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At UN, Guterres Meets UK's Boris Johnson, As Budget Cuts Loom, "No Interlocutor" in DC

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 23 – When UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held a photo opportunity and meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on March 23, unlike in other recent meetings with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tajikistan, there were women on Guterres' side of the table (Periscope video here): Katrin Hett and the Chief of Staff, who had just met with Alain Leroy, former head of Peacekeeping now with the EU. Also on Guterres' side of the table was OCHA's Stephen O'Brien, who greeted and was greeted by Boris Johnson. Will the UK, and separately O'Brien, hold onto the OCHA post? The emergence reported by Inner City Press of outgoing Dutch Labor Party foreign minister Burt Koenders as a candidate for UNDP, over David Miliband, may help O'Brien. But with budget cuts looming, the increasing lack of transparency in the UN Secretariat's business is a problem. And this: according to at least one senior official on the 38th floor on March 23, Guterres "has no interlocutor" in Washington, to which we'll soon turn. Watch this site.

  As to Boris Johnson, after four pre-selected questions all on the London attacks, Inner City Press audibly asked about Cameroon's Anglophone's Internet cut, what the UK is doing. We'll have more on this too.
Back on March 15 when Guterres met with Bahrain's foreign minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa and a delegation that appeared to include that country's former president of the General Assembly, Guterres began by apologizing for keeping them waiting. Periscope video here. His previous appointment had been with a delegation called "United Cities and Local Governments." Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric has met to answer Inner City Press clearly on why some meeting and calls are not disclosed, such as a call with the King of Morocco and a working lunch with Michael Bloomberg, nor how some media were handpicked to memorialize Guterres' most recent trip to Kenya and Somalia. Video here. If these happened, as it has, in Washington there would be an outcry. And perhaps one is growing in Turtle Bay.

  Earlier on March 15 in the UN's basement, Bahrain human rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja spoke. She was not on the 38th floor; Guterres' interlocutors at Human Right Watch, after they met with him, refused to give any read-out of what issues they raised. It seems clear these did not include, from the UN spokesman's non-answers, that the cut-off of the Internet by the government in Cameroon's Anglophone areas, now 57 days and counting, nor the UN's censorship and restriction of the Press. We'll have more on this.

  On March 13, before the snow day in New York, Guterres met another Gulf foreign minister, United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. UAE Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh asked of Guterres' recent cultural moves in New York City. After a pause, Guterres cited art shows in Chelsea and at the Frick. Not mentioned at least at that time was former UN official Bernardino Leon, who negotiated a job at the UAE Diplomatic Academy while at the same time representing the UN in Libya, much less any mention of Yemen. Will there be a read out? There was no read out of Guterres meeting with Tanzania's foreign minster Mahiga, about which Inner City Press asked Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric on March 13; he also had no answer on Cameroon, where the Anglophone areas have had their Internet cut off by the government for 56 days, almost contemporaneous with Guterres' tenure of 72 days. We'll have more on this.

  On March 10, Inner City Press was blocked from covering a 38th floor photo op others were allowed to. No reasoning was given, just as no rule was cited when Inner City Press was evicted from the UN by the Department of Public Information's Cristina Gallach, and still remains restricted to minders more than a year later. Some thought the era of a lawless and censoring UN would be over by now. When?

  Back on March 3, when Guterres met with Gabon's FM Pacôme Moubelet Boubeya on March 3, it came before when the UN called a two day trip by Guterres to Kenya, from Sunday to Thursday. Last Friday when Inner City Press e-mailed Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric with the simple question of where Guterres was, Dujarric never answered the e-mail. When on Monday Inner City Press asked in person in the noon briefing, Dujarric said, Portugal. And this time? Why be murky?

  That is becoming a theme. Who is working on the 38th floor? How are they being paid? Inner City Press asked and was promised a chart, including a list of who is "seconded" from countries' mission. It has not been provided. On March 3, Dujarric who previously played a role in Inner City Press' eviction and continuing restriction for covering the Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case refused to answer its last question, saying "Tomorrow" (which is Saturday) and "I'm lazy." Video here.  And so it goes.

  Dujarric told Inner City Press there was no read-out of Guterres' telephone call with Morocco's King in the name of quiet diplomacy. But why wasn't Guterres' working lunch with Michael Bloomberg put on his schedule, as a meeting days later with Gordon Brown was? Both, Dujarric answered, are still UN special advisers, as apparently is Han Seoug-soo despite being on the boards of directors of UN bank Standard Chartered and Doosan Infracore, which sells equipment to countries where Han gives speeches as a UN official.

