Venezuela's Maduro proposes UN fund to skirt US-imposed sanctions

President calls for new fund to allow countries under sanctions to buy 'food and health products'

In this UNTV image, Nicolás Maduro Moros, President of Venezuela, speaks in a pre-recorded video message during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at UN headquarters in New York. The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders started Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from heads-of-state, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic. (UNTV via AP)
In this UNTV image, Nicolás Maduro Moros, President of Venezuela, speaks in a pre-recorded video message during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at UN headquarters in New York. The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders started Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from heads-of-state, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic. (UNTV via AP)

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro blasted the US as the “most serious threat to peace in this world” on Wednesday and proposed a UN fund to bypass US sanctions.

In a video message to the UN General Assembly from Caracas, Mr Maduro bemoaned biting sanctions and interference by an “intransigent and hostile” Washington.

He claimed billions of dollars had been taken from Venezuela, "frozen and held in bank accounts in the United States and Europe".

“Likewise, any company or government that commercialises any good or service with our country, be it food, medicine, fuel, additives needed to produce gasoline – which our people need – is being persecuted.”

Mr Maduro called for the creation of a “revolving public purchasing fund” under UN auspices that would allow Venezuela and other countries under US sanctions to buy “food and health products” for their people and skirt Washington’s “economic blockade”.

This week, the US imposed sanctions on five Venezuelan politicians in the latest measure Washington has made against Mr Maduro’s government in the past two years.

The US repeated its claim that his re-election in 2018 was a sham.

Wednesday’s UN sessions also featured speeches from the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine and Afghanistan, which were broadcast to an assembly hall in which ambassadors sat socially distanced and wearing face masks.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged UN members for help in his country’s dispute with neighbouring Russia, which in 2014 annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in the country's Donbas region.

Mr Zelenskiy called for the creation of an international “platform for concerted actions” on Crimea and an “office to counter disinformation and propaganda” to be based in Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

“Until the wound in the centre of Europe stops bleeding, the pain will be felt all over the world,” he said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged UN members to support peace talks between his government and Taliban insurgents that are being held in Qatar against a backdrop of heightened bloodshed in the war-torn country.

“The Afghan people have a clear and urgent priority: a ceasefire," Mr Ghani said in his recorded message.

"An urgent end to the violence will, more than anything else, give us a chance to progress."

Earlier, in his first address to the UN, Saudi King Salman called for a comprehensive solution on Iran, disarming its proxy militia Hezbollah in Lebanon, and backing US efforts to start talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

In his speech, Lebanese President Michel Aoun offered a plan to divide blast-ravaged Beirut into zones, with donor nations overseeing reconstruction works in their designated areas, after the August 4 explosion in the city’s port.

Amid widespread fears that rebuilding money will line the pockets of Lebanese politicians, Mr Aoun assured donors that aid schemes met the “strictest criteria of integrity and transparency”.

Also, on the sidelines of the UN assembly, the Israeli and UAE envoys held their first formal meeting after this month’s deal to normalise ties between the two Middle Eastern nations.

The UAE’s Lana Nusseibeh and Israel’s Gilad Erdan met at the UAE mission in New York and agreed to work together to tackle online extremism, Covid-19 and climate change, and to promote women’s rights, Israeli diplomats said.

Meanwhile, writing in an opinion article that was published on Wednesday, former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon voiced support for the accord between the UAE and Bahrain and Israel.

Mr Ban, a South Korean diplomat who led the world body from 2007 to 2016, said the normalisation of ties with Israel could “help overcome decades of estrangement and mistrust” in a volatile region.

Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, told Al Arabiya news network on Wednesday that she expected more Arab countries to normalise ties with Israel within hours.

“It could be today. It could be one in the next day or two. We’re very excited and I know others are going to be following,” Ms Craft said.

The UN’s annual summit usually brings scores of leaders and their huge entourages to New York.

It was scaled back this year by a coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the city.

Only face mask-wearing ambassadors from the UN’s 193 members sit in the General Assembly hall, watching recorded videos that are streamed online.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the high-level week on Tuesday with a call for a global ceasefire and co-operation on tackling Covid-19.

But the session quickly became bogged down in tension between the US, China and other powers.

Updated: September 24, 2020 03:44 AM

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