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On Syria, UK Admits Further Steps Not Automatic, Hezbollah Cut UNexplained

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 22, updated with UK transcript -- After the UN Security Council voted 15-0 to adopt the modified draft humanitarian resolution on Syria on February 22, Inner City Press asked UK Permanent Representative Mark Lyall Grant about his Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin's statement that there is no "automaticity" to further steps in the event of non-compliance.

  Lyall Grant to his credit acknowledged that is true, that a separate Security Council action (which could be vetoed) would be necessary to take such further steps: "Ambassador Churkin is right that there would need to be a further decision by the Security Council if specific action under articles 41 or article 42 were to be taken."

  But he said the compromise language that remained in the final resolution was stronger than formulations that had triggered vetoes in the past. Transcript below.

 Chinese Permanent Representative Liu Jieyi came out to give his country's view on the resolution; Inner City Press then asked him how the resolution applies to groups like Al Nusra and ISIS or ISIL, to Syrian communities like in Al Raqqa?  He replied that it applies to everyone.

  French Ambassador Gerard Araud spoke in French and while he did, his spokesperson Frederic Jung gesticulated at the UN (or outsourced Team People) boom microphone operator to whom to give the questions. Two of the three were in French, the other was from France 24.  Inner City Press asked, What about Hezbollah being dropped from the resolution? Araud walked off.

  The proposers of the resolution, Jordan, Australia (calling for ICC action) and Luxembourg (saying non-compliance would trigger further action) all spoke, as did US Ambassador Samantha Power. Like UK Lyall Grant, she said that the reference to (non-automatic) further steps was stronger than a formulation vetoed in the past.  But as Lyall Grant candidly acknowledged, the further steps are NOT automatic.

  From the original draft by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan, omitted in the final resolution were references to the International Criminal Court, Hezbollah and Quds Force, an explicit reference to the threat of sanctions, and specifics on cross border aid from Turkey and Iraq.

  After the vote, but still in the Chamber, first Luxembourg then Australia praised their work -- which was refreshing from non-Permanent, elected members. Some found Australia's position at odds with how it treats asylum seekers, and for its relatedly anti-immigration position for impunity for Sri Lanka, for example. This question was not taken at the stakeout.

  To not leave them out, Nigeria referred to a proposal, highlighted by Argentina, to stop all introduction of arms into Syria. Rwanda spoke in favor of it to. But, tellingly, it did not make it in. Lithuania spoke at the stakeout, but took no questions.

Twenty hours before the UN Security Council is slated to vote on the re-drafted Syria humanitarian resolution, Inner City Press asked US State Department Marie Harf about the evolution of the draft, specifically the deletion of a reference to Hezbollah and Quds Force, and for any predictions for the rare Saturday vote.

   Harf replied that the draft is substantially the same as that first proposed by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan -- "we didn't merge" the drafts, she said, referring to Russia's counter proposal. Transcript below. On this: "We didn’t merge the two drafts, right? We negotiated to maintain key provisions of the original resolution that we think are essential to saving lives on the ground."

  She declined to predict a 15-0 vote, but later cited the upcoming vote as a sign of working with China, in contrast to disagreeing on Tibet and President Obama meeting earlier in the day with the Dalai Lama. The State Department on February 21 designated Sarah Sewall as "US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

 (Notably, former Chinese Permanent Representative to the UN Li Baodong recently criticized Australia's policies on asylum seekers, an issue Inner City Press also asked Harf about in light of the deadly riot at Australia's detention facility on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea -- more on that in a separate story.)

    On Syria it was announced on the evening of February 20 that the humanitarian resolution will be voted on at 11 am on Saturday, February 22.  What changed?

   Compare, for example, the "terrorism paragraph," #12 in Australia's (and Jordan's and Luxembourg's) first draft, and #14 now. As first drafted, it explicitly called for Hezbollah and Quds Force to immediately withdraw from Syria.