  Also this week, Guterres' Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed arrived and within two hours of being sworn in did a four question stakeout. Inner City Press asked about the Green Bond of Nigeria, and if she and Guterres will work to make the Security Council more representative. UN reforms are sorely needed. Is the pace fast enough? Watch this site.

  (Gabon was at the UN on World Wildlife Day. Inner City Press, still restricted, was one of only three media to ask questions of CITES and Interpol, about the illegal trade of primates from Guinea. The UN needs more coverage, more access, not less. This too much change.)

Back on February 21 when Guterres met with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, Guterres joked that having two UN flags and none from Ukraine was "UN chauvinism." Klimkin replied, "It's the kind of chauvinism we can tolerate. Otherwise..." Periscope video here.

  Earlier in the day Guterres in the Security Council expressed his condolences at the death of Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, saying he had been flying back from Lisbon (and Munich before that) when the commander of the plane passed a note that Churkin was dead. Klimkin on the other hand blocked draft a Presidential Statement, and confirmed it at a stakeout in which Inner City Press asked if he would urge Guterres to invoke Article 99 of the UN Charter more, to raise issues.

  While Guterres has rightly scheduled a press conference for February 23 on South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria, those are on the Security Council's agenda, the latter in connection with Boko Haram. The plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, on the other hand, is barely mentioned by Council members. Is this a test for Guterres?

  On transparency, too, Guterres has opened the process for finding new Under Secretaries General of Management and Public Information - the departing one Cristina Gallach evicted Inner City Press from its office which sits unused and restricts it still, with no hearing or appeal, for covering the UN. That has yet to be reversed, and it is unclear if the USG position for Humanitarian Affairs will be opened to applications, as UNDP has. Watch this site.

  Back on February 8 when Guterres held a photo opportunity and meeting with Cote d'Ivoire Foreign Minister Marcel Amon-Tanoh, on the UN side of the table was Tanguy Stehelin, until quite recently the French Mission's legal adviser.

  That's how it is in the UN, at least as to Peacekeeping and former French colonies. As Inner City Press has exclusively reported, now "competing" to replace Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row atop UN Peacekeeping, are Jean-Maurice Ripert, Jean Pierre Lacroix and likely winner Sylvie Bermann, now Ambassador in London, previous like Ladsous in Beijing. It's the French Connection.

  At this photo op, after Amon-Tanoh's long vistors' book signing, no works were spoken until Guterres' "merci." His spokesman Stephane Dujarric, a holdover from Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan before that, has stopped giving read-outs of such meetings. His Office called the end of day "lid" with no reference to a balance, and without answering Inner City Press' question from noon about Burundi. Yes, it's the French Connection.

  Still even working from a small booth, still evicted and restricted by UN censor Cristina Gallach after one year, for seeking to cover an event in the UN Press Briefing Room, Inner City Press is hoping a more transparent UN.

Back on February 3 the photo op with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came less than an hour after Guterres spokesman declined to explain to Inner City Press the lack of UN read-outs of such meetings.

  On February 2, there was no read-out of Guterres' long meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir. Inner City Press went to that and was surprised to see that UN Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) expert Leila Zerrougui wasn't there.

  (Meanwhile we note that at Sigmar Gabriel's meeting, UN / DPA's Katrin Hett was there. Periscope video here.)

   When Guterres' predecessor Ban Ki-moon took the Saudi-led Coalition off the CAAC annex for killing children in Yemen, it was said discussions would continue about putting them back on.

  Then Zerrougui told Inner City Press she is leaving on March 31. Earlier on February 2 Inner City Press asked Guterres' (and Ban's before that) spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: I understand from Leila Zerrougui that she's leaving 31 March.  And so I wanted to ask you how this impacts the supposed review of putting the Saudi-led Coalition back on that list.  Who's going to do the review…?

Spokesman:  The… the… the office continues.  The mandate continues.  And there is a… an open vacancy on the public website, but it doesn't, it has, it doesn't change the work of the office or the mandate of that office.

Inner City Press:  Will a report be issued even if there's not a person in place?

Spokesman:  I think we very much hope that a person will be, will be in place by then, and there's no reason to think that the work of the office and its mandate will change.

 At the February 2 meeting, Zerrougui was not there, but Dujarric was, and Jeffrey Feltman whom the Saudis greeted warmly and one of his team. Video here.

 Afterward in the lobby after Jubeir whispered to pro-Saudi media Inner City Press asked quite audibly if Children and Armed Conflict and Yemen had come up. There was no answer. Video here. We'll have more on this.

