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After Syria Vote, Dodging on Ahtisaari & Water-Down, Stonewall on Annan's Team

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 3, updated -- After the watered down Saudi resolution on Syria was adopted by the UN General Assembly with 133 in favor, 31 abstaining and 12 against, Inner City Press put the same two questions to the Permanent Representatives of the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

  The first question concerned why the resolution was watered down to drop explicit references to Assad stepping down and urging states to join in the Arab League sanctions on Syria.

   The second question, uniformly dodged, was for comment on the possibility of Maarti Ahtisaari replacing Kofi Annan as Syria envoy.  As Inner City Press tweeted early Friday morning, given Russia's position on Ahtisaari's Kosovo work, he seems unlikely.

Update: And Friday at 3:25 pm, Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Ahtisaari as envoy to Syria. "No, no. He is in deep retirment," Churkin exclusively told Inner City Press.

  UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant acknowledged that changes were made, but also said that the resolution was not intended to be balanced, because the action on the ground is not balanced. He said, "in response to the comments that had been made on their initial draft that it was better to make some amendments. And I think that the result today proves that to have been correct judgement because 133 votes in favor is a colossal majority."

  He would not comment on Ahtisaari: "I'm not going to comment on possible successors." Transcript below.

  French Ambassador Araud argued that the resolution STILL calls for Assad to step down, because it "welcomes" the Arab League's decision which call for just that.

  Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative said that the resolution, even as changed, still "meets the requirements" of the Arab League. He said he wouldn't comment on the process for choosing Kofi Annan's replacement "at this stage."

  Syria's Bashar Ja'afari insisted, as Araud did, that the resolution still calls for regime change. He said Saudi Arabia is hypocritical for urging others to join Arab League sanctions while voting each year for a resolution against unilateral sanctions.

  In the GA before the vote, the Qatari President of the GA started by saying the resolution was available in the Hall, an attempt to cure having posted a link to, and emailed out, the wrong draft, which included the explicit calls for sanctions and for Assad to step down.

  At the noon briefing, Secretariat spokesman Martin Nesirky declined to explain how this had happened, telling Inner City Press maybe it thought it was always perfect, but the UN admits its mistakes.

  No, Inner City Press is NOT perfect. And when will the UN finally admit it introduced cholera to Haiti?

   In his GA speech, Ban Ki-moon thanked Kofi Annan "and his team." Inner City Press missed speeches to run to the noon briefing to ask, for the second day in a row, if from Annan's team Messrs. Al Kidwa, Fawzi and Griffiths would all be leaving.

Nesirky claimed he answered the question on August 2 -- if he did, it wasn't understood, if these individuals will stay on with Maarti Ahtisaari or whomever -- then turned away from Inner City Press' follow up.

 Click here for the August 2 UN transcript, which even though it calls Inner City Press' detailed questions "inaudible," has Nesirky replying, "I've already answered that point and I said very clearly that the work of the Office of the Joint Special Envoy continues."

   But with the same people other than Annan? With Fawzi and Kidwa? Of Griffiths we'll have more.

In introducing the resolution, the Saudi Perm Rep said Annan quit because he felt "impotent." Later, Syria's Ja'afari would say that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey arming the rebels forced Annan to quit.

Iran also took this tack, blaming Annan quitting on those Security Council members who said they'd act outside of Council process.

Ecuador said the resolution seeks to change the mandate of the Special Envoy to please some states, and ended up abstaining, as did both India and Pakistan. Serbia voted yes, perhaps the product of the new government.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' Permanent Representative, who also abstained, noted a small but vibrant Syrian & Lebanese community there. One wag later characterized this as a call for tourism or refugees. And so it goes at the UN.

From the UK Mission's transcript:

Inner City Press: What should we make of the drafting for the draft, the call to joint sanctions of the Arab League and that Assad should step down? And also, if you’re willing to, what would the UK think of Martti Ahtisaari as a possible replacement as Joint Envoy? Do you think he has the toolsets to possibly do the 'Mission Impossible'?

Amb. Lyall Grant: "I'm not going to comment on possible successors. That is up to the UN Secretary-General together with the Secretary-General of the Arab League to decide. And I know they are discussing it between them as we speak.

"In terms of the draft, this was an Arab League draft. It went through a number of changes in the drafting process as a result of consultations with different groups and individuals in the United Nations. And they felt in response to the comments that had been made on their initial draft that it was better to make some amendments. And I think that the result today proves that to have been correct judgement because 133 votes in favor is a colossal majority."

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