  Now the draft "in blue," to be voted on, does not mention Hizballah or Quds Force. Instead, it adds to Al-Qaeda "its affiliates and other terrorist groups;" compare to Russia's now "merged in draft," which referred to "Al-Qaeda and other terrorist and extremist groups."  The new addition of "affiliates" applies only to Al Qaeda.  This is one example, as most questioning in front of the Security Council has focused only on timing.

   In front of the Security Council on February 21, Inner City Press asked February's Council president Raimonda Murmokaite of Lithuania, if any changes were being made to the draft formally put "in blue," an archaic reference to the ink color of final drafts. She replied that the blue version is the version.

   After meeting on Syria draft resolutions on February 18, UN Security Council Ambassador exited one by one issuing one liners on projected timing for a vote.

  Russia's Vitaly Churkin, asked if there would be a vote this week, said setting timelines is not really productive.

  More than an hour later when UK Permanent Representative Mark Lyall Grant emerged, Inner City Press asked him if he thinks there will be a vote this week. Lyall Grant told Inner City Press, "I think there'll be a vote this week, I hope."

Update of Feb 19, 10:07 am: overnight, Russian foreign minister Lavrov was quoted by Interfax that the draft could be approved in days if Security Council members don't try to "politicize" the issue. Then his way into the Feb 19 "rule of law" debate, Lyall Grant said "we hope we will be in a position to vote this week."

  Earlier in the day, Syria's Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari, who was lead negotiator at the talks in Geneva, re-appeared at the UN in New York; we'll have more on this.

  Australia's Gary Quinlan, asked if his draft with Luxembourg and Jordan is the basis of negotiation, said, Yes.

  Jordan's Prince Zeid, asked the same question, nodded and called the issues urgent.

  After US President Barack Obama met with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Rancho Mirage, California, a self-described US Senior Administration Official said "Jordan and the United States are both working together in the Security Council at present and there is an ongoing, pretty intensive negotiation over a potential humanitarian resolution in the Security Council aimed at not only condemning the atrocities, but trying to create a legal predicate for cross-border operations and cross-line operations."

  In terms of creating a "legal predicate," the Western draft resolution

"demands that the Syrian authorities promptly facilitate rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and across borders from neighboring countries, and lift all restrictions on cross-border humanitarian access, in particular, via Turkey and Iraq, and stresses, in this regard, the particularly urgent need for the Syrian authorities to reopen the Yariba border crossing with Iraq."

  But as described below, the Russian counter-draft

"urges all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to promptly facilitate safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need, through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries, in accordance with the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance."

  Could the US and its allies objec to "the UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance"?

  In terms of the negotiations process in New York being "intensive," Inner City Press covered the February 14 session, it was at the "experts" level and the Lithuanian presidency did not provide a summary much less question and answer stakeout afterward, as the Free UN Coalition for Access requested at the beginning of the month. (China, by contrast, held nine Q&A stakeouts during its recent Security Council presidency; for Lithuania as of February 15 the number is zero.)

   The UN Spokesperson's office did not announce in advance mediator Lakhdar Brahimi's down-beat February 15 press conference in Geneva, at which no date was set for any more talks; the UN in New York is closed until February 18. Intensive?

   Russia had counter-proposed a Syria humanitarian resolution, and has also proposed a counter-terrorism Presidential Statement, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the press on February 13.

   Churkin said after Russia heard US statements about the rise of terrorism in Syria, the idea of the Presidential Statement arose. He said Russia's counter-draft resolution on humanitarian access also has terrorism language.

   Inside the Security Council in an otherwise nearly empty UN, humanitarian chief Valerie Amos' briefing and closed door consultations continued. Earlier on February 13, Inner City Press exclusively reported on a four page letter the Syrian mission submitted to the Security Council president, naming towns which the armed opposition -- "terrorists" -- were blockading. Click here for that.

