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At the UN, Hat Tipped to Human Rights and DC's Stance on Emissions, Equinox is Marked

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 -- It was a diplomatic day of the politically correct, on Tuesday at the UN. The UN's top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, was asked by Inner City Press to comment on the Bush administration's position at recent global warming talks in Germany. Mr. de Boer, heretofore a straight shooter, called the U.S. stance "encouraging." This was based, apparently, on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson having "repeated the seven points of agreement" that Mr. de Boer had drafted. Video here. But what about emission caps?

            Ban Ki-moon, who has been on-again, off-again about convening a summit on climate change, is reputed to have checked with the U.S. for his position. Scripted or not, when Inner City Press asked his spokesperson for his view of human rights rapporteurs, this from the transcript was the Q &A:

Inner City Press: There's a move afoot in the Human Rights Council to eliminate the Special Rapporteurs.  It has been proposed by a number of countries that there no longer be investigations of abuse in countries.  Kofi Annan used to call these Rapporteurs the "crown jewel of the human rights system," and Iím wondering if Ban Ki-moon has any position.  I understand you are going to say it's a Human Rights Council matter, but it's so central to the United Nations system that I'm wondering if Mr. Ban has any position on whether that type of human rights inquiry should continue.

Spokesperson:  To start out with, the Human Rights Council has not decided on anything of that sort.  You know, this is... some countries might talk about it, but this is not at all being decided by the Council right now at this point.  The Secretary-General expects the Human Rights Council to complete its discussions on its procedures by June and he stands strongly behind the special procedures, which he has consistently supported.  So, this is his position.

            It's the reference to the "special procedures" which indicates that the response was prepared in advance.  On Somalia, not so much:

Inner City Press: The AU has called for additional, from the United Nations, financial and logistical help for its mission in Somalia, saying it really needs it and things are... so, Iím wondering if the Secretary-General is going to propose that, what the response from the United Nations system or DPKO is to this urgent request from the AU for help in Somalia.

Spokesperson:  Well, I don't have an answer on this yet.  You know, the AU has proposed that and we should know more about it very soon.  There should be a formal request done.  Yes?

            Scripted questions from pre-selected askers were on display at the stakeout, where while Italy's foreign minister spoke, his staffers told UN TV staff to whom to give the microphone. Questions about indictments in Italy for extraordinary rendition and murder were not allowed. The last four questions were in Italian. And so it goes.

UN Peace Bell: Ban Ki-moon not shown

            In UN basement at six, the flavor was Chinese, both paintings on the wall and shrimp, rice and spring rolls set on tables in the Viennese Cafe. Chinese Ambassador Wang was there, as was Ban Ki-moon, viewing the work of "three generations of Wu's."  Mr. Ban was not, however, present at the ringing of the Peace Bell in front of the UN at 8:07 p.m., in honor of the equinox. Even to political correctness, there is a limit...      

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At UN Security Council, Kosovo Jousting, Double-Talk on Iran, Depression on Darfur

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 19 -- At the UN Security Council and the microphone outside, Monday was a day of much talk and little action on three hotspots around the globe. The morning's agenda was Kosovo, on which envoy Joachim Rucker briefed the Council. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Mr. Rucker about criticisms that have been aimed at the cancellation of municipal elections in November 2006 by the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK. Video here, from Minute 6:14 through 8:45. Mr. Rucker acknowledged the criticism, that the municipal election were put off pending a status determination, which was first delayed for the Serbian election, and now for Council deliberations on the proposal made by the UN's negotiator Martti Ahtisaari.

            At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press had asked for the Secretariat's response to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's statement that "If Ahtisaari thinks he has done everything within his power, then almost certainly another person could be found to do it." Inner City Press and then a colleague asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman if there is any thought of replacing Mr. Ahtisaari. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has been quoted as saying that if Mr. Ahtisaari feels heís done everything he can, maybe someone else should be bound for the job.  Does the Secretary-General have any response? Would he consider appointing a different representative on the Kosovo status question?

Spokesperson:  At this point, Mr. Ahtisaari is the one responsible.  And he is the one in charge...

