UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations must immediately provide protection to areas liberated by rebels in Syria, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday, adding that President Bashar al-Assad’s government has no future on the international stage.
In his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Hollande also warned Iran that France would not tolerate Tehran continuing to flaunt its international obligations and threatening the stability of the region.
“The Syrian regime ... has no future among us,” Hollande said. “Without any delay, I call upon the United Nations to provide immediately to the Syrian people all the support it asks of us and to protect liberated zones.”
France in August started channeling aid to rebel-held parts of Syria so that these safe havens could administer themselves and help staunch an outflow of refugees. Rebel groups are waging an 18-month-old revolt against Assad.
Civilians in rebel-held parts of Syria have suffered deadly air strikes from Assad’s forces. The French plan falls well short of the foreign-protected safe haven the opposition says it needs and offers little hope of relief to the worsening plight of civilians fleeing the chaos.
Credible protection for “liberated” areas would require no-fly zones patrolled by foreign aircraft, but there is little chance of securing a U.N. Security Council mandate for such action given the continuing opposition from veto-wielding members Russia and China.
Western powers have also said they will not supply weapons to the lightly armed Syrian rebels, who have few answers to attacks by Assad’s combat planes and helicopter gunships.
In a veiled reference to Russia’s ongoing support of Syria’s government, Hollande said the U.N. Security Council has too often failed due to inertia, division and blockage to stop wars and end human-rights abuses.
“How long can we accept the paralysis at the U.N.?” Hollande said from the U.N. podium.
The Socialist leader’s conciliatory, understated manner is an abrupt departure from Nicolas Sarkozy, the impulsive conservative he replaced in May. But Hollande has increasingly come under fire for a perceived inability to fight the economic crisis, curb unemployment and tackle the Syria situation.
A poll on Sunday showed Hollande’s public approval ratings tumbling to their lowest level since he first took office, reflecting that his post-election honeymoon is ending far more quickly than that of Sarkozy.
After three months away from public life, Sarkozy, who spearheaded the efforts to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, broke his silence in July to call for a rapid international intervention in Syria. The message appeared designed to increase pressure on Hollande to engage more openly with Syrian opposition groups.
On Tuesday, Hollande reiterated his promise to recognize an all-inclusive provisional Syrian government, a step that French diplomats say could legitimize more direct support to Syrian rebels, including providing weapons.
France, under the previous Sarkozy administration, was also the first of the six powers in talks with Iran to push for tighter sanctions on Iranian oil and finance due to Western concerns that Tehran is trying to built an atomic bomb.
Hollande has continued with that policy of increasing sanctions, while encouraging Iran to resume negotiations.
On Tuesday, he accused Iran of continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program - something Tehran denies. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
“France cannot accept this action that threatens regional security. With our European partners, we are, therefore, ready to impose new sanctions,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the next round of European Union sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program would focus on the financial industry and trade. (Editing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Will Dunham)