  At the February 13 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky to confirm these blockades. He replied that the UN has never denied that there are blockages from the opposition side. But if Valerie Amos won't name the opposition groups, the UN's or her critique appears to be one-sided.

  On February 10 in the US State Department briefing, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf had talked up the humanitarian resolution; she was asked why the US is supposedly deferring to the too-slow UN, after the high level humanitarian meeting in Rome.

  Churkin said on February 10 that Rome meeting has been "quite useless" and that it "departed from the original conception." On February 13 he criticized it again, contrasting it to what he called Russia's practical approach. He said the Russian embassy in Damascus was involved in the deal(s) to get aid into Homs.

   US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf on February 13 insisted that the US supports the Australian - Luxembourg - Jordan draft. But what about the Russian submission, now on counter-terrorism?

  From Geneva, France 24 reported wanly on the Brahimi talks; in New York, it asked Churkin if a vote should be expect before the Olympics are over. He said, there is no connection.

  Neither France 24, nor other ostensibly Syria-focused media have done much follow up, but on January 29 Inner City Press first published quotes from the UN's report on Syria Children and Armed Conflict, specifically that the Free Syrian Army recruits and uses child soldiers:

"Throughout the reporting period, the United Nations received consistent reports of recruitment and use of children by FSA-affiliated groups."

  Inner City Press asked the US Mission to the UN to respond to the report, since Congress in its 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act said the US Government should condemn the use of child soldiers by paramilitaries like the FSA. Inner City Press was told to put the request for comment in writing, and did, to the UK Mission as well.

   The report had already been circulated to Security Council members in English; the UK said it would wait to provide Inner City Press with a comment until the report was made official on February 3, that is to say, when it was translated into the UN's five other official languages and put on the Internet.

   Readers asked Inner City Press where on the UN website to find the Syria child soldiers report. Inner City Press told them it would go online on February 3, and noted that the Free UN Coalition for Access had previously opposed the UN withholding or delaying the release of important document like this.

  In this case, however, the delay affirmatively helped the Syrian opposition. On January 29 they were in Geneva, issuing statements about abuses by the Assad government. They were not asked about the Free Syrian Army's use of child soldiers.

   On February 3, Inner City Press again asked the UK for its comment, and it did arrive the following day on February 4:

"The UK absolutely condemns the use of child soldiers in all cases, and strongly supports international efforts to stop the use of child soldiers. We urge all parties in the Syrian conflict to release any children held in detention.

"Armed conflict affects millions of lives around the world, and children are among those most vulnerable to the effects of conflict. The only way to secure the long-term future of Syria’s children is to find a political solution to the crisis.

"We have made clear our absolute condemnation of the use of child soldiers. As noted in this report, the use of child soldiers by the opposition is not systematic and is limited to certain elements. We have provided training to the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition on the law of armed conflict, and will continue to work with them to help ensure that they meet their obligations under international law."

    Before publishing the UK's quote, Inner City Press again in writing asked two spokespeople of the US Mission to the UN for their comment -- noting that the UK had provided one. As Inner City Press noted, that might be OK for the United Kingdom -- but what about the US, including in light of the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which provides for example:

It is the sense of Congress that—

 (1) the United States Government should condemn the conscription, forced recruitment, or use of children by governments, paramilitaries, or other organizations;

 (2) the United States Government should support and, to the extent practicable, lead efforts to establish and uphold international standards designed to end the abuse of human rights described in paragraph (1);

  There are prohibitions on funding which can only be overridden for formal, public findings by the President. Given all this, Inner City Press on February 4 again asked the two spokespeople for the US Mission to the UN its January 30 question: "could the US provide aid to a non-state group, the FSA and its affiliates, which the UN has found using child soldiers?"

  The New York Times, saying that the child soldiers report was "quietly presented to the Security Council last week," had a quote from the State Department. Why was the report, and this statement, delayed a full six days until the Geneva II talks were over?

