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US Praises Sudan on Counter-Terrorism, Diplomatic Dance While UN Stonewalls Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 20 -- After the UN "Country Team" in Sudan issued a press release welcoming the anticipated removal of sanctions by Washington, and Inner City Press asked the UN to explain it without any response, the US has decided to extend its review time on the sanctions. So why did the UN say what it said, below? Inner City Press asked the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric, three times. Ultimately he said "I cannot hold your hand as you conduct your form of journalism."  On July 20, the US State Department said, "The United States welcomes the recent announcements by the Governments of Sudan and Saudi Arabia underscoring Sudan’s commitment to sustain positive dialogue with the United States and to continue collective efforts to fight terrorism.  As outlined in the 2016 U.S. Country Report on Terrorism issued July 19, the United States notes Sudan’s improved counterterrorism efforts through enhanced interagency and international cooperation to address the threat from ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and its willingness to pursue counterterrorism operations alongside regional partners, including operations to counter threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan." As to the UN's Dujarric first he said to contact the UN Country Team. But there is no contact information - and Dujarric should answer on the UN system's statements on sanctions. Still, Inner City Press emailed the question to the address Dujarric's office provided, and cc-ed Dujarric: "Hello. Yesterday I asked the UN Spokesman about the UN Country Team in Sudan praising in advance - erroneously it turned out - the removal of sanctions on Sudan. He said to ask the Country Team, but online I couldn't find the contact.  Given yesterday's US announcement, I asked again today and was told the Spokesman does not micro-manage country team. So please respond to the question from yesterday's transcript below, and today: will you be similarly commenting on the US' decision? On deadline." No answer, more than 24 hours. So Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, who said he wouldn't hold Inner City Press' hand "as you conduct your form of journalism." What form of journalism - asking the UN to answer questions? What's the form of Dujarric's patsy scribes: asking no questions at all? Asking questions only on one topic? Joking with Dujarric about his summer suits? From the July 13 transcript: Inner City Press: you told me to write to the Sudan country team about their statement on sanctions, and I did, and I CC-ed you and as you can probably tell, they didn't answer so I'm asking you.  You've said…

Spokesman:  Matthew, I cannot hold your hand as you conduct your form of journalism.

Inner City Press: I'm not asking you to hold my hand.  I'm saying you said it would be answered elsewhere and it isn't.

Spokesman:  I'm just saying… I'm saying you get in touch with them and call them, pick up the phone…

Inner City Press: Is it acceptable to the Secretary-General that a UN country team issues a statement welcoming in advance the action by a Member State Government, and then never answers the question about whether it did it or not?

Spokesman:  I think you should try to speak to them.

 Well, they didn't answer. Ultimately OCHA's John Ging to his credit responded to Inner City Press' question, on UNTV. Inner City Press thanked him and told him to come to brief more often: as it is, there are no answers, and the Briefing Room gets lent out by Dujarric to his friends.

Here's the US statement, moments after issue: "Today, the President issued an Executive Order (E.O.) extending the review period established by E.O. 13761 of January 13, 2017, which set forth criteria for the revocation of certain sanctions on Sudan.  The President’s E.O. extends the review period for an additional three months and provides for the revocation of those sanctions if the Government of Sudan (GOS) sustains the positive actions that gave rise to E.O. 13761, including maintaining a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan; improving humanitarian access throughout Sudan; and maintaining its cooperation with the United States on addressing regional conflicts and the threat of terrorism.

The United States will revoke the sanctions if the GOS is assessed to have sustained progress in these areas at the end of the extended review period.  The general license issued by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which became effective on January 17, 2017, remains in place and broadly authorizes U.S. persons to process transactions involving persons in Sudan; engage in imports from and exports to Sudan; and engage in transactions involving property in which the GOS has an interest.

While we recognize that the GOS has made significant, substantial progress in many areas, the Administration has decided that some more time is needed for this review to establish that the GOS has sustained sufficient positive actions across all areas listed in E.O. 13761.  We remain deeply committed to engagement with the GOS and working toward further progress on achieving a sustainable peace in Sudan, removing remaining obstructions to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and bolstering cooperation to counter terrorism and promote regional stability.  Beyond these key areas connected with the potential revocation of most sanctions on Sudan and the GOS, the Administration is also committed to intensifying engagement with the GOS on a broader range of vital issues, including our ongoing dialogue on improving Sudan’s human rights and religious freedom practices, and ensuring that Sudan is committed to the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea."

  Here's the UN's July 11 transcript: Inner City Press: Sudan.  The country team there has put out a statement saying it “looks forward to the decision that will be taken shortly on sanctions”.  This is in reference to the US's unilateral sanctions on Sudan.  It's a matter of some controversy here.  There are many people in Congress actually writing to the State Department saying don't remove it given the situation in Darfur.  So, I wanted to know, I always thought the UN really didn't talk about sanctions.  Is this a… was this… is this statement by the country team in Sudan, was this run by DPA [Department of Political Affairs]?  Is it the UN…?

Spokesman:  You should refer those questions to the UN country team in Sudan.  Next question.  I'm not saying it wasn't official, but I'm saying they can speak for themselves.

