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At the UN, Hariri Tribunal Approved as Blackberry Flies, Kosovo on Horizon with Veto

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 30 -- The Security Council's resolution creating a tribunal to try the yet-to-be identified murderers of Rafik Hariri was adopted on Wednesday, with ten votes in favor and five abstentions: Russia, China, Qatar, South Africa and Indonesia. There had been rumors the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and maybe Panama would join the dissenters, but it did not happen.

             Afterwards, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that while Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, the UN's two previous tribunals, concerned international crimes, the assassination of Rafik Hariri, how ever troubling, was a domestic matter. He noted that the resolution mentions the letter to the UN from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, but not that from President Emile Lahoud.

    Russia abstained rather than vetoed, he said, because this way the process toward bringing Hariri's killers to justice continues to advance. Even absent approval by Lebanon's parliament, the tribunal will now formally come into existence on June 10, under the so-called "sunrise" clause.

            Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, in his first stakeout appearance since March 14, said that China is very cautious with its veto. Inner City Press asked about China's thinking on the Kosovo question. Amb. Wang indicated, as Vitaly Churkin had, that agreement should be sought from both sides, including Belgrade.

            Syria's Ambassador came out to talk to the press even while, in the chamber, Lebanon's representative was reading out a speech. He was asked for the meaning of this simultaneity. "I leave that to your wisdom to judge," he said. Lebanon's Foreign Minister was asked about this too, and said that Ambassadors are free to speak when and to whom they choose.

The grave of Rafik Hariri, with fencing like the Security Council stakeout: no questions

            In other intrigue in and around the stake out, the U.S. mission's hard-working deputy spokesman came down the short staircase to the second floor, speaking on his Blackberry phone.  "Hi," a genial UN staffer offered.

            "I'm on the phone," the deputy hissed, and then threw his Blackberry down, and kicked it for good measure. "Now I'm off the phone," he said. "If you want to talk to me."  The staffer didn't. Later a correspondent said of the U.S. mission that their claims to be draft resolutions' originators were false, that the UK is doing the work.

            On Thursday the U.S., in its last day for the year heading the Council, says Kosovo will be discussed. At Wednesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson if Mr. Ban stands behind recent comments by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari that Kosovo will be independent one way or the other, so the Council should vote yes, and that a veto by Russian would weaken the UN. The spokesperson did not disown the comments, noting that Mr. Ban supports the Ahtisaari proposal. Video here.

            Later at the stakeout, after the Hariri tribunal vote, Inner City Press asked Ambassador Churkin about the two Ahtisaari quotes. Amb. Churkin said that while he didn't want to enter into a debate in absentia, and while he respects "Martti," he does not agree.

            Inner City Press asked if there's any truth to reports that Russia might go along, if Kosovo's ability to apply to UN General Assembly membership were delayed or deferred. Amb. Churkin laughed and said no, there are three principles that Russia holds to: that both side must agree, that Resolution 1244 must remain in effect since it was never complied with, and that Kosovo cannot be spun as a unique sui generis case. If these three principles were three letters, they would spell out V-E-T. But where is the "O" of veto? Wednesday it was nowhere to be seen.

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

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