Updated: January 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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