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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...

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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...

At UN Security Council, Kosovo Jousting, Double-Talk on Iran, Depression on Darfur

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 19 -- At the UN Security Council and the microphone outside, Monday was a day of much talk and little action on three hotspots around the globe. The morning's agenda was Kosovo, on which envoy Joachim Rucker briefed the Council. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Mr. Rucker about criticisms that have been aimed at the cancellation of municipal elections in November 2006 by the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK. Video here, from Minute 6:14 through 8:45. Mr. Rucker acknowledged the criticism, that the municipal election were put off pending a status determination, which was first delayed for the Serbian election, and now for Council deliberations on the proposal made by the UN's negotiator Martti Ahtisaari.

            At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press had asked for the Secretariat's response to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's statement that "If Ahtisaari thinks he has done everything within his power, then almost certainly another person could be found to do it." Inner City Press and then a colleague asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman if there is any thought of replacing Mr. Ahtisaari. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has been quoted as saying that if Mr. Ahtisaari feels hes done everything he can, maybe someone else should be bound for the job.  Does the Secretary-General have any response? Would he consider appointing a different representative on the Kosovo status question?

Spokesperson:  At this point, Mr. Ahtisaari is the one responsible.  And he is the one in charge...

Question:  Michele, of course, a follow-up to Matthew's question.  I wonder why anybody, if anybody, is really thinking of replacing Mr. Ahtisaari.  Even you repeated that even the Secretary-General hinted somehow that talks have been exhausted.  I mean, they are finished now, so is there a valid question or request for replacing Mr. Ahtisaari?  How do you see that?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, no.  Mr. Ahtisaari... as you know, the project is being presented to the Security Council and...

Question:  The Secretary-General or to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  It's going to be presented to the Security Council, and this process has to go on, and Mr. Ahtisaari is in charge.

UN wall in Congo: access to UN information sometimes not much different  

          The subtext in the Council Monday morning was Iran. Off-camera, Ambassadors addressed a series of amendments proposed by South African Ambassador Kumalo: a ninety-day pause, and for example the removal of Bank Sepah and some Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps entities from the sanctions list.

   French Ambassador de la Sabliere said that South Africa's proposals "are not consistent with the approach of the Council." To some these seemed a strange formulation, given that South Africa is the president of the Council this month. The UK's deputy ambassador spoke, but glared at the tape recorder of one journalist -- not this one -- and said this was not on the record. Amb. Kumalo countered, why treat the draft by the Permanent Five members and Germany "as if written by God." A Sunny correspondent slipped in the driest of humor, asking if the "informal informal" discussion now slated for Tuesday didn't represent double-talk. (He's deployed the same quip regarding the African Union's Darfur negotiator Salim Salim.)

            Later UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno emerged from briefing the Council on Darfur with a sad and depressed look.  This is the ninth such discussion, he said, and people are still dying. Inner City Press asked if there had been any movement on getting peacekeepers into neighboring Darfur. Guehenno noted the opposition of Chadian president Deby. "Why are both opposing the UN blue helmets?" A wise correspondent opined that Chad doesn't want to go first, and France hasn't yet pulled the string. We'll see.

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.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] innercitypress.com -

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

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