‘It took me 12 hours to get here!’ Syrian FM bickers with Ban Ki-moon
Syrian foreign affairs minister Walid al-Muallem’s speech at the Geneva II peace talks ran on for 40 minutes
Syrian foreign affairs minister Walid al-Muallem’s speech at the Geneva II peace talks on Wednesday ran on for 40 minutes, instead of the allotted seven minutes that he and each delegate attending the conference is allowed.
Muallem’s insistence to finish his speech resulted in a brief bickering episode with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, when he was asked at the 25th minute to wrap it up.
Mouallem responded: "I've come all this way in the airplane to talk about Syria. Give me just few minutes," adding that he needs around 5-10 minutes to finish.
“I’m sorry to… can you wrap it up? You’ve spoken already more than 20 minutes,” Ban said.
“Mr. Secretary, you spoke 25 minutes, I came here after 12 hours in the airplane. I need a few minutes to end my speech. This is Syria,” Muallem added
“How much more do you have left?” Ban asked. Muallem replied: “I think, 5-10 minutes.”
“Oh no, no … I will give you another opportunity at the end to speak.”
“No, I can’t divide my speech. I must continue,” Muallem said, with Ban asking whether he can end the speech in two minutes. “I can’t promise you,” the minister replied.
“Then I’ll have to give the Syrian opposition the same time.”
“No, no. You live in New York, I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version [of the crisis] in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right.”
“Please refrain from any inflammatory remarks … which will not be constructive at this time,” Ban replied.
“You can have 2-3 minutes,” he added. Muallem replied, saying: “Ok, let me finish my speech. Another 20 minutes, no?”
To that, Ban allowed Muallem to end his speech – quickly.
But he later interrupted him again when the speech was nearing 30 minutes and Muallem said he would end his speech soon, adding “Syria always keeps its promises.”
The long-awaited conference brought together around 40 delegates from around the world to discuss the Syrian crisis which has entered its third year.
"It is regrettable to me and to the people of Syria that representatives of states in this room are sitting with us today, while blood is on their hands -- countries that have sent weapons ... encouraged and financed terrorism," Muallem said.
"They have not looked at their own glass houses before throwing stones," he said.
"The mask has fallen and we can see the real face of what they want -- to destabilise Syria .. by exporting terrorism -- to hide their barbaric behaviour," he thundered.
Syria slams the role of foreign Sunni Islamist fighters who have flocked to the war-torn country -- though Assad is backed by Shiite Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah -- and says it is locked in a "war on terror".
"Who told you that Syria wants to go back 1,000 years," he said, warning against extreme Islamism.
"It will not stop in Syria," he said.
He singled out Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for backing the opposition.
"All of this would not have happened if it had not been for Erdogan - they did not know that magic would turn against the magician one day - terrorism has no religion," he said.
During his speech, Mouallem overlooked protocols as instead of addressing all participants, he addressed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying: "Mr. Kerry, no one imposes legitimacy."
Meanwhile, Luna al-Shebel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's media advisor, burst out laughing after she whispered something into Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoaabi's ear and returned to her seat behind Muallem's.
Zoaabi tried to keep himself from smiling while Muallem maintained his serious facial expressions as he continued to read his speech.
It was not clear why Zoaabi and Shebel laughed as Muallem sought to appeal to the listeners' sentiment by talking about the atrocities committed by the "opposition" and resulting from "extremism" in Syria.