Question:  Michele, of course, a follow-up to Matthew's question.  I wonder why anybody, if anybody, is really thinking of replacing Mr. Ahtisaari.  Even you repeated that even the Secretary-General hinted somehow that talks have been exhausted.  I mean, they are finished now, so is there a valid question or request for replacing Mr. Ahtisaari?  How do you see that?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, no.  Mr. Ahtisaari... as you know, the project is being presented to the Security Council and...

Question:  The Secretary-General or to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  It's going to be presented to the Security Council, and this process has to go on, and Mr. Ahtisaari is in charge.

UN wall in Congo: access to UN information sometimes not much different  

          The subtext in the Council Monday morning was Iran. Off-camera, Ambassadors addressed a series of amendments proposed by South African Ambassador Kumalo: a ninety-day pause, and for example the removal of Bank Sepah and some Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps entities from the sanctions list.

   French Ambassador de la Sabliere said that South Africa's proposals "are not consistent with the approach of the Council." To some these seemed a strange formulation, given that South Africa is the president of the Council this month. The UK's deputy ambassador spoke, but glared at the tape recorder of one journalist -- not this one -- and said this was not on the record. Amb. Kumalo countered, why treat the draft by the Permanent Five members and Germany "as if written by God." A Sunny correspondent slipped in the driest of humor, asking if the "informal informal" discussion now slated for Tuesday didn't represent double-talk. (He's deployed the same quip regarding the African Union's Darfur negotiator Salim Salim.)

            Later UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno emerged from briefing the Council on Darfur with a sad and depressed look.  This is the ninth such discussion, he said, and people are still dying. Inner City Press asked if there had been any movement on getting peacekeepers into neighboring Darfur. Guehenno noted the opposition of Chadian president Deby. "Why are both opposing the UN blue helmets?" A wise correspondent opined that Chad doesn't want to go first, and France hasn't yet pulled the string. We'll see.

In Iran Talks, China Offers Quotes and Hope to Shivering Reporters

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- As a next round of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programs are discussed by the five permanent member nations of the Security Council and Germany, Thomas Matussek, the German envoy, predicted that the penalties agreed to will be "swift and modest." To this process, the UN press corps adds another adjective through chattering teeth: cold.

            Talks have so far been held outside of the UN, in the United Kingdom's mission in 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street and Second Avenue in New York, where the temperature has been below freezing. Ambassadors emerge from the talks to inform or spin reporters about the negotiations. Thursday evening, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff came out spoke to a dozen journalists waiting on the sidewalk in the cold. His comments were a model of bland diplomacy:

Amb. Wolff: The devil is in the details on these things as you know... We're doing a lot of explaining in different terms of what peoples' concerns are, and what is the best way to get our ultimate objective, and the ultimate objective is a shared one, to signal to the Iranian government that there is a cost for not adhering to resolutions, for not complying with their obligations, and the cost increases each time they don't comply.

            These comments were, reporters noted, less than useful.  The talks resumed at 10 a.m. on Friday, an even colder day in New York. Reporters were shivering when the meeting broke up at 1 p.m.. But this time, Chinese Ambassador Guangya Wang provided more specifics:

Q. Do you see this going on for a few more weeks?

Amb. Wang: I hope if it goes well, then at least I don't think we will be ready by next week.

Q. Not by next week?

Amb. Wang: No. My feeling is, not.

Q. Ambassador, one more thing. Yesterday, the State Dept. spokesman indicated that this time Chinese are more resisting than Russians. How do you respond?

Amb. Wang:  I think... the difficulty for China is different from the difficulty that Russians have.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

Amb. Wang: I think the Chinese main difficulty is with the financial and trade sanctions against Iran, because we feel that we are not punishing Iranian people. We should punish the Iranians for their activities in the nuclear field. And the difficulty for Russia is, Russia has difficulty with the name of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, because they feel it's an institution in Iran and you don't have to penalize an institution.

            Reporters were grateful for the quotes, which appeared in Reuters and in much of the Japanese press. But the stock of Ambassador Wang and perhaps of China rose even higher with the press corps when he expressed chagrin or at least some doubts about holding the meetings outside of the UN, where reporters have to wait outside in the cold. You have no place to sit, and now water, Amb. Wang remarked, mentioning that he will try to move the forthcoming meetings back into the UN building. 

