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At UN on Syria, War of Spin & Briefings, Doubts on SyriaTel Sanctions, Ban's Call

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 10, updated with video -- As the UN Security Council met Wednesday about Syria, sources told Inner City Press from the outset to expect no formal Council Presidential Statement output at the end.

  A Western member's spokesman emerged and said "we just want to keep the pressure on Assad." When asked "how" he said, "through you, the media."

  Which a Council output not even on the table, inside consultations the issue became whether and how soon to get another briefing about Syria. A source told Inner City Press that the UK proposed another briefing in seven days.

  Inner City Press asked Baso Sangqu, the Permanent Representative of South Africa -- which along with India and Brazil has vice ministers in Damascus, click here for IBSA statement, put online by Inner City Press -- "will there be a briefing in seven days?"

  "No, not in seven days," Ambassador Sangqu said. "It's in the hands of the President, ask the President. But there's been a request for a meeting."

  When President of the Council for August Hardeep Singh Puri of India came out, Inner City Press sought to ask him. But US Deputy Permanent Representative Rosemary DiCarlo engaged Puri in a heated discussion for several minutes, in the public hall outside the Security Council.  Click here for YouTube video.

  At the end of the exchange, Inner City Press asked Puri about a briefing. "There will be a briefing," he said, "most likely next week."

  Later the Deputy Permanent Representatives of the Council's four European members clarified that they except top UN humanitarian Valerie Amos and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to do the briefing.

  Wednesday's briefing was done by Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez Taranco, who for some reason did not speak to the press. The Western spokesman who said the media should pressure Assad was asked to have his country urge Taranco to speak to the press. But it did not happen.

  A cynic might say that the four European countries wanted to be seen -- and filmed -- as doing something on Syria; urging a Secretariat official to come and take questions on camera was less important or appealing.

  One also wonders why, after the meeting, the four Europeans and then Syria's Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari were the only ones to come speak at the formal UN stakeout. Russia's Vitaly Churkin spoke, on the stairs outside the Council, and said among other things it is disappointing that the Syrian opposition has not responded to reform proposals.

Inner City Press asked UK Deputy Permanent Representative Philip Parham to respond to this, and to complaints that sanctions against SyriaTel, the cell phone company, might make communications in the country more difficult, including for the opposition.

Parham noted his and his colleagues' previous statement that, in essence, violence and crackdowns have to stop to allow for dialogue. He said he could not respond on SyriaTel, not knowing the facts.

Ja'afari told Inner City Press, off camera, that SyriaTel is the regular cell phone company in his country. Inner City Press was going to ask him on camera, expecting him to come to reply to Parham's dismissal of his comparison between the London riots and events in Syria. But Parham was the last on-camera speaker.

Inner City Press asked Ja'afari if Assad would accept an envoy from Ban Ki-moon. Ja'afari replied that Assad's recent call with Ban was very productive. Quiet diplomacy? We'll see - watch this site.

* * *

On the other hand, some even within the UN Secretariat have questioned Ban considering appointing an "Anglo Saxon" envoy to Syria. Click here for Inner City Press' report.  Inner City Press asked Ban's acting deputy spokesman Farhan Haq if Ban can appoint an envoy without a Council mandate or the consent of the country concerned. Haq's answer, referring to somewhat similar moves by Ban in Yemen and Tunisia, appeared to be "yes."

Click for July 7, 11 re Sudan, Libya, Syria, flotilla

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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