Wednesday, March 16, 2016

On Syria, de Mistura Banned Exclusives After Protest, Dujarric Says No Policy

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 14 -- Before UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura took four questions in Geneva on March 14, he announced that for the next ten days, he will grant no exclusive interviews.

Here's the background, then Inner City Press' question on it: on March 1 the "Association des Correspondants Aupres des Nations Unies a Geneve" (ACANU), in a bit of advocacy the NY-based UNCA does not engage in, protested de Mistura making announcements about the Syria talks in exclusive interviews, and not to all correspondents at once.

 Inner City Press has obtained the ACANU letter, which was cc-ed to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric (who threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room on January 29 and out of the entire UN on February 19 and 22,petition here) and publishes it here.

  In New York, Ban Ki-moon and his Under Secretaries General like Herve Ladsous dole out information to favored correspondents; Ban's USG for Public Information Cristina Gallach on February 19 went so far as to oust Inner City Press after speaking with Giampaolo Pioli's UNCA but not Inner City Press. Will de Mistura, as now pledged, be different?

On March 14, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Inner City Press there is no policy in this regard. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I saw you [carbon copied] on this, so it seems like a fair question to you.  I saw a letter from the ACANU, or the Geneva press association of correspondents, directed to Mr… Mr. de Mistura and [carbon copied] to you, protesting that he announced a delay… initial delay in the Syria talks in an exclusive interview.  And I saw him this morning very early say that he's not going to do any exclusive interviews between 14 and 24 March, sort of as an accommodation.  I guess I wanted to know, what is the UN's policy in terms of both the Secretary-General or a news-maker like de Mistura giving… ACANU seemed to say very clearly this information should be given to all correspondents at the same time.  Do you agree with that?

Spokesman:  No, Mr. de Mistura is a seasoned diplomat.  He chooses to… he deftly handles the media, and he will do whatever he feels he needs to do.  There is no policy per se on any of these issues that you raised.

  No policy - like on the "lending out" of the UN Press Briefing Room, resulting in differences of opinion on the right to cover events there which the UN, Dujarric, can use as a pretext to oust the Press.

  Spokesman Ahmad Fawzi on March 14 gave the first question to “our Turkish colleague” -- who asked about the timing of elections in Syria. The next picked questioner identified himself “with the Geneva press corps;” then Al Jazeera Arabic asked if there is any deadline for a deal to be reached.

  To this, de Mistura said this first round would run from March 14 to 24 -- during which no exclusive interviews, he said -- then a recess of a week or ten days. This will be folllowed by a second round of two weeks, then another recess, length undefined.

  Fawzi's final question went to ACANU, representing Geneva correspondents accredited by the UN, hopefully (much) better than the decaying and corrupt UN Correspondents Association the UN uses in New York. This question was to say when meetings begin and end. And then it was over.

One couldn't help wonder if there were anywhere near this focus on the slaughter in Yemen - and where is de Mistura's counterpart Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed?

 On Syria, will the Ankara attack impact mounting demands that the Kurds be given a role in this round of talks? We'll have more on this.

Previously, when the UN pulled the plug on the Intra-Syrian Talks, or as envoy Staffan de Mistura said merely pushed them back, de Mistura said that the UN "is not prepared to hold talks for the sake of talks."

  Then de Mistura was scheduled after delay to brief the Security Council on Friday, February 26 at 3 pm, in connection with a vote on a US - Russian draft Inner City Press had seen.

 After a delay described below, de Mistura briefed by video, saying he intends to re-convene Intra-Syrian talks on March 7.

  The Council approved the resolution 15-0, Russia's Gatilov spoke of strict implementation, and the need for "immediate" talks.

 At 2:40 pm, UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft was in the hall outside the Council, talking heatedly into his cell phone. Another Council diplomat, on background, said there would be a delay of at least 30 minutes or an hour - someone didn't agree.

 Inner City Press was told by sources it was to renegotiate the annex of groups.

Now Inner City Press has been informed of more. In the public session, UK Matthew Rycroft said "The HNC represents a broad sweep of the opposition forces fighting in Syria against the tyranny of Asad. They deserve our whole-hearted support, which regrettably was not reflected in this resolution."

  Other changes were to the Cairo and Moscow platforms. But, the sources tell Inner City Press, the country which occasioned the delay was.... France.

  France was miffed to have been left on the sidelines by the Russian - US bilateral negotiations. Similarly miffed to have been left on the sidelines of the US - China negotiations on North Korea? Strange how when elected members complain, for example about their exclusion from the so-called "Group of Friends on Western Sahara," France is unconcerned or happy. Now, they feel excluded...  We'll have more on this.

 On February 19, Russia convened a UN Security Council meeting and proposed a draft resolution on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. Western powers, as they're called, were dismissive the draft.

  Here's some of what Turkey's Permanent Representative said, as fast transcribed by

"The fighting, it’s not only bombing militarily, hospitals, schools, medical facilities, are being bombed, after the Russian Federation’s intervention in the war, the majority of the civilian casualties are caused by this intervention. So it is, the resolution is there, so why do we need another resolution in that regard? When I see the text I found it... silent on the humanitarian issue.

 "For us, any terrorist organization is a terrorist organization, full stop. For PYD they seem to try to get legitimacy by seeming fighting with Daesh. Actually this is not the case... For us, fighting against another terrorist organization does not give legitimacy to any terrorist organization."

 Inner City Press -- in the middle of being thrown out of the UN for seeking to covering meetings in the building, click here for that -- talked its way through a UN Security block at the Council stakeout and asked Turkey's Permanent Representative Cevic if his country would send in ground troops. He said only if part of a multinational force.

  Also at the stakeout - with a UN Security "minder" still trailing Inner City Press, like one of Ban Ki-moon's thought police as one wag put it -- Inner City Press asked the President of the Council for February, Venezuela's Rafael Ramirez, if he would convene and emergency meeting if Turkey or Saudi Arabia were to send in ground troops. He said yes, he would convene such a meeting.

  But as things stands, even with Ban Ki-moon's censor Cristina Gallach receiving calls to delay and reverse her decision, Inner City Press could not cover such an emergency Security Council meeting.

  We'll have more on all this.

 On February 16, Inner City Press asked Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari about de Mistura's and Ban Ki-moon's explanations of why those talks ended - and about the UN saying Ban was misquoted in or misinterpreted by the Financial Times.

  Ja'afari said that the UN would rather blame itself than the opposition, because then the UN would get push-back from “Westerners.” Ja'afari said that de Mistura's deputy only provided him with a partial list of the opposition delegations as the talks were ending. Ja'afari called them badly organized.

  Before Ja'afari spoke, the Security Council's president for February Rafael Ramirez of Venezuela told reporters that the Council's members agreed to tell Turkey to comply with international law. Associated Press - click here for AP's UN rape reporting on Feb 15 - asked if that meant all members.  All to different degrees, was the answer.