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At the UN, Questions of Iran Sanctions' Secondary Effect, On Bank Sepah's Depositors

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 24 -- As the UN Security Council unanimously imposed further sanctions concerning Iran's nuclear programs, a question arose about the impact of including a financial institution, Bank Sepah, in the annex to the resolution. Following Saturday's 15-0 vote, Iran's foreign minister Manoucheher Mottaki delivered a lengthy speech, which along other things said "what can harming of hundreds of thousands of depositors in Bank Sepah, with 80 year history in Iran, mean other than confronting ordinary Iranians?"

            At the Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press asked this month's Security Council president, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, whether these sanctions would impact Iranian civilians. Amb. Kumalo responded that South Africa's "understanding of these sanctions is that they were aimed at trade... not at somebody who has ten dollars in the bank." He noted, "Remember, we as South Africa had asked for this to be removed." Video here, from Minute 7:33. As with most of South Africa's requests, this was not accepted by the resolution's proponents and initial negotiators, the five Permanent Five members, any one of which could have vetoed the resolution, and Germany.

            Inner City Press asked the Ambassador of P-5 member Russia, Vitaly Churkin, whether the financial sanction were, as he'd said, "carefully crafted," and whether civilian depositors would be impacted. Amb. Churkin responded that, "Unfortunately, there is this sanctions list, and when you get into sanctions, there can be secondary effects. Life without sanctions is much more comfortable. The way to get out of these nuisance is to have a negotiated solution to the problems posed by the Iranian nuclear program at this point." Video here, from Minute 11:35.

            A question remains, whether impacting depositors of Bank Sepah is reasonably calculated to bring about a negotiated solution. A chapter on the financial sanctions imposed by the UN's Counter-Terrorism Committee in "International Sanctions" (London: 2005, Frank Cass) speaks of the difficulties with such financial provisions. The U.S. recent on-again, off-again approach in connection with the Six Party Talks with North Korea to Banco Delta Asia shows the arbitrary nature of such sanctions. Their impact in this case on regular deposits remains to be seen -- and to be tracked.

15 votes, 15 UK Marines

            Bank Sepah has branches in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Rome.  When earlier this year the U.S. first applied its own sanctions, Bank Sepah objected to "fabricated statements based on purely hypothetical pretext, made out of political inducements" and said that the bank will "continue with its efficient performance with due observance of internal and international regulations as before." We'll see.

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On UN's Iran Resolution, Opposition Wilts While Inconvenient History's Raised

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 24 -- As the Security Council moved toward a vote on its Iran sanctions resolution, Ambassadors of two of the three putative opponents softened and even capitulated. The Ambassador of Indonesia said that information about the companies and individuals on the sanctions list would be provided, though not in the resolution's annex, and probably not in public. The Ambassador of Qatar emphasized to reporters including Inner City Press the amended resolution's mention of the Middle East.

  The Ambassador of South Africa, Dumisani Kumalo, who as president of the Council this month was in the best position to get changes, is making much of the change that refers to the importance of the International Atomic Energy Agency and of the right to peaceful nuclear energy. His request for a 90 day pause, or a pause of any kind, went nowhere.

            Deputy Secretary General Migiro was driven into the UN Compound at 2:30, and walked into the chamber at 3:15. Ban Ki-moon is in the Middle East. The new scuttlebutt is whether Saudi Arabia will allow in one of the journalists traveling with Mr. Ban.  Television reporters not seen much at the UN these days appeared at the stakeout, in pancake makeup. On UN TV, Ambassadors preened for the cameras, shaking hands and schmoozing to show their diplomatic skills.

   Some in the press corps were more focused on the story of the 15 British Marines in Iranian custody. Others spoke of the cricket murder mystery, of the upcoming Anna Nicole Smith autopsy, of the NCCA basketball tournament. Several filed stories saying that the Iranian foreign minister was in the chamber when he wasn't. There was security in front of the Millennium Hotel on 44thStreet, as the speechifying began.  And at 2:30 p.m., without stopping at the stakeout, the Iranian delegation strode in. This will be updated.

Update, 3:05 p.m. -- The speeches continue, UK on behalf of the Permanent Five and the EU, followed by separate statements by France's De la Sabliere (accompanied by yawns and jokes along the stakeout, one correspondent reminiscing about chewed peanut sputtered in his face), then Ambassador Wolff, who after Friday's invitation to the Holocaust museum, brought it up again.

Update, 4:45 p.m. -- Iran's foreign minister is hearkening back to the Council's (non-) action when Iraq invaded Iran 27 years ago, calling Saddan Hussein the Council's then-"sweetheart." History can be so inconvenient...