   Other Ambassadors at the talks did not express this concern; one press spokesperson remarked that no one obliged reporters to come and wait for quotes in the cold. Provoking the most ire, after French Ambassador Jean Marc de la Sabliere did not come outside for even a moment to speak, since his office is inside the building, his spokesman sent reporters a short bilingual (and unusable) quote by e-mail: "The meeting was constructive. We are making progress / Nous avancons."

            Merci for nothing, muttered one reporter. The ink-stained sources cited in this piece are granted anonymity due to their need for continued access to thin-skinned diplomats.

Amb. Wang speaks to Amb. de la Sabliere (Froid? Moi? )

            There is a saying in courthouses, that the law is what the judge had for breakfast.  Likewise, some of journalism is impacted by how the journalists are treated. If the personal is political, one can expect more understanding coverage of China's positions, at least during these Iran sanctions negotiations.

            One reporter marveled that China was so humane in New York, while taking a different approach back home (for example, shooting some of those trying to flee Tibet, click here for that story.) Another wag -- this one -- quipped that if the North Koreans sent blankets, hot coffee and construction heaters to the press corps on 47th Street, their line that the United States and the UN are "gangster-like" might gain a bit more traction.

In full disclosure, while the account of Thursday evening's stakeout is first-hand, on Friday while the above-described took place, Inner City Press was posing questions to the UN's envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and to Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about North Korea, in the too-warm UN briefing room. Click here for Inner City Press' most recent (and, one hopes, more substantive) story on the UN's dealings with North Korea. The spokesperson referred the question to the South Korean mission. But that's west of First Avenue, and as more than one reporter signed, it's coooold outside. To be continued.

At the UN, Rosy Light Falls on Great Lakes Despite Bombs and Kony of Lord's Resistance Army

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- The Great Lakes region, which in the past decade was the site of what is called Africa's World War in the Democratic Republic of Congo and 13 years ago a genocide in Rwanda, has "turned the page on conflict and destabilization," according to outgoing UN envoy Ibrahima Fall.

            On Friday outside the Security Council, Inner City Press asked Mr. Fall three questions, two of which gleaned positive, some say Pollyanna, answers, and the third a "no comment." Asked about recent complaints by Rwanda about bombs being fired from Congolese territory, Mr. Fall said "I can assure you that the Congolese authorities have the will and determination to deal with all issues that threaten relations between DRC and Rwanda in North and South Kivu and between DRC  and Uganda in Ituri." Video here, from Minute 2:02.

            This last phrase might well refer to the Lord's Resistance Army leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, who are said to be once again in Garamba National Park in DRC. Inner City Press asked Mr. Fall about the expiration on March 1 of the ceasefire between the LRA and the government of Uganda, and the now-stopped peace talks.  Mr. Fall begged to differ: "The negotiations in Juba are progressing," he said. While acknowledging "some recent set backs," he pointed out that Mozambique's ex-president Chissano is "interacting" with the parties and said "I understand he will brief the Security Council next week."  Here's hoping. Video here, from Minute 3:48.

Guns being cut in half, per UN

            Finally, Inner City Press asked Ibrahima Fall if, now that his time as Great Lake envoy is expiring, he anticipates doing any more work for or with the United Nations. Mr. Fall has expressed frustration at what he's called the low level of resources given to him for his mandate. Some Security Council diplomats have previously questions what was really being down for the first four years of Fall's tenure. Inner City Press asked, what are you going to do next?

            "That is personal business," Mr. Fall said. "If you authorize me, I will avoid to talk about personal things." Video here, in Minute 5. Even off-camera, Mr. Fall declined to say anything about what he will do next. He has been in the UN system for some time, including as an Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Political Affairs, management of which passed this month from Ibrahim Gambari to B. Lynn Pascoe. What does Mr. Fall think of the direction of the UN under Ban Ki-moon? This is an answer we'll await. On Friday, Inner City Press asked the office of Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for reaction, from MONUC or the Secretariat, to Rwanda's complaint of bombs incoming from the DRC territory ostensibly controlled by the Congolese Army in conjunction wth the UN peacekeepers of MONUC. Video here.  An answer was promised, and will be published on this site when received. On a key Great Lakes issue, the end-game (or not) of the Lord's Resistance Army, neither Ban Ki-moon nor his appointees John Holmes nor Lynn Pascoe have yet shown their hands. Developing...

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540