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Syria Talks May Resume Feb 10, UN Warns Press Against "Propaganda," No Kurds or Iran

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 31 -- Before facilitator Lakhdar Brahimi gave his last press conference of the eight day of meetings on Syria in Geneva -- they may begin again on February 10 -- the UN told reporters accredited to the talks that rules had been broken, such as the distribution of propaganda, in the briefing room, for which journalists could be thrown out.

  It was a vague threat, particularly as the UN and its favorites distribute what could be called propaganda: for example, UN "news" stories about cholera in Haiti which do not mention that the UN brought the disease to the island.

  After Brahimi read a prepared statement the first three questions the UN selected were from Agence France-Presse, Al Arabiya and then German media. Propaganda, anyone?

   Brahimi recited that over 40 countries were at the first day of talks in Montreux. He did not mention that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had invited and then quickly dis-invited Iran, after the US demanded that the invitation be rescinded. Nor was this question, or media, taken on January 31.

    Rattling off ten points he said the two sides agree or nearly agree on, including no loss of Syrian territory or sovereignty, Brahimi also said the UN has no direct role in ensuring that the opposition delegation is more broadly representative. The word "Kurds" did not arise; the Kurds of Rojava are not in the Syrian National Coalition.

  Heading to Munich, Brahimi said he would meet Ban Ki-moon then the two would meet the two ministers, Lavrov and Kerry. One wondered: what, no Mike Bloomberg?

  Brahimi proposed that the Syria talks resume on February 10 in Geneva; he said the SNC agreed but the Syrian delegation said they had to consult. According to what the UN said before Brahimi began, there will be new media "rules" announced or enforced for those talks. What will "no propaganda" mean?

  Among the problems here is the UN's unwillingness to explain its rules. After the media was banned from photographing or filming outside the Geneva meetings, Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UN spokespeople in New York and Geneva to explain why. In New York, spokesperson Farhan Haq said, "Ask Geneva." The spokesperson there never put anything in writing, rather conveyed by phone through another, professionally but without addressing the negative precedent set, that the two sides had requested it.

   On January 30, the SNC's vaunted social media team (or "Official account of the Syrian National Coalition Media Unit in Geneva process") tweeted that "this morning in Geneva 2 our delegation asked that meeting start with a minuteís silence for the victims of Assad."

  Hours later in Washington, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki spoke of this as a good sign, then quoted Brahimi as the basis of her statement. (That the US shows more respect to Brahimi than Ban Ki-moon, whom they successfully ordered to UN-invite Iran, is another story).

  That the Syria government side agreed to the moment of silence would seem to indicate they didn't agree to silence for "Assad's victims." A reporter asked that if there is a communique on January 31, it be put out in writing and in the afternoon, before the "radios shut down." A bit behind the times, but hey - this is the UN.

  In New York on January 29 Inner City Press asked Iran's Permanent Representative Khazaee about missing anything at the talks in Montreux, from which the UN dis-invited Iran.

  It worked out better this way, Khazaee told Inner City Press, on his way into the Security Council to give a speech on War and Its Lessons.

  On January 27, Inner City Press asked why journalists were being banned from filming near the entrance to the Syria talks. Haq said, Ask Geneva, but the spokesperson there did not answer. So the Free UN Coalition for Access raised the issue, as a negative precedent.  The belated answer that came was that the two delegations, government and SNC, had requested it. Still, what about the precedent? Asked another way, can Jarba limit freedom of the press INSIDE the UN?

  After current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invited and then UNinvited Iran to the Syria talks in Montreux, former Secretary General Kofi Annan announced he and three other Elders would visit Iran.

 On January 27, Inner City Press asked Ban's acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq if Annan's talks in Iran are coordinated in any way with Ban or Lakhdar Brahimi, and why journalists covering the talks in Geneva were banned from filming or photographing the Syrian or opposition delegations entering or leaving the UN. Video here.

  Haq replied, We don't speak for the Elders, and said to put the media access question to his counterpart in Geneva. Inner City Press did, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, so far without answer.

