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As UN Denies Claim of Ban Trip to Palestine While AU, Flights Now Disclosed?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 20 -- Palestine's Permanent Observer to the UN Riyad Mansour told Inner City Press on January 6 that there would be a visit to Ramallah by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in late January or early February in connection with Ban's trip to the African Union summit.

  But on January 20 when Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky announced to the press Ban's trip to the AU in Addis Ababa, he mentioned only a stop over in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

  Inner City Press asked if this meant that Ban would not on this trip go to Palestine. Nesirky replied that "we are not going to be giving dates for visits to that part of the world for obvious reasons."

  Ban did disclose in advance his recent trip to Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (the latter on a UAE provided private jet) -- a trip which, Mansour said, initially was going to include a Palestine stop. So is Ramallah considered by the UN so much more dangerous than Beirut? Or is Ban not going to Palestine despite what Mansour said?

  Reminded by Inner City Press of what Mansour had on camera said on January 6, Nesirky replied, "Riyad Mansour does not speak for the Secretary-General; I speak for the Secretary-General." Okay...

  Inner City Press also asked about Nesirky's January 19 belated response to Inner City Press' thrice asked question about who paid for Ban's travel to the UAE -- does this mean that going forward there will be routine disclosure of assistance, travel or financial or otherwise, Ban accepts from member states?

  Nesirky appeared to say that now this WILL be routinely disclosed.

(c) UN Photo
Ban and Abbas, already postponed trip to Palestine postponed again? Disclosures forthcoming?

From the UN's January 20, 2012 transcript:

Inner City Press: I have two quick questions on trips. One is, Riyad Mansour had said at the stakeout, not as a leak but as a statement on his, you know, in his capacity as the Permanent Observer of Palestine, that he believes that the Secretary-General was going to travel to Palestine in connection with his trip to the African Union. He said it at first had been on this Beirut and United Arab Emirates trip, and then it was put back for some reason. But is that going to take place; is it going to take place later?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The Secretary-General addressed that when he spoke to all of you in the MALU Square, just upstairs from here, and he said that there has been some speculation. He said he would be travelling to the Middle East. But we are not going to be giving dates for visits to that part of the world for obvious reasons.

Inner City Press: Yeah, but when you said that, I just, I am only saying it because since Riyad Mansour said it was in connection with the African Union one, does it mean it’s not taking place?

Spokesperson: Yes, but with respect, Riyad Mansour does not speak for the Secretary-General; I speak for the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: Okay, that’s fine, that’s fine, I just wanted to compare the two. And the other is, and I appreciate it, I saw it yesterday you did say that the flight from Beirut to the United Arab Emirates was, was you know, the United Arab Emirates for the purposes of speed, provided a plane, and I want to say I appreciate the answer. So, I just, I want to ask is, as I just, is it the case that, I understand that it has happened under previous Secretary-Generals. Maybe you think it is perfectly normal? Is it the Secretariat’s position that any Member State that offered transportation, that such an offer would be accepted or is there some kind of a screening process? And related, meaning like for example, if Syria right now said, just, or Zimbabwe, is there some, is there some process by which, is any offer for travel by any Member State accepted because it helps the UN budget or is there some [inaudible]? ?

Spokesperson: It’s actually primarily not to do with the budget. It is simply to do with time constraints; because in some cases, to be able to get from A to B commercially would take too long to be able to get to the next event, the next meetings in a timely fashion. It is as simple as that. And I think it goes, without saying, that it is thought about extremely carefully.

Inner City Press: Yeah, and just, the reason I ask this is that I am, I have been told that in some cases Member States, in some cases in the past, have later presented a bill for just what you are saying that it is not for the budget; it is for convenience and is billed. So I wondered, I am just saying just objectively, without casting any aspersions that assistance like free air travel could seem to create a conflict of interest. Not a financial one, not a personal one, but political one. For example, if a country provided travel, you know to the Secretary-General on a long trip, some might say that this, it might make the Secretary-General less likely to criticize that country. Or just from the outside. So, I wanted to know, has the United Arab Emirates billed for this? In some cases does the UN reimburse the country for travel, or is it always, is it ad hoc, if you understand what I am asking?

Spokesperson: I think the point here is that this is not something new. It has been done in the past on occasions when it has been necessary, because of time constraints or other considerations, to be able to get from one point to another, and that has not been possible commercially. As you well know, and as I mentioned yesterday and as you saw in our e-mail to you, pretty much all of the travel is on commercial flights or on UN peacekeeping aircraft. And there are certainly no movies on them. That’s for sure.

Inner City Press: Sure. I just want, I mean, going forward, is it, if it is true that it is almost all, it seems like if you were to disclose when this type of assistance is received you probably wouldn’t have to disclose much, but I guess I am making a request. Because of the possible conflict of interest of receiving assistance from particular Member States, are you going to disclose or does it have to be asked, in regard to each trip?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, we heard what you said before on this; you’ve asked in the same way that trips, that flights of that kind should be made known. And obviously I will do what I can to help you with that, as I did this time and as I did when we went to Libya.

Inner City Press: Okay.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Okay, yeah.

  So we'll expect disclosure in the future? In advance unless dangerous? We'll see.

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