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As France Slips or Spins on "Temporary" Step Down by Assad, Russia Says No, Syria Blames Qatar, US Bases

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 27 -- After a new draft resolution "tracking the Arab League" was introduced Friday in the UN Security Council, a Monday meeting at the experts level was scheduled.

  The Council's president for January, Baso Sangqu of South Africa, told Inner City Press that these "expert consultations" will concern both Russia's draft from December and the one introduced on Friday.

  Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who said the Russian draft "has been overtaken," but said that portions of Russia's draft were in the new one. Told their draft was "overtaken," two Russian diplomats on the margins of the stakeout laughed.

  More formally, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that Russia will not accept any resolution calling for regime change in Syria. French Ambassador Gerard Araud told the press on Friday that only a "temporary" step down by Bashar al Assad is being asked for.

  Pressed, he said to go and read the underlying Arab League documents, maybe he misread them, being tired.

  South Africa's Sangqu told Inner City Press, the Security Council didn't agree to follow the African Union position on Libya -- so, by implication, there's no pressure or precedent to strictly follow the Arab League on Syria.

  Inner City Press asked Araud and German Ambassador Peter Wittig to respond to this critique. Both said that each case is separate. From the German Mission's transcript:

Inner City Press: [Does Germany agree] with French Ambassador Araud that what this draft is calling for is just a temporary step down by Assad and what do you make of South Africa’s argument – you were just saying that we have to follow what the Arab League said – they said that the Council did not follow what the African Union said on Libya and that is one of the reasons they don’t accept [inaudible]"

Wittig: "Every case is specific. Now we are dealing with Syria. We are dealing with the plan of the Arab League. We want to be reflecting what the Arab League wants. As I said, we want to support it; we don’t want to put ourselves in the driver’s seat, that is the role of the Arab League. So we want to reflect as meticulously as possible on the decisions of the Arab League."

   Of course, the Security Council did not find that it was in the African Union's role to be "in the driver's seat" on Libya. Araud in his answer appeared to have forgotten that a draft Presidential Statement supporting the African Union plan on Libya was opposed and never adopted.

  After Araud left, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said the French journalists in Homs was killed by "the armed groups," citing the Arab League monitoring report, but said "you won't hear that from the French ambassador."

(c) UN Photo
Araud does stakeout, "temporary" step down by Assad not shown

  Earlier before the Council meeting broke up, Inner City Press asked around about support for the Arab League's proposals. One well placed diplomat told Inner City Press, "Of course the Arab League is split. Algeria doesn't support it, nor Iraq or of course Sudan."

  Inner City Press pointed out that Sudan did support the ouster of Gaddafi from Libya, although only because he supported Darfur's rebels, particularly the Justice and Equality Movement.

  The diplomat went on, "Egypt doesn't support. But if Tunisia joins, it would be hard for Egypt not to, given 'The Street.' Really what these Arab states want is for Russia to engage. Russia's been told by the opposition they could still play a post-Assad role, it's not too late."

  Another opined that with Putin's (re) election coming up, backing down is unlikely. Russia's Churkin has several times contrasted the push on Syria with the US' approach to Bahrain: telling the opposition they cannot use force.

  The first diplomat replied, "they could have done that in April, there were press elements out there to send that message, but the BRICS blocked it all." But did the Western powers show flexibility, as they did, shamefully to some, in essence embracing impunity for Yemen's Ali Saleh?

  "Saleh was smart," a political coordinator opined. "He said yes, they played for time. And now he's at a luxury hospital in New York." If so, which one? Or as another source tells Inner City Press, could Saleh be heading to Morocco, like Dadis Camera did? Watch this site.

Footnote: as the last stakeout of the day, Syrian Ambassador Ja'afari took to the microphone to say, We will not be Libya or Iraq, we will not be Somalia, we will not be a failed state. He described Qatar jumping the gun on the Arab League monitoring report, and regime change "by January 22" having been predicted on "Doha-based Al Jazeera."

  Inner City Press asked him to say more about Qatar, given similar comments previously by Libyan diplomat Shalgam. Ja'afari didn't shy away, saying that Qatar is "tiny... half occupied by American military bases" and uses "petrodollars" to increase its influence. One wag whispered: it's natural gas.

  Of his statement that the Arab League report blames the "armed groups" for the killing of the French journalist in Homs, Ja'afari said "you won't hear that" not only from French Ambassador Araud but also not from "Ban Ki-moon," the UN Secretary General on Friday in Davos.

  One wanted to ask Ja'afari for his view of Ban Ki-moon accepting free private jet travel from Qatar, but then again, to mix a UN reform and transparency issue with such a stakeout might not be the right way to proceed.

Inner City Press asked Ja'afari if he will speak at the Security Council's Tuesday afternoon meeting with Qatar's minister called HBJ and the Arab League's El-Arabi. "Yes I will speak," Ja'afari said. Watch this site.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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