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Syria and Iran to dominate UN General Assembly

US President Barack Obama used his speech at the UN General Assembly to demand the world take action on the crisis in Syria. Syria and renewed talks on Iran’s nuclear program are set to dominate the annual meeting.

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Syria, Iran dominate UN talks

President Obama defended his threat of force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime at the annual UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, saying Damascus must face consequences after the use of chemical weapons.

"There must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so," Obama said to the world leaders.

His remarks come as the US and Russia negotiate a UN Security Council resolution in connection with an agreement by Damascus to give up its chemical weapons.

The US-Russia brokered deal was struck following a push by Obama for a military strike on Syria.

Obama denounced critics who questioned whether Assad carried out the August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus, which the US says killed more than 1,400 people.

"It is an insult to human reason - and to the legitimacy of this institution - to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack," he said.

"Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country," he said of Assad.

Obama cautioned, however, that military action would not achieve lasting peace and that any nation, including the US, should not determine who will lead Syria.

Renewed talks on Iran

Obama also used his time in front of the Assembly to welcome the new Iranian government's pursuit of what he called a "more moderate course," in relation to stalled negotiations over its nuclear program.

"The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested," Obama said.

On Monday, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, announced that Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, would join talks with six key nations due to "energy and determination" shown by Tehran for fresh talks.

The foreign ministers of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are set to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

The meeting between the six powers and Iran will be the first since April, when discussions on how to reduce fears that Tehran might use its nuclear technology to create weapons stalled at a meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The UN Security Council has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and sanctions from the US and its allies have had a crippling effect on Iran's economy.

Obama did not say whether he will meet with Iran's new moderate conservative President Hasan Rouhani. Even a handshake would mark the first such encounter between US and Iranian leaders in over 30 years.

Obama faces criticism over NSA

Despite the focus on Syria and Iran, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used her opening speech at the General Assembly to criticize Obama and the US National Security Agency (NSA) over reports it had spied on Brazilian government communications.

She announced Brazil would adopt legislation and technology to protect it from illegal interception of communications.

Last week, Rousseff called off a high-profile state visit to Washington scheduled for October over the reports.

"Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations," Rousseff said to the gathering of world leaders.

President Obama was en route to the UN during her speech and therefore not present.

hc/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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