Testy exchange sets tone as peace talks open on Syria

The New York Times reports: Friction and acrimony broke out almost immediately on Wednesday with the start of a long-delayed peace conference on Syria, punctuated by a testy exchange between the Syrian foreign minister and the leader of the United Nations, casting doubt on the prospects for easing hostilities or even opening up emergency aid corridors to help besieged civilians.

The conference of delegates representing some 30 countries in the lakeside Swiss city of Montreux, already troubled by last-minute diplomatic stumbles, was described by Secretary of State John Kerry as a test for the international community. But the meeting had barely begun when the atmosphere grew even more charged over divisions between the United States and Russia and especially among the Syrians themselves.

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, who led his country’s delegation, was openly defiant, calling Syrian insurgents evil and ignoring appeals by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, to avoid invective or even yield the floor as a bell rang signaling that he had exceeded the allotted time for his remarks.

“You live in New York, I live in Syria,” Mr. Moallem snapped after Mr. Ban asked that he conclude his speech, which lasted more than 30 minutes.

After Mr. Moallem finished Mr. Ban lamented that his injunction that participants take a constructive approach to the crisis “had been broken.” [Continue reading…]

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