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On Syria, Arria Meeting Said to Lack Hard Information, ICI Pleads for Kofi Annan's Support?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 22 -- Outside the German sponsored closed door meeting on Syria on Thursday afternoon, a range of Security Council members complained about what took place inside at the briefing by the three members of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro.

  Some had already expressed skepticism at the ICI's information, given that they never gained access to the country and instead relied, in their words, on Skype and UN staff. But several diplomats who are unequivocally anti-Assad nevertheless expressed frustration at the trio, and meeting.

  "They like to talk too much," one Permanent Representative complained to Inner City Press as the meeting stretched into the time the Council was supposed to consider the coup d'etat in Mali.

  Another more specific complaint is that the ICI seemed to think that Kofi Annan should focus on them and their access. Please, one Permanent Representative said, who do these people think they are?

  Inner City Press responded that it may well be a good thing to remind the UN Joint Special Envoy of the importance of including human rights monitoring  -- the Security Council, for example, neglected to include it in the UNISFA peacekeeping mission they authorized in Abyei. But the perception of the three Commissioners engaging in self-serving lobbying for themselves remains.

  Germany scheduled the so-called Arria formula meeting, but barely publicized it. Inner City Press learned of it on Tuesday night outside the Nowruz or Iranian New Year event in the General Assembly Hall.

  Even then, French Deputy Permanent Representative Martin Briens told Inner City Press he hadn't heard about it. Unlike another recent Arria formula meeting, it was not listed in the UN Journal; nor was it in the UN Media Alert. This may not be the fault of the German Mission's communications staff. But it happened.

   On Wednesday Inner City Press asked German Permanent Representative Peter Wittig why it had been so quiet. He did not answer the question. He and he alone issued a copy of this own remarks after the meeting. "It's a show," another Council member said. But a show for what?

   Inner City Press asked this month's Council president Mark Lyall Grant of the UK about it:

Inner City Press: This Arria formula meeting was held. Just as a kind of matter of working methods or transparency, I don’t know if you were there, but as the Presidency, is it possible to know what the questions were, some idea of what impact it may have on the Council’s thinking on Syria, this Arria formula that took place today?

Amb Lyall Grant: I wasn’t personally at the arria meeting so I don’t want to comment in detail, but you raise an important question, which is that it was an Arria meeting, it was to hear a briefing form the Commissioners of Inquiry on the situation in Syria, Mr Pinheiro and two colleagues and there was a lively discussion between the Commissioners and members of the Security Council, but I won’t give you more details because I don’t have more details myself yet.

Later Thursday at a Pakistan Day reception on 65th Street which Lyall Grant attended, the complaints continued. "They're really over-confident in the information they claim to have," one well place Council member told Inner City Press over rice and spicy chicken. "This was Germany's show and that's how they ran it."

Pakistan's show, as it were, garnered a huge UN turnout, with the head of G-77 greeting the PGA, the Permanent Representatives of Caribbean States, Mongolia and Turkey among many others mixing it up under high ceilings while limousine idled outside. There was Pakistan's former Ambassador Akram, now said to be based in Geneva, with an oil company. There were Pakistani TV stations, interviewing all and sundry. Only at the UN. Watch this site.

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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