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Israeli, Syrian Foreign Ministers Address UN

The foreign ministers of Israel and Syria addressed the U.N. General Assembly Monday as the annual debate resumed for a fifth day. Israel's foreign minister called for further sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities, while Syria said it is time for Israel to expose its own nuclear program to international scrutiny. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for tougher U.N. action against Iran, saying its nuclear ambitions are "sinister" and its government is a major source of regional instability.

"No responsible state disagrees that Iran is the most prominent sponsor of terrorism," said Tzipi Livni. "It is a major source of instability and conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and across the entire Middle East, and it is the enemy of Arab-Israeli co-existence."

In comments apparently directed at Security Council members China and Russia, Livni criticized countries that have blocked tougher measures against Iran, saying their inaction calls into question the very relevance of the United Nations.

"What is the value, we have to ask, of an organization which is unable to take effective action in the face of a direct assault on the very principles it was founded to protect?", she said.

China and Russia - which both have Security Council veto powers - have resisted further sanctions against Iran, despite Tehran's unwillingness to comply with U.N. demands that it halt its uranium enrichment activities.

On Friday, the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany announced they agreed to put off until November discussions on a third U.N. sanctions resolution against Iran.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem did not directly mention ally Iran in his remarks, but said Damascus stresses the right of all countries to freely acquire nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes.

He added that Syria supports the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East, and he called on Israel to submit its nuclear program to international scrutiny.

"We believe that it is necessary to compel Israel, the sole party in the region that possesses nuclear weapons, to submit its facilities to the safeguards regime of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement," said Walid Moualem.

Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although it is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons. Its government follows a policy of neither confirming nor denying its nuclear status.

Moualem also critized an Israeli airstrike over Syria last month, calling it proof of Israel's desire to escalate tension, and he criticized the international community for not denouncing the attack.

The strike raised speculation that Israel had hit a weapons shipment headed for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon or even some sort of nuclear installation. Israel's government has remained silent about the matter, but earlier Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told British Radio that the attack was on an "unused military building" and says his country reserves the right to retaliate.

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