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Australia Atop UNSC, Of Sanctions & Iraq, Balance Questioned, Access Vowed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 4 -- When Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan got the UN Security Council program of work agreed to for his month as Council president on November 4, an item was added to that afternoon's schedule at this request: Burkina Faso.

  Inner City Press, staking-out the Council meeting, heard that Burkina Faso and the ouster of Blaise Compaore would be addressed that afternoon, and reported it - but not who had requested it. Since France has “held the pen” on its other former colonies from Mali to Central African Republic, some assumed they'd made the request. But, in perhaps a good sign, it was Australia.

  After the day's UN noon briefing, Quinlan and at least three members of his team came to brief the press. Quinlan gave a more detailed than usual opening statement, far from uninteresting, and then the questions -- and to some, the problems -- began.

  The first question was set aside for the old UN Correspondents Association, a former Reuters reporter who asked about “The Ukraine.” Next came France 24, then Agence France Presse and a US state media.

  At that point Inner City Press, on behalf of the new Free UN Coalition for Access, noted that the correspondent for Al Mayadeen, with a different perspective, stood up and walked out. Was it a message?

  Seems so: the next was Associated Press and then Newsweek / Israel Radio, with questions about the Golan Heights and North Korea. Inner City Press, called on next, thanked Quinlan for FUNCA and asked that he hold Q&A stakeouts after each closed consultation. (He said, to his credit, that's the plan.)

  Inner City Press asked the legal basis for airstrikes on Syria and if international law wouldn't be better served by seeking Security Council approval. Quinlan said no member of the Council has brought it up, and that his own country is acting in Iraq under a request from that country's government, and is sending a couple hundred trainers.

Quinlan has scheduled a briefing and, he hopes, adoption of a “technical” resolution on sanctions for November 25. Inner City Press asked him about the “regime change” letter by Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group expert Dinesh Mahtani, which it exclusively published and which led to Mahtani's resignation. Mahtani's letter, here, referred twice to Australia.

Quinlan said the training and qualification of experts will be discussed and addressed, and that impartiality “must be a given.” We'll have more on this.

  The briefing continued with Voice of America - a second US state media, both under the US Broadcasting Board of Governors; perhaps for that reason after the former Reuters UN reporter was called on, the current stood in the back with a member of the Australian mission delegation.

  Then, described as the last question, came Al Jazeera, saying it “heard” that Burkina Faso would be addressed in the Council and asking when). The briefing was set to end -- when there was a (polite) rebellion.

A reporter from Armenian media said she had her hand raised the whole time, and asked about Ukraine. Quinlan to his credit decided to stay and answer. Here's hoping its a harbinger of the coming Security Council month, at least in terms of accessibility to the media. Watch this site.


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