  On January 27, Brahimi said that SNC would "try to" produce a list of people kidnapped or detained by armed groups in Syria. But then he admitted the obvious: there are armed groups the SNC doesn't control or have contact with.

  An obvious question would be: what percentage of armed opposition in Syria does the SNC represent? But no one asked it. Instead, Agence France Presse asked Brahimi about Srebrenica, why a list of males in Old City Homs would be produced. 

  Did AFP raise this when the UN in South Sudan separated Dinka from Nuer? When France in Central African Republic disarmed the predominately Muslim ex-Seleka and left Muslim communities to be attacked by Christian anti-Balaka, as even Navi Pillay has said?  AFP serves not only France -- pass through on Francois Hollande's break-up note, for example -- abut also the UN, giving easy interviews to the UN's envoy on cholera in Haiti, where the UN introduced the disease.

   Brahimi said he is going day to day; on January 27 he will meet with the two sides together, speaking through him, then separately. Why aren't the Kurds of Rojava, for example, represented in the talks?

  Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as Martti Ahtisaari, Desmond Tutu and Ernesto Zedillo, will be in Iran from January 26 to 29, to discuss among other things "mutual respect" and peace in the region: that is, Syria.

  This comes after current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on January 20 reversed his "decision" of the previous day of inviting Iran to the Syria talks in Montreux. The contrast, some say, couldn't be clearer.

   (Among those not making the obvious comparison was Reuters editor in chief Stephen Adler, bylined on a dispatch from Davos identifying Annan as "Ex-Syria Envoy." Under Adler's watch, Reuters at least through its UN bureau has degenerated into a pass-through for Western missions, also seeking to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN then mis-using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to try to cover it it: that is, censor it from Google's Search. Click here for that story. DMCA filing here, via

   Now in Geneva Syria's Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar al Ja'afari is speaking for the government. In New York, Ban's spokesperson's office has refused to answer a detailed "note verbale" from the Syrian mission about inaccurate answers to Press questions about who attack UN peacekeepers in the Golan.

 On January 20 in the Security Council, Ja'afari complained again of inaction on complaints by Herve Ladsous, the fourth French head of UN Peacekeeping in a row. This is why the UN is not even the lead mediator on South Sudan, much less the Middle East or Syria.

Ending the Syria speeches in Montreux on January 22, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called them "productive." Then his spokesperson accused some non-Western media of being "disrespectful of the Secretary General of the UN," after he gave the last two questions to Bloomberg and NHK.  How was it productive?

   Even before the afternoon session began, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius took to the Montreux stakeout to say Syrian foreign minister Moallem was "aggressive." This is the same Fabius who in September at the UN declared Ahmad al Jarba the leader of the Syrian people, and refused to take critical questions from the media including about his country's practices.

   Australia was represented not by foreign minister Julie Bishop but rather its Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Peter Woolcott (who also chairs a humanitarian high level group on Syria, it's been pointed out to Inner City Press.).  Bishop is on Washington, and soon New York.

   Ahmad al Jarba spoke next to last, thanking Saudi Arabia, viewed as his sponsor, as if in an Oscars speech. Ban Ki-moon wrapped up, calling it productive and asking the assembled (hand-picked, without Iran) minister to "wish [him] luck" as he went to speak to the media.

  There, the questions were chosen much as they are at the UN in New York, as documented and critiqued by the Free UN Coalition for Access -- but in Montreux, this was actively protested. (FUNCA also questioned the UN citing Ban's press conference as a basis to cancel its noon briefing in New York, on South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and other countries in which the UN is at least somewhat less marginal or US dominated.)

  When John Kerry held his press conference, only four questions were taken: CBS, a Turkish media, BBC and Al Hurra, on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors John Kerry himself serves. Freedom of the press at today's US State Department we covered yesterday, here.

After the UN's craven reversal on including Iran in the Syria session in Montreux, it has turned out to be a series of speeches mostly by countries significantly less important to that conflict and the region.

   In the morning session on January 22, Italy and Spain spoke and Japan offered money. Turkey spoke without mentioning the Kurds -- but neither did supposed representative of the range of Syrian opposition Ahmad al Jarba.

