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French Warship Sales to Russia Arises with BNP, Araud's Off Record Games

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 5 -- After French diplomats told different stories about the sale of Mistral warships to Russia in Paris and Washington, and dodged or refused the question in New York at and near the UN, US President Obama spoke of it June 5.

  Speaking in Brussels flanked by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama said:

I have expressed some concerns -- and I don't think I'm alone in this -- about continuing significant defense deals with Russia at a time when they have violated basic international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their neighbors. So President Hollande understands my position. I recognize that this is a big deal. I recognize that the jobs in France are important. I think it would have been preferable to press the pause button. President Hollande so far has made a different decision.

   Meanwhile Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius are lobbying to get BNP Paribas off the hook for violating sanctions on Sudan and Iran. They denounce sanctions violations by others, but defend their own.

   Last month French Ambassador Gerard Araud declared a question and answer session at a Manhattan law firm to be off record, though that was never said in the solicitation to come for the cost of $20.

Inner City Press went to the event, intending to ask Araud to reconcile his florid speeches on Ukraine in the Security Council with France's continued sale of Mistral warships to Russia, a question Araud previously refused to answer at the Council stakeout.

   But in the same week Araud was quoted by name in La Croix and elsewhere as saying to reporters that the Mistral sale continues, is not impacted by sanctions "'les Mistral ne sont pas concernés par les sanctions,' a assuré Gérard Araud, représentant permanent de la France auprès de l’Onu." Click here for La Croix.

   It is mysterious, Araud unilaterally pulling a bait and switch at the $20 law firm event and calling it off the record, then being quoted on the record bragging of Mistral sales.

  This is not like Spanish actor Javier Bardem quoting Araud as calling Morocco France's "mistress" on the Western Sahara issue, then Araud denying it and talking about filing a lawsuit (which he hasn't filed yet) - this is a direct quote, in at least two publications.

  Inner City Press previously got an answer from US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf on the US' view of France's Mistral sales to Russia. From the State Department's March 14, 2014 transcript:

Inner City Press: on Ukraine, one question that’s come up is, in terms of sanctions is France has this big deal where it’s selling Mistral warships to Russia, and it’s said that it’s going forward. What does the United States think of that sale of military hardware?

MS. HARF: Well, decisions about these kind of sales are obviously a matter for each sovereign state to take into account including a host of factors – obviously, international law, regional stability. We would hope that any country would exercise judgment and restraint when it comes to transferring military equipment that could exacerbate tensions in any conflict region. In general, I think that certainly applies here.

   As Araud nears the end of his time at the UN, there are many questions he should be asked but has been avoiding.

  For example, if his speeches about Russia in Ukraine are France's position, why is the French sale of Mistral warships to Russia still going forward? Inner City Press asked this at the UN Security Council stakeout but Araud declined to answer.

And as simply another example while Araud claims to have taken no position to oppose a human rights monitoring mechanism in Western Sahara, this is called into question by an answer he gave Inner City Press in 2013, when he still answered Press questions, about bilateral dialogue with Morocco being the best way.

  Many beyond Inner City Press find Araud's position unclear, or as some put it, hypocritical.

  So when publicly on Twitter there appeared an opportunity to ask questions to Araud, albeit for $20, Inner City Press signed up, to "welcome Ambassador Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, to discuss French priorities at the United Nations. Araud will address efforts to allow UN Security Council action regarding the crisis in Syria, as well as French and UN initiatives to allow stabilization in the Central African Republic and in Mali."

   Nowhere did it say it was on background or off the record. The money was accepted, confirmation sent.

  And on May 1, after a UN briefing about the Central African Republic, Inner City Press rushed up to the venue, in a second floor law firm conference room in the Citigroup building.

  Inside the audience was affluent, business people in suits. There were oatmeal raisin cookies and at a conference table, Araud was answering questions. Then he said, repeatedly, "This is off the record."

  Is it legitimate? Why would one publicize an appearance and Q&A by Araud, for money, with no mention of its being off the record -- and then make it off the record? Why was Araud's spokesperson Frederic Jung there for this "off the record" Q&A with business people?

  In Washington last Friday, John Kerry spoke at the Trilateral Commission under announced in advance off the record rules, but a tape was obtained and the rest is history. Here, the event was never said in advance to be off the record, and money was accepted.

  While Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access, which has asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric to convey to Araud and his presumptive successor Jacques Audibert the UN's stated position that correspondents should be treated with respect -- this after Araud on the record and on camera told a reporter, not this one, that "You are not a journalist, you are an agent" -- fully support the reporting on Kerry's Trilateral talk, in this report there are no quotes. But there are questions. Watch this site.


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