  Sometimes Guterres photo ops are more illuminative, and on February 1 he answered this Press question. On February 3 he briefs the Security Council on South Sudan and Burundi and, we're told, US immigration orders. Then he meets Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel at 2:30 pm. We'll be there.

  On February 1 Guterres had a photo opportunity and meeting with Igor Crnadak, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guterres said the UN is worried by news of the possibility of a referendum. Periscope video here, from Minute 2:51.

  Before that, Inner City Press was ordered by UN Security to stop or suspend its Periscope broadcast, which it had begun one minute before the meeting time at 3:35. Periscope here, 0:50, abruptly cut-off.

  Earlier on February 1, Guterres to his credit stopped and answered Inner City Press' question on if he plans to hire Louise Arbour as migration adviser. He said he'll first take the proposal the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

  UN holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric on January 31 declined to answer Inner City Press' related questions including if French Mission legal adviser Tanguy Stehelin is working in Guterres' office.

On February 1, Stehelin was one of Guterres' team at the conference table. Does he still work at the French mission? He's still listed there. We'll have more on this: transparency will help the UN.

On January 25 with French Minister for Development and Francophonie Jean-Marie Le Guen, this latter said, "It's almost a historic day." Periscope video here, Tweeted photo here.

  Some wondered if Le Guen might be referred to the news the new Administration in Washington is considering a 40% cut in its contributions to the UN, with full cuts to parts of the UN system accused of violating human rights.

  Thus far Guterres has yet to hold a press conference in UN Headquarters, so it has not been possible to ask him about the cuts, or the seemingly slow pace of transition and reform so far.

Dubious Under Secretaries General like Frenchman Herve Ladsous at Peacekeeping and Spain's Cristina Gallach for "Public Information" remain in place; deputy SG Amina Mohammed will not begin until at earliest March 2.

  Still the talk on the 38th floor was of a new energy, of meetings well into the evening, with Guterres and his chief of staff and others.

 Inner City Press intends to report in as much detail as it can -- it is still constrained by Gallach's eviction and pass-reduction order from eleven months ago -- but on January 25 the photo op was send, by a "sign," before Guterres said anything beyond "Comment allez-vous."

Back on January 13 when Guterres met with President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, the new chair of the Group of 77 and China, Correa gave him a painting. Photo here; Tweeted video here. Then, without words, the Press was ushered off the 38th floor.

This differed from Guterres' first four days in office, when he invited the press back in and urged his counterparties to also speak to “your media.”

  While Inner City Press has exclusively reported this week on Guterres-proposed changes, such as combining the UN's Rule of Law and Elections units, UN holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric has refused to confirm or explain, describing only "co-location."

  But when Inner City Press on January 13 asked for further information, such as how many staff in UN headquarters work on Mali, there was no response.

We'll have more on this - and on Dujarric's continuig refusal to answer UN-specified questions about the January 10 unsealed indictment of just-left Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's brother and nephew, who was allowed to work at the UN's landlord Colliers International.

All of Inner City Press' questions, including about the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services, were referred to Ban's Seoul-based spokesman at a phone number that is only a telephone menu tree all in Korean.

Guterres held his second and third photo opportunities and meetings as UN Secretary General on January 6, with Japan's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama (Photos here, Periscope here) and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (photos here, Periscope here.)

  Slightly late to the first meeting, Guterres cited the need to prepare for the Astana (Syria) and Paris (Palestine) conferences.

Guterres to his credit made a point of saying a bit, in public, before each meeting. With the Japanese delegation he joked about a dinner where at least “no one vetoed the dessert” -- yet -- and with the Greeks, he joked that their gifts, a book and music CDs and a box, were too heavy.

   In this Guterres differed from Ban Ki-moon, but not earlier in the day when led around to take selfies with the correspondents the UN has not, like Inner City Press, evicted from their offices for covering UN corruption, like the Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe bribery case. Video here, story here.

   The Greek meeting followed one on January 6 with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu. Photo here; video here.

  Beyond the pleasantries - and there were more of these than in the final days of Ban Ki-moon's tenure - it was noteworthy that along with the UN's Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide, Ban's Under Secretaries General Feltman, Ladsous and O'Brien were all there. The "P3 men," some call them. Will they be switched not only for gender, but nation?

Guterres' new chief of staff Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti was there; his Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed won't formally begin until next month. Will that trigger the end of Ban Ki-moon's era of censoring and restricting the Press?


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