By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, January 18 -- When after closed door consultation with UN Syria envoy de Mistura the Security Council's president for January Elbio Rosselli was asked if there will be a delay in the talks past January 25, he replied, "I would only say that no different date was considered today.”
But de Mistura has yet to send out any invitations; who will be invited has not yet been agreed, as the UN announced in its noon briefing held as Rosselli spoke. Here's what Rosselli said at the stakeout:
"“The Security Council heard today the first oral report by Mr. de Mistura who's been working very, very actively following on the different aspects of Resolution 2254 of 18 December last year. As you all know, Mr. de Mistura has had a very, very active and hectic agenda, visiting most of the capitals of the concerned states, traveling from Riyadh to Damascus, to Amman, back to Geneva, moving to Tehran, moving everywhere.
“There has been since the very first days of January concern about whether the situation that erupted between Saudi Arabia and Iran could affect the course of the process. Mr. de Mistura has made very clear references that he got directly from the ministers of foreign affairs of both Iran and Saudi Arabia assurances that that would not be the case, and that that incident is completely isolated from the consideration of the agenda of 2254.
“We the Council reiterated its very strong unanimous support for the role that Mr. de Mistura is playing, has played and will continue to play and the central aspect of the process in the the terms of resolution 2254. This is as much as I would be in a position to transmit to you.”
Meaning, it seems, that these were the Council's agreed-to Press Elements. We'll have more on this.
Back on December 18 in the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, ministers Lavrov and Gentiloni, Fabius and Kerry passed through with entourages; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left early typically without answering any questions, as Inner City Press Periscoped andreported. Hours later, the draft resolution was agreed to, then adopted 15-0 by the UN Security Council, here.
On December 26, the UN issued this for its envoy Staffan de Mistura:
"Further to resolution 2254 (2015) of the Security Council, unanimously adopted on 18 December 2015, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has intensified efforts towards convening representatives of the Syrian Government and the broadest possible spectrum of the Syrian opposition and others to engage in a political process leading towards implementation of the objectives and principles for a political solution to the Syrian conflict as contained in the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012, and the Vienna Statements of 30 October and 14 November 2015.
"In line with the clear parameters outlined in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the Special Envoy intends to complete his consultations in early January, with a view to initiating intra-Syrian talks on a target date of 25 January 2016 in Geneva. He counts on full cooperation of all the relevant Syrian parties in this process. Continuing developments on the ground should not be allowed to derail it. The Special Envoy also relies on the continued crucial support of the International Syria Support Group.
The people of Syria have suffered enough. Their tragedy is now felt throughout the region and beyond. They deserve the full attention and commitment from all their Syrian representatives, who should now show leadership and vision to overcome differences for the sake of Syria."
The day before, on December 25, on Syria UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness said:
"UNRWA welcomes any developments that could end the armed conflict in and around Yarmouk, and ease the inhuman conditions that Palestine refugees and other civilians are in Yarmouk continue to endure. Over the past three months, there have been persistent reports of negotiations for some form of truce or evacuation arrangement in Yarmouk. These reports are credible and UNRWA is taking them seriously, although they have not been officially or formally confirmed, and details have been vague. There are several thousands of civilians living in deeply abject conditions in Yarmouk. As UNRWA is deeply concerned about their well-being, the Agency is seeking from the Syrian government further details of any negotiated arrangements that will affect the humanitarian situation of civilians in Yarmouk. In particular, UNRWA demands that any arrangements being negotiated in and around Yarmouk must include guarantees for a durable cessation of hostilities, for the protection of civilians, and for safe, uninterrupted humanitarian access for UNRWA and other humanitarian actors. UNRWA is redoubling its strong appeals to the Government of Syria and relevant actors to allow and facilitate humanitarian access to Yarmouk. This is urgently needed to enable UNRWA to deliver food, clean water, winter supplies, healthcare, and other humanitarian assistance and services to civilians in Yarmouk. UNRWA stands ready immediately to respond to the humanitarian needs of the entire civilian population of Yarmouk."
Meanwhile the head of Jaysh al Islam Zahran Alloush was killed al Ghouta.
Back on December 18 at the UN the US day ended in a bilateral meeting between Iranian minister Zarif and John Kerry -- a photo spray was canceled -- and a low key meeting on Iraq and Turkey that we asked about and reported on here.
Kerry and Lavrov, joined by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, held this three-question press conference. Kerry said the negotiations should begin in mid to late January (in contrast to the early January in the resolution). Lavrov said only the “patriotic opposition” should be involved in negotiations. Staffan de Mistura said very little.
