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As Seoul Accuses Pyongyang, Ban Reacts After Obama, But Will Not Take to Council

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 19, updated -- On the sinking of South Korea's ship Cheonan, the proverbial other shoe dropped on Wednesday evening, New York time. The South Korean government formally accused North Korea of sinking the ship with a torpedo, and killing 46 sailors on board. The finding had been telegraphed the day before by South Korea's foreign minister, who said there was little doubt that North Korea did.

  At the UN noon briefing on May 19, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky for a comment:

Inner City Press: Can I ask about [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?  I am figuring you will have an if-asked on this one.  The Foreign Minister of [the Republic of Korea] has said that there is little doubt that [The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is responsible for the sinking of that ship and the killing of the sailors.  What is the Secretary-General — given his interest, obviously, in the peace in the peninsula — what does he, does he have any comment on that?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky:  He has obviously been following this situation with concern and he has seen the comments reported in the media today.  We will have to await the official report, which is expected to be forthcoming tomorrow from the Republic of Korea before we can make any further comment.

  On the morning of May 19, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon himself about Korea, albeit about reports that the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue said he was tailed around by the country's intelligence service. I have seen the press reports, Ban genially answered. Then he gave a pun-laden talk about distracted driving.

  Later on May 19, after 6 p.m., Nesirky was seen in the UN's new North Lawn building with Ban's top political advisor, the American Lynn Pascoe. And so, when South Korea made its announcement and the White House in Washington already had a statement out, Inner City Press asked Nesirky for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's response.

  "It will be coming shortly," Nesirky wrote at 10:15 pm. Twelve minutes later, 22 minutes after the White House statement, Nesirky commented as follows:

The Secretary-General has learned of the results of the investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship of the Republic of Korea with a heavy heart and serious concern. The Secretary-General appreciates the restrained and patient efforts of the Government of the Republic of Korea to investigate this incident in an objective and scientific manner by both domestic and international experts.

The facts laid out in the report are deeply troubling.  As Secretary-General of the United Nations, he will continue to closely follow developments. The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to express once again his deep sadness over the loss of the sailors. He also extends his heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved families as well as to the people and the Government of the Republic of Korea.

Some might contrast Ban's call for an investigation of 46 deaths by "international experts" with his reluctance, even in the face of calls by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Right Watch, to call for any outside review of the killing by the Sri Lankan government last week of tens of thousands of civilians. Others might point out that this is a cross border incident, not as Ban seems to view Sri Lanka's bloodbath on the beach, a merely internal matter.

  But what steps, really, can or will be taken on North Korea? The U.S. is said to want to keep Kim Jong-Il in power, at least for now, for fear of unknown forces gaining control of Pyongyang's weapons.

  Ban Ki-moon earlier this year dispatched his senior advisor Kim Won-soo and Pascoe to North Korea. They came back with surprisingly upbeat reports about the potential for rapprochement. And now?

UN's Ban and South Korea's Lee, Ban and OSSG in UN Council not seen

  On the morning of May 19, Inner City Press asked another of Ban's spokespeople, with even great knowledge of Korea than Mr. Nesirky, who covered the Peninsula for Reuters, if Ban would consider raising the matter to the Security Council pursuant to his powers under Article 99 of the UN Charter. No, was the answer. Inner City Press has sought confirmation and explanation from Nesirky, but at press time it had not yet been received. Watch this site.

Footnote: perhaps relatedly, Nesirky on May 19 confirmed that he and his Office, unlike prior to April 2010, do not have access to any of the Security Council's closed consultations. On May 19 Inner City Press asked him:

Inner City Press: can you confirm that the Chief of Staff, Vijay Nambiar, did write a letter to the Council when this issue first came up, and can you say whether the Council responded?  It just seems strange that you have… when you say “your office”, was there a response made to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, saying that they could enter but your Office could not, as we understand it?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I would simply repeat what I have said.  My Office has not been directly informed; this does not mean — and I have said it here, too — this does not mean that we have not been trying.  And when I say “we”, that means the Executive Office of the Secretary-General as well, trying to understand and to have a clear answer.  But I personally have not received a clear answer. 

 It is hard to think this will be helpful for this Secretary General to raise or monitor the North Korea -- or DPRK as Nesirky is always quickly to point out -- issues in the Security Council. Watch this site.

Update of 10:57 p.m. -- Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky has responded to questions about Special Rapporteur La Rue being tailed by intelligence agents, and whether Mr. Ban would use his powers under Article 99 of the UN Charter to raise the issue to the Council with this:

"At this stage I would add that we need to follow developments closely before we make any further comment - the findings are only just out."

Meanwhile in Beijing the vice foreign minister of China has called the sinking "unfortunate," but has similarly declined to address the specifics of South Korea's report and accusation. Watch this site.

* * *
As Korea's Lee Says UN to Help Sinking Probe, UN Says Nothing

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 8 -- Days after a South Korean Navy ship Cheonan's deadly sinking, President Lee Myung-bak told the press that the United Nations, headed by former South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon, would be assisting in determining the cause of the incident.

  But when on April 7 Inner City Press Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe about President Lee's statement, Ms. Okabe professed not to know anything about any UN assistance to South Korea. From the UN transcript, video here

Inner City Press: wanted to ask, President Lee [Myung-bak] of [the Republic of] Korea, in light of the ship that sank, has said that he is seeking or has obtained UN expertise to investigate the causes of the sinking of the ship. Has [the Republic of] Korea asked for UN help?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: I have nothing on that. If that is a press report, I have not seen that yet. Okay?

   But this is not okay. If the president of a G-20 member like South Korea says that the UN "will" help with something, one should be able to believe it.

  Agence France Presse, long before the UN's April 7 noon briefing, reported that

"We are going to carry out a very objective investigation, even with help from the United Nations, so that we may have results which cannot be denied by anybody," Lee told a meeting with senior citizens.

"We have to cooperate with experts from advanced countries and the United Nations to carry out a thorough probe and (when the results come out), the government must take stern measures." Lee's office confirmed the comments

  The JoongAng Daily, which ran the first on the record quote from Mr. Ban's senior advisor Kim Won-soo about his trip to North Korea earlier this year, reported well before the April 7 noon briefing:

Speaking to members of the Korean Senior Citizens Association at a Blue House luncheon, Lee said halfhearted efforts wouldn’t get the job done.

“Experts from developed nations and the United Nations will together carry out painstaking investigations,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Blue House. “They will come up with findings that no one can ever refute, and the government will take firm measures as necessary.”

Addressing speculation surrounding the sinking, Lee reiterated the importance of “credibility.”

  Yes, credibility is important. Watch this site.

* * *

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.

* * *

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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