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On Myanmar, EU's Envoy Fassino Supports UN's Soft Power Approach, Says Laura Bush Is No Diplomat

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 4 -- On the sixtieth anniversary of Burma's independence from the United Kingdom, the range of international reactions to the images of beaten monks were on display at the UN, specifically in its green-carpeted Indonesia Lounge. The European Union's special envoy on Myanmar, Italy's former minister of justice Piero Fassino, held meetings with the Ambassadors of Vietnam, Norway, China and Thailand. Afterwards he granted a fifteen minute interview to Inner City Press, speaking in Italian through a translator. He repeated again and again that the EU wants to work through the United Nations, and supports and wants to complement the work of UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari. During Gambari's last press encounter, the question of continuing arrests by the Myanmar government arose. Gambari challenged the journalist to "show me the numbers." Friday, Inner City Press asked Piero Fassino if the EU stands behind the count of 31 dead and 74 missing. "I don't have the means to know the figures," Fassino responded, saying that the focus should be in the future, on bringing about dialogue within Myanmar.

            Earlier on Friday, U.S. First Lady Laura Bush had issued a statement that

"the Burmese people live in fear, poverty, and oppression under General Than Shwe and his military regime" and that "President Bush and I ask all nations to join in condemning the military junta for its shameful abuses of basic human rights. We urge the regime to fulfill its promises to the United Nations Security Council."

            Inner City Press asked the EU's Piero Fassino about this statement, how it contrasts with Gambari's approach. Is Laura Bush's statement helpful? "Her position is different," Fassino responded. "Gambari is a mediator" and must use diplomatic "language acceptable to the other party." Mrs. Bush, then, is no diplomat.

            A question remains if toned-down language can, in this case, play a role in the progressive forgetting. Mr. Fassino says that "the first goal is to keep Myanmar as a top item on the international agenda." But Myanmar is not on the UN Security Council's agenda for the entire month of January, Inner City Press pointed out, asking for Fassino's response to the theory at the UN that China wants to keep it off the agenda. "I don't know but I wouldn't give too much weight to that," Fassino said. "What I consider much more important is Gambari being able to visit Myanmar again." He said that the new Group of Friends set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is the venue to keep the issue on the agenda. Whether this structure will effectively highlight the issue is not known. Friday morning Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban about his meeting with Fassino. "We exchanged views," Mr. Ban said. The phrase all talk and no action comes to mind. Myanmar remains a test of which approach works.

Messrs. Fassino and D'Alema: one chased the other out of Italy

            Mr. Fassino concluded that he will next travel to Tokyo, Bangkok, New Delhi, Jakarta, Singapore and Hanoi. Since Indonesia's Ambassador Marty Natalegawa, November's Security Council president, is not in New York at present, Fassino said, his communications with Indonesia will take place while in Jakarta. December's president was Italy's Marcello Spatafora, who hosted a dinner for Fassino on Thursday night at historic Spark's Steak House near the UN. There are ironies everywhere, and in Myanmar, a test of international will and of approaches.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540