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At the UN, Who Is a Journalist, Who Decides and How Are Put to the Pincas Test: From Taiwan to Climate Change

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, March 29, updated March 30, 2 pm -- The UN, at which terrorism remains without a definition, decides in a decidedly murky process who can have access as a journalist to its briefings. Who decides, and how, were brought to the fore on Thursday by a denial of renewed accreditation. The UN's current definition is that a journalist's emphasis must be on original content and not commentary, and that reporters should not ask long and  "non-governmental organization-like" questions.

            The UN's policy on questioning, however, appears to some to be unevenly applied, based on the size of the media outlet. The UN's dismissing of commentary is called anachronistic and out-of-step with the online or "New" media, and an impediment to outreach, particularly in the UN's host country.

            These questions were squared raised if not answered at the briefing of the Office of the Spokesperson of Secretary-General on Thursday. This same-day evolving exploration will try to get closer to answers. At the noon briefing, following read-outs from Sudan and Haiti, and questions about the fifteen UK military personnel in Iranian custody, Pincas Jawetz raised a more localized concern:

"My question relates to something that was asked yesterday about whistleblowers, and the attitude of some at the United Nations on things which they disagree with.  And before asking my question, let me just state that this is probably going to be my last question for a while, because some at the Department of Public Information [DPI] disagree with some of my questions, so my pass isn't going to be renewed for a while."

            The UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit reviews applications for journalists' access to UN premises and briefings, and grants access on a temporary, monthly or annual basis. Mr. Jawetz, who states among other things that he was previously a "dollar a year man" at the UN's UNITAR unit, and that he for example in the 1980s met Pakistani scientist-turned-nuclear-proliferator A.Q. Khan, was accredited for six months from April to November 2006, then for an additional four months which as he recounted expired on Thursday.

            At Thursday's noon briefing, at the request of a journalist from Fox television news, Mr. Jawetz read into the record a March 28 letter from Ahmad Fawzi, Director of the UN's News and Media Division, which stated "Mr. Jawetz does not meet the criteria of original reporting required for media accreditation, which can be found at" In a statement clarified or supplemented later Thursday by Mr. Fawzi in response to questions from Inner City Press, this March 28 letter continued:

"Mr. Jazetz's accreditation was reviewed by the Standing Committee of the Department of Public Information and the United Nations Correspondents Association, and the Committee concluded that there had been no developments that would reverse the earlier evaluation of his accreditation status."

            The UN Correspondents Association, of which in full disclosure this reporter is an Executive Committee member, is a voluntary organization of journalists at the UN. While UNCA is a part of a Standing Committee with the UN's Department of Public Information, it is widely acknowledged that UNCA does not play a role of the accreditation of journalists to enter the UN and ask questions at UN briefings. In fact, at the February 28 meeting where Mr. Jawetz was discussed, the UN's Mr. Fawzi stated that "we are doing you the courtesy of informing you of the decision we are about to make," to decline to renew Mr. Jawetz' accreditation, which expired on March 29.

            Inner City Press on Thursday afternoon put the following question to Mr. Fawzi:

While a broader comment on the place and utility of new / online media in covering the UN would be much appreciated, I feel a need to ask for your comment... were and are you saying that UNCA played a role in the non-renewal of Mr. Pincas Jawetz' accreditation? I understand that during a meeting (which I could not attend because there was a press briefing on the UN Pension Fund taking place at that time in Room 226) it was said to UNCA that, as to DPI's decision on Mr. Jawetz, DPI was "doing you the courtesy of informing you." Given that, how can (as some now say) silence by those UNCA members present be taken as consent and involvement in the decision?

            Mr. Fawzi to his credit did respond by the extended deadline, with the following clarification: "The DPI-UNCA Standing Committee was briefed as a courtesy. If there were any objections, they could have been raised then. The decision was DPI's, based on the accreditation criteria. I cannot comment on the silence of UNCA members."

            The discrepancy remains between DPI merely "informing" UNCA of a forthcoming DPI decision, and the March 29 letter's statement that the joint DPI and UNCA Standing Committee reached this conclusion.  Once a group of people is told that a presentation is only for their information, as a courtesy, to infer consent from what comes after is dubious. From his able briefings last summer during the conflict in South Lebanon, Ahmad Fawzi's March 28 letter and its wording were surprising to some.

