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Annan's Spokesman and Author Eckhard Says Oil for Food Overplayed, Is Asked of UN Decay, Off Record

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 26 -- There was an air of nostalgia Friday at the UN, as Kofi Annan's former spokesman Fred Eckhart signed copies of his book, “A Spokesperson's Memoir,” gave a short speech and then answered some questions.

  Those in the audience were fans, of Annan and Eckhard; some are less positive about the current UN administration. The mood was wistful, almost.

  It is difficult to fully describe the scene, as Eckhard began by saying that while his opening statement was on the record, he wanted what followed -- that is, his answers -- to be “off the record, even for blogs.” Duly noted.

  In his prepared remarks, Eckhard said that those of the “right wing” misused or mis-portrayed the Oil for Food scandal. He said the book was born in the UN cafeteria (now only open to 4 pm, unlike in Eckhard's day), when along with Annan's chief of communications Edward Mortimer he decided a list of Annan's accomplishments should be prepared.

  Eckhard made the list, then made it into a book. Objectively, it has been humbly slow to market. James Traub wrote a quick book, joined last year by Annan's own memoir. And now Eckhard's. (We're adding this link to the book on

(By contrast, so far in English Annan's successor Ban Ki-moon's book is a series of breezy Conversations with Tom Plate, click here for atmospherics of belated Princeton Club launch -- which was, however, all on the record).

  From public sources, most of them UN-related, it can be reported that Eckhard is helping girls in Burkina Faso and that he taught in China -- intriguingly, a course on the role of the Spokesperson. (Mortimer, meanwhile, works on issues like Sri Lanka. These were and remain true believers, we say not without nostalgia and respect.)

Eckhard & Stephane Dujarric, action on USG (Ladsous) not shown

  While Eckhard's answers must sadly go unreported, these were Inner City Press' interests:

  What about the Secretary General's Spokesperson's Office getting thrown out of the Security Council, where it used to be allowed a seat in closed door consultations?

  As Inner City Press reported at the time, Ban Ki-moon's then chief of staff Vijay Nambiar pushed back, very gently, and the ouster was complete.

  And what would a UN Spokesperson of Eckhard's time have done if a UN Under Secretary General started saying openly that he would not answer any questions from a particular media or reporter? Is that good for the UN and for this the US is supposed to serve?

  One can imagine Eckhard's answer. But for now, we'll have to leave this to the imagination: work on these issues will continue. Watch this site.

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