US President Barack Obama toasts with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 24, 2013
US President Barack Obama toasts with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 24, 2013. © Jewel Samad - AFP/File
US President Barack Obama toasts with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 24, 2013
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AFP
Last updated: September 25, 2013

UN leader presses major powers over Syria deadlock

UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday pressed the major powers to overcome differences on the Syria war amid difficult talks on a UN Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical arms.

Countries suffering the refugee fallout from the 30-month-old conflict separately made pleas for help to cope with growing numbers of fleeing Syrians.

Ban hosted a lunch with the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- the permanent Security Council members -- to put across his message, UN officials said.

The meeting discussed a Russia-US plan to destroy President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapon arsenal, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

The United States accuses Assad's forces of staging an August 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus. It says that more than 1,400 people were killed and had threatened a military strike until agreeing the disarmament plan with Russia.

"They exchanged views on the timing and other aspects of the peace conference to be held in Geneva," added Nesirky.

"The secretary general and the ministers underlined the importance of heightened efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis both inside Syria and in the neighboring countries."

Ban has said the Security Council -- divided into opponents and backers of Assad -- has been gripped by an "embarrassing paralysis" over the conflict.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry played a key role in the talks. Their countries are negotiating a Security Council resolution to make their plan to destroy Assad's chemical weapons binding under international law.

Western nations want the resolution to threaten the possibility of sanctions if Assad fails to keep the plan. Russia, Assad's key ally, has resisted any attempt to threaten any kind of action against Assad.

Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions seeking to increase pressure on Assad in the past 18 months.

US officials say progress has been made on a resolution but days more of talks will be needed before a vote can be held.

Britain on Wednesday gave an extra $160 million to the international humanitarian effort in and around Syria as countries hosting more than two million refugees pleaded for more help.

The cash boost was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and takes Britain's total aid to Syria relief operations to more than 500 million pounds ($800 million).

More than 5,000 Syrians a day are fleeing to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, according to the UN which says about six million are displaced inside the country.

Speaking at a meeting called by the European Union and Jordan on the Syrian humanitarian crisis, Clegg said he was pushing other countries to increase contributions to breach a multi-billion dollar shortfall for the United Nations' aid operation.

"Britain's humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis has become our largest ever because sadly it reflects the scale, despair and brutality of what's going on," said Britain's International Development Secretary Justine Greening.

The United Nations also called the first meeting of an international support group for Lebanon on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

The Lebanese government estimates it has more than 1.2 million Syrians in the country, while more than 600,000 have registered with the UN.

"Lebanon is probably the most vulnerable and the most affected (country) by the crisis in Syria, in terms of security, the various pressures that have been there on the border with Syria and of course in terms of the refugee presence," Derek Plumbly, the UN special representative to Lebanon told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Kerry, Lavrov and other key foreign ministers were expected to attend the meeting which Plumbly said should show "support for keeping Lebanon safe from what is going on in Syria."

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