Zuma champion of the ‘small nations’

2013-09-08 14:01

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President speaks out against US plans to attack Syria at G20.

President Jacob Zuma was singled out as a champion of “small nations” following discussions on Syria this week by the heads of state of the G20 nations.

At a press conference after this week’s summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, praised Zuma for highlighting the unintended consequences of a unilateral strike on Syria.

“South Africa’s president said a very remarkable thing,” Putin told reporters on Friday.

“He said: ‘In today’s world, small nations increasingly feel vulnerable and unprotected. It seems like a more powerful country can use force at any time at its own discretion.’ And he is right. That is the direction things are going in.”

During a dinner on Thursday evening on the summit sidelines, Zuma was among those who led the charge against the US’s unilateral position that an urgent military strike was necessary to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons against its people.

After the president spoke, Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said: “Everybody felt more free from the other countries to take that side.”

Maharaj said South Africa’s intervention “went to the heart of the way we conduct ourselves in international conflict”.

He said Zuma told Western powers that the way they resolved international problems “leaves a spin-off effect that other, smaller countries need to pick up”.

Maharaj mentioned Iraq and Libya as examples.

“His appeal was to respect the international institutions. He said you can’t have the country going off on its own and exercise power because it is a powerful state. There are problems that we still continue to live with, like Iraq.”

A US-led allied coalition invaded Iraq in 2003 without UN sanction, arguing that the government of Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

This was later proved to be false.

“A leader of state (Hussein) was executed (in 2006) and weapons of mass destruction were not found,” Zuma is said to have told heads of state.

In Libya’s case, Zuma pointed out that the African Union had put a solution on the table, but that Western nations acted in their “own way”, leaving the whole region of smaller nations, including South Africa, to deal with the problem.

Maharaj said several heads of state went up to Zuma after the dinner to thank him.

“He made an intervention many others couldn’t make,” said Maharaj.

US President Barack Obama failed to convince the summit to back a strike on Syria, but still insisted a “limited” action was necessary.

In his weekly broadcast yesterday, Obama said such action would be “designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so”.

Putin, at the press conference, questioned the US assertion that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its citizens.

“I believe that the so-called use of chemical weapons was a provocation staged by militants,” he said.

Putin claimed most nations at the summit agreed with Russia’s position, including China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy.

Nations siding with the US include Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France.

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