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UN Downplays Found Powder as Non-Toxic, Keeps Cafeteria Closed for 2nd Day

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 19, update 2:30 pm -- Seventeen hours after an envelope with an unidentified white powder was found in its cafeteria, the UN announced that "initial preliminary results indicate the substance... is a non-toxic, non-organic substance."

Still, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a 7:20 a.m. e-mail, the cafeteria will remain closed today."

As of 9 p.m. on Thursday, when Inner City Press last filed on this developing story, staff from the UN's food contractor Aramark had been told to come in to work on Friday. A broadcast e-mail to the UN's own staff said that the "host country" had taken the substance for testing.

Apparently, someone decided between 9 p.m. and 7:20 a.m. both to issue a statement downplaying the threat, but also deciding to keep the UN cafeteria and Delegates Dining Room closed.

UN's Ban and spokesman Nesirky, cafeteria and powder not shown

The response can be contrasted to when an unidentified substance was found in a soda can in the closed down offices of the UN mission to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Then, the UN did not tell the host country until news leaked out, and faced criticism for potentially putting New Yorkers at risk.

By contrast, the UN nearly immediately said on February 18 it had "alerted the host country." Some wondered, did this mean hundreds of millions of people? A mobile lab drove in, and drove out. When will results be released? Watch this site.

Update of Feb. 19, 2:30 p.m. -- after asking US Ambassador Susan Rice some questions, Inner City Press asked Associate UN spokesperson Farhan Haq at Friday's noon briefing when the results of the testing of the powder would be known. When they are available, he said.
   At 2:30 p.m., Haq said that the FBI's preliminary results are negative, and that confirmatory testing continues and mostly likely will be completed by Monday. For now, a little table has been set up in the UN lobby, turkey sandwiches for $5. Of the coup in Niger, nothing's been said....

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As Powder Removed from UN for Tests, Cafeteria on Hold, Iran Celebrates, US Not Seen

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 18 -- Six hours after the UN shuttered its cafeteria after a suspicious white powder was found in an envelope on the conveyor belt to the dish washer, the powder was removed from the UN by authorities in New York for further testing.

  While employees of the UN's contractor Aramark were told to come in Friday morning, an e-mail to UN staff said that no decision about re-opening the cafeteria would be made until further tests were conducted.

  New York authorities bought a mobile laboratory into the UN's third sub-basement. The envelope was brought to the laboratory.

  Upstairs in what had been the UN's Delegates' Dining Room three receptions were being held. Iran's mission to the UN offered smoked salmon, hummus and soda to celebrate the "31st anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution." Correspondents, some of them like Inner City Press hungry from the closure of the cafeteria, milled around with Ambassadors.

At Iran's event, there was an informal women's section, with scarved women chatted and took photos with each other. A U.S. diplomat told Inner City Press, "You didn't see me here, I'm upstairs for the Council of Caring Communities event." The U.S., it seems, did not want to be associated with the Iranian event.

UN's Ban and Ahmadinejad previously at UN, US not seen

  Inner City Press chatted with Georgia's Ambassador, who noted that the UN has yet to replace the chief of its dwindling mission in Georgia, or Abkhazia.

Sri Lanka's Ambassador spoke at length with Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar. Afterwards, the Ambassador told Inner City Press that his country wants to be taken off the Children and Armed Conflict list, "since there is no more armed conflict." He said that the recruiter of children most recently named by the UN "does not exist."

Next door Venezuela threw a party, complete with white wine. A UN Security office explained to Inner City Press that the response to the powder was acceptable, adding that "maybe it was drugs." Watch this site.

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At UN, "White Powder" Find Forces Cafeteria Lock Down

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 18 -- The UN's cafeteria has been shut down after an envelope with an unidentified white powder was found on the conveyor belt to the dishwasher, cafeteria sources tell Inner City Press.

As of 3 p.m., the lobby of UN headquarters was full of cafeteria workers and UN security officers. The cafeteria was being "locked down," a representative of the UN's contactor Aramark announced. UN Security told this reporter to leave the area. A cameraman was told not to film.

