NEW: North Korea calls the Korean Peninsula the "world's most dangerous hotspot"
NEW: A spark could set off nuclear war, the head of the delegation warns
NEW: Syria's foreign minister responds to criticism of his country's 19-month crisis
He blames Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and others for supporting terrorists
Monday marked the end of debate at the 67th session of the U.N. General Assembly, where some of the most-controversial speakers spoke last.
Here are a few things we learned:
1. The Syrian government is not backing down.
Foreign Minister Walid Moallem took to the lectern to defend his country’s handling of the 19-month crisis, which has spiraled into a civil war.
He accused “some well-known countries” of pursuing “new colonial policies” under the guise of humanitarian efforts, and blamed Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and others for “arming, funding, training and harboring armed terrorist groups.”
International calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down are a “blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Syria,” the foreign minister said.
Approximately 28,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the opposition, and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes.
“While my government is working hard to meet the basic needs of citizens who have been forced by the violence of armed groups to flee their homes, some have sought to fabricate a refugee crisis in neighboring countries through inciting armed groups to intimidate Syrian civilians at border areas and forcing them to flee to neighboring countries,” said Moallem.
U.N. debate this year largely centered around the conflict in Syria. Most of the international community condemns the government there, but can’t agree on how to stop the bloodshed.
Strong U.N. Security Council action has been blocked by longtime Syria supporters, Russia and China.
2. Cuba slams the U.S. embargo, which has been in place for more than 50 years.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez railed against his country’s northern neighbor, blasting the embargo that was put in place in 1960.
Cuba attributes much of its economic woe to the embargo, which it calls “the blockade.” Rodriguez said the policy has caused “invaluable human and economic damage,” and accused President Barack Obama of breaking promises he made in 2009.
“The U.S. policy towards our region, whether under Democrat or Republican governments, is essentially the same. The promises made by the current president … were not fulfilled,” he said, referring to Obama’s initial pledge to lower some of the barriers in Cuban-American relations.
In 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department lifted some restrictions on the ability of Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send them money, but the United States has kept key components of the embargo in place.
The continued imprisonment of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was jailed in 2009 on suspicion of espionage, is thought to be the most recent reason why relations are not improving.
“The United States do not have the slightest moral or political authority to judge Cuba,” Rodriguez told delegates.
3. The head of the North Korean delegation says a spark could set off war on the Korean Peninsula.
Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon addressed delegates amid ever-present pressure on his country’s nuclear program.
He criticized the United States, claiming it wants to occupy the Korean Peninsula and use the region as a “stepping stone for realizing its strategy of dominating the whole of Asia.”
“Today, due to the continued U.S. hostile policy towards DPRK, the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tensions is on ongoing phenomenon on the Korean Peninsula, which has become the world’s most dangerous hotspot where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war,” Pak said.
He recalled the December death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il’s son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, has taken over as “supreme leader,” though the level of his influence on policy decisions remains unclear.
Pak also made mention of the country’s recent rocket launch. In April, North Korea launched a rocket, which failed less than two minutes into the flight. It said the launch was to put a satellite into orbit, but much of the international community saw it as a cover-up for testing ballistic missile technology.
The move destroyed a deal reached in February under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid shipments from the United States.
“The United States took issue with our legitimate and peaceful space launch that followed the universal, international law and forced the U.N. Security Council to adopt an unjust statement,” Pak said.
North Korea has been virtually isolated from the world by international sanctions over its development of a nuclear program.