United Nations, 5 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Syria's UN ambassador has vowed his country will uphold UN resolutions, especially in connection with ongoing sanctions against its neighbor, Iraq.
In his first comments to the media as president of the Security Council, Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe stressed that Syria was aware of its responsibilities on the Council. In response to reporters' questions, Wehbe said Syria was committed to complying with resolutions regulating trade with Iraq: "We are a member of the Security Council committed to any article of the resolutions. Whenever [it] is necessary, we are asking for permission for everything."
Britain has accused Syria of illegally importing and selling millions of barrels of Iraqi oil through a newly reopened pipeline. It has submitted newspaper articles to the UN sanctions committee for Iraq describing the oil imports.
Britain has also said the surge in Syria's oil exports since late in the year 2000 is further evidence that Iraqi oil is coming into the country outside of the UN's oil-for-food program. That program is the only way Iraq is permitted to earn revenues under UN sanctions. But Wehbe repeated Syria's denial it has received such imports. He said the condition of the pipeline between the two countries was poor and that Syria was discussing the issue of reviving it with Iraqi officials: "We are discussing this matter with the Iraqis and when we arrive [at a] solution we will be committed with the resolutions of the United Nations and the Security Council [as always]. Although we've suffered from this resolution, we're still committed." Any such revival of the pipeline would require approval from the Council's sanctions committee.
The Syrian ambassador also asked why his country has been singled out for scrutiny on the oil-smuggling issue while other neighbors of Iraq have not. Iraq is known to be illegally exporting oil by truck to Turkey and by tanker through the Persian Gulf.
Syria's presidency of the council, which revolves on a monthly basis, comes days after it was listed again by the U.S. State Department as belonging to a small group of countries that sponsor terrorism.
Wehbe reiterated what he said was his country's sympathy for the United States in connection with the 11 September terrorist attacks and that Syria opposes the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. But he also referred to the legitimacy of the Palestinian fight against Israeli forces, which has included the use of suicide bombers against civilians: "We are against this kind of extremism anywhere -- in Afghanistan, in the Arab countries, in the occupied territories. But I have to [say] here, I hope you would not understand extremism as defending the country, the territory, the rights. [A person] defending his rights and defending himself could not be extremist and terrorist."
Wehbe confirmed that Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa will come to UN headquarters in the middle of this month to preside over a closed session dealing with attempts to reach a comprehensive settlement to the conflict in the Middle East. Syria would be part of that settlement because it wants the Golan Heights -- which Israel captured during the 1967 war.
In other affairs, Wehbe said the council had no immediate plans to consider action to head off a war between India and Pakistan. Wehbe said council members had agreed for the moment to allow "quiet and calm diplomacy" to try to ease tensions. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage are making separate trips to India and Pakistan this week to try to move both sides away from the brink of war.