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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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UN's Iraq Meeting Ends with Whimper, Wiesel Breathes Fire, Work and Japanese, Junkets Abound

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Muse

UNITED NATIONS, September 22 -- Unlike some car rides across these days' Baghdad, Saturday the UN's "high-level" meeting on Iraq ended with a whimper and not with a bang. Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki came with Ban Ki-moon into a quarter-filled UN conference room. Together they dodged questions as if they were bullets until, with far fewer than half of the 30 pre-registered questioners being called on, they left the conference room. One of the questions, despite being three times repeated, was nonetheless not answered. It involved news analysis that the U.S.'s current strategy of arming Sunni tribes to fight al Qaeda might make Iraq even less secure than it is now. "I haven't heard those press reports," Mr. Ban said.

            Inner City Press had questions it was not called on to ask, concerning details of widespread corruption in Iraq government departments, and the UN's delaying release of its quarterly report on human rights in Iraq at the request of the United States. Might that report mention the activities of Blackwater USA? If not, why not?  Questions that have yet to be answered.

            Surprise was expressed at the low turnout, and low energy, of the UN's Iraq meeting and subsequent briefing. This General Assembly, the buzz is mostly about Iran, Holocaust denial, denial of visit to Ground Zero. On that, UN "Messenger of Peace" Elie Wiesel on Friday said that such a visit would be akin to "a murderer visiting his victim's grave." Video here. Inner City Press ran to the briefing room to ask Mr. Wiesel if he has evidence of an Iranian role in the take-down of the World Trade Towers, and about the meaning of Messenger of Peace. But Wiesel left the press conference early, accompanied by security guards. Michael Douglas, on the rostrum with Wiesel, nodded and said nothing.

Ban Ki-moon and Iraq's prime minister, Blackwater and corruption not shown

            Thirty-four hours later, at 9 p.m. on Saturday night, Japan's Assistant Press Secretary Kazuyuki Yamazaki briefed a half-dozen reporters on the bilateral meetings held by Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, including one with Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Machimura raised the issue of Japan's under-representation in the senior staff of the UN Secretariat. When Inner City Press asked for details, Mr. Yamazaki specified that Japan has only 110 staff, including only "one USG, no ASGs, only two D-2's and only four D-1's." Go get 'em!

            For the elites of many countries, the annual UN General Debate is a chance for a junket to New York. Sri Lanka, it is reported, has brought fully 85 people, many of whom will never set foot in the UN. There are doctor's visits and tourism. Some heads of state are being offered a $5000 honorarium merely to attend an outside meeting (we aim to have more on the this).

            Still, the General Debate allows from some strange rapprochements. One involving Inner City Press took place on Friday outside the Darfur meeting. Mark Malloch Brown, who after Inner City Press reported on the UN Development Program and its spending $700,000 to produce a self-laudatory book said "You are a jerk," now a mere twenty feet away took a question from Inner City Press, about Darfur, and ended up pointing and saying, "It's good to be back among friends."  Video here, at Minute 8:30. Only at the UN...

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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 by this correspondent 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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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540