Syria looks to peace, North Korea to attack on US mainland

Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, Foreign Minister of Djibouti, addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Syria's foreign minister said victory against terrorists in his war-ravaged country "is now within reach" while North Korea's foreign minister said President Donald Trump's insult to his country makes an attack against the US mainland inevitable

UNITED NATIONS — Syria's foreign minister told world leaders Saturday that victory against terrorists in his war-ravaged nation "is now within reach" while North Korea's foreign minister said U.S. President Donald Trump's insult to his country makes an attack against the U.S. mainland inevitable.

Global conflicts, threats and challenges dominated the fifth day of the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, including an impassioned appeal for help from the prime minister of Dominica who said his hurricane-ravaged Caribbean island nation is in "the front line of the war on climate change."

Syria's Walid al-Moualem said his country is "marching steadily" toward the goal of rooting out terrorism. He pointed to "the liberation of Aleppo and Palmyra," the end of the Islamic State extremist group's siege of Deir el-Zour, "and the eradication of terrorism from many parts of Syria" by the Syrian army and its supporters and allies, including Russia and Iran.

Russia's military said about two weeks ago that Syrian troops have liberated about 85 percent of the war-torn country's territory from militants, a major turn-around two years after Moscow intervened to lend a hand to its embattled long-time ally.

But the spotlight Saturday was on North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho who said Trump's insult calling the country's leader Kim Jong Un "rocket man" makes "our rocket's visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more."

Ri's speech fueled the fiery rhetoric between the U.S. president and North Korea's young leader.

Trump threatened in his speech to the 193-member world body on Tuesday to "totally destroy" North Korea if provoked. Kim, in an unusual direct statement to the world, responded pledging to take "highest-level" action against the United States.

Ri called the American leader "a mentally deranged person full of megalomania and complacency" with his finger on the "nuclear button." He said Trump's "reckless and violent words" have provoked "the supreme dignity" of the country.

"None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission," Ri told ministers and diplomats on Saturday. "In case innocent lives of the U.S. are lost because of this suicide attack, Trump will be held totally responsible."

The annual gathering of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs has taken place against a backdrop of a spate of natural disasters — hurricanes that have ravaged the Caribbean and the United States and a major earthquake in Mexico. Climate change already was a major issue before the leaders but these events magnified the importance of global action.

"Let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations sustainably," Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica told the assembly five days after Hurricane Maria swept over his country with 160 mph (255 kph) winds, killing 15 people, flattening homes and destroying roads.

He asked other countries to lend his ravaged nation military equipment that could be used to help rebuild it, saying "our landscape reflects a zone of war" against global warming.

Tiny Dominica, population 72,000, has contributed little of the greenhouse gases that are the main cause of global warming, but Skerrit said, "we are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others, actions that endanger our very existence, and all for the enrichment of a few elsewhere."

As for other conflicts, South Sudan's First Vice President Tabo Deng Gai said the government is confident that peace will soon return to the world's newest nation after nearly four years of civil war.

"There will be challenges and reversals, but the big picture should be the movement" toward peace, he said.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari emphasized the improving situation in the country as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have retaken most of the land the extremist Islamic State group seized in 2014.

He said the government is determined "to preserve the unity of Iraq," reiterating the government's opposition to next week's independence referendum by the Kurdish minority in the north.

On another issue, al-Jaafari asked nuclear countries for help building a nuclear reactor, saying his oil-rich country has a right to use nuclear power peacefully as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The government wants "to acquire this nuclear technology and relaunch the various technology sectors," he said.

The NPT, which Iraq ratified in 1969, requires the five original nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to guarantee non-nuclear states access to peaceful nuclear technology to produce power in exchange for their commitment not to pursue nuclear weapons.

Former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's previous efforts to build a nuclear reactor were met with an Israeli bombing in 1981 and years of suspicion about his intentions. The U.S cited concerns that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction as the basis for invading Iraq in 2003 but none were ever found.

What the response will be to Iraq's new request for a reactor remains to be seen.

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