Friday, June 3, 2016

UN Will Ask Syria on Sunday For Access, Inner City Press Asked of Nusra TOWs, Helicopters

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 3 -- As the UN Security Council met about aid access in Syria on June 3, the month's Council president Francois of Delattre of France stopped on the steps on the way in and read out several talking point. Periscope here.

Inner City Press asked quite audibly about helicopters, which the UN on June 2 said would be necessary in urban areas with consent. There was no answer.

After the meeting, Delattre announced that "on Sunday the UN, in accordance with the ISSG’s requests, will ask Damascus to authorize humanitarian air drops to reach localities for which land access was denied by the Syrian regime." Periscope here, including comments of Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

   Before the meeting UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stopped on the steps and said, “One step at a time,” citing Daraya. Periscope here.  Earlier on June 3 the BBC interviewed a pseudonymous Daraya ex-resident saying only 8,000 people remain there.

  Earlier in the week Inner City Press asked Rycroft if the UK is preparing a Chapter 7 draft resolution on access, and if it is concerned that Al Nusra may have and use surface to air TOW missiles. YouTube video here.

After the closed door meeting, Rycroft said among other things that "Staffan De Mistura warned us that the chances are that the regime will be stop go about this. They'll stop it one day, they'll let it in the next day, they'll stop it the next day, they'll let it in the day after that. That is not acceptable."

Rycroft on UNTV took only questions from  BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Al Arabiya and France 24. Delattre on UNTV took no questions.

Back on May 12 after the Security Council agreed to a Press Statement about attacks in Syria, drafted by Egypt, New Zealand and Spain, the three countries came to the Council stakeout to take questions. New Zealand's Gerard van Bohemen, tracking the Statement, said that “the Council’s position is that terrorists are terrorists designated by the Security Council. So that’s Al Qaeda, Da’esh and Al Nusra. Those are the people designated as terrorists.”

 Inner City Press asked “about the paragraph in the statement where you say terrorist acts by Da’esh, Nusra and then other individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda, so you are limiting, that’s what you are sticking with. Can you say anything about the request, and I guess, unsuccessful request, to list other groups? Are you prepared to say where that stands?” Video here.

   Ambassador van Bohemen replied, “There is a process and it requires consensus of the committee whether that’s a good or a bad system, that is the process. There is no consensus on that most recent recommendations.”

   So, with the day's events in Zaara in mind, Inner City Press asked, “If a group not on that list did a car bomb, would it be a terrorist act?”

  To this van Bohemen replied, “I am not going to go down hypotheticals. Sorry. Thank you.”

  But Zaara is hardly a hypothetical. We'll have more on this.

Earlier in May after calls in the UN Security Council for an open meeting about the situation in Aleppo in Syria, on the evening of May 3 the new Presidency of the Council, Egypt, announced that the “Security Council will hear a briefing tomorrow, Wednesday, May 4, by Under Secretaries General Jeffrey Feltman and Stephen O'Brien. The briefing is open in the Security Council chamber and will take place at 2 pm." See below.

On May 5, UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stopped on his way into the Security Council and spoke about his proposed Press Statement on Aleppo, Inner City Press video here.

Back on 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 would grant no exclusive interviews.  Background below.

 On the tenth day, March 24, de Mistura held a press conference during which he repeatedly said that his "paper" would be released "right now."

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.