UNITED NATIONS - The Syrian foreign minister, ignoring the mounting death toll from the bloody government crackdown on dissent, told the United Nations on Monday that external critics were to blame for the violence and for causing delays in President Bashar Assad's plans for democratic reforms.
In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Foreign Minister Walid Moualem sought to paint the Assad regime as having been on the brink of wide-ranging democratic reforms when foreign-inspired religious radicals and armed groups forced the Assad regime to put down the rebellion to hold the country together.
Moualem said reforms "had to take a back seat to other priorities. Our overriding priority was facing the external pressures which were at times tantamount to blatant conspiracies."
The Syrian government is under stiff sanctions by world governments, including the United States which has said Assad should step aside.Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab World
The Syrian uprising began in mid-March, inspired by the Arab revolutions that have driven out autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. President Bashar Assad unleashed a deadly crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed some 2,600 people.
Assad insists the unrest is being driven by terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to fracture Syria. The also regime disputes the accounts of civilian deaths and says 1,400 people have been killed, evenly split between security forces and the opposition.
The longtime foreign minister said that internal desires for reform "have been manipulated to futher objectives which are alien to the interests and express desires of the Syrian people.
Human Rights Watch was quick to dispute Moualem.
"The facts on the ground, as documented by the UN or ourselves, speak louder: the Syrian government has engaged in a merciless campaign of killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions to silence its people. The Security Council needs to take notice and act," the human rights monitor said in a statement.
In a speech to at the U.N. on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama called on the Security Council to sanction Syria.
The Security Council's response to months of violence in Syria was a statement condemning Assad for turning his forces against his people. But the panel remains divided over sanctions against Assad and his regime.
Obama said the U.S. and many of its allies have joined to punish Syria and the world must speak with one voice.