At the UN, the press is being watched (Photo credit: Mark Garten, UN)

            Interviewed on the threshold of his exclusion, Mr. Jawetz took issue with those who have said that UN corruption starts at the top. At the UN, the top level and the base are generally clean, he said. "It is the middle that's corrupt." It is inescapable that the rare on-the-record honest quote at the UN most often comes from those already fired or being excluded. Nearly all of Pincas Jawetz' detractors, and few supporters, spoke only on condition of anonymity. The fear of retaliation is not limited to formal UN staff.

   The outgoing Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, attended a farewell party at the UNCA Club in the UN on Thursday. Since Mr. Jawetz had told Inner City Press that he'd long known Mr. Tharoor, and that Shashi had played some role in his accreditation to the UN, Inner City Press asked Tharoor about l'affaire Pincas.  He answered that he was aware of it but had not been involved. Asked if he had known Pincas for some time, Mr. Tharoor said, "Only though UNCA events."

            Mr. Jawetz recounts that in early 2006 at an event of the Asia Society, he told Mr. Tharoor of difficulties he had encountered being accredited to the UN.  Mr. Jawetz says that Tharoor told him to contact Ahmad Fowzi, who received him in his office and told the head of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, Gary Fowlie, to grant accreditation.

The "Size of Equipment" (And of Media Outlet)

   Mr. Jawetz subsequently complained, in a way that did not change and is arguably not related to the subsequent denial of renewal of accreditation, about his interactions with Gary Fowlie. In a February 18 email sent to the Office of the Spokesperson and subsequently higher in DPI, Mr. Jawetz recounts that he "tried to get permission to go to a Photo-Op on the 38th floor. Mr. Fowlie laughed at my small camera and said the opportunity is only for those with large equipment."

   Mr. Fowlie notes that the Photo-Op was limited to UN Photo, and states that the granting of access to visual media is not related in any way to camera size. Mr. Fowlie states that in this incident, he did not even speak with Mr. Jawetz; rather, another MALU then-staff member did. For the record, Mr. Fowlie categorially denies that he retaliated in response to Mr. Jawetz' email complaints, which he states he had not read until he saw them quoted in the Press. Hua Jiang of DPI's response was "Thank you very much for your note... You will be informed of the decision in due course."

            Of online media, Mr. Fowlie has stated that bloggers can be accredited at the UN, if they produce original content and are cited in other media. On Thursday afternoon, alongside providing reporters with informal updates of the timing of Security Council actions, Mr. Fowlie indicated that the saga of Pincas Jawetz might not meet some litmus test of newsworthiness. But since the UN speaks of media freedom, and even gives directives to and in member states about responsible journalism and the importance of open societies, the UN's own dis-accreditation policies seem to meet the litmus test, or in this case, Pincas test.

Pincas' Bits: A Poll on the Specifics, Pro and (Mostly) Con

            Informal polling of a cross-section of current UN correspondents uncovers a trend both of frustration at Mr. Jawetz' speech-giving style in UN news briefings, and concern that the journalists' trade association, UNCA, would be portrayed as involved in barring people from the UN. One Brazilian reporter, who asked to go unnamed due to concerns of UN reaction, praised Mr. Jawetz for his knowledge of Brazil, "not only ecology but also the people."

            Another reporter quipped that because of Mr. Jawetz' sometimes repetitive questions about climate change, "I no longer give a damn about global warming, and it's the fault of Mr. Pincas, he's turned me off the issue." When asked, nearly all reporters acknowledged for example that Mr. Jawetz performed a service by raising, in a recent briefing by the UN's Dr. David Nabarro, the decision by Indonesia to stop providing samples to the UN's World Health Organizations if the samples would be passed on to for-profit medical firms. Video here.

   Similarly, Mr. Jawetz asked among the most informed questions to, and got the most detailed answers from, UN climate change expert Yvo de Boer in two briefings this year. DPI counters with Mr. Jawetz' actions at briefings on January 5 and February 16. In full disclosure, this reporter advised Pincas to ask shorter questions, to keep them questions, and to not remain limited to only climate change. That said, there are many issue-focused reporters at the UN, and speech- and opinion-giving is not limited to Mr. Pincas. Where should the line be drawn?

