Syria to cast shadow over UN meeting

Syria's bloody civil war remains a hot topic as the UN General Assembly gathers.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Picture: The United Nations.

UNITED NATIONS - A slew of international crises will take centre stage this week as the UN General Assembly gathers in New York - Syria's bloody civil war, the possible appearance of Sudan's president despite an arrest warrant for alleged genocide, and outrage over a massive US cyber spying program.

There are also some hopes for good news. Many of the 193 UN member states are looking for signs of a thaw in relations between arch-enemies Iran and the United States.

US officials say a meeting is possible between President Barack Obama and Iran's newly elected centrist President Hassan Rouhani, and if it happens, it would be the first meeting of US and Iranian government heads since before the 1979 revolution.

That would mark a big change from the annual rants in recent years against Israel and the United States by Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the top agenda item will be Syria's 2-1/2-year civil war, which the United Nations says has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions, who have been forced to flee the country.

No one expects a breakthrough in the crisis this week, though there may be approval of a UN resolution backing a US-Russian plan to rid Syria of chemical arms.

"Syria is the biggest peace, security and humanitarian challenge we face," Ban told reporters last week. "Let us be clear - the use of chemical weapons in Syria is only the tip of the iceberg."

"The suffering in Syria must end," he said.

The resolution to be considered by the UN Security Council would back the US-Russian plan to remove Syria's chemical weapons by June 2014 to avoid US air strikes. That plan was agreed to as UN inspectors confirmed sarin nerve gas was used in an August 21 attack near Damascus that killed over 1,400 people, many of them children, according to US estimates.

Syria's ally Russia and the United States continue to disagree sharply on how to end the war, with Moscow blaming the rebels for chemical attacks and blocking peace talks, and Western powers blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Washington is still struggling to persuade Moscow not to veto another Syria resolution amid Russian objections to any threat of force against Assad's government.