US President Barack Obama has addressed the UN General Assembly, urging unity but denouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama's Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin warned that sidelining Assad was a mistake.
In his speech on Monday morning, Obama opened by calling for recognition of what the UN had achieved and by urging international cooperation to solve problems.
He addressed the responsibility of big nations to preserve international order, and criticized both Russia's policies toward Ukraine and Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
However, the US president's words on Syria had been the most eagerly anticipated, with Russia calling for international cooperation to defeat "Islamic State" ("IS"), and stating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must have a role. Obama appeared dismissive of any long-term role for the Syrian leader, whom he branded a "tyrant."
"There cannot be a return to the prewar status quo. Let's remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that in turn created the environment for the current strife."
"When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not one nation's internal affairs - it affects us all," Obama said, before turning his fire on IS.
"Likewise, when a terror group beheads captives, slaughters innocents and enslaves women… it is an assault on all our humanity."
Rare address from Russian leader
Putin's made his first speech before the General Assembly in a decade.
Putin effectively put the blame for IS at the door of the US, noting that many members of the group had been members of the Iraqi military who were "thrown out into the street" after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Others came from Libya, the statehood of which had been destroyed because of Western powers, Putin said, while some had defected from the "so-called moderate" rebels, who had been supported by the West.
Putin was strongly critical of the US, saying it was a "grave mistake" not to cooperate with the Syrian government in the fight against IS. He urged the creation of a broad anti-terror coalition.
In his speech, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government was working to restore order and democracy in both Syria and Yemen. We are prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and in paving the way for democracy," Rouhani said.
A few words in private
At a later meeting between Putin and Obama on the sidelines of the UN event, Obama is likely to want to also focus on the situation in Ukraine, where Kyiv, Washington and NATO accuse Moscow of backing and supplying a pro-Russian insurgency in the east of the country. The US has led efforts in imposing sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, which include the annexation of Crimea last year.
The Kremlin, which has always denied the accusations, however, said that the topic of Ukraine would be discussed only if time allowed, with the fight against Islamic State in Syria taking the foreground.
Driven by regional powers
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Syrian conflict was "driven by regional powers and rivalries." He said five countries "hold the key" to a political solution to Syria: Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.
Ban said "innocent Syrians pay the price of more barrel bombs and terrorism" and there must be no impunity for "atrocious" crimes.
The UN leader also warned that resources to help those affected by humanitarian crises were in short supply. UN agencies had only half of what was needed to look after refugees in Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen, and only a half of the necessary finances to assist those in Syria.