  Even more cynically, Voice of America on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors US Secretary of State John Kerry serves, also ran a delayed / withheld story on the report; Reuters typically didn't bring up the US Child Soldiers Prevention Act  and claimed that the report was released on February 4, when even the Times said it was February 3 -- and see Inner City Press' January 29 story, here.

 On January 29, Inner City Press published additional quotes from the report, including that:

"Boys aged 12 to 17 were trained, armed, and used as combatants or to man checkpoints. For instance, a 15 year-old boy reported being recruited in April 2012 by the FSA in Tall Kalakh (Tartus governate), and participation in military operations.... Also indicative was the case of a 16 year-old boy from Homs who reportedly joined the FSA as a combatant. In March 2013, his family reported to the United Nations that he was still fighting with the group."

And is this boy still fighting with the FSA? There is more to be said about this UN report, but what steps will actually be taken on this UN report?

on February 14, the following was received from US Mission deputy spokesperson Tony Deaton:

"We are deeply disturbed by the contents of this report and strongly condemn the mistreatment and torture of children in any conflict. We equally condemn the use of child soldiers in Syria and around the world. The use of children in armed conflict is morally reprehensible, and the United States in no way supports or condones this activity. We vet recipients of our assistance to the moderate opposition and work diligently to prevent assistance from falling into the hands of groups that recruit or use children in combat or employ terror tactics."

While we will continue to pursue how the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act applies after the FSA finding in the UN report, we appreciate the US response and publish it in full.

Watch this site.

Here is the US State Department's Feb 21 transcript:

MODERATOR: Up next, Marie, we have Matthew Russell Lee from Inner City Press. Operator, can you please open Matthew’s line? And Matthew, go ahead.

Inner City Press: Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask something on Syria, and then something else you may have something on. It sounds – this humanitarian resolution at the UN is set for voting on tomorrow morning.

MS. HARF: Yes.

Inner City Press: And it looks like the draft or the final draft put into blue or to be voted on has dropped – it dropped a reference that it had in it to Hezbollah and to the Quds Force. And it made – obviously, made changes to try to garner these votes. Well, do you have anything to say about – do you think that these changes are weak in the draft, and do you have a sense it’s going to be 15-nothing, or what do you think?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. You are correct. We do expect the Security Council resolution to be voted on tomorrow. And it’s my understanding that this is basically the original draft that we supported that was drafted by some of our colleagues on the Security Council – Australia, Luxembourg, and Jordan. We didn’t merge the two drafts, right? We negotiated to maintain key provisions of the original resolution that we think are essential to saving lives on the ground.

I don’t want to prejudge the outcome. I think one thing I’ve learned is not to make those kinds of predictions. But what I would say is that if China and Russia and everyone else is as concerned as we’ve all said about the humanitarian crisis, then they should support this resolution. So we will see if we can get a vote that goes the right way here – not for our sake, quite frankly, but for the sake of the Syrian people.

Here's from the UK Mission's Feb 22 transcript:

Inner City Press: In terms of this idea of further steps being triggered by noncompliance, Ambassador Churkin used this word earlier: "It's not automatic, there's no automaticity," so I wanted to know, what's your view of what happens if there's noncompliance. And also, I noticed that Hezbollah and Quds force were dropped from the resolution, but Al Qaeda remains in. How should we interpret that in terms of naming one group and not naming another?

Amb Lyall Grant: Well, there were a lot of changes made in the text of the resolution through the negotiating process; that is a normal process of negotiation in the Security Council. The key thing on this occasion was to secure unanimous adoption, and we're delighted that such a strong resolution was adopted unanimously. In terms of the strong trigger mechanism, it is a strong trigger mechanism, much stronger than in some previous resolutions, some of which indeed were vetoed. But Ambassador Churkin is right that there would need to be a further decision by the Security Council if specific action under articles 41 or article 42 were to be taken. That is clear that the Security Council would have to take a further decision, but the language which says that the Council expresses its intent to take further steps in the event of noncompliance is very specific and much stronger than we might have had.


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