  On the UN campus for a 4 pm meeting and 4:45 pm press stakeout is former US President Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, several close observers present noted the lack of NYPD on the scene.

The UN sent this out:


Temporary Closure of Staff Cafeteria Re Suspicious Substance

The Security and Safety Service is investigating the presence of a suspicious substance in the Staff Cafeteria. Host country authorities have been alerted, and are assisting. Access to the Cafeteria will be restricted while the matter is being resolved. You will be kept updated as more information becomes available. The Service appreciates your continued support and cooperation.

Update of 3:41 p.m. -- Despite the line that the "host country authorities have been alerted and are assisting," those in the UN lobby have yet to see any NYPD...

Update of 4:19 p.m. -- told by a source to go and check the basement, Inner City Press witnessed the entrance into the lower floor of the cafeteria of NYPD Emergency Service Unit. Aramark workers have been told that the cafeteria, which was scheduled to remain open to 7:30 p.m., will not re-open today. Officious suits milling around in lobby. An NYPD with "Anti-terrorism" jacket on.

UN cafeteria staff mill in lobby, white powder not shown

This follows an incident in which white power was found in the journalists' mailbox area, and where a KFC Colonel Sanders impersonator was allowed in to meet the President of the General Assembly Ali Treki. For the later incident, UN Security officer Ralph Hering is still suspended -- a scapegoat, well informed sources say.

The UN cafeteria was closed for the month of January as it was lightly renovated to accommodate the Delegates' Dining Room, being moved down from the vacated fourth floor of the UN. What the powder was, and if dangerous who was exposed to it, is still not known. Watch this site.

On Iraq, UN's Melkert Silent on Blackwater and Black Balling of Baath Candidates

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- What does the UN's top envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, have to say about the acquittal and impunity for the mercenaries of Blackwater now Xe who killed Iraqi civilians? "That is a specific case," Melkert told Inner City Press on Tuesday at the UN, "we don't advise on specific cases." Video here, from Minute 11:34.

  Inner City Press asked Melkert about a range of human rights issues in Iraq, from honor killings to executions to freedom of the press. Melkert said his Office, UNAMI, issues human rights reports every six months, "critical on several of the issues you mentioned." Video here, from Minute 6:03.

  But how can the UN be critical if, as Melkert claimed about Blackwater, the UN "doesn't advise on specific cases?"

  Melkert's main job right now is, like Kai Eide's was in Afghanistan, to try to make national elections appear credible. Inner City Press asked him about barred candidate Saleh Mutlak, who has been told he cannot run for office because he was a member of the Baath party. Mutlak says he quit in 1977, and was only goaded into saying he was still a member.

  Melkert called the grounds for exclusion "legitimate," and said the UN only advocates for transparency in the application of the rules, citing Iraq's "Accountability and Justice Law of 2008." While speaking about reconciliation, Melkert said that excluding former Baath party members is similar to what happened in Europe "after the Communist regimes."

 While Melkert told Inner City Press that the UN "has a permanent position against the death penalty" -- one that Ban Ki-moon backtracked on during his first day in office, on the subject of Iraq -- when Melkert was asked about the execution of former Baath party members, he replied, "I could not take your point on that, the way you formulated it, so I could not comment further."

Melkert and his less than democratic guards in Baghdad

  As Melkert walked away from the microphone, Inner City Press asked him if he now agrees with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's call that senior UN system officials make some minimum public disclosure of their finances. Melkert laughed and said, "You see that I" -- then signed his name in the air. "What is good is that you don't forget."

  When he was the Associate Administrator of UNDP, he came out publicly against Ban's call for financial disclosure. Video here, from Minute 37:55 through 44:41. He also said, on UN reform, "you ain't seen nothing yet." Inner City Press recounted this history for a Dutch television station tailing and filming Melkert for the day. Another correspondent criticized Melkert go along [to] get along performance in Iraq, wondering what next job he might have his eye on.

  Many in the UN grumble that Melkert "chased" fellow UN official Ibrahim Gambari out of Iraq. Now it's his show, for better or worse. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

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

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

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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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