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Tony Blair's UN Role May Conflict with New Job with JP Morgan Chase, Subprime View of UN

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 10 -- J.P. Morgan Chase has hired former UK prime minister Tony Blair, it was reported Thursday. The AP repeated Blair's claim that "the appointment won't infringe on his duties with the so-called Quartet - the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia... helping the Palestinians build up their economy and governing bodies in preparation for the establishment of a Palestinian state." But might it create at least the perception of a conflict of interest? 

    Is it impossible that J.P. Morgan Chase may have economic interests in the area, in which case Tony Blair would be attempting to serve at least two masters? On Thursday morning Inner City Press asked the UN spokesperson's office for their response, including that if no prohibition is said to apply, what safeguards will be put in place. Having received no answer, the question was asked at Friday's UN noon briefing. Spokesperson Michele Montas replied that "I have absolutely no comment on that," adding "as you know, Mr. Blair is an envoy of the Quartet, not of the UN." But not only is the UN one of the four Quartet members -- as stated by the UN's Michael Williams in the Security Council on August 29, 2007, "several United Nations offices and departments are collaborating to finalize arrangements for the provision of financial management and security support for Mr. Blair's mission." In practice this has meant that the UN Development Program rented ten room for Tony in Jerusalem, click here for that story.

  When Inner City Press asked if Blair had asked the UN about any possible conflict of interest or safeguards, Ms. Montas said, "He doesn't have to." When asked if Blair had asked the Quartet -- on which the UN sits -- Ms. Montas said, "You should ask Mr. Blair." Video here, from Minute 15:20.

Tony Blair and blue - of UN or JP Morgan Chase?

            For now, using J.P. Morgan Chase's involvement in and exposure to the subprime and predatory lending crisis as the bridge, consider the UN's just-released World Economic Situation and Prospects 2008, which in reference to "rising defaults in the U.S. subprime mortgage market" recommends that "regulatory standards have to be introduced for investor protection." But what about consumer protection? On January 9, Inner City Press asked Rob Vos, Director of UN DESA's Development Policy and Analysis Division, about this seeming lack of focus on consumers. Video here, from Minute 47:35.

    "Maybe you're right we overemphasize" capital markets, Vos answered, acknowledging that the DESA report does not mention "any mechanism to compensate consumers," that can "perhaps be addressed in subsequent reports." Here's hoping. And what will Tony Blair say about Morgan Chase and subprime lending, or about the demonstrations in front of Morgan Chase's headquarters on Park Avenue about the Darfur issue? We'll see.

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These reports are 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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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