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On Syria, France Sends "Political" Letter, Russia Wants Iran & Saudi

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 16 -- As the UN Observer Mission in Syria dies off to be replaced by a Liaison Office with military advisers, the question is why.

  Inner City Press asked French Ambassador Gerard Araud, this month's Security Council president, if the letter he's sending to Ban Ki-moon giving the Council's OK to the Liaison Office is in any way legally required, as the Secretariat has such offices in many countries without Council involvement.

  Araud said he wasn't sure if it's required legally, but the Council wanted to send a political message.

  So too does Russia. On the way into the meeting at 10 am, Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was asked, "Do you have proposals?" He said with a smile, "Yes we do, yes we do." And he did.

Russia proposed a meeting, the next day August 17, of Ambassadors of the so-called Action Group on Syria that met in Geneva on June 30: the Permanent Five members of the Security Council and other countries: Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey.

But Russia also wants some involvement by Iran and Saudi Arabia. For the Geneva meeting, Inner City Press reported, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatened to not participate if Iran did.

So Inner City Press on August 16 asked Churkin HOW Iran will participate, since "another P5 member" is so opposed.

  Churkin said the meeting will be in the same format as the Action Group, but Iran and Saudi Arabia will participate in some other way: "my intention is also to involve in that discussion in other formats the ambassadors of Iran and Saudi Arabia."

While the US election has taken a turn to Medicare and Medicaid, Iran's involvement could catch a notice. Inner City Press followed up off camera and learned that the idea is for Iran and Saudi Arabia to issue separate calls for all parties to stop the violence by a certain deadline. Even this might catch notice.

Inner City Press ran to the UN noon briefing and asked Ban Ki-moon deputy spokesman Eduardo Del Buey the same question it had asked Araud: will this Liaison Office be a so-called Special Political Mission, like the ones in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan? Or will it just come out of the budget of the UN Department of Political Affairs under Jeffrey Feltman?

Araud said he'd head it was a political mission, but wasn't sure. Del Buey said it hasn't been decided yet. Del Buey also only half answered Inner City Press' other questions -- on Nigerian peacekeepers being sent home for underperformance in Darfur, he said "ask DPKO." Inner City Press pointed out that DPKO chief Herve Ladsous is on record as not answer any questions from Inner City Press.

But back at the stakeout, Ladsous deputy Edmond Mulet DID point at Inner City Press and take two questions. He said UNSMIS could not confirm any shoot down of a jet by the Free Syrian Army -- which seems strange, given UNSMIS' previous claims to have local sources throughout the country -- and when asked by Inner City Press what the military counselors would do, he renamed them.

He said that military advisers will advise the head of the office, and even do "fact finding." But, he said, they cannot be called observers without a Security Council resolution. And so it goes at the UN.

Q&A with ASG Edmond Mulet, DPKO's transcript:

Question (Matthew Lee, Inner City Press): There was this discussion, you mentioned, of military counsellors. What do you think the role, in this office, of the military… who they will be counselling? Also I wanted to know the existing  UNSMIS… there was a lot of news about a jet being shot down by the Free Syrian Army, I wonder… this was a couple of days ago, they have shown the reported pilot on TV… Does DPKO or UNSMIS have no idea whether the plane was shot down or not, whether this is really the pilot… do you have any idea on that in terms of presence you do have on the ground?

ASG Mulet: The mission on the ground, our current military observers on the ground, did not observe, were not informed of this downing of this airplane so we have no information on that.

On your first question regarding what their role would be, there would not be military observers anymore. For that we would need a Security Council mandate and this office will be established under the prerogatives of the Secretary-General. So they will be military advisers. We don’t know yet how many of them will be working there, but there is going to be a small group advising the head of the liaison office in Damascus on military affairs. We will still keep a United Nations Mine Action Service Unit also in the mission, a Human Rights component in that office also.

So the military advisers will also be dealing with fact-finding missions, try to occupy and use as much space as the conditions on the ground will allow them to do their work.

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