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At Syria Talks, UN Belatedly Discloses Entrance Then Calls It Timely, 2-Tier Press Access

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 11 -- The day after the UN in New York belatedly shifted Secretary General Antonio Guterres' photo op with Colombia's Foreign Minister from Headquarters to the UN's mansion residence on Sutton Place, an even shorter-notice "opportunity" was announced in Geneva. The UN said that "Syrian invitees participating in the intra-Syrian talks under the aegis of the United Nations in Geneva will be coming to the Palais des Nations at 10:15 a.m. for bilateral talks with the Special Envoy. Visual media are welcome to cover the event from the media zone outside Door 13, Building A." But when visual media ran there, there was nothing. The entrance had already taken place. After UNderstandable complaints, the UN issued an arch "Note to Correspondents" that "the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria will continue timely to inform correspondents of the arrivals of participants in formal meetings, Other meetings will not be announced." Does "will continue to" mean "other than what actually occurred today"? Separately, as the Free UN Coalition for Access has noted and opposes, the UN has a two-tier system in which some media can only access the building during limited hours, regardless of whether news is taking place, or staged, inside. The lower tier is ostensibly those not at the UN every day, but in the case of Inner City Press, an investigative media who reports on corruption in the UN such as the current Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe bribery case has been restricted for seventeen months and counting, its place given to an Egyptian state media which rarely comes, and never asks questions.

When the UN's outgoing humanitarian chief for Syria Kevin Kennedy held a press conference on June 29, Inner City Press asked him about reports including by the UN itself that some non-governmental organizations are raising money off Syria despite having no presence there, including at least one European NGO which "blackmailed" a local group to work in a dangerous area or have all of its funding cut. Kennedy, who told Inner City Press before the briefing that he is retiring for the fifth time from the UN, said he was unaware of that particular case but acknowledged that the UN's duty of care to those who work on aid on its behalf is a complex issue. Two drivers were shot, and they were not UN staff. So what provisions are there? We'll have more on this. Back on May 15 after the US State Department released and took questions about a report depicting a crematorium in Syria, the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric in the afternoon said he hasn't seen it. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: The report was released by the State Department today, earlier today. Spokesman:  I'm not all-seeing and all-reading. Clearly not. Nor does today's UN like to let others see how it operates. On May 17, from the UN in Geneva about its Syria talks, comes this: "REMINDER: Non-permanently accredited journalists will not be allowed to enter the Palais des Nations after 7:00 pm." This means that critical media like Inner City Press, from which the UN took away "resident correspondent accreditation" for pursuing its coverage of UN corruption into the UN Press Briefing Room, have materially less access than the UN's favor media. But who are they? Back on May 15 behind closed doors in the UN a film with screened -- with "movie snacks and refreshments" - about the Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS. Back on April 11 when UN envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura took questions in New York, Inner City Press asked him about the US Tomahawk strike on Syria, and the Geneva talks. Video here. UN transcript: Inner City Press: Right after the strike, your office put out statements saying you were operationally focused on it. I just wondered, specifically when did you learn about the strike and what did you do in response? Also in the US, there is a lot of focus on different statements by the administration about Assad not staying or not being legitimate. I just wanted to know when you see those, do you believe it is through your process, that the things that they are discussing will be carried out, or there is some separate process they are referring to  by which Assad no longer remain in power?
SdM: I frankly can't answer the second point, but what I can say is what I hear, and what I hear from the Americans, but also from anyone else, that the solution for the future of the Syrian political environment is through negotiation and according to resolution 2254 and through a UN led negotiation. All the rest I am not in a position of commenting on frankly. I learnt about the strike, not when it happened, later, and my first reaction was how can we now manage the crisis and avoid that it becomes an escalation, that has been my first thought, and that is normally what the UN should be doing.

After that, de Mistura said he will be continuing as envoy, after seeing the photographs and being asked to continue, by his family. It was the opposite of the usual invocation of family in such circumstances. Antonio Guterres is giving the UNDP top stop to Achim Steiner. After some surmised that the UN Security Council's three draft resolutions were, along with twenty planes, among the things destroyed by the US Tomahawk missiles last week, the Security Council voted on a revised draft on April 12 just after 3 pm. The resolution failed, with Russia (veto) and Bolivia against, and China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstaining. UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said there'll be a push on April 13 at the OPCW; Russia's Safronkov also cited that meeting. Prior to the vote, Inner City Press put questions to UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura We'll have more on this. On April 11, Ukraine's Ambassador Yelchenko emerged from the Council's meeting about Haiti and told the press about the draft. Inner City Press asked if the Assad government turning over flight logs was still in the draft; yes.

  As he left the UNSC on the night of April 6, Uruguay's Ambassador said, We never give up. Sweden's Ambassador Olof Skoog, who earlier hearkened back to Hans Blix in 2003, said we continue to work. Source told Inner City Press that Sweden's role has led to push-back against it. In some instances Sweden takes a line such as on women's rights; in others it backs down, as to Morocco about Western Sahara, after a threat to ban Ikea. We'll see.

The vote on the Syria chemical weapons deaths was against postponed on the evening April 6, according first to a UK Mission official, with now three drafts in the mix. After the deaths by chemical weapons in Syria, an open UN Security Council meeting was held on April 5. On the way in, Ambassadors including from the UK, Sweden and France spoke, video here.   On April 6, excluded from the process, both the P3 and Russian drafts below, Elected Ten members of the Council met inside the Council -- the glass door to the stakeout was improperly locked by the UN Secretariat -- and afterward Inner City Press reported and talked with several. One said the goal was to avoid a veto; another said it was to avoid exclusion from the process after being elected to the Security Council. Later, after the door was opened, Sweden's Olof Skoog said, "I was here with Hans Blix in 2003, of course I'm worried." Inner City Press looped video here, YouTube here. Others distinguish the two cases.

  Uruguay's Ambassador quoted Marlon Brando, "The horror, the horror." Back on April 4, the Ambassadors of the UK then Sweden called for an emergency Council meeting. Inner City Press video here.

   As de Mistura trudges on with a short term UN extension, 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.

 On March 8, before the US' April presidency of the Security Council, 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 for the Syria talks 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, Segolene Royal and Bert Koenders - or even Sigrid "The Blocker" Kaag).

  Inner City Press first reported 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 again 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.

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, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley hadn't raised it. Some wondered if that reflects the irrelevance to which the UN has sunk. We'll see.


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