            Some have suggested that UNCA itself ought to send warning letters to questioners perceived to have crossed this line that is not clear. (When asked, DPI cites to rules on demeanor not amended since 1983. Undeterred, DPI is known to have pointedly urged some reporters to file written complaints against others.) At the more competitive Security Council stakeout, Ambassadors or their staff often choose who can ask questions. Sometimes this appears based on the size and reach of the media outlet, sometimes on perceived bias or pungency of question.

  Others have advised the Office of the Spokesperson to simply not call on repeatedly disruptive questioners. Generally, most reporters express satisfaction at the level of access to the Ambassadors and spokespeople of Security Council members, including at receptions like Thursday night's at the South African mission, following the Council's Iran press statement. Click here for Inner City Press' story on the day's Council's (in) activity.

            Among those reporters who cover the UN as an organization engaged in procurement and as a workplace, there is frustration at the lack of access to, for example, any briefings from the Office of Internal Oversight Services, few press conferences by the heads of UN funds and programs such as UNDP's Kemal Dervis, even following Ban Ki-moon's January 19 announcement of an "urgent audit" of his agency's North Korea operations and, as was raised Thursday, at the lack, eight weeks on, of a briefing or even meet-and-greet, with Deputy-Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. It is also noted that the head of the Department of Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, has yet to hold an on-the-record briefing.

Three Wider Press Policies at the UN: No FOIA, Old School, No Taiwan

            The UN as of yet has not freedom of information policy -- that is, the press and public have no right to information, nor any formal process to request it. Kofi Annan's USG for Management, Christopher Burnham, had promised a freedom of information rule that would be, he said, the "gold standard." Before he left in late 2006 to work at Deutsche Bank, no FOIA rule was adopted. Earlier this week, Inner City Press asked current USG for Management Alicia Barcena about any progress on enacting a FOIA policy. Ms. Barcena indicated that she intends to confer with UNCA, to "ask you all how the policy would work best."

            The lack of fit between the UN's press policies and the online New media, for example the now-apparently-diminishing use of the moniker "blog" to seek to deny accreditation, was indirectly panned at Thursday's noon briefing. Thomas Schindlmayr, the United Nations Disability Expert speaking the day before the opening for signature of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, specifically praised for the three-year passage of this Convention both NGOs and the Internet. Still the UN is resistant, demanding for example to see correspondents' work in "real" hardcopy publications.

   Ironically, in Ban Ki-moon's native South Korea, the prevalence of high-speed connections and the centrality of online media is more advanced that in the U.S.. There are news websites with thousands of citizen correspondents filing dispatches and photos from their cell phones. It may be, as some say, that the UN's Department of Public Information machinery is out of step not only with the times but also with Mr. Ban. What will changed be, under Mr. Tharoor's successor Kiyotaka Akasaka? More than other USGs, he should be open to the press, including on these question of policy and access.

   Another irony is that just as Ban Ki-moon ramps up his rhetoric on the issue of climate change, his DPI denies the accreditation renewal of the UN press corps most persistent questioner on global warming. While Pincas Jawetz was chided for seeing climate change in the most unlikely places, it is not clear that given his exclusion, the issue will be raised even where it is relevant.

            The UN refuses, as acknowledged by Mr. Fawzi at the February 28 meeting, to "accredit a journalist from Taiwan, because they are not a quote-unquote country recognized by the United Nations."  The reference is to the UN accreditation guidelines, which require that an applicant "represent bona fide media organizations [formally registered as a media organization in a country recognized by the United Nations General Assembly]" (brackets in original).

            This UN policy seems fraught with problems. How would it apply to a dissident publication in Sudan, for example, or in the Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe, a topic on which the UN Security Council received a briefing on March 29? For that matter, what of publications in the United States, since under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, the government does "register" media organizations? It has been explained that the tortured phrasing of the guidelines are intended to justify exclusion of journalists from Taiwan. But even if that were legitimate -- which to many is dubious -- why does it not then apply to journalists from Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossentia, to Nagorno-Karabakh or Puntland or Somaliland?  The question was put in writing on Thursday even to Mr. Fawzi, and the UN's responses will be reported on this site. Developing.

