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As UN Budget's Passed, G-77's Champagne Dreams Echoed by Nicaraguan Priest, "Non-Stop Nothingness" to 8 AM

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 24, 4:30 am [to 8 am] -- It was four in the morning on Christmas Eve when the General Assembly prepared to meet on its budget. Delegates emerged from the basement, where for days issues ranging from development jobs to the rent of the Group of 77 were debated, capitals were called, cigarettes were smoked. Now like a school semester it was almost over. Goodbyes were being said. Secretariat officials, long term players, surfed sentimentality to the benefit of their own offices, if not the wider UN much less world peace.

  In the Delegates' Lounge in the lead-up to the GA meeting, champagne corks were popping. And some things had been accomplished. A shot across the bow of unaccountable UN investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius. A check-in and check-up on the imperious envoy to Lebanon Terje Roed Larsen. For development, 92 new posts, albeit spread out in regional commissions all over the world. Champagne at four a.m. was not entirely unearned.

  But as bitter after-taste was the failure to follow through. A year ago, this committee demanded answers about the UN's no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin, $250 million for camps in Darfur that Lockheed never built. There was no follow through; Lockheed took the money and ran.

UN's Ban and d'Escoto, budget shenanigans not shown

  At 4:20 a.m. the hold-up for the GA meeting was to pick up Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, el Presidente, from his residence. He would come to deliver a speech. Lincoln's was only four minutes, one of his staffers pointed out. There were potato chips and peanuts. The PGA, it was said, was already in the building. And so it remained until it approached 5:45 in the morning.

Update of 6:05 a.m. -- the usual press entrances to the GA hall, through the 3rd floor, were unmanned and locked. A film strip about the Holocaust was playing in a loop. Back on the 2nd floor, one guard stood on protocol and placed phone calls about the locked doors. Another guard simply waved Inner City Press through. Inside the chamber, from the blue colored "VIP" seats on the left side of the chamber, d'Escoto and his Moldovan master of ceremonies looked vaguely ridiculous on their raised green marble stage as if from Star Trek. The voting had begun, paragraph by paragraph --

when a UN Security Officer demanded that Inner City Press go back up to the third floor. But upstairs, the doors were still locked. Back downstairs, the Officer spoke into his walkie talkie, "McClachy! McClachy!" A delegate walked by and asked why the Press was being harassed. On the screens above the podium, votes were being recorded. The U.S. was again disassociating itself.  Go upstairs again, the officer said. This time the doors were open. A request over the dark blue velvet rope for a copy of the voting sheet was meant with incomprehension. I'm giving these to them, was the answer. Many nations' seats were unfilled. One one vote -- after all the disruption, hard for now to know which -- the results were 109 for - 13 against - 35 abstaining. It doesn't add to 192.

Update of 6:21 a.m. -- Myanmar is speaking, against "the use of human rights for political purposes," bragging about the Constitution passed in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, with opposition to it illegal. "We will not be bound by it," Myanmar's representative said. And with that, the reports of the Third Committee were done, and those of the Fifth Committee began, at 6:23 a.m..

Update of 6:31 am - as a representative from the Philippines, rapporteur of the Fifth Committee, reads out the titles of resolutions adopted without a vote, Inner City Press is approached again, admonished for having accepted the invitation to enter from the second floor, since the third floor was locked. Front the seats in the back, the chairs of Bangladesh, the Bahamas and Azerbaijan are empty, while the representative of Austria, a country entering the Security Council in January over the defeated Iceland, is sound asleep throughout the Third Committee votes. Turkey's seat, too, was empty, while the representatives in Venezuela's and Zimbabwe's seats were sleeping.*

* - full disclosure: Inner City Press fell asleep and was photographed while waiting for d'Escoto to begin the General Assembly session, sometime around 5:30 a.m., and awoke amid the detritis of a drained case of Baltika, the "Famous Beer of Russia."

Update of 6:57 a.m. -- D'Escoto is droning on reading the names of Fifth Committee resolutions, still not vote on any of them. They are flying through: DPA, Development, ICT...

Update of 7:05 a.m. -- the first request for a vote is from France, on paragraph 3bis of Draft Resolution 4 about Terje Roed Larsen. Lebanon speaks against France's proposed deletion of the paragraph, and urges delegates to "press the red button." On so little sleep, it's good to be direct. And vote it taken, and comes out in favor of France's pro-Larsen proposal, 50; against, 88, abstentions, 3.  "In consequence, France's proposal is not approved," d'Escoto intones, in Spanish.

Update of 7:13 am -- the US representative says the paragraph was politicized. Syria begins to disagree.

Update of 7:29 am -- after a 15 minute speech by Syria, d'Escoto reminds "with all due respect that we are taking too much time," then says "I give the microphone to Israel." But the delegation asking for the mic is Lebanon, sitting behind Israel. Perhaps since he was accused of not letter Israel speak, d'Escoto wants to show he'll call on them even if they don't ask for the floor. One can see the sky is light, through the smoked glass windows facing north from the UN.

Update of 7:35 a.m. -- d'Escoto has left the podium, another presiding officer, also speaking Spanish, takes his place.

Update of 7:38 a.m. -- d'Escoto is back, hugs his replacement and resumes his seat, you figure it out. He thanks the president of the Fifth Committee.

Update of 7:44 a.m. -- the budget items are over, d'Escoto starts a speech, mentioning the "Culture of Peace," people are standing and leaving. The representative of Yemen is screaming into his cell phone. "There's no security," a cleaning man remarks. Talk about a whimper, dream about a bang.

Update of 8:02 a.m. and hopefully the last -- on the green carpet in front of the General Assembly, the delegates are pouring out. The President, too: d'Escoto approaches Inner City Press, his handshake is warm, like the Russian beer in the Delegates' Lounge. Inner City Press apologizes for some reason for the delegations that left in the middle of his speech. "The Latins, they all stayed," a d'Escoto aide says hopefully. Ion the Moldovan, master of cerimonies, adds, Look who's hear working hard.

  A Security Officer, coming in well-rested from a night of sleep, asks Inner City Press what's been happening.

  "Non-stop nothingness," is the phrase that comes to mind.

  "If you don't publish that, I'll stop telling you things."  Consider it done.

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

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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