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At the UN, a Ban Ki-moon for the Misbegotten, Amid Bad Reviews, Ban To Meet the Press

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN - related article here

UNITED NATIONS, July 16 -- If Ban Ki-moon were a Broadway play, it might be closing time.

            This statement is not a review, but a meta review-of-reviews. Consider the scathing "six months of Ban" stories in the Times of London ("weak and too pro-American"), the Guardian ("his record so far is underwhelming"), even from a supporter ("Ban Ki Whom?").  While like other UN correspondents, Inner City Press has country-specific questions, for example about Africa, the Team Ban issues raised in the reviews should be addressed head-on, including at this morning's press conference, live-blogged below:

Ban enters at 10:36 a.m. with guards and a prepared statement. A joke about London being about "Browns, Gordon and Malloch." An apology for not holding the promised press conferences. And then about Darfur - "I will push" (within limits).

10:42, second topic: North Korea, upbeat. Afghanistan... Pakistan, condemning terrorist attacks, pro Musharaf, but "delicate balance." Lastly -- July 26-27 to San Francisco, for U.S. leaders, UNAUSA. "Govern-ator" joke, preemptive use of French.

Q1: Iraq. "Very sensitive," Ban says. "I will not inject myself into American debate."

Q2: Climate change. Ban says he will discuss with Bush, along with funding of the UN.

Q3: Israel and Syria, Golan Heights. Ban answers first about Palestine, then Syria. "I would be happy to facilitate."

Q4: Hybrid force for Darfur and U.S.. "On detailed matters" will not comment on Security Council matters. Sudan's commitment was "unconditional" -- but hybrid will be "mostly African Union."

Q5: Open ended, about Cyprus, to which Ban says while journalists call him "faceless," he is not.

Q6: Kosovo, trolling for statement on Russia. Ban hopes Council addresses based on his special envoy's recommendation.

Q7: About audits of DPKO in Congo, and UNDP in North Korea. Ban reads from notes, says not much money was misused, but irregularities, auditors from visit Pyongyang.

  There is a need for follow up question(s) on this, but none were  allowed -- see subsequent article here.

           Team Ban has taken to summoning journalists up to the 38th floor, in part to demand who is telling them that South Korean staffers are insulating the S-G. A number of scribes have been told that in the "morning meetings," only two participants are from the Republic of Korea: Ban and Kim Won-soo, who for the first time on July 13 was acknowledged to have been given Assistant Secretary General rank, for his ostensible post as deputy chief of staff.

            It is said in the UN's hallways, on many floors beyond 38, that the technical chief of staff Vijay Nambiar is considering leaving the job. Others scoff that India would never give up its highest posting. Others retort that Nambiar wasn't really India's choice. He was an Annan man from way back. Passport is not destiny, they say.

Team Ban returning from Afghanistan

            Also rumored to be mulling pulling the rip cord (the reference, if needs be said, is to parachutes) is Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena. Inner City Press has reported, after asking Ms. Barcena directly without answer, that she declined to agree to Mr. Ban's stated goal of having all top staffers waive their right to "reversion," to returning to being UN staff after service as political appointees. Ms. Barcena, some close to her say, wants to return to ECLAC in Santiago. She was present last week at the UN Pension Board meetings. But how long will she be here?

            Then there's the matter of the S-G's Spokesperson's Office. Due to conflict of interest -- we deal with them on a daily basis -- Inner City Press cannot report all that it knows. But while frustration grows among the press corps, the Spokesperson's defenders say the problems run higher up. If information is not provided, from floor 38 to eight and three, the resulting tensions are inevitable. At the top of the Department of Public Information, the job is described as "protecting Ban Ki-moon." What of facilitating truth? We hope to have more on this in the week to come.

   We also hope to live-blog Mr. Ban's July 16 press conference, in this space. These questions should be allowed -- and they should be answered. We'll see.


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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540