Update 5 p.m -- Iran's foreign minister continues, now referring to UN Charter Article 25, and to a 1971 International Court of Justice decision's holding that member states only need to comply with Security Council resolutions if these resolutions are consistent with the UN charter. Does the UN Charter allow the Council to abrogate a country's right under treaties such as that allowing peaceful nuclear energy programs?

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 At the UN, Ahmadinejad No-Show Through Rashomon Lens, Zimbabwe Bumped a Week

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 23, updated 7 p.m. -- The UN Security Council's draft Iran sanctions resolution is in the air, as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly was, as reported by the AP. On the other hand, Reuters said he could not arrive by Saturday morning, and CNN called it that he would not come at all.  The contradictory reports were all simultaneous, summoning up the film buff's cliche of the Rashomon effect.

   Still for now the vote is slated for Saturday, now said to be 3 p.m.. On Friday Russia proposed a 21-word amendment, based on a previous proposal by Qatar, which would insert a recognition of "non-proliferation efforts... in the Middle East," a reference to Israel. One wag wondered what's next, a tip of the hat to abortion or some other hot topic?

  Before the cancellation, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff said, snarky, of Ahmadinejad, "I hope he comes and has time to visit the Holocaust museum while he is here." Meanwhile Iran's mission to the UN continued to denounce the blockbuster film, "300."

            From Hollywood to the hardwood, the jocular mood was stoked by this month's Council president, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who said he would schedule the vote based on the outcome of Georgetown University's basketball games. A big-screen television was wheeled into the Council. March madness, indeed.

            The requested briefing on Zimbabwe again got bumped, although this time to a specific day in the future: Thursday, March 29, under "other matters." That too, it seems, could change.

Plane, in Congo, Ahmadinejad not shown

            The UN's noon briefing was nearly empty of journalists, who rushed out to scrounge for diplomats' quotes in front of the Security Council. Inner City Press stayed and asked whether the Secretariat and its mission in the Congo, MONUC, have any position on whether the Kabila government's indictment of opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba for "high treason" is likely to raise or lower tensions. Just then, a new statement on Congo was brought in to the spokesperson. But it did not address the point, but rather vaguely "urged the Congolese authorities to observe due process and respect for fundamental human rights." This has not been going on: Congolese army troops are routinely reported to be involved in murder and rape and the torching of villages. That's what happens, it has been observed, when former warlords' militias are given uniforms and called the army. They say it leads to peace, but for civilians, not so much.

            Inner City Press also asked about the UN's own forces, or in this case Romanian soldiers who wore the UN's blue helmets in Kosovo. Eleven are under investigation concerning the deaths of two civilians in Kosovo on February 10. But despite the UN's requests that they stay to be interviewed, the Romanian troops left. The UN's mission, UNMIK, wanly urged the Romanian government to cooperate. Why does the UN have no disciplinary control over the troops it deploys in blue helmets? To be continued.

In March Madness at UN, Big Five Set Saturday Vote on Iran Sanctions, Zimbabwe Gets Bumped

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 22 -- Three weeks into the month that South Africa has the presidency of the Security Council, tensions with the veto-wielding Permanent Five members flared up Thursday around the draft Iran sanctions resolution. South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo had proposed a series of amendments, and on Thursday few were accepted, while the P-5 demanded a vote on the matter on Saturday. Ambassador Kumalo said if Iran's president wants to come, he better get moving now. "They told us we would be negotiating a give and take," Ambassador Kumalo said. "We are learning we were fooled, in a way."

            In the Council's closed-down meeting, Inner City Press is told, discussions were heated, and representatives of Russia and China separated themselves from the U.S, France and UK. Still, it's pointed out that if China or Russia had wanted to stop or modify the resolution, they had ten days to do so. Others note that of the Council's membership, the main Muslim, Arab and African countries all have reservations. How then is it a global resolution?

            As Inner City Press predicted, the crisis in Zimbabwe was dropped from Thursday's agenda. A South African staffer points out that they tried to move the item to the morning, but that the Secretariat, specifically the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, was not able to produce at the time. Why OCHA instead of the Department of Political Affairs? Could it be because the UK's John Holmes is now the head of OCHA? Inner City Press asked:

there had been scheduled for today a briefing about Zimbabwe but then it got changed because of the Iran resolution.  Who is going to brief, who is doing that briefing?

Spokesperson:  Somebody, a senior official from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Inner City Press: Do you know who it is?

Spokesperson:  Well, it would have been the Deputy because Mr. [John] Holmes is currently in Khartoum.  But you would have to ask the Council President about when it's been rescheduled for.

            The answer, it seems, is just maybe Friday, more probably next week.

Amb. Kumalo and Mandela: What would Nelson do?

