Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York this afternoon.

The two discussed some of the major issues facing the international community at the current session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Secretary General thanked Ireland for its longstanding commitment to the work of the UN, in particular its peacekeeping operations.

Mr Gilmore said yesterday that Ireland supports tougher sanctions against the regime in Syria.

He outlined Ireland's stance on Syria in an address to the General Assembly.

Mr Gilmore told the assembled diplomats and world leaders that Ireland also supported the involvement of the International Criminal Court in The Hague in bringing perpetrators of crimes to justice.

He also said that Ireland continues to give a significant amount in international aid and remains committed to giving 0.7% of national income to the poorest internationally.

But he was not specific on whether the upcoming Budget would see any further cuts to the overseas aid programme.

The Syrian crisis was the main talking point at the assembly and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned of the risks that the civil war could spread to other Middle East nations.

He said: "The Syrian regime deploys every instrument to turn the legitimate struggle of the Syrian people into a sectarian war, which will engulf the entire region into flames.

"Our inability to act becomes a tool in the hands of despots and destructive regimes to demolish the cities, towns and villages, massacre civilians and make a mockery of the civilised world and the United Nations.

"The failure to address this humanitarian crisis shakes our collective conscience. There has to be a solution to ensure the immediate safety and security of the Syrian people."

Peace plan proposed

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has proposed a two-stage plan to bring both sides of the conflict together to discuss a political transition in the hope of ending the 18-month war that has killed more than 30,000 people.

Mr Zebari said yesterday that he made the proposal at a ministerial meeting of 20 countries mainly opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

The closed meeting of key members of the Friends of Syria was chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.

"The discussions were very good," he said. "I think everyone ... recognised the need for a political transition - no preconditions - not to adopt maximalist positions."

Mr Zebari said that international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would have to carry the plan forward.