[Notes on the updates: in the spirit of transparency, all March 30, 2 pm edits were to the paragraph involving camera size. The sentence "Mr. Jawetz subsequently complained, to his detriment it is now clear, about his interactions with Gary Fowlie" has been changed to "Mr. Jawetz subsequently complained, in a way that did not change and is arguably not related to the subsequent denial of renewal of accreditation, about his interactions with Gary Fowlie." To be clear, the first version was not intended to imply any retaliation by Mr. Fowlie for Mr. Jawetz' email complaints, which Mr. Fowlie states he had not read until he saw them quoted in the Press. Mr. Fowlie made a point of telling Inner City Press on  March 30 that he views Mr. Jawetz as "a passionate advocate for the environment." The continuum between advocate and journalist and how the UN and its Department of Public Information should approach it in 2007 will continue to be explored, hopefully in a not humorless way.

  Mr. Fowlie's account of the Photo-Op at issue has been added, as has the name of the DPI staffer who responded on March 22 to Mr. Jawetz' March 21 email. The characterization of the response in the initial version has been removed. The characterization called the response "tongue-in-cheek" and was intended to highlight that the quote about camera size was included largely for its seeming comedic quality. On that note, another correspondent notes that even those photographers allowed to the 38th floor must first have their equiptment sniffed. Another correspondent has suggested a new title for this section of the article, which we confine to this separate endnote to avoid any further misunderstanding:  "World Body: Size Doesn't Matter."

 Finally, for now, l'affaire Jawetz arose again at the UN noon briefing of March 30, click here for video.]

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At the UN, Six Hours for Two Paragraph on Iran, Spin Over Kosovo and Zimbabwe

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, March 26 -- After Zimbabwe was discussed Thursday in the UN Security Council, the Council's president for March, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, said the briefing should not have taken place. Inner City Press asked him about a statement, just made, by UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, that the situation in Zimbabwe represents "a potential problem for regional stability."

            "We held the briefing just to hear that?" asked Ambassador Kumalo.  He said no one in Zimbabwe was helped by the briefing or the politicization. Sources tell Inner City Press that inside the closed-door meeting, Amb. Kumalo apologized to the UN Secretariat's briefer, Rashid Khalikov of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for having him in the Council instead of some other, purely humanitarian venue.

            The UK asked for the Zimbabwe briefing, which was scheduled for last Thursday, March 22 but got bumped by the Iran nuclear sanctions resolution. The rescheduled time ended up not working, Amb. Jones Parry said, because the requested briefer was "away on mission." Therefore Rashid Khalikov on March 29 was the choice, under the rubric "Other matters."

            Following his briefing, Mr. Khalikov took questions from reporters. Surprisingly, he said that he does not view the situation in Zimbabwe as a threat to international peace and security. Most briefers decline to opine on such political questions, since the jurisdiction of the Security Council turns on precisely this test.

            Since Mr. Khalikov's (new) boss is John Holmes, previously a UK diplomat, it is foreseen that Mr. Holmes, upon his return from his visit to Sudan, Chad and elsewhere, will be asked for his views on the briefing, and on Zimbabwe more generally. Speaking of Chad, Mr. Holmes on Thursday was quoted both that the international community is underestimating the problem, and that no UN force can be sent in absent a political solution and a "peace to keep."

Kosovo, not Zimbabwe (or Chad)

            As discussion of Zimbabwe in the Council is viewed as controversial, so too is review of Myanmar, on which Russia and China most recently cast vetoes.  Inner City Press asked, at Thursday's UN noon briefing:

Inner City Press: I saw that the Deputy Secretary-General is slated to meet with the Permanent Representative of Myanmar later this afternoon.  And I'm wondering what's on the agenda, and whether, in light of Special Rapporteur [Paulo Sergio] Pinheiro's call for the release of political prisoners, whether Ms. Migiro will be raising that or other human rights issues?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don't often get readouts of meetings that are held with the Permanent Representatives here, of which there are many.  But I'll see whether we can get some information once that happens.

 [He later told the correspondent that it had been a courtesy visit.]

Inner City Press: I know there's been a request for some time to have Ms. Migiro either do a briefing here or maybe they were going to do it at the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) Club.  Where does it stand, to actually hear from Ms. Migiro?

Associate Spokesperson:  She's certainly willing to meet with you in a number of venues.  I don't know what the arrangements are, whether it's here or in UNCA for the next one.

