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At UN, American Month of Rice Astride the Council Starts, Questions to be Asked

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 2, with updates -- Today at the UN is the beginning of the "American month," as some here are calling it. President Barack Obama, after nine months, will come to the UN, for speeches and climate change and to chair a meeting of the Security Council. His Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice will be president of the Council for the whole month, beginning with consultations with the other 15 members on the program of work, then a briefing of the press.

  Many in the UN press corps, albeit not by name, have complained about lack of access to Ms. Rice. She arrives, unlike any other Council member, surrounded by Security. She rarely takes questions at the stakeout, and meets off the record with small groups of select reporters. There is hope, beginning with Wednesday's briefing, that this month will be a new begining, or the beginning as one reporter put it.

   Beyond the staples of the Middle East and North Korea, non-proliferation and Darfur, Ms. Rice can expect to face the fallout of critiques of the UN and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. As synthesized in the leaked memo of Norwegian deputy ambassador Mona Juul, Ban failed this year in Myanmar, which is on the Council's formal agenda, and in Sri Lanka, which even as thousands of civilians were being killed was confined to informal Council session held in the UN basement. Now that a video of the Sri Lankan Army committing summary executions has surfaced, one wonder what Ms. Rice has to say on that topic, and on Libya.

Susan Rice and UN's Ban in agreement, Myanmar and Sri Lanka not shown

   The Wednesday morning meeting at which the program of work was adopted was shorter than usual. "Just breakfast," as one Council member put it. It's said that in the Council's meeting on the Haiti mission, Bill Clinton may come. A Council member who had adopted Haiti said he will fly back to New York that day, arriving at the airport at 3 p.m. for a 4 p.m. Council session. Better get a helicopter, someone said.

   The overlap of this month's General Assembly with the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh is causing major planning agita for delegations. One Latin country whose President will attend both meetings said that a sort of buddy system is being implemented, paired Presidential planes flying into the otherwise closed down Pittsburgh airport. Coming right after the UN's climate session, will any of it be carbon offset? Watch this space.

Update of 12:36 p.m. -- Amb. Rice, introduced by Mark Kornblau, begins by pitching the Obama-chaired September 24 meeting. "Consulting with colleagues on a potential product" from the meeting. Kornblau's ground rule is this will be 30 minutes, and questions should focus first on the "work of the Council."

12:38 -- 2d issue is Liberia mandate renewal, including meeting with troop contributing countries. There's a recent scandal in Liberia of an American UN employee under investigation for child sex abuse. 3d is Haiti - and yes, Bill Clinton will come.

12:40 -- 4th is Women, Peace and Security, meeting on September 30 with Hillary Clinton coming. But will the U.S. support a new ASG post? Rice says "a new SRSG" under discussion. 5th is Afghanistan.

Update of 12:59 p.m. -- Inner City Press asked Amb. Rice about Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Mona Juul memo, and will report her answers elsewhere on this site.

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On Call for Vote at UN on Libyan Al Megrahi, Amid UN Scandals, Will Obama and Susan Rice Act?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 22 -- Ten days after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice touted the Obama Administration's quiet diplomacy from within the UN, "getting things done," New York State Senator Chuck Schumer called on Ms. Rice to introduce a resolution condemning Libya's hero's welcome for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, released after conviction for the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

  Libya has a seat on the UN Security Council with Rice, and a Libyan diplomat is slated to take over the presidency of the UN General Assembly next month. Comment was sought from the US Mission to the UN, but four hours later, none had been received.

   Schumer's call may put Obama and Ms. Rice in an uncomfortable position. As al Megrahi was being released, Obama urged Libya not to celebrate his release, tied to his terminal cancer, but rather to confine him to house arrest. But the celebrations were televised around the world.

  Obama, who has yet to visit the UN in his seven months in office, is slated to be present for three days next month, on nuclear disarmament, climate change and for the General Assembly, now to be presided over by Libya.

   In a speech at New York University on August 12, Ms. Rice intoned that "Today, as we steer a new course at the United Nations, our guiding principles are clear...We work for change from within rather than criticizing from the sidelines. We stand strong in defense of America’s interests and values, but we don’t dissent just to be contrary. We listen to states great and small. We build coalitions."

   Will the U.S. build a coalition at the UN concerning Libya? Some contrasted Ms. Rice's speech to notable watering down of the statement on Myanmar's imposition of 18 more months of house arrest on democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to which China added sections deferring to Myanmar's sovereignty and even the mercy it showed. Now that Scotland and Libya have shown mercy and respect for al Megrahi, what sort of statement will issue from the U.N.? Will Ms. Rice introduce the resolution Schumer and others have called for?

