Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Syria's Ja'afari on Kurdish Unilateral Moves, Softly Interpreted by UN

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON, March 16 -- 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.  Background below.

 On March 16, after de Mistura canceled a stakeout so it could travel to Bern -- to feel the Bern, as one wag put it -- Syria's Bashar Ja'afari spoke at the UN microphone, with a too-soft UN interpretation into English.

  Ja'afari was asked about the announcement by the Kurdish PYD that it will declare autonomy, on which Inner City Press previously reported, below. Ja'afari offered praise for PYD but said such unilaterally moves are not envisioned by the Geneva process. But if the PYD is not allowed at the table?

  Ja'afari to CNN said Russia's decision to pull back military forces was a joint one with Damascus. We'll have more on this.

Later on March 14, after de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council by video, Ambassador Gaspar Martins of Angola, president of the Council for March, emerged to say that all members found Russia's announcement of starting to withdraw most of its forces from Syria positive.

  Inner City Press asked Gaspar Martins if the (yet to be agreed) inclusion of Kurdish groups in Syria into the talks was discussed. Yes, he said, there is a desire that the talks get more inclusive.

 But will they, particularly after the Ankara attack?

  Now, Kurdish official Idris Nassan says Kurds will declare self determination in northern Syria. So it seems those who delayed and demurred on Kurdish involvement in the UN's Geneva talks have only themselves to blame.

 On March 15, Inner City Press put the question to US State Department spokesperson John Kirby. From the State Department transcript:

Inner City Press: what does the U.S. think of the inclusion of Kurdish groups from – in Syria in the talks?  There’s more and more – many countries talk – say they should be involved.  Obviously, Turkey says that they shouldn’t be involved; there’s the Ankara attack.  Has your – what’s the thinking here?

MR KIRBY:  I’ve addressed this before and our position is exactly the same.  The invitations to the talks were decided and sent by the UN, by Special Envoy de Mistura.  He sent invitations this time to the same groups that he sent last time.  Right now, that does not include Kurdish groups in the proximity talks.  That said, as before, he continues to consult with a wide range of groups, to include Kurdish groups.  And we believe that we need to respect his decision-making process going forward and how he wants to conduct these talks.  We’re going to continue to support that.  And again, there are consultations, there are discussions going on.  We recognize that those consultations are important.

  But what about Kurds declaring self determination in northern Syria? We hope to have more on this.

Here's some background on de Mistura's M.O. in Geneva, 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 published 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.

  UN Geneva 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.