Inner City Press: I guess I would like to reiterate that invitation, on behalf of UNCA.  I just think it's time. The other question I have is: there were these announcements about what they call the mobility posts.  There's about a dozen, maybe, that were announced with some fanfare.  Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar said there were 1,200 applications.  What is the status of those?  Some people are saying that some of the posts have been given out.  Is that the case?

Associate Spokesperson:  I'm not aware that any of them have been given out.  Certainly none of them have been announced.  I know that I've been looking with interest, to see whether those posts have been filled.  But as far as I know, they're not.

Inner City Press: Will they be announced when they are filled?

Associate Spokesperson:  I imagine so, yes.  I don't think all of them will be announced, because many of them are fairly low-level.  I imagine the higher-level ones would be announced, as we normally do with high-level posts.

            The UN Secretariat can issues statements and calls on human rights and suffering in member states, but not bring the issue up or talk about it when these states' Ambassadors come in for meet and greet. Earlier this week, DSG Migiro told Inner City Press she wants to do a briefing. This would be the time.

            In other Security Council action, most of Thursday was spent negotiating a mere two-paragraph press statement on the 15 UK soldiers in custody in Iran. In the late afternoon, the U.S. mission's Rick Grenell said, on the record, "we are irritated," that if anyone questioned the need for Security Council reform they should consider this example, and to expect the U.S. Ambassador to come out and call the whole thing a "joke." 

   U.S. Amb. Jackie Sanders emerged and predicted that nothing would be accomplished or resolved any time soon. Minutes later, the press statement was agreed to. To one reporter, Jackie Sanders subsequently explained that things got easier once she left. After six hours on two paragraphs, some said they could understand this apparently breakdown in communications.

            Kosovo was also discussed, specifically Russian Ambassador Churkin's proposal for a Council members' visit to Pristina and Belgrade. Inner City Press asked Amb. Kumalo if Russia's request for a report on the implementation of previous Kosovo resolution 1244 was also in the mix. The answer is yes, but it is not clear who will write the report or when. Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian confirmed to Inner City Press that his country's position, as adopted by its legislature, is that independence for Kosovo could destabilize the region. So Russia is not alone. Game on, as they say....

At the UN, African Kosovos, Ivory Coast Deal and Jean-Pierre Bemba's Leg

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, March 27 -- In Africa, where are the potential Kosovos, and who would play Serbia's role?

    It emerged today at the UN that concern about the precedent of Kosovo independence is not limited to Russia, but is shared by African nations, or at least by South Africa. While Security Council members South Africa, Congo or Ghana seem unlikely to veto the proposal unveiled Monday for Kosovo's independence, the concerns from Africa echo those that triggered the recent failure of a draft treaty on the rights of the indigenous. The stated worry then was of increased tribal conflict. Here it is of territories: Somaliland and Puntland, North and South Kivu, perhaps Casamance in Senegal. The concerns that surfaced on Tuesday will have to be addressed.

            In related West Africa conflict news, the UN Security Council is slated on March 28 to endorse the deal between Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro, which will make Mr. Soro the country's prime minister, replacing the UN-installed Charles Banny. Inner City Press on Tuesday asked the Council's president for March, South Africa's Kumalo, when the Council will act on requests that the UN draw down troops from the country as well. "Eventually the Security Council will come up with a resolution" for the draw-down, Amb. Kumalo answered. Video here, from Minute 5:10 to 6:15.

            Wednesday's "Presidential Statement is urgent, the agreement is being implemented," Amb. Kumalo said. Last week, the army and rebel soldiers formed a joint command. The agreements came fast, and left the UN looking surprised. In this case, perhaps both sides wanting the UN and France out of the country helped lead to an agreement. Cynics predict now just a sharing of the profits. We'll see.

            Also discussed in the Security Council on Tuesday was Martti Ahtisaari's status proposal for Kosovo independence. Russia proposed a review of past compliance with Resolution 1244, and a trip to Pristina and Belgrade by Security Council Ambassadors sometime in April. Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin about a quote from foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, that, "If Ahtisaari thinks he has done everything within his power, then almost certainly another person could be found to do it." Inner City Press asked, is this still Russia's position?

