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At UN, Costa Rican Openness Founders on W. Sahara, FOIA Leaves Swiss Dubious

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 20, updated -- The battle to open up the Security Council saw a victory Thursday morning, a set-back on Thursday night. The Council's briefing on Somalia turned into a debate, with country after country seeking to express concern at piracy. In the afternoon session, however, the topics of Zimbabwe and Western Sahara were addressed only behind closed doors. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Costa Rican Deputy Permanent Representative Saul Weisleder to describe, in the spirit of transparency and openness, what took place in consultations.  Weisleder, who earlier in the day had worked and pushed for openness on Somalia, said these that these other two topics were sensitive, negotiations were ongoing. Video here.

  Perhaps not being on the Council gives a country more freedom to talk. Inner City Press asked Germany's Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung about the problems of legal authority to hold suspected pirates captive. He admitted that some had been let go. America Rosemary DiCarlo confirmed this, but would not comment on the pirates said to still be held by the UK, telling Inner City Press to ask UK Ambassador Sawers. But that question was asked and dodged on Thursday morning.

  The permanent representative of Costa Rica's follow "Small Five" member Switzerland, Peter Maurer, on Thursday told Inner City Press that his country strongly supports the position that all Council meetings should be open unless a reason can be shown to close them. Inner City Press asked him again if he favors a Freedom of Information Act for the UN. Maurer said that wasn't feasible, that it might work in the US but wouldn't at the UN.  He said that it is countries, and not people, who are "stakeholders" in the UN. He pointed to Switzerland's role in brokering what he called a compromise in the UN Development Program executive board, in which even a donor nation wishing to see an audit of how the funds were used must say in advance why it wants it, and agree to not share it with the press. So much for transparency.

  Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias Sanchez came to the Council, to speak about disarmament. Inner City Press asked about openness; the country's foreign minister Bruno Stagno Ugarte answered, quite fluently, about the other proposals to improve the Council's working methods.  Video here.

Oscar Arias Sanchez
, FM Bruno Stagno Ugarte in background, transparency not fully achieved yet

   Inner City Press than asked Arias about China's Hu Jintao's statement that by siding not with Taiwan but mainland China, Costa Rica would benefit. There is an oil refinery deal, a Confucius center and the prospect of a trade deal. Is there a connection, between renouncing Taiwan in 2007 and these new deals? No, Arias said, emphasizing that even 20 years ago when he was in power he intended to make the switch. When asked about reforming the Bretton Woods institutions, Arias did not answer.

   Working methods were a contentious topic over in the General Assembly, during the Assembly's debate about the Security Council's annal report. On the topic of the Council's working methods, South Africa's savvy representative said the Council should solve issues which languish on its agenda, such as Israel - Palestine and the questions of Western Sahara. Immediately the Moroccan representative rose to the challenge, disputing that he called a comparison between Israel and Morocco. But no comparison was made, simply too example. Thou dost protest too much, several observers remarked.

  In the Council, what happened on Western Sahara was kept secret. In the UN noon briefing, on the record, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about the delay in appointing a replacement envoy for Peter van Walsum. In order words, has the UN convinced Morocco to accept US diplomat Christopher Ross?  We are close, the Spokesperson said. But Costa Rica's Jorge Urbina said that had not been said. Then the Saharan meeting was closed. Even under Costa Rica. To his credit, Urbina said that the pushing for transparency will spread, including at the November 21-22 retreat of new Security Council members. Will Mexico, Japan, Uganda, Austria or Turkey take up the transparency cause? We'll see.

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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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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