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In North Korea, UN Did Not Raise Press Freedom, Hires Staff from Gov't Lists, UN's "Comparative Advantage"?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- How badly does the UN under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon want to be relevant in North Korea? His senior advisor Kim Won-soo and his Political Affairs chief Lynn Pascoe traveled to Pyongyang and did not even raise the issue of press freedom.

   In response to questions from Inner City Press upon their return, Mr. Kim said that "things are moving forward," while Mr. Pascoe claimed that the UN Development Program "hires its own employees now rather then take them through the government." Video here, from Minute 12:52.

  But Mr. Kim later clarified that UNDP staff will still be chosen from lists forwarded by the Kim Jong-Il government, only there will be "multiple" candidates. He acknowledged that the UN still has problems with "access and visas" but said there are at the "local level." In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, it all comes from the top: Kim Jong-Il, with whom the two did not even meet.

  Earlier on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists has named North Korea as the most censored country on earth, and had called on Ban Ki-moon to speak out more forcefully on press freedom. Inner City Press asked Pascoe and Kim Won-soo about this. Pascoe said they hadn't raised press freedom "per se." Kim Won-soo, who was asked twice about press freedom, did not answer the question.

  Most questions were about whether North Korea will rejoin the Six Party talks about its nuclear programs. That is up to the Six Parties, Pascoe and Kim Won-soo repeatedly said. The UN is a go between. For example, Pascoe said that his staffer Aleksandr Ilitchev is "going to Moscow tomorrow," after along with Ban staff Lee Sang-Hwa being on the trip, presumably to brief on the Six Party talks.

  On UNDP, Mr. Kim told Inner City Press, "You are right, UNDP's program has been suspended for two and a half years. The Resident Coordinator [moved back] three months ago." According to Mr. Kim, he's had to focus on renovating the UN office and residence. "The building was empty, so we couldn't see any safe there," he said, referring to the safe in which counterfeit dollars were found, which UNDP never reported until a whistleblower raised it.

  That whistleblower was something of an elephant in the briefing room on Tuesday, with Mr. Kim Won-soo assuring that all UN programs in North Korea will now be scrutinized. Ironically he mentioned a "geo-spacial" mapping project which was one of those that got the UNDP program into trouble two and a half years ago.

Background: Five months into Ban's tenure atop the UN, in May 2007, he was angered by the leak to Inner City Press of a internal memo ("Korea Peninsula UN Policy and Strategy Submission to the Policy Committee") proposing that the UN use its "comparative advantage" to make itself relevant on the North Korea issue.
Now, the competitive advantage is being used.

  Back in 2007, Ban had been forced to order an audit of the UN Development Program's North Korea practices, including funding project which it could neither visit nor oversee. UNDP's program had been suspended.

  The UN memo stated that "Unless [the suspension] is reversed, the UNDP program risks being terminated. Rather than being able to support the six-party talks process and international engagement with North Korea at this critical juncture, the UN will lose its unique comparative advantage in that area altogether."

  Recently, despite the continuing nuclear standoff and renewed firing across the border, as well as lack of movement on human rights, UNDP re-started its North Korea program. And now the Ban administration's "comparative advantage" is back.

UN's Ban, Mr. Kim and Lynn Pascoe, press freedom not shown or raised

  After the February 16 briefing, Mr. Kim Won-soo stayed and answered further questions. He said there are 39 international staff from six UN agencies currently in North Korea. He said the programs there spend approximately $45 million a year; he pointed out that's $2 a person. UNDP will come up with a five year plan by "sometime in March," then seek approval from the UNDP board. Things are, he said, moving in the right direction. And on those who seek to leave the country? And on press freedom? Watch this site.

Footnote: this was Kim Won-soo's first on the record briefing at the UN, following requests made based on the JoongAng Ilbo's on the record quote about the trip attributed to Mr. Kim. Later, also on the record, Ban's Associate Spokesperson Choi Soung-ah told Inner City Press that Mr. Kim "did not give an exclusive to JoongAng Ilbo." But the UN never sought a retraction. Mr. Kim appeared on Tuesday, and Inner City Press asked him to return for another briefing about the Ban administration's wider work. We'll see.

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As UN's Ban Rolls Dice on N. Korea Trip, Kim Won-soo Is Asked to Brief Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 3 -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, returning from a brief trip during which protesters in South Sudan told him to "repent before judgment" while he was snubbed in Cyprus by four political parties, is said by close observers to be "rolling the dice" on a trip to North Korea.

  "Ban wants to be remembered as the S-G when the Koreas reunited," the close insider said. "If it happens, all the other failures will be forgotten."

   The importance of the upcoming trip to Ban's closest inner circle is reflected by on the record quotes that his main advisor Kim Won soo -- Ban's Karl Rove, as some put it -- gave to the JoongAng Daily. Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky, with his own Korean connections, about the quote at Wednesday noon briefing, UN transcription here, video here:

Inner City Press... You said the other three members; who are the other three members of Mr. Pascoe’s team?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Kim Won-soo, the Deputy Chef de Cabinet is one of them, and two other members of staff.

Inner City Press: Of DPA or of the Executive Office of the Secretary General?

Spokesperson: One of each.

Inner City Press: Okay. I had asked earlier about when it was first announced that Kim Won-soo was quoted in Joong Ang Daily, describing the trip, saying it may have a nuclear component, as well as humanitarian. So, I was wondering, I mean, those are his quotes, right? That he spoke on the record Joong Ang?

Spokesperson: Well, you have to ask Kim Won-soo.

Inner City Press: That’s why I asked. When it first came up, I actually asked whether he could be a part of the briefing with Lynn Pascoe, since I don’t think he’s ever briefed the media on the record, but he seems to have a pretty important role within the Executive Office of the Secretariat, and obviously he is willing to speak on the record to at least some media. Is that possible to convey that request?

UN's Kim, at left, with UN's Ban and Munoz, on glaciers

Spokesperson: I will certainly convey it.

  Hours later when Ban and his entourage, including Vijay Nambiar and Lynn Pascoe, passed the Press at the Security Council stakeout, Kim Won-soo waved over. Correspondents recounted anecdotes from Ban's trip last month to Haiti. There was general agreement: Mister Kim must brief the press, and on the record. We'll see. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

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

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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