            "It is not a matter of personalities," Amb. Churkin replied. "Whatever the statements are, they should not be interpreted as a sign of disrespect" for Ahtisaari. Video here, from Minute 7. Amb. Kumalo, too, praised Ahtisaari, for his role in the process leading to Namibia's independence.  He said that South Africa is seeking assurances -- it is not clear from whom -- about what precedent independence for Kosovo might set in Africa. As simply some few examples, there has been a longstanding conflict in the Casamance portion or protuberance of Senegal. There is Acholi-land in Northern Uganda, there were the Kivus and Ituri during a stage of the DR Congo war. Then and now there are Somaliland and Puntland.

USG Holmes and Bamaba Marial Benjamin of the Government of Southern Sudan (an African Kosovo?)

   Many African countries have opposed the draft convention on the rights of indigenous people on similar stated grounds, that it would have divisive ramifications in Africa. Darfur, too, comes to mind, along with Transniestria and Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh and the breakaway parts of Georgia, South Ossentia and Abkhazia. On this last, Georgia is suing Russia in the European Court of Human Rights, which Russia calls, for now, "unhelpful."

            Inner City Press asked Amb. Kumalo, who has three days left in his Council presidency, whether in Kinshasa, Jean-Pierre Bemba remains holed up in South Africa's diplomatic compound. Amb. Kumalo said that he does, adding that "he is not a refugee or anything like that," and that outgoing Assistance Secretary General Hedi Annabi told the Council that Mr. Bemba will be traveling to Portugal on Saturday to get treatment for a broken leg. Video here, from Minute 9:20. Bemba has said that DRC President Kabila is trying to kill him. And as one wag said at the stakeout on Tuesday, Congo was supposed to be the UN's big success story this year...

 An ongoing question from this report forward: where are Africa's (potential) Kosovos?

UN Envoy Chissano Seeks Solution to Lord's Resistance Army, "Without Impunity"

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, March 22 -- The war crimes indictments against the leaders of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army were gingerly discussed on Thursday by the UN's envoy to the LRA-affected areas, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano. After Mr. Chissano briefed the UN Security Council on his efforts to get the LRA back into peace talks and a ceasefire with the Ugandan government, Inner City Press asked him about the role of the International Criminal Court's indictments on the process.

            "The ICC cannot get involved in negotiations," Mr. Chissano quickly pointed out. Video here, from Minute 3:47. "The Uganda government is busy trying to study how to find an alternative solution, to take care of the question of non-impunity."

            Mr. Chissano was asked if the indictments pose an obstacle to the negotiations. Strangely, he downplayed what is widely described as a sticking point, and rather said that the only impact of the indictments was been that the five leaders indicted "cannot participate in the talks."

            To the contrary, an LRA representative to the talks, Godfrey Ayo, has been quoted that "It is the view of LRA that the ICC warrants of arrest is the greatest obstacle in all attempts geared towards ending the war in northern Uganda and bringing about peace in the region."  Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti of the LRA have demanded that the indictments be quashed. More recently, they have called for the involvement in the talks of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni's brother, General Salim Saleh.

Mr. Chissano with DSG Migiro: indictments are scarcely an obstacle

            Mr. Chissano took only two questions, and then rushed with a small entourage into the Council to finalize a Presidential Statement, then to the UN's elevators. One wanted to ask for his views on the crisis in Zimbabwe, and perhaps even about the rifts in the Council on Iran. But Mr. Chissano was gone. In the run-up to his appearance, the UN Spokesperson's Office went to great lengths to point out that he is not a mediator, he is a facilitator. If the talks lead nowhere, it is not the UN's fault.

            On Monday Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a read-out on Chissano's meeting with the LRA's leader and indicted war criminal, Joseph Kony.  An hour later, the following arrived:

Subj: LRA peace talks 

Date: 3/19/2007 12:56:50 PM Eastern Time

From: OSSG

To: Matthew Russell Lee

"The UN has no direct involvement in the talks. Please contact the Mission of Sudan, as that country is hosting and organizing the peace talks, for any additional information on the alleged resumption of the talks."

            Mr. Chissano said, as an aside, that much of the LRA delegation in fact resides in Nairobi, Kenya, when not in Juba for the talks. Recently at the UN, in response to questions from Inner City Press, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called the LRA a criminal enterprise that should not be romanticized as a defender of Uganda's Acholi people. Earlier still, South African judge Richard Goldstone criticized UN officials who have met with Kony and Otti, saying that if such contacts are desired, the Security Council should formally suspend the ICC indictments for a year. While Mr. Chissano said the search of on for a "solution to the question of non-impunity," dissembling and murkiness hardly strengthen the rule of law.

