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An UNGA of Kerry's Awkward Moment, Obama & Raul, China's Checkbook

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 2 -- As the UN removes its maze of metal detectors until next year, and New York City traffic flows up First Avenue again, what did this week's UN General Assembly debate come down to?

   Perhaps the moment of the week was US Secretary of State John Kerry finding Syria's Walid Moualem in the clubhouse of the Security Council's Permanent Five members, then looking around for another place to pass time. (Inner City Press first tweeted it, here.)

 While Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov then made back to back statements at the Security Council stakeout without taking any questions, the next day October 1 Lavrov took an hour worth of questions, in the UN Press Briefing Room.

  This UN Press Briefing Room became a battleground, with Brazil trying to follow France in reserving the front rows for its diplomats rather than journalists - they relented - and France innovating, in its way, by using seat-holders who rose to their feet to cede their place to French minister Laurent Fabius and, in one case, Segolene Royal.

   Fabius scowled when Inner City Press asked “his” President Francois Hollande about French soldiers rapes in the Central African Republic and UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous linking rapes to “R&R.” Then on October 1 Fabius refused to take a Press question whether Turkey's airstrikes on Kurds met the three conditions he had just announced.

   Ladsous, apparently angrier than usual at the question to Hollande, scowled up at the photo booths during the Peacekeeping Summit, then directed his flunkies to control the UN microphone at the cramped third floor UNTV stakeout, to the extent of Banning a question to Mali's foreign minister. On that, we'll have more.

  This too: Turkey used the UN Press Briefing Room for a staged “press conference” where it chose the question in advance then told Inner City Press, when it asked a follow-up, not to “interfere.” The old UN Correspondents Association, typically, did nothing about this (instead they lured the Syrian Coalition's Khaled Khoja into their clubhouse from which no live-stream or comments on journalists' arrest in Turkey ever emerged); the new Free UN Coalition for Access fought this and other forms of UN decay.

  As if in a parallel world, China made a number of financial commitments -- $2 billion to a South-South fund, money to UN women, training to the African Union - and drew praise in later General Assembly speeches, which were increasingly ill-attended. Once US President Obama left, after the briefest of photo ops with Russia's Vladimir Putin and a longer one with Raul Castro, much of the security was withdrawn and the air came out of the balloon.

 The UN again closed its big cafeteria, in which food workers were told to dine in a separate room, and after a week of speeches about transparency refused to answer the Press even on how many candidates there are to head the UN refugees agency UNHCR, and who is heading the panel to make the recommendation. We'll have more on this.


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