  Perhaps the strategy will be to have UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon release a statement, which would not require any vote in the Security Council or General Assembly. In her August 12 NYU speech, Ms. Rice referred to Ban Ki-moon only once, saying that "our priorities are greater transparency and accountability, stronger ethics and oversight mechanisms, and buttressing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s initiatives to overhaul the UN’s procurement and human resources practices."

   At the time, Inner City Press questioned Rice's seeming failure to meaningfully raise or push for reform at the UN, where simply in the field of human resources a number of nepotism scandals were erupting. Ban Ki-moon's envoy to the Congo, Alan Doss, was exposed by Inner City Press as asking the UN Development Program to show him "leeway" -- that is, to bend the rules -- to get his daughter Rebecca a job.

  Even Ban Ki-moon, through his Deputy Spokesperson, called the allegations "series" and said he expected to receive a report upon his return to New York, which took place on August 18. The US Mission has yet to comment on l'affaire Doss; a response has now been sought.

Obama and Gaddafi - from UN's web site

   Ban himself is seen by some as conflicted in responding to nepotism, given his administration's paranoia and lack of transparency about the hiring of his son in law Siddarth Chatterjee first by the UN in Iraq, and now by the UN Office of Project Services in Copenhagen. Most recently, Ban's son in law has made legal threats to get stories about his hiring and qualifications removed from the Internet. The US, sometimes described as the home of the free press, has yet to speak on the appropriateness of the UN Secretary General's son in law seeking to censor media coverage of questions of UN nepotism.

   Other countries' Missions to the UN, meanwhile, have been more vocal in calling for improvements at the UN. From within Norway's Mission to the UN, that country's deputy ambassador to the UN Mona Juul wrote a memo criticizing Ban's performance on such issues as Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and even climate change. The memo speculated that the UK's John Holmes might take over the UN's Department of Political Affairs from Lynn Pascoe, a Bush appointee.

So what is the U.S. doing at and about the UN? Watch this site.

* * *

On Iran and Vendex, Sudan to No Bid Contracts, NYC Comptroller Candidates Square Off

By Matthew R. Lee

NEW YORK, August 19 -- Veering from issues of no bid contracts and corporate background checks, four candidates New York City Comptroller were asked by Inner City Press on Thursday morning if in investing City funds they would bar or penalize companies engaged in predatory lending, or which do business in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Burma or Iran. This being NYC, and all four candidates Democratic members of the City Council, the answers ranged from "yes" to "of course," with a few differences.

  Melinda Katz said that seven years ago, she proposed such a ban on companies "having anything to do with Hamas or Hezbollah." She added that when current Comptrollers Thompson and DiNapoli proposed divestment regarding Sudan and Iran, she applauded them. All four which she named are Islamic, unlike Burma and Sri Lanka were which asked about but ignored.

  John Liu also avoided mentioning the two Asian countries, along he answered generically about human rights violators. He expanded the question to companies with abusive human resources practices, and those which took Federal bailout funds and still pay huge bonuses to their executives.

  David Weprin said he was an early proponent of divestment in Sudan and Iran, based on genocide and terrorism respectively. He cited the precedent of the campaign against apartheid. He also reminded the audience that under Mario Cuomo he was a deputy superintendent of banks for New York State, and required in-state checks to clear in three days.

  David Yassky, who began the morning's debate by touting his endorsement by Felix Rohatyn, said he sponsored a ban on Sudan, and co-sponsored one on Iran. He said that the City should invest in companies whose profitability came from such places. As such, at least he admitted all moral decisions cannot be defended as economically best as well. Similarly, to an audience of human services professionals, he said that he is against member items in which Council members direct funds to specific groups.

Candidates Weprin, Liu, Yassky and Katz on 8/20/09, (c) M.R. Lee

   The event, held in the auditorium of PricewaterhouseCoopers on Madison Avenue, was co-sponsored by the United Way and the Human Services Council, and the other questions were focused on how slow the City is to disburse contract awards to non-profits and how burdensome the City's VENDEX background check is. John Liu joked that the audience seemed tired because they'll stayed up the night before filling out VENDEX forms. There was polite laughter and then the event was over.

Footnote: back in December 2007, Inner City Press put a similar question to Adolf Carrion, who had just announced he would run not for Mayor but Comptroller. Carrion said he would "also take into consideration the return for pensioners" -- click here for that story.

  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.

* * *

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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