In Iran Talks, China Offers Quotes and Hope to Shivering Reporters

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- As a next round of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programs are discussed by the five permanent member nations of the Security Council and Germany, Thomas Matussek, the German envoy, predicted that the penalties agreed to will be "swift and modest." To this process, the UN press corps adds another adjective through chattering teeth: cold.

            Talks have so far been held outside of the UN, in the United Kingdom's mission in 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street and Second Avenue in New York, where the temperature has been below freezing. Ambassadors emerge from the talks to inform or spin reporters about the negotiations. Thursday evening, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff came out spoke to a dozen journalists waiting on the sidewalk in the cold. His comments were a model of bland diplomacy:

Amb. Wolff: The devil is in the details on these things as you know... We're doing a lot of explaining in different terms of what peoples' concerns are, and what is the best way to get our ultimate objective, and the ultimate objective is a shared one, to signal to the Iranian government that there is a cost for not adhering to resolutions, for not complying with their obligations, and the cost increases each time they don't comply.

            These comments were, reporters noted, less than useful.  The talks resumed at 10 a.m. on Friday, an even colder day in New York. Reporters were shivering when the meeting broke up at 1 p.m.. But this time, Chinese Ambassador Guangya Wang provided more specifics:

Q. Do you see this going on for a few more weeks?

Amb. Wang: I hope if it goes well, then at least I don't think we will be ready by next week.

Q. Not by next week?

Amb. Wang: No. My feeling is, not.

Q. Ambassador, one more thing. Yesterday, the State Dept. spokesman indicated that this time Chinese are more resisting than Russians. How do you respond?

Amb. Wang:  I think... the difficulty for China is different from the difficulty that Russians have.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

Amb. Wang: I think the Chinese main difficulty is with the financial and trade sanctions against Iran, because we feel that we are not punishing Iranian people. We should punish the Iranians for their activities in the nuclear field. And the difficulty for Russia is, Russia has difficulty with the name of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, because they feel it's an institution in Iran and you don't have to penalize an institution.

            Reporters were grateful for the quotes, which appeared in Reuters and in much of the Japanese press. But the stock of Ambassador Wang and perhaps of China rose even higher with the press corps when he expressed chagrin or at least some doubts about holding the meetings outside of the UN, where reporters have to wait outside in the cold. You have no place to sit, and now water, Amb. Wang remarked, mentioning that he will try to move the forthcoming meetings back into the UN building. 

   Other Ambassadors at the talks did not express this concern; one press spokesperson remarked that no one obliged reporters to come and wait for quotes in the cold. Provoking the most ire, after French Ambassador Jean Marc de la Sabliere did not come outside for even a moment to speak, since his office is inside the building, his spokesman sent reporters a short bilingual (and unusable) quote by e-mail: "The meeting was constructive. We are making progress / Nous avancons."

            Merci for nothing, muttered one reporter. The ink-stained sources cited in this piece are granted anonymity due to their need for continued access to thin-skinned diplomats.

Amb. Wang speaks to Amb. de la Sabliere (Froid? Moi? )

            There is a saying in courthouses, that the law is what the judge had for breakfast.  Likewise, some of journalism is impacted by how the journalists are treated. If the personal is political, one can expect more understanding coverage of China's positions, at least during these Iran sanctions negotiations.

            One reporter marveled that China was so humane in New York, while taking a different approach back home (for example, shooting some of those trying to flee Tibet, click here for that story.) Another wag -- this one -- quipped that if the North Koreans sent blankets, hot coffee and construction heaters to the press corps on 47th Street, their line that the United States and the UN are "gangster-like" might gain a bit more traction.

In full disclosure, while the account of Thursday evening's stakeout is first-hand, on Friday while the above-described took place, Inner City Press was posing questions to the UN's envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and to Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about North Korea, in the too-warm UN briefing room. Click here for Inner City Press' most recent (and, one hopes, more substantive) story on the UN's dealings with North Korea. The spokesperson referred the question to the South Korean mission. But that's west of First Avenue, and as more than one reporter signed, it's coooold outside. To be continued.

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

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