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In Syria, Damascus Bombing Deplored for Guterres By Haq, UN Fine with Blocking Press by Kaag

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 12 – The Syria talks known as Geneva V are now set for March 23, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said on March 8, making a point to call on a female journalist first on International Women's Day. He did not say if he is applying to head the UN Development Program, and thus to move on from his Syria post. Inner City Press first reported that - and the interest of Sigrid Kaag, who blocks Inner City Press on Twitter, deemed fine by the UN's holdover Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq.

 Now on Sunday, March 12, Haq (and not lead also holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric) has issued this:  "The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist bombings in the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday.  The Secretary-General is appalled by the utter disregard for human life displayed by the perpetrators, and extends his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims, many of whom were pilgrims. Those responsible for the bombings, and anyone carrying out attacks against civilians, must be held accountable. Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General"

 On March 8 before de Mistura spoke, US Ambassador Nikki Haley was asked of Iran involvement in talks. She paused, then said there are some not at the table who should be. Watch this site.

 In Geneva as in New York, the UN made a point of telling those with "temporary accreditation" that they could not get into the building after 7 pm, even with a stakeout scheduled for 6:30 pm. The Free UN Coalition for Access (FUNCA) objects to the UN's two-tier system for correspondents, which in New York meant for example that Inner City Press which covered Peru's President's meeting with Antonio Guterres was Banned from the area of the UN where he spoke to the media afterward. (But see this Periscope). Ban Censorship in 2017.

Even before February 25, multiple UN sources sounded a dissonant note to Inner City Press.

  As exclusively reported February 2, the sources had told Inner City Press that de Mistura is in fact angling to replace Helen Clark atop the UN Development Program or UNDP. (The UN Spokesperson's office, as usual, is in untransparent denial mode. Also in the mix are, among others, David Miliband).

  Now Inner City Press is hearing from its sources that seeking to replace de Mistura as UN Syria envoy is Sigrid Kaag, long time envoy in Lebanon. (We'd ask Kaag to confirm or deny, but it turns out Kaag blocks Inner City Press on Twitter, click here to view: strange, for a publicly paid UN official.) We'll have more on this.

  On February 8, Izvestia quoting Ilian Masaad and MP Mohamed Khair al-Akkam reported that "de Mistura may hand in his resignation letter soon... The final decision will be made after another round of intra-Syrian talks in Switzerland’s Geneva due on February 20. De Mistura was appointed by former UN chief Ban Ki-moon, and the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has to decide on the organization’s format of dealing with the Syrian settlement. Former deputy UN chief Sergey Ordzhonikidze, who personally knows de Mistura, told the paper that the issue on replacing the UN envoy is indeed long overdue. 'Staffan de Mistura failed to show his worth in this office. By the way, I’m sure that the Syrian conflict is very important and the Secretary-General should deal with this issue himself.'"

  So might Guterres, for that reason or others, support de Mistura for this other UN system post? Watch this site.

 As to UNDP, Inner City Press last month reported on Clark stepping down, reviewed candidates from the UK's David Miliband to France's Segolene Royal, and asked the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric to describe the process. He declined.

 (Inner City Press on February 3 published a story about UN turn-over and transition based not on Dujarric's non-answers, but just published UN vacancy announcements.)

   Now multiple independent sources tell Inner City Press that de Mistura wants the position, has lobbied some member states about it, including after anger at him was expressed at a recent meeting of the Syrian opposition.

 But what message would it send, de Mistura campaigning for a different UN post at this time? Watch this site.

When de Mistura took questions on January 31, Inner City Press asked him among other things if the Trump administration's proposal for safe zones in Syria (and Yemen) had been discussed. Video here.

  No, de Mistura said, new US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley hadn't raised it. Some wondered if that reflects the irrelevance to which the UN sank under Ban Ki-moon. We'll see.

  When Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin announced on Friday December 30 that he hoped for a unanimous vote on New Year's Eve at 11 am on a resolution endorsing his country's and Turkey's ceasefire plan in Syria, Inner City Press asked him which groups are included. Video here.

  But at 11 am, Churkin said other Council members are difficult, and said they might not vote until "tonight" - New Year's Eve. Journalists laughed, nervously.

  The Ambassador of New Zealand, leaving the Security Council later in the day after a two year term, said clarification is needed as to what is exempt from the ceasefire -- all of Idlib? -- and that there's a problem with endorsing.  Video here.

But after language was changed to welcoming with some other amendments, final version Tweeted here, the Security Council members returned at 1 pm and adopted the resolution. Afterward for the US Mission to the UN Deputy Ambassador Michele Sison, not Samantha Power, gave a speech of skepticism, as did the UK's Peter Wilson. There were no right of reply, and the Syrian delegation did not speak.

   After the meeting came the ritual changing of the flags. New Zealand, for one, watched its being removed. The delegations of Bolivia, including Permanent Representative Sasha Llorenti, and of Kazakhstan took photos with their flags. Video here.


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