Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he doesn't see "much credibility" in Syrian President Bashar Assad's promises of reforms because of his failure to allow peaceful demonstrations in his country.
Ban said unified action by the U.N. Security Council, which is deeply divided over a resolution that would condemn the Syrian crackdown on protesters, "would be helpful."
The secretary-general spoke with news agency reporters a day after his re-election for a second term as U.N. chief, using unusually strong language to question Assad's reliability when asked whether he trusted promises of reform by Assad and his foreign minister.
"I do not see much credibility of what he has been saying because the situation has been continuing," Ban said of the government's handling of the protests.
The Assad regime, which has been in power for more than 40 years, unleashed security forces to crush the protest movement, which began in March following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed.
The secretary-general said he welcomed Assad's announcement earlier this week of a general amnesty.
Ban said Assad must "respect the will and aspirations of his own people" and their right to peaceful demonstrations and freedom of expression. The Syrian government also must ensure that civilians are protected, he said.
Although Assad hasn't been accepting his phone calls of late, the secretary-general said he didn't feel rebuffed, adding that "there is always a possibility I can talk to him; I will try."
On another issue related to the protection of civilians, Ban was asked whether he was concerned that NATO's aggressiveness in Libya was inadvertently causing civilian deaths and attacks on rebels.
"I'm assured that NATO secretary-general and his military commanders, in conducting military operations ... will pay utmost care and caution to protect human lives," he replied.
On other global hotspots, Ban urged the Iranian government to comply with U.N. sanctions and the Palestinians and Israelis to resume negotiations.
He stressed that "there's still time" for Israeli-Palestinian talks before the ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in September, when the Palestinians say they will seek U.N. membership and international recognition as an independent state.
Ban also expressed hope that the Security Council will "take action as soon as possible" to establish a new U.N. mission for South Sudan, which is scheduled to secede from the north and become an independent nation on July 9.
His spokesman, Martin Nesirky, later announced that UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson has been selected to head the new mission. Johnson previously served as a senior adviser to the president of the African Development Bank, as Norway's minister of international development and as a member of the Norwegian parliament for five years.
As for reports in South Korea that he will leave the U.N. post to become president of his country, Ban said he is committed to his job as secretary-general and hopes that with the General Assembly's decision to give him a second five-year term "all these kind of speculations or expectations will fade away completely."