That Kerry's spokesman John Kirby, who ran the press conference, gave the second question to the Washington Post, and the third to Russian media, was perhaps understandable. But the first question, Kirby set aside for “Al Arabiya.” The question quickly turned into three, after being branded for “UNCA,” now the UN Corruption Association, a group which sold seats with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for $6000 only earlier this week.
We now add: UNCA gave one of its prizes, a free trip to Turkey, to one of its Vice Presidents, from Agence France Presse. Even Kellogg's prohibits its employees from competing for its prizes. But not UNCA, which ignoring the Iraq - Turkey meeting in the Security Council was trying to buy people with Prosecco on December 18, after selling seats with Ban for $6,000.
Several other UN-based journalists -- not (only) this one -- complained afterward that the first question and attempted follow up were a “Saudi circus” which made the UN press corps look bad -- as did attempt to throw out certain journalists, photographers, from the front row at the beginning.
Afterward a photo spray of a meeting between Kerry and Iran's Zarif was declared “by invitation only” and then canceled. In the Security Council, with very few journalists still at the stakeout, the US presidency began the meeting on Iraq's complaint against Turkey being in its territory. We'll have more on this.
After the vote inside the Council Lavrov said, “The unanimous adoption today on the Council has created a broad front on the basis of the UN Charter, on the basis of all of those who are pushing back against terror, including the Syrian army, [some] armed militias, parts of the Syrian opposition, and the Russian air forces, in response to the legitimate request of the Syrian government."
Inside as Nasser Judeh of Jordan spoke, UN TV cut repeatedly to Syria's Bashar Ja'afari, looking more and more skeptical. France's Fabius spoke briefly and left. Outside at the stakeout, talk turned to a Kerry press conference, open to all.
Italy's Paolo Gentiloni, by contrast, scheduled a press availability only for Italian media. A wag from the Free UN Coalition for Access asked, Isn't Gentiloni the foreign and not interior minister? Isn't he running for a Security Council seat? We'll have more on this.
In the hotel lobby in the late morning a Permanent Five member of the Security Council's spokesperson briefed a gaggle of journalists in the lobby amid hissed that it was “off the record.”
There was a gingerbread model of the NY Palace hotel which, the sign said, took 300 hours to make. All that was lacking, one wag - this one - snarked on Twitter, was a little gingerbread Laurent Fabuis.
Back that UN, the 1 pm stakeout by the EU's Mogherini was postponed and then canceled. The Security Council scheduled for 3 pm got pushed back to 4. Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Ban had spoken, what would he have said? Vine here.
On December 17, the day before Syria talks resumed at the New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan, finance ministers spoke in the UN Security Council about cutting off financing for ISIS. French finance minister Michel Sapin spoke darkly of the use of pre-paid cards for the November 13 Paris attacks; Russia's Ambassador Churkin named two Turkish companies as involved in ISIS oil sale.
Inner City Press asked Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, who came to take questions at the Council stakeout, about ISIS' oil. He named Turkey, then want on to name Qatar and Saudi Arabia, slamming its “Sunni coalition” recently announced.
When US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, along with Sapin and the UK's George Osborne held a short press conference in the UN briefing room, Inner City Press hoped to asked Sapin about pre-paid cards, and Lew and Osborne about Bitcoin. But the question, just four, were limited to Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York and Financial Times. So it goes.
It seems there will be no Press access at the New York Palace; Ja'afari has said he will speak, at the UN, and whatever ISSG press availability there is should be at the UN, with a 3 pm meeting on December 18 scheduled. Watch this site.
Back on December 8, Inner City Press put thee questions to Turkey's Ambassador Cevic. Video here. Here's fast transcript byInnerCityPro.com:
Inner City Press: On Syria, do you think the Vienna process meeting should take place in New York on the 18th? Are you satisfied with the Saudi process for choosing the opposition?
Amb Cevik: The plans, I don’t know how fixed, I mean how clear it is, but we are making our preparations for the meeting.
Inner City Press: Are there any groups invited to Saudi Arabia that you think shouldn’t be part of the opposition delegation?
Amb Cevik: I think so far, in our view, they are working on the right concept. Let’s see if they succeed. Having a coalition group that would be able to take part in the process is one of the most important things.
Inner City Press: [Russia] said the group that killed their pilot should be put on the terror list. Do you have any view on that?
Amb Cevik: If they know the specifics, I don’t know. But to our knowledge, there was no terrorist organization, no extreme Daesh, Nusra, in that area. They are the Turkomens, and we know them, they are moderate people.
This may be an issue. Watch this site.