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UN's Ban on Capitol Hill Grilled about Reform, Praised as Hardworking, Darfur Raised

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

CAPITOL HILL, March 11 -- The UN's Ban Ki-moon, beginning his second day in the U.S. capital, swept with his entourage down a windowless hallway of the Rayburn Office Building to one of the conference rooms of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. He had met with the committee's chairman Howard Berman, but now faced Republicans including Ranking Member Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and Joe Wilson of South Carolina. On his way in to room 2255, Ban stopped and joked to Inner City Press, "You are accredited here too?" 

   The head of Ban's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe chided, "You'll have to shoot your White House source for yesterday, Myanmar wasn't mentioned." He may have misread the Inner City Press news analysis: the source spoke just before Ban's closed door meeting with Obama. No UN correspondent was allowed to the subsequent press availability, at which in any event there were no questions. The analysis was of how the Obama administration is changing its Myanmar policy based on lobbying from oil and gas firms.

  While the House meeting, too, was closed-door, three Representatives emerged and spoke with the Press. Democrat Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts talked about a study he had commissioned from the GAO for the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight that he chairs, which concluded that supporting UN Peacekeeping is cheaper for the U.S., for example in Haiti, than the U.S. "doing it itself."

   Rep. Delahunt was asked if Ban Ki-moon is viewed as an effective leader. "He is hard-working," Rep. Delahunt answered after a time. And his views are consistent with those of many members.

  Rep. Joe Wilson added that Ban's visit to southern Israel, in a show of solidarity "about Hamas' rockets," was positively viewed. Rep. Wilson compared Ban favorably to Kofi Annan on this score. He said he'd raised to Ban "nuclear proliferation and Iran." Inner City Press asked him if North Korea had been raised.  I should have raised that, Rep. Wilson said. One might have added Sri Lanka, as Wilson serves on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and head UN Peacekeeper Alain Le Roy later told Inner City Press that the words Sri Lanka were not raised in the House meetings, nor with President Obama.

UN's Ban and President Obama -- Q&A not shown, but see below

  Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen took a decidedly different tack. She said that while Ban claimed to be moving on "transparency, accountability and reform... we all tend to raise our eyebrows when we hear this."

  Inner City Press asked if whistleblower protections had arisen. Yes, I brought up the UN Development Program, she answered, Ban is going to select a new Administrator for UNDP who should be expected to improve UNDP's whistleblower protections and ethics programs.

  Ironically, some now express concern that Ban may simply promote the current Associate Administrator Ad Melkert, who oversaw much of the retaliation against whistleblowers on which Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has spoken, as early as Thursday.

   When Ban Ki-moon emerged, to his credit he stopped briefing to speak to the Press. On climate change, he said he is urging Senator John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey to pass climate change, or cap and trade, legislation before the December conference in Copenhagen.

  Inner City Press asked what Ban is urging the U.S. to go about the situation in Darfur, from which 13 large NGOs have been expelled. Ban cited President Obama's statements of the evening previous, then said with some passion that "humanitarian work has nothing to do with the ICC," the International Criminal Court, and that "we provide 1.2 million people with humanitarian assistance."

  Ban was asked if he had, as Rep. Ros-Lehtinen had said, called the United States a "deadbeat." He indicted that he had used the word.  Ros-Lehtinen had expressed anger at this, wondering why by contrast Ban is so diplomatic about human rights violators. The Myanmar situation again came to mind. But, to be clear, the word Myanmar was not uttered in either of Ban's meetings.

  Ban's Spokesperson indicated that he had to go. His entourage, including his Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff Kim Won-soo -- who was not listed as present in the previous day's pool report -- and the American Robert Orr, Lynn Pascoe and the chief of the UN Information Center in Washington Will Davis, hustled down a stairway to the waiting limousine and mini-bus.

  Alain Le Roy trailed behind, answering questions to the end. He confirmed to Inner City Press that the issue of which bank UNRWA uses had been raised -- by Ros-Lehtinen -- and that Ban had said he would have to look into it. He confirmed that neither Sri Lanka nor Madagascar had come up, "unfortunately." He said that while the previous administration was in favor of  UN Peacekeeping mission in Somalia, the current one says it needs to study the issue. And then the bus and limousine sped off.

   To some it appears that, under these Democrats, UN reform issues have fallen off the table. Even Ban's supporters, when asked about his effectiveness or charisma, answer only that he is hardworking -- which is undeniable.  We'll have more on this.

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

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.

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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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