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On Syria, Russia Calls Steps "General," No Answers on Kidwa, Rice on Nowruz

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 21, updated -- After the modified Syria Presidential Statement was read out in the UN Security Council on Wednesday morning, five Permanent Representatives came out to speak to the press: UK, France, Germany, Morocco and then Russia. US Ambassador Susan Rice commented later, as did Kofi Annan.

  Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Lyall Grant, this month's president of the Council, to explain the change in the draft Statement from "further measures" to "further steps," and the deletion of seven day reporting by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

  Lyall Grant, "I don’t want to go into the negotiations of PRST." When Inner City Press asked him about Russia's Vitaly Churkin's criticism of the UK delaying on the anti-terrorism press statement they proposed, Lyall Grant said, "we had some amendments to the original Russian draft of the press statement. Those amendments were agreed and the press statement has now issued."

  Minutes later, Inner City Press asked Churkin the same two questions. He said that "steps" is obviously "more general" then the term "further measures." Russia subsequently indicated that the UK amendments were all agreed to on Tuesday but that the UK still wanted to delay, ostensibly to "get instructions."

  As Indian Permanent Representative Hardeep Singh Puri told the Press on Tuesday, the draft press statement was delayed "for leverage" to get the PRST agreed to.

  Another member of the Council criticized what the UK did, telling Inner City Press that "once you start playing with the Council's condemnation of terrorism, it will happen more and more."

  Yet another Council diplomat told Inner City Press that the UK's "open" actions -- actually, in closed consultations -- might give the impression that condemnation of terrorism against some states is no longer automatic.

Inner City Press asked French Ambassador Gerard Araud how this Presidential Statement could be seen as "unambiguously" supporting the Arab League plan, including political transition. He said that the Statement refers to the General Assembly resolution, which refers to the Arab League plan. He said that Kofi Annan's six points are similar to the Arab League plan. But what about political "transition"?

  On Tuesday Inner City Press learned of and reported a German sponsored Arria formula meeting of the Council on March 22 with the head of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro.

  On Wednesday Inner City Press asked Wittig to confirm it; he did. Inner City Press then asked why it had been so little publicized. This Wittig did not answer, ostensibly so that others could ask questions. But despite hands apparently having been raised, no other questions were asked.

  Morocco's Ambassador Loulichki spoke mostly in Arabic. Inner City Press asked him about Syria blocking Annan's Arab League designated deputy Nassar Al Kidwa, which Inner City Press reported last week and Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi confirmed to Inner City Press on Tuesday. Loulichki didn't answer that question, though he did refer to "a democratic exit" to the crisis. Does that mean exit of Assad?

From the UK Mission transcript:

Inner City Press: Can I ask a question about the press statement? There was some complaint by Russia that...the linking of the two. They say that the press statement was a very straight forward condemnation of terror but sort of got swept up....I guess to get leverage. What’s your response to that?
Amb Lyall Grant: We had some amendments to the original Russian draft of the press statement. Those amendments were agreed and the press statement has now issued.
Inner City Press: Is there a difference between further steps and further measures, and not reporting every seven days in the PRST?
Amb Lyall Grant: I don’t want to go into the negotiations of PRST. The PRST stands on its own merits.

 Just after noon, Annan through his spokesman Fawzi said that he "is encouraged by the united support of the Security Council behind his efforts and urges the Syrian authorities to respond positively."

Footnotes: It was notably that the US did not speak at the stakeout. There had been a briefing for select UN scribes set up at the US Mission at 9:30 am with Mike Hammer, but Inner City Press is informed that it was canceled. Hammer will appear for the "foreign" press at 4 pm. At 11 am Wednesday, one of Ambassador Susan Rice's bodyguards was just outside the Council. Should we expect an appearance? Let's see what happens.

As this went to press past 11 am, the following quote came in from Ambassador Rice:

The United Nations Security Council has come together today to support Joint Special Envoy Annan’s efforts and his proposal to the Syrian regime. While this is a modest step, it is indeed a step forward for the Security Council towards a more unified approach to the crisis in Syria. As the Council recognized, Annan’s proposal is the best way to put an end to the violence, facilitate much needed humanitarian assistance, and advance a Syrian-led political transition. We urge the Syrian authorities to respond swiftly and positively.”

  Others noted that while the UK boycotted Tuesday night's "Nowruz" event at the UN because it was co-hosted by Iran, the US was represented, by Rice's deputy Rosemary DiCarlo. At 11:11 am, Ambassador Rice arrived and Inner City Press asked, the UK boycotted but the US went to Nowruz. She told Inner City Press, "I've got enough trouble without worrying about their social schedule." And so it goes at the UN.

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