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As UN Speaks of Two Dead Americans, Libya Tent Unanswered, Hyannis to Monrovia

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 26 -- The UN on Wednesday spoke of two dead Americans: Ted Kennedy and an American civilian they left nameless while saying that prior to his death in Liberia on August 24, he was under investigation for child sexual abuse. Liberian press accounts name him alternatively as Ford Knight or Dale Fosnight, which is a name in the UN email system, and say that he was suspected of similar abuse while at his previous assignment for the UN in Sierra Leone.

   In New York, after the UN's noon press briefing was interrupted for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to delivery a eulogy of sorts to Ted Kennedy, recollecting each time they met, Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas to confirm or deny that the UN was aware of the Sierra Leone allegations. Ms. Montas denied it, saying that the UN acted only on complaints by people in Liberia.

  Moments before the noon briefing was to begin, reporters were ordered out of the room. A bomb sniffing dog entered. The word went out: Ban Ki-moon will speak! More journalists than usual subsequently came downstairs. Bets were taken: was it going to be a unilateral statement about Ted Kennedy, with no questions taken? Some bet no, pointing at a lectern sometimes used by Ms. Montas while choosing whom to allow to question Mr. Ban.

  Ms Montas became reading off notices and press releases, including about the dead American civilian employ of the UN in Monrovia and that he was under investigation. Suddenly Mr. Ban came in. Ms. Montas asked him if he wanted to use the lectern or her seat on the podium. Ban took the lectern, and the gamblers in the room concluded there would be no Q&A.

   Ban rambled on about Ted visiting him "in UNDP" on December 17, 2006, bringing him a photograph with John F. Kennedy from August 1962. JFK and JFK, he said, noting that he has a degree from the JFK School of Government. When he finished, he pauses and a question was shouted out that many surmised had been planted, about climate change.

  Ban answered it, then as he left several reporters asked about the Mona Juul memo, full text here. Ban was prepared for that too, saying that he welcomes constructive criticism, including from the press. Then he left, avoiding a question about Libya's Gadaffi and his tent.

 Less than a month now before Libya leader Mohamar Qaddafi's scheduled descent on New York and the UN with his tent, there is talk of confining his visit to the UN's riverside compound, or to a barge just offshore in the East River. Push back, NYC sources tell Inner City Press, is coming not only from elected officials like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, but also from the UN's Capital Master Plan.

  The CMP is in charge of the UN's North Lawn, on a portion of which a replacement General Assembly building is being erected by the UN's contractor Skanska. This contractor, already embroiled in litigation, recently had one of its workers stopped at the UN's entrance on First Avenue carrying illegal brass knuckles complete with spikes.

UN's Ban in Libya tent: back to the future?

  In the aftermath of al-Maghahi's release by Scotland and his hero's welcome in Libya, U.S. politicians called for action. New York Senator Chuck Schumer called for UN Ambassador Susan Rice to introduce a resolution condemning Libya. Three days ago Inner City Press asked for comment from four individuals at the US Mission to the UN. No response has yet been received.

   Now New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has called for Qaddafi to be limited to the UN's riverside compound, from 42nd to 48th Street, First Avenue to the River. NYC authorities, who have reportedly rejected Central Park and the old Yankee Stadium among other venues for Qaddafi, say that the UN still has enough space, even with the construction of the temporarily General Assembly -- which they're calling "out of code" on other grounds, watch this site.

At the UN noon briefing on August 24, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas:

Inner City Press: On the issue of Mr. Al-