   Since Jarba's Saudi-sponsored, Saud al Faisal called him "Excellency," pomp like Jarba's faux "UN briefing" with Gulf and Western media in July.

   Using his PresidentJarba Twitter account, on which Inner City Press previously reported, Jarba repeated his own speech. Turns out he follows Anonymous, among only 51 follows. Who knew?

   The UK's William Hague's microphone went dead; when it came back on he bemoaned the lack of a women's delegation to the talks. The UN did not push for this on Syria, nor on South Sudan - but Ban Ki-moon highlighted that for a moment, how ever brief, there was a woman in both the Syria and (Jarba) Syrian National Coalition seat. Call it a photo op.

  Behind Hague was a UN alumni, the UK's former political coordinator in the Security Council David Quarrey. His Russian counterpart Vladimir Safronkov was also there, in Sergey Lavrov's delegation.

  Ban Ki-moon announced a lunch break until 2:45 pm, to be followed by 18 more speakers, then the Syria and SNC speakers like rights of reply. What did people think these speeches would accomplish. We'll have a separate story on that soon.

  At the UN on January 21, Inner City Press asked Haq for the UN's response to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif saying "Ban Ki-moon contacted me several times last week and I stated to him explicitly that we donít accept any preconditions for participating in the meeting. We regret that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn his offer and believe that such an attitude is not appropriate for the status and dignity of the Secretary-General."

  Haq said Ban believed he had "oral understandings" with Zarif.

  Inner City Press asked Haq, since the Geneva I Communique requires a commitment to a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms, how are Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which are among those still providing weapons and more to armed groups in Syria, invited to Montreux? Where's Ban's dismay at that?

   Haq said that Ban is dismayed at the militarization of the conflict. Video here.

  Earlier on January 21, Inner City Press spoke with Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin about Ban Ki-moon about-face.

  Churkin told Inner City Press, exclusively, "some people let him down, and not necessarily the Iranians."

  Others have analogized Ban to the American Charlie Brown, kicking at empty space when the football is taken away at the last second. Was Ban Ki-moon set up?

   Since the Geneva I Communique requires a commitment to a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms, how for example are Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which provide weapons and more to armed groups in Syria, invited to Montreux?
   Also, where are the Kurds?  Those who actually control territory in the north, Rojava, are not part of Ahmad al Jarba's turkey-based Syrian Coalition, and were not separately invited to the talks. What about their dismay? We'll have more on this.

   On January 20, Inner City Press asked Iran's Ambassador about Ban's dismay or disappointment. Video here.

 Outside the UN Security Council later on January 20, Inner City Press asked Iranian Permanent Representative to the UN Khazaee about Ban having been "dismayed" by the Iranian foreign ministry's spokesperson's comments.

  Kazaee replied, "I think all of you are very well aware about the consistency in our position about G2, so the high political officials are expected to act based on realities."

   Yes, realities: minutes after Ban's spokesperson's disinvitation announcement, Jarba's Syrian Opposition Coalition returned to the position voted on with 44 members absent: they will attend the talks in Switzerland.

  Earlier, after Ban's spokesperson's statement Iran's Khazaee said (and his spokesperson sent to Inner City Press) --

"The   Islamic Republic of Iran appreciates the efforts of the UN Secretary General and his special envoy, Mr. Brahimi in finding a political solution for Syrian crisis. Iran has always been supportive of finding a political solution for this crisis. 

"However the Islamic Republic of Iran does not accept any preconditions for its participation in Geneva II conference. If the participation of Iran is conditioned to accept Geneva I communique, Iran will not participate in Geneva II conference."

  After that arrived, Inner City Press asked Syrian Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari about Iran's statement. He replied, "My sincere advice, don't waste your time on this issue -- they will be there."  Then he went into the Security Council, where Syria is listed as the 35th of 47 speakers on the Middle East, with Iran 39th.  What will they say? Watch this site.

 At 12:30 pm on January 20, Inner City Press asked Nesirky if Ban is equally dismayed at the Syrian National Coalition's spokesperson calling Ban's bait and switch invite "immoral, even in politics."  Nesirky declined to specifically express dismay at this comment, only saying that a number of comments have been disappointing.  "This one?" Nesirky would not answer.

