By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, January 25 – When UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held a photo opportunity and meeting with French Minister for Development and Francophonie Jean-Marie Le Guen on January 25, the latter said, "It's almost a historic day." Periscope video here, Tweeted photo here.
Some wondered if Le Guen might be referred to the news the new Administration in Washington is considering a 40% cut in its contributions to the UN, with full cuts to parts of the UN system accused of violating human rights.
Thus far Guterres has yet to hold a press conference in UN Headquarters, so it has not been possible to ask him about the cuts, or the seemingly slow pace of transition and reform so far.
Dubious Under Secretaries General like Frenchman Herve Ladsous at Peacekeeping and Spain's Cristina Gallach for "Public Information" remain in place; deputy SG Amina Mohammed will not begin until at earliest March 2.
Still the talk on the 38th floor was of a new energy, of meetings well into the evening, with Guterres and his chief of staff and others.
Inner City Press intends to report in as much detail as it can -- it is still constrained by Gallach's eviction and pass-reduction order from eleven months ago -- but on January 25 the photo op was send, by a "sign," before Guterres said anything beyond "Comment allez-vous."
Back on January 13 when Guterres met with President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, the new chair of the Group of 77 and China, Correa gave him a painting. Photo here; Tweeted video here. Then, without words, the Press was ushered off the 38th floor.
This differed from Guterres' first four days in office, when he invited the press back in and urged his counterparties to also speak to “your media.”
While Inner City Press has exclusively reported this week on Guterres-proposed changes, such as combining the UN's Rule of Law and Elections units, UN holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric has refused to confirm or explain, describing only "co-location."
But when Inner City Press on January 13 asked for further information, such as how many staff in UN headquarters work on Mali, there was no response.
We'll have more on this - and on Dujarric's continuig refusal to answer UN-specified questions about the January 10 unsealed indictment of just-left Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's brother and nephew, who was allowed to work at the UN's landlord Colliers International.
All of Inner City Press' questions, including about the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services, were referred to Ban's Seoul-based spokesman at a phone number that is only a telephone menu tree all in Korean.
Guterres held his second and third photo opportunities and meetings as UN Secretary General on January 6, with Japan's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama (Photos here, Periscope here) and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (photos here, Periscope here.)
Slightly late to the first meeting, Guterres cited the need to prepare for the Astana (Syria) and Paris (Palestine) conferences.
Guterres to his credit made a point of saying a bit, in public, before each meeting. With the Japanese delegation he joked about a dinner where at least “no one vetoed the dessert” -- yet -- and with the Greeks, he joked that their gifts, a book and music CDs and a box, were too heavy.
In this Guterres differed from Ban Ki-moon, but not earlier in the day when led around to take selfies with the correspondents the UN has not, like Inner City Press, evicted from their offices for covering UN corruption, like the Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe bribery case. Video here,story here.
The Greek meeting followed one on January 6 with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu. Photo here; video here.
Beyond the pleasantries - and there were more of these than in the final days of Ban Ki-moon's tenure - it was noteworthy that along with the UN's Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide, Ban's Under Secretaries General Feltman, Ladsous and O'Brien were all there. The "P3 men," some call them. Will they be switched not only for gender, but nation?
Guterres' new chief of staff Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti was there; his Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed won't formally begin until next month. Will that trigger the end of Ban Ki-moon's era of censoring and restricting the Press?