On another Africa issue, Inner City Press asked at the noon briefing for the Secretariat's reaction to requests from the African Union that UN troops pull out of Cote D'Ivoire.  From the transcript:

Inner City Press: In the Ivory Coast, France has said it is going to draw down 500 of its troops.  There were questions made by AU to the United Nations that UNOCI start pulling troops out.  What is the Secretary or DPKO doing in light of this request?

Spokesperson:  I think right now, it has not been officially... as far as I know, the Security Council has not taken up that request.  So, you probably have to see with them, what they are thinking on the future of the mission. 

            Things were a little busy at the Council on Thursday. More reporters and photographers than usual showed up, many of them grumbling about returning for the vote on Saturday. "They did this in December," one said, referring to the vote on the last found of sanctions on Iran. It is a trend, to show seriousness. Amb. Kumalo had referred to wanting to watch NCAA basketball's March Madness on TV. There is a set by the Security Council stakeout. We're on the watch for buzzer-beaters...

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.

At UN, Iran Resolution Is Juggled with Zimbabwe, Uganda Is In, Brammertz Eats Alone

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 21 -- Following a Security Council meeting Wednesday afternoon about Iran, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff emerged and told reporters that there is still a possibility of a vote this week on the draft sanctions resolution, and that the afternoon's meetings were "not a negotiation session."

            Minutes later, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the president of the Council this month, was asked about Wolff's comments.  He asked rhetorically, if it was not a negotiation session, what was it? South Africa has issued a two-and-a-half page "non-paper" which proposes that a 90 day time out be built into the resolution, and would omit from the sanctions list several individuals and companies, including Bank Sepah, Qods Aeronautics Industries and Pars Aviation Services Company. Others are requesting that the resolution's proponents come forward with justification and proof about the names on the sanctions list.

            By Wednesday evening, the UN was full of competing theories on what will happened next. Some say that the resolution's proponents will put it "in blue" on Thursday night, and demand a vote within 24 hours. Others note that Ambassador Kumalo, as Council president, controls when meetings are scheduled, and at a minimum could hold off action until Iran's president, who has requested to address the Council before any vote of further sanctions. Further out, it is speculated that South Africa could run out the clock until the end of their month heading the Council, and that the UK, which chairs the Council in April, would preside over the sanctions' enactment. We'll see.

Zimbabwe as Political Football

            In the eddies of this jousting about the Iran nuclear sanctions resolution, the issue of Zimbabwe is being buffeted about like a homeless cause. A briefing of the Security Council about recent events in Zimbabwe -- the arrest and beating of opposition leaders, the crackdown on the press, the economic collapse -- had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon. It will no longer take place, at least at that time. Ambassador Kumalo Wednesday evening that "the UK had wanted a briefing on Zimbabwe, that's not going to happen now."  Amb. Kumalo has previously been heard by correspondents to say that Robert Mugabe is just a grumpy old man who should be allowed to serve out his time.

UK Amb. Emyr Jones Parry: before Guernica, Zimbabwe to follow

            Soon after Ambassador Kumalo's comments, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry about the status of the briefing on Zimbabwe, and any linkage to the negotiations around the Iran sanctions resolution. Ambassador Jones Parry said that because the Iran text will now been discussed on Thursday afternoon, the Zimbabwe briefing was bumped. He said he has requested that it take place, if possible, on Thursday morning, or at the soonest possible time thereafter. At 7 p.m., Thursday's Council scheduled was released, with Zimbabwe not included in the morning or afternoon session. (Northern Uganda / the Great Lakes, a euphemism for the Lord's Resistance Army conflict, remains on the agency for a briefing at 4 p.m., click here for today's Inner City Press coverage of LRA, Joaquim Chissano and Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro.) Given South Africa's position that Zimbabwe issues do not belong in the Security Council, it remains to be seen what happens with the Zimbabwe issues now.

            One update on a less prominent hotspot: earlier in the week, Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Churkin when Abkhazia will be considered by the Council, given the request by Georgia after the contested elections in the region, and the bombing incident which the UN says its is investigating. "It's on the agenda for next week," Ambassador Churkin said, then amended the answer to "next month." What will Kosovo, the issues are piling up. We'll see.

            Finally, a review and in-UN sighting. Serge Brammertz of the International Independent Investigation Commission on Wednesday spoke at the stakeout for 23 minutes without saying much of anything. To some degree it's understandable: a prosecutor can only say so much about an ongoing investigation. But why then stand at the stakeout for 23 minutes? One wag noted that those who should speak and have no excuse not to, such as Ibrahim Gambari, often rush right past reporters, while those who can't or won't speak seem to hunger for attention. Related or not, Mr. Brammertz was observed later on Wednesday eating alone in the UN cafeteria. As someone once said, the UN can be like high school...

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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