Syria FM, UN chief in verbal clash at conference

Associated Press Published:

MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) -- The bell ran five times during Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem's speech Wednesday at the opening session of the Syrian peace conference, signaling he had exceeded the time limit. But al-Moallem refused to stop, setting off a tense exchange with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that showed the tensions in trying to resolve Syria's bloody conflict.

Here's the exchange:

Ban: Can you just wrap up please.

Al-Moallem: I came here after 12 hours in the airplane. I have few more minutes to end my speech. This is Syria.

Ban: How much do you have left now?

Al-Moallem: I think 5-10 minutes.

Ban: No, no. I will give you another opportunity to speak.

Al-Moallem: No, I cannot divide my speech. I must continue ... I will do my best to be fast.

Ban: Can you just wrap up in one or two minutes?

Al-Moallem: No, I can't promise you, I must finish my speech. ... You live in New York, I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right.

Ban: We have to have some constructive and harmonious dialogue, please refrain from inflammatory rhetoric.

A-Moallem: It is constructive, I promise you, let me finish.

Ban: Within 2-3 minutes please. I will give you another opportunity.

Al-Moallem: You spoke for 25 minutes, at least I need to speak 30 minutes.

Few minutes later, Ban interrupts again. Al-Moallem says he has one sentence left, to which Ban asks him to keep his promise.

"Syria always keeps its promises," al-Moallem replied, triggering approving laughter from the Syrian government delegation behind him and a wry grin from Ban.