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UN Council Takes Up Vague Middle East Resolution, Tony Blair Stays Silent

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 13 -- Why issue grand pronouncements about elusive Middle East peace just as elections in Israel are approaching, and George Bush is outgoing? At a rare Saturday meeting at the UN, the Security Council met about a vague two-page resolution proffered by the U.S., joined by Russia. The Libyan Ambassador left the meeting first, handing out copies of the draft resolution without comment. Inner City Press is putting the document online here for Page 1, here for Page 2.

    Council sources tell Inner City Press that Israel has expressed concern about the call, at the top of page 2, for "both parties [to] refrain from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of the negotiations." Libya, meanwhile, is expected to return with language urging more specifics in the resolution. Earlier this month, a Libyan ship was blocked by Israel from landing on the Gaza Strip.

   But why issue this pronouncement at this time? Cynics in the Council view it as a sop to the Bush administration, for the failure to deliver on the promises made at the Annapolis conference more than a year ago. This way they can say that as they left office there was momentum -- even if facts on the ground belie this Polyanna spin.

    A person describing himself as a European diplomat urged on reporters that having the Council involved helps the parties. He assured Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin that he had only spoken on background. "You softened them up," Ambassador Churkin said. When a reporter tried to cut him off with a question about President Bush, he glared, overrode the reporter and then left the stakeout.

  France's Jean-Maurice Ripert spoke last, and Inner City Press asked him about the refusal of Quartet representative Tony Blair to brief the Security Council as non-permanent member South Africa has been requesting for months. "I am not aware of the reasons he will not be talking," Ripert said.

  Inner City Press has been told, but the UN has refused to confirm, that Blair's reasons is that he should not speak until after the Israeli elections. But why then is the Council speaking, or trying to speak? The question was not answered.

Quartet last month; this week, Blair and Kouchner will be remote, Lavrov in the house

Nor, on another matter, did Ripert comment on the UN's report of both the Rwandan and Congolese government's assisting armed rebel groups in the Kivus. Inner City Press asked, any comment? "Not yet," Ripert said. Some surmise that the report or the possible actions to be taken on it will be used as negotiation fodder.

  About Tony Blair, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson on December 11 --

Inner City Press: We heard from the Council that Tony Blair has said that he will not brief them in December based on their invitation; that he may in fact not come to the Quartet meeting.  Is it your understanding that he will be here at the Quartet meeting but...?  He cited some time constraint, is my understanding.

Spokesperson Montas:  I am not aware of that.  I can try to find out whether Mr. Blair will be there.  I don’t have that information at this point.

Question:  And also if he’s declining the invitation to brief the Council, what’s the reason for that?

[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Blair, as well as Mr. Kouchner, were scheduled, as of now, to participate in the Quartet meeting via videolink.]

   This was followed up on at the December 12 noon briefing:

Question:  I just wanted to find out about this; you talked about this Middle East Quartet meeting.  Mr. Blair is supposed to be speaking from video?

Associate Spokesperson Haq:  Yes.

Question:  Why isn’t Mr. Blair making himself available to the Quartet?  He’s being paid a lot of money, and he has... but he is making himself as sparse as possible.  I mean, to come here to the United Nations, what is his (inaudible)?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, making himself available by video link is participating in the meeting.  He will participate in all activities of the meeting.  He will just not be physically present in New York.  That’s a standard feature of meetings.  We try to schedule meetings whenever they are convenient for all people to be in the same venue at the same time.  If that’s not possible physically, we try to make the appropriate arrangements by video link, and that’s what we’re doing in this case. 

Question:  Just to follow up to this question.  Who are the Arab Foreign Ministers coming to attend this conference, this Quartet meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, some of the arrangements are still being made.  So I don’t have any names officially to give out to you just now.  But if you come upstairs after this meeting, we can provide you with a few additional details. 

Question:  I mean, it’s supposed to be a meeting between Arab Foreign Ministers and the Quartet; that’s the sign originally?

Associate Spokesperson: Yes, and you may have missed this, but I mentioned that at the start that there will be a meeting in Conference Room 8 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday.

Question:  The media has already announced that there will be the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Will that be the case?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, because the arrangements are still being worked out, I don’t want to give out all the names just yet.  We do have some additional details upstairs, so we can provide that for you after this.  Matthew?

Inner City Press: First, it’s a follow-up on this Tony Blair question.  Since he represents the UN, can you confirm that he was asked to brief the Security Council in this month and he declined to do so?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think, for that, the best thing to do is to talk to the President of the Security Council; they’re the ones in charge of the arrangements for the Security Council.

Question:  But as a representative of the UN, he sent a letter saying “I won’t come…” (interrupted).

Associate Spokesperson:  He is not just a representative of the UN.  He, as you know, is a representative of the entire Quartet, so we don’t speak directly for Mr. Blair.  But he has an office, and we can give you the contact number for his office.

  But 24 hours later, still no contact information for Tony Blair had been given. And Jean-Maurice Ripert, representing both France and the EU, said he doesn't know why Blair is not going to speak to the Council...

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

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

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