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In Montreux, Media Called Disrespectful, Hot Air Praised, Jarba Thanks Saudi

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 22 -- Ending the Syria speeches in Montreux on January 22, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called them "productive." Then his spokesperson accused some non-Western media of being "disrespectful of the Secretary General of the UN," after he gave the last two questions to Bloomberg and NHK.  How was it productive?

   Even before the afternoon session began, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius took to the Montreux stakeout to say Syrian foreign minister Moallem was "aggressive." This is the same Fabius who in September at the UN declared Ahmad al Jarba the leader of the Syrian people, and refused to take critical questions from the media including about his country's practices.

   Australia was represented not by foreign minister Julie Bishop but rather its Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Peter Woolcott (who also chairs a humanitarian high level group on Syria, it's been pointed out to Inner City Press.).  Bishop is on Washington, and soon New York.

   Ahmad al Jarba spoke next to last, thanking Saudi Arabia, viewed as his sponsor, as if in an Oscars speech. Ban Ki-moon wrapped up, calling it productive and asking the assembled (hand-picked, without Iran) minister to "wish [him] luck" as he went to speak to the media.

  There, the questions were chosen much as they are at the UN in New York, as documented and critiqued by the Free UN Coalition for Access -- but in Montreux, this was actively protested. (FUNCA also questioned the UN citing Ban's press conference as a basis to cancel its noon briefing in New York, on South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and other countries in which the UN is at least somewhat less marginal or US dominated.)

  When John Kerry held his press conference, only four questions were taken: CBS, a Turkish media, BBC and Al Hurra, on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors John Kerry himself serves. Freedom of the press at today's US State Department we covered yesterday, here.

After the UN's craven reversal on including Iran in the Syria session in Montreux, it has turned out to be a series of speeches mostly by countries significantly less important to that conflict and the region.

   In the morning session on January 22, Italy and Spain spoke and Japan offered money. Turkey spoke without mentioning the Kurds -- but neither did supposed representative of the range of Syrian opposition Ahmad al Jarba.

   Since Jarba's Saudi-sponsored, Saud al Faisal called him "Excellency," pomp like Jarba's faux "UN briefing" with Gulf and Western media in July.

   Using his PresidentJarba Twitter account, on which Inner City Press previously reported, Jarba repeated his own speech. Turns out he follows Anonymous, among only 51 follows. Who knew?

   The UK's William Hague's microphone went dead; when it came back on he bemoaned the lack of a women's delegation to the talks. The UN did not push for this on Syria, nor on South Sudan - but Ban Ki-moon highlighted that for a moment, how ever brief, there was a woman in both the Syria and (Jarba) Syrian National Coalition seat. Call it a photo op.

  Behind Hague was a UN alumni, the UK's former political coordinator in the Security Council David Quarrey. His Russian counterpart Vladimir Safronkov was also there, in Sergey Lavrov's delegation.

  Ban Ki-moon announced a lunch break until 2:45 pm, to be followed by 18 more speakers, then the Syria and SNC speakers like rights of reply. What did people think these speeches would accomplish. We'll have a separate story on that soon.

  At the UN on January 21, Inner City Press asked Haq for the UN's response to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif saying "Ban Ki-moon contacted me several times last week and I stated to him explicitly that we donít accept any preconditions for participating in the meeting. We regret that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn his offer and believe that such an attitude is not appropriate for the status and dignity of the Secretary-General."

  Haq said Ban believed he had "oral understandings" with Zarif.

  Inner City Press asked Haq, since the Geneva I Communique requires a commitment to a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms, how are Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which are among those still providing weapons and more to armed groups in Syria, invited to Montreux? Where's Ban's dismay at that?

   Haq said that Ban is dismayed at the militarization of the conflict. Video here.

  Earlier on January 21, Inner City Press spoke with Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin about Ban Ki-moon about-face.

  Churkin told Inner City Press, exclusively, "some people let him down, and not necessarily the Iranians."

  Others have analogized Ban to the American Charlie Brown, kicking at empty space when the football is taken away at the last second. Was Ban Ki-moon set up?

   Since the Geneva I Communique requires a commitment to a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms, how for example are Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which provide weapons and more to armed groups in Syria, invited to Montreux?
 
   Also, where are the Kurds?  Those who actually control territory in the north, Rojava, are not part of Ahmad al Jarba's turkey-based Syrian Coalition, and were not separately invited to the talks. What about their dismay? We'll have more on this.

   On January 20, Inner City Press asked Iran's Ambassador about Ban's dismay or disappointment. Video here.

 Outside the UN Security Council later on January 20, Inner City Press asked Iranian Permanent Representative to the UN Khazaee about Ban having been "dismayed" by the Iranian foreign ministry's spokesperson's comments.

  Kazaee replied, "I think all of you are very well aware about the consistency in our position about G2, so the high political officials are expected to act based on realities."

   Yes, realities: minutes after Ban's spokesperson's disinvitation announcement, Jarba's Syrian Opposition Coalition returned to the position voted on with 44 members absent: they will attend the talks in Switzerland.

