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UN's Guterres Heads to Turkey, Saudi, Egypt & Germany, UNdisclosed To Last Minute

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 9 – New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is taking off for a 12-day trip including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Oman, Qatar, Egypt and Germany.

  As recently as February 8, the spokesman for Guterres and Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan before him, Stephane Dujarric, refused to confirm any part of the trip. Inner City Press including for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked him

Inner City Press: Yesterday, you'd said you couldn't confirm these reports of him being in Turkey.  Now it's reported from Dubai that he'll be there next Tuesday.  And I guess I just wanted to ask you, I've heard for a long time that the UN never talks about travel in advance.  As I'm sure you know, other world leaders do say where they're going in March or April.  What's the logic behind not saying…

Spokesman:  I think the… because the… we've all seen… I mean, like you, we've all seen the reports of sightings that the Secretary-General will be going here, there, and everywhere.  Once everything is lined up on our end, we will announce it.  Reason nothing's been announced is that nothing's been… the whole package has not yet been confirmed and lined up.  Have a good day.

  The February 9 briefing was canceled - though Guterres' schedule, including Lakhdar Brahimi, remained up, as FUNCA noted - and past 6 pm Dujarric's office released this itinerary:

"Later today the Secretary-General will travel to Istanbul, Turkey and then to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Egypt, as the first part of his visits to the region...[After Germany] the Secretary-General will be back in the office on 21 February."

  As one example, will Guterres try to meet those in control of Sanaa and much of Yemen? The late-released note to correspondents does not say.

Back on February 3 when Secretary General Guterres held a photo opportunity and meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Inner City Press went and was surprised to see that UN Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) expert Leila Zerrougui wasn't there. And no read-out was issued.

  On February 3, Inner City Press asked Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who was in the meeting, about it. Video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: yesterday, the meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister, I saw that you were there.  So, I wanted to ask you something about it.  I noticed, first, there's no readout.  Is that a new policy?

Spokesman:  No, sometimes we have readouts.  Sometimes we don't.  They had what was a very broad-ranging discussion on regional issues, and it should come as no surprise, on Yemen, on Syria, on Israel and Palestine, on the region.  It was the first time they had met as… that Mr. Guterres had met the Foreign Minister as Foreign Minister, so it was a good discussion.

Inner City Press:  And can I ask specifically whether the issue of the Children and Armed Conflict annex… I didn't see Ms. [Leila] Zerrougui up there.  Did she come in after the photo op?  Or, if she wasn't there, why wasn't she there?  And did this issue get raised?

Spokesman:  As I said, it was a broad-ranging issue, and obviously, included… included Yemen.  And there were no… no one sneaked into the meeting after the photo op.

   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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