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UN's Ban Prepares for a "No" from Obama, Dialogue Except in Sri Lanka

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 10 -- When Ban Ki-moon returned to New York from Gaza earlier this year, he said he'd lost his voice. This month when he came back from travels he briefed the Security Council and then the press. Fourteen media questions were allowed. Gaza and the prospective indictment of Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir came up again and again, while Congo and Somalia, for example, were not asked about. (Inner City Press asked about Ban's failure to call for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.)

  Only once did Ban veer from the questions to unilaterally clarify something, and this concerned his reported invitation for Barack Obama to visit the UN on climate change in March. Ban said he would understand if Obama is busy, he is "just settling in," Ban said. To many, it sounded defensive and craven, as if saying in advance, "if I get dissed, it is no loss of face."

  The press conference's first question was about Obama and Iran: has Ban told Obama to start peace dialogue now? Apparently not. Ban was seen Monday night at Iran's celebration in the UN's Delegates' Dining Room of the 30th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Tuesday he said that all problems should be resolved by dialogue and not military force -- a principle he did not apply, however, to Sri Lanka.

  Next Ban was asked if the foreseen rightward shift after Israel's elections will make peace more difficult. A supporter of Hezbollah, interviewed by Inner City Press at the Iranian celebration, said he hoped "Bibi or the further right wing guy wins," apparently in order to bring the Apocalypse on more quickly.

  Ban was asked about the Gaza crossing, then about Myanmar. A UN staffer who works on the issue later told Inner City Press that Ban's envoy Ibrahim Gambari's recent visit was a success, even though Senior General Than Shwe didn't deign to meet with him. "Where is the leverage?" the staffer asked.

  Ban had called his meeting with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe a success. He was pressed on this, and said that Mugabe is happy to work with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and that the UN's Catherine Bragg will soon visit the country.

UN's Ban and Robert Mugabe, no call for ceasefire in Sri Lanka called for

  The sixth question concerned the so-called Hariri tribunal, investigating the assassination five years ago. The timeline calls into question what the new Bhutto panel can do. Ban said he will be sending his top lawyer, Patricia O'Brien, to The Hague for the formal opening of the tribunal.

  Ban was asked if he listens to Obama's speeches, and in response he read out the statement reducing expectations for his mini-climate summit in March.  He was asked, in French, about Libya and the financial crisis. Ban's answer, also in French and leading to applause, contained references to "son leadership" and "mon leadership."

  Al Arabiya asked about the Hariri tribunal, can justice be expected. Would Ban meet with Sudan's al-Bashir if he gets indicted? The question was not answered; Ban would seek Ms. O'Brien's advice. But clearly the scenario's been thought through. So what is the answer?

  Ban was asked about Pakistan and about Kashmir, in response to which he said all problems should be solved by dialogue and not military force. Then Inner City Press asked why this doesn't apply to Sri Lanka. "Because Sri Lanka is not on the Security Council's agenda," Ban replied. This interpretation of the UN Charter was openly rejected, later in the day, by the president of the Security Council, Japan's Yukio Takasu. Video here.

  Ban was asked about the Gaza inquiry, and whether Israel should pay for damage to UNRWA. The final question was whether Ban would support suspending the International Criminal Court's process against al-Bashir. Ban appeared to say, if Sudan implements the type of legal proceedings the ICC requires. But would a country put its own sitting head of state on trial?

  For the record, the Somalia question if allowed would have been that last week the UN's top envoy for Somalia, Amedou Ould Abdallah said that the press should not have reported on an incident in which African Union troops fired into a crowd in Mogadishu, killing between 25 (according to Bloomberg News) and 39 (according to local sources). He said there should be a moratorium on reporting from Somalia, and compared those who did report to the Mille Colline radio station which stoked genocide in Rwanda. The UN Secretariat has been asked to respond to the comments, but so far there's been no change or retraction. What is your position?

  This question was put to the Committee to Protect Journalists' Joel Simon earlier on Tuesday by Inner City Press, and he expressed concern, mostly at the Rwanda analogy. Video here. But what about the UN calling for censorship?

Footnote: The US Mission to the UN, moving en masse to a meeting of the so-called Friends of Georgia on the UN's second floor, could or would not yet speak for Obama. Surprise was expressed that Hillary Clinton didn't immediately appoint her personal spokesman to the same job for the State Department. The talk is of the new Mission spokeman, Mark Kornblau, now set to begin on February 23. And when, as seemed to be Ban's focus on Tuesday, will Obama decide when he's coming to the UN? Watch this site.

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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