While US Ambassador Nikki Haley was taking questions on the topic down in Washington, a UN budget committee expert on June 28 approached Inner City Press with news. The UN Peacekeeping budget is being cut by $600 million, starting with major cuts to the UNAMID mission in Darfur set for a vote in the UN Security Council on June 29. The DR Congo mission MONUSCO is next. What of the smaller but calling out for cuts UN Department of Public Information, which has used its resources to engage in censorship of the investigative Press, including on June 28 requiring a minder for Inner City Press to cover a General Assembly meeting? What about WIPO and its retaliation? Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman; watch this site. Back on May 15 with the mandate of the UN mission in Abyei set to expire, the US as penholder proposed cutting a part of the mission that has not been functions, the support of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM). But Ethiopia, the lone troop contributor to the mission, and others pushed back. On the evening on May 15 a revised draft was approved - Inner City Press put it online here - which extended the mandate, while setting condition(s), something of a six-month deadline. But that could, of course, change. See here. Back on May 12 while the Council met behind closed door, Inner City Press the lone media at the stakeout - also the only one evicted and still restricted by the UN - broadcast, here. Afterward a Sudanese diplomat emerged and told Inner City Press of a possible compromised; he waved off the UNTV boom mic, a new entrant through an opaque process. Finally Uruguay's Elbio Rosselli, president of the Council, emerged and said negotiations continued. Inner City Press asked him if instead of cuts there might be "benchmarks;" there seemed to be recognition. Video here.  Then at the May 12 noon briefing Inner City Press asked the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you, the Council had been set today to vote on UNISFA (United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei) and now it’s… the negotiation seems like there is a disagreement with the Secretary-General's report on support provided by the mission to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.  So, some people are saying that it's a totally non-func… it doesn't work.  No work is being done.  And so that the 500 troops are essentially a waste.  I wanted to know, other than just say it should continue to be paid for, can you articulate from this podium or sometime during this what is the rationale for continuing, without changes, the support?

Spokesman:  I think the mission provides critical work in an area that has been a flashpoint of conflict in the past.  Obviously, the mission, as every other peacekeeping mission, operates under the mandate of the Security Council.  And we’ll obviously wait to see what Security Council members have to say and what the resolution looks like and will implement the resolution, as directed by the Security Council.

Inner City Press:  Right.  The question is not about the mission as a whole, it's specifically about this JBVMM (Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism).  Is it the Secretary-General's position that this thing is actually functional, that there is something to be supported?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General's position has been articulated through his reports to the Council and briefings.  As it's under very close discussion by Council members now, I'm not going to add to what I've already said.

  That's not much of a defense of this spending, or failure. But will the showdown be avoided and the money continue flowing unchanged? Watch this site. After the UN Security Council had closed door consultations on Guinea Bissau and Lebanon on May 11, the office of UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric announced that Council president Elbio Rosselli would speak at the UNTV stakeout. But other than Inner City Press, which Dujarric evicted and still restricts, no other media came. Still Rosselli to his credit agreed to do Q&A. Inner City Press asked him if the withdrawal from Guinea Bissau of ECOMIS was discussed - it was - and for how long Jeffrey Feltman will fill in on Resolution 1559 on Lebanon (it's unclear). Then Inner City Press asked Rosselli of something he'd said two days before, that there might be more than a Press Statement on North Korea's most recent missile launch. Rosselli replied that work continues, then he left. Still, he took questions and responded to them - better than many in the UN Secretariat. On May 9 after members of the UN Security Council met with Kofi Annan and fellow Elders Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Mary Robinson on May 9, Inner City Press asked the Council's President for May Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay if Myanmar, on which Annan and The Elders have worked, came up. No, he said, the focus had been on impasses in the Council on Syria, South Sudan, the conflicts springing from climate change. The latter topic he said had been raised by Annan and Robinson, in the closed door meeting at the International Peace Institute across from the UN (Uruguay's mission arranged for an elevator foyer stakeout, which was appreciated.) Earlier on May 9 Inner City Press asked Gro Harlem Brundtland and Lakhdar Brahimi about the Rohingya and whether Aung San Suu Kyi was or is on the path to becoming an Elder. Gro Harlem Brundtland said Suu Kyi was a form of Elder while imprisoned, but cannot be while involved in politics. And after she retires? If the Rohingya are still treated this way? Brahimi cited Annon's report forthcoming in October.We'll see. Back on May 1 when he took on the Presidency of the UN Security Council for the month, Ambassador Rosselli on May 1 took questions from the media about the month's Program of Work. Inner City Press asked him about new envoys for Burundi (Michel Kafando) and Western Sahara (Horst Kohler, apparently Inner City Press' 227th question on Western Sahara according to Morocco's count), and about the May 30 meeting on Yemen. Video here. Rosselli said the envoys are up to the Secretary General and spoke about Morocco's ouster, now reversed, of the MINURSO mission. On Yemen he said the meeting is at the end of the month because it is hard to move these around, it's like Tetris. On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access Inner City Press asked Rosselli after the month's eight closed door consultations to hold on-camera stakeouts on UNTV. We note that Frente Polisario's April 28 stakeout, unlike that of Morocco's Omar Hilale, is still as of this writing on May 1 not on the UNTV website. We'll have more on this.

  Back at the beginning of March, then-incoming UNSC President Matthew Rycroft of the UK answered Inner City Press on Burundi by referring to France as the penholder. On Yemen -- on which the UK holds the pen -- he said sometimes there is a benefit to a closed door discussion. Fine: but what's the problem with an open briefing, then closed consultations? The Free UN Coalition for Access will continue to pursue this.

  On Yemen Inner City Press also asked if the UK's findings as it looks into more than 250 incidents of the Saudi led coalition will be shared with the Security Council. It remains unclear.

 At the end, Inner City Press asked Rycroft if Nick Kay is still a candidate to be UN Envoy to Libya. Rycroft said the UK supports current envoy Martin Kobler but if he is to be changed, it should be fast, there is momentum.

  Rycroft said that civil society will be invited to participate in the month's wrap up session, a first. Boris Johnson will chair the March 23 meeting on South Sudan, and something on Somalia later that day. We'll have more on this.


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