  Earlier, after Ban's spokesperson's statement Iran's Khazaee said (and his spokesperson sent to Inner City Press) --

"The   Islamic Republic of Iran appreciates the efforts of the UN Secretary General and his special envoy, Mr. Brahimi in finding a political solution for Syrian crisis. Iran has always been supportive of finding a political solution for this crisis. 

"However the Islamic Republic of Iran does not accept any preconditions for its participation in Geneva II conference. If the participation of Iran is conditioned to accept Geneva I communique, Iran will not participate in Geneva II conference."

  After that arrived, Inner City Press asked Syrian Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari about Iran's statement. He replied, "My sincere advice, don't waste your time on this issue -- they will be there."  Then he went into the Security Council, where Syria is listed as the 35th of 47 speakers on the Middle East, with Iran 39th.  What will they say? Watch this site.

 At 12:30 pm on January 20, Inner City Press asked Nesirky if Ban is equally dismayed at the Syrian National Coalition's spokesperson calling Ban's bait and switch invite "immoral, even in politics."  Nesirky declined to specifically express dismay at this comment, only saying that a number of comments have been disappointing.  "This one?" Nesirky would not answer.

  Given the SNC's 2 pm ultimatum on Ban to disinvite Iran, Inner City Press asked Nesirky if the invitation to the SNC was the only one to non-Assad Syrians, or if for example Kurds could be invited. Nesirky said: one unified delegation. Hardly -- 44 members of the SNC already dropped out before the vote to attend. What would the vote count be now?

Before the Middle East meeting of the UN Security Council on January 20, the Permanent Representatives of France, the UK and Russia spoke to the press about Iran being invited to the Syria talks beginning in Montreux January 22.

  Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, which Bashar Assad called a proxy state of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, said the ball is in the court of Iran, to explicitly accept Geneva I. The UK's Mark Lyall Grant said the UK position is that Iran must clarify, publicly, that it accepts Geneva I.

  Others ask why should Iran accept a communique of Geneva I to which it was not invited. Others say Iran does in its way accept the communique - it just interprets it differently.

  Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin said "of course" the US had been consulted before Iran was invited. If the SNC now does not attend, Churkin said, it would be a "big mistake."

   Ban Ki-moon went into the Security Council suite with a big entourage; there was a time he was not on UNTV in the chamber. Inner City Press can report that UNTV technicians were asked to pipe in a feed of the public meeting into a side room. There was talk of Ban's selective meetings, using the code name EU P2.


  The Istanbul based Syrian National Coalition set a deadline of 2 pm in New York on January 20 for the invitation to be rescinded.

  Soner Ahmed, an SNC spokesman, said Ban "waited to invite Iran until after the coalitionís decision to attend the conference. That is immoral, even in politics."

    Ban previously met with the SNC's Ahmad al Jarba in Ban's UN provided residence; when the Free UN Coalition for Access asked why it had not been on his schedule, the meeting was called personal.  Now, things have really gotten personal.

  Among UNanswered questions is whether the SNC would or would have brought any Kurdish representatives, and why or whether the Kurds will not now be invited.

  Saudi Arabia shot back at the invitation of Iran by saying they should not attend because it "has military forces in Syria." But doesn't Uganda have fighting forces in South Sudan, while being a member of "mediator" IGAD? UN-consistency.

   Ban made his Iran invitation announcement in a hastily thrown together press conference held Sunday evening in an nearly empty UN building, on barely an hour's notice.

Nevertheless, Ban's spokesperson automatically gave the first question to the United Nations Correspondents Association, a partisan group which for example held a faux "UN briefing" for Ahmad al Jarba of the Turkey-based Syrian Coalition. Click here for Inner City Press story on that.

Ban Ki-moon dodged and did not answer on the weakness of Jarba's Coalition, from which over 40 members decided not to attend the vote approving attended at the talks in Switzerland. Nor until the end of this press conference did Ban mention the inclusion of women. Has he asked Jarba about that?

  Ban said he spoke with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who "committed to play a constructive and positive role." Ban repeated this line when asked about the litmus test of accepting that Geneva II is about Geneva I which was about "establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers" -- on mutual consent, whatever that means.

  Ban also announced supplemental invitations to Montreux for, among others, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands and, yes, South Korea.

  It was at 4:21 pm that the UN sent out an email that Ban would appear for a "brief and important statement" in the UN at 5:30 pm. When that time arrived, the so-called UNCA chair (or "Holy Seat") on which the UN has affixed a metal tag was filled -- and from that seat a complaint was made to try to get another correspondent moved.

  UNCA's president Pamela Falk of CBS was not there; nor was her first vice president, who nonetheless was heard to call into the room. It is time to end the practice of the UN automatically giving the first question to UNCA - a group of which executive committee members tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN (and to get leaked documents removed from Google's search under a specious DMCA filing by Reuters' bureau chief) and which has not reformed in any way since then.

The Free UN Coalition for Access additionally asks why this announcement was made this way. There is more and more staging at the UN, faux Q&A and UNTV footage put out hoping it will be used as B roll. The UN should be more transparent, less of a scam. We'll have more on this.


 

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