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UN's Failure to Go to Khan Al Asal UNexplained, Like Ban's Jarba Meetings

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 5 -- Why didn't the UN chemical weapons team ever go to Khan al Assal, which Syria asked them to visit back in March 2013? First the UN demanded access to other sites. Then once in Damascus, it dropped Khan al Assal in favor of al Ghouta - then left the country.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared the result report by Ake Sellstrom "overwhelming" before he even saw it. Then he sent Sellstrom back from September 25 to September 30. Finally it seemed Khan al Assal would be visited.

But it wasn't, the UN has yet to explain why. Inner City Press asked on both October 3 and was told the answer was in a previous transcript. But it wasn't. So Inner City Press asked again on October 4, transcript and video here and below:

From the UN's October 3 transcript:

Inner City Press: Angela Kane says that she, in hindsight, regrets not having simply gone to Khan al-Asal, but instead, having requested to go to other sites which led to these, these monthsí delay; so, one, I wanted to know whether the Secretary-General also has that analysis that the delay may have actually played some role in the further use of chemical weapons. And I also wanted to know whether the [Ňke] SellstrŲm team, in their most recent visit, just to be sure: did they, did they actually get out to Khan al-Asal?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I have already answered that, Matthew: no, they did not.

Inner City Press: Alright. So, why not? Thatís what, Iíd only learned yesterday, I may, I might have missed your earlier answer, but why didnít they go where they were initially going to speci--

Spokesperson: I answered that, as well.

Inner City Press: Okay. Can you say why?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Read the transcript.

Then, after Inner City Press reported on this exchange in a story about Ban Ki-moon's meeting, with Angela Kane present, with Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif, Nesirky's office sent this:

Subject: Your question at the Noon Briefing
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Thu, Oct 3, 2013 at 4:58 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

In reference to your question at the [October 3] Noon Briefing, the Spokesperson said the following at the Noon briefing on 30 September 2013:

Question: Thank you, Martin. Just had a quick question about Dr. SellstrŲmís mission: Does that mean he wonít go back to Syria now, now that he is finalizing the report and they didnít go to Khan al-Assal in the end?

Spokesperson: They are now heading out of Syria with the aim of finalizing their report. And I will be able to provide details on where they have been, but not right at this moment. They have not visited Khan al-Assal to my knowledge. But that does not mean that they have not been able to collect a large body of information, which they had been doing in any case in the lead up to their initial visit and then to their return. And so, if I have any more details, I will let you know. And I know also that they will now be seeking to marshal all of the information that they do have with the aim of putting that report together by the end of October, as we just said.

Inner City Press published the above in full, while still asking: why? And the next day on October 4, Inner City Press asked again:

Inner City Press: I did read the transcript; itís not like I donít read these things and it was sent to me again, I just want to... forgetting the transcript and without any disrespect, I just wanted a simple answer why the UN never went to Khan al-Asal. And I read, I read it a number of times; maybe I am being dense, but was it that it they couldnít get there? Was it that the, the, the, it was too deteriorated? I am not suggesting those are the reasons, I just want to know what the reason is.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, it does say, not in that particular part that you have in front of you; it does say on 30 September, that transcript from Monday, or letís be clear about it: I said there are a number of reasons, potential reasons. And one of those includes that with the passage of time, it becomesÖ I donít think you expect me, I know you are reading what I said, you donít think youíd expect me to say exactly what I said on Monday?

Inner City Press: I am asking you a kind of a substantive question; what would you say to those who say itís, it is a shame that if the request, the initial request to go to Syria was to visit this one place, it seems to cry, to call out for an answer of why what was initially requested was not done.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Right, right, so, listen: As I have said, as I have said here a number of times, there are a number of factors why it was not possible or feasible to go. And one of those is that with the passage of time, there is a deterioration of the material that could be used for sampling, and, therefore, to help decide whether chemical weapons were used or not. But as I also said, there is a portfolio of different ways that the team, the investigation team, can gather evidence and try to determine at a distance whether chemical weapons were used. Thatís one of the possible constraints. Another is obviously security. And with regard to the broader question about the passage of time, everybody knows that it was not for want of trying that the team did not get there until August. As you well know from March, there was extremely hard work done on both sides ó meaning the Syrian authorities and the United Nations in the form of the Office for Disarmament Affairs ó to make this work. It was not easy. And thatís been plainly said by any number of people, including the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. But the fact of the matter is that everyone persevered because there was an interest to get in. And eventually, they were able to get in and they were able then to determine that chemical weapons had indeed been used in that incident on 21 August; and they furthermore have continued both outside and then, on a subsequent visit to Syria that ended on Monday, to gather material so that they can present a final report at the end of this month.

  That says why the UN thought it wasn't WORTH going to Khan al Asal, not why they COULDN'T go to the spot that Syria had asked them to visit. It's like Ban Ki-moon meeting at his (UN-provided) residence with Saudi-sponsored Syria rebel boss Ahmad al Jarba -- a reflection of where Ban is coming from.

  Footnote: Ban's partners in the UN Correspondents Association, whose Executive Committee is dominated by Gulf and Western media from Al Arabiya and Reuters, where as Nesirky points out he worked for 25 years (video here), hosted Jarba for a faux UN briefing in July, on which Nesirky refused to answer questions by the Free UN Coalition for Access @FUNCA_info about whether this really WAS a "UN briefing," and why this room is given by the UN to a partisan organization. We'll have more on this. Watch this site.


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