  Given the SNC's 2 pm ultimatum on Ban to disinvite Iran, Inner City Press asked Nesirky if the invitation to the SNC was the only one to non-Assad Syrians, or if for example Kurds could be invited. Nesirky said: one unified delegation. Hardly -- 44 members of the SNC already dropped out before the vote to attend. What would the vote count be now?

Before the Middle East meeting of the UN Security Council on January 20, the Permanent Representatives of France, the UK and Russia spoke to the press about Iran being invited to the Syria talks beginning in Montreux January 22.

  Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, which Bashar Assad called a proxy state of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, said the ball is in the court of Iran, to explicitly accept Geneva I. The UK's Mark Lyall Grant said the UK position is that Iran must clarify, publicly, that it accepts Geneva I.

  Others ask why should Iran accept a communique of Geneva I to which it was not invited. Others say Iran does in its way accept the communique - it just interprets it differently.

  Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin said "of course" the US had been consulted before Iran was invited. If the SNC now does not attend, Churkin said, it would be a "big mistake."

   Ban Ki-moon went into the Security Council suite with a big entourage; there was a time he was not on UNTV in the chamber. Inner City Press can report that UNTV technicians were asked to pipe in a feed of the public meeting into a side room. There was talk of Ban's selective meetings, using the code name EU P2.

  The Istanbul based Syrian National Coalition set a deadline of 2 pm in New York on January 20 for the invitation to be rescinded.

  Soner Ahmed, an SNC spokesman, said Ban "waited to invite Iran until after the coalitionís decision to attend the conference. That is immoral, even in politics."

    Ban previously met with the SNC's Ahmad al Jarba in Ban's UN provided residence; when the Free UN Coalition for Access asked why it had not been on his schedule, the meeting was called personal.  Now, things have really gotten personal.

  Among UNanswered questions is whether the SNC would or would have brought any Kurdish representatives, and why or whether the Kurds will not now be invited.

  Saudi Arabia shot back at the invitation of Iran by saying they should not attend because it "has military forces in Syria." But doesn't Uganda have fighting forces in South Sudan, while being a member of "mediator" IGAD? UN-consistency.

   Ban made his Iran invitation announcement in a hastily thrown together press conference held Sunday evening in an nearly empty UN building, on barely an hour's notice.

Nevertheless, Ban's spokesperson automatically gave the first question to the United Nations Correspondents Association, a partisan group which for example held a faux "UN briefing" for Ahmad al Jarba of the Turkey-based Syrian Coalition. Click here for Inner City Press story on that.

Ban Ki-moon dodged and did not answer on the weakness of Jarba's Coalition, from which over 40 members decided not to attend the vote approving attended at the talks in Switzerland. Nor until the end of this press conference did Ban mention the inclusion of women. Has he asked Jarba about that?

  Ban said he spoke with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who "committed to play a constructive and positive role." Ban repeated this line when asked about the litmus test of accepting that Geneva II is about Geneva I which was about "establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers" -- on mutual consent, whatever that means.

  Ban also announced supplemental invitations to Montreux for, among others, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands and, yes, South Korea.

  It was at 4:21 pm that the UN sent out an email that Ban would appear for a "brief and important statement" in the UN at 5:30 pm. When that time arrived, the so-called UNCA chair (or "Holy Seat") on which the UN has affixed a metal tag was filled -- and from that seat a complaint was made to try to get another correspondent moved.

  UNCA's president Pamela Falk of CBS was not there; nor was her first vice president, who nonetheless was heard to call into the room. It is time to end the practice of the UN automatically giving the first question to UNCA - a group of which executive committee members tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN (and to get leaked documents removed from Google's search under a specious DMCA filing by Reuters' bureau chief) and which has not reformed in any way since then.

The Free UN Coalition for Access additionally asks why this announcement was made this way. There is more and more staging at the UN, faux Q&A and UNTV footage put out hoping it will be used as B roll. The UN should be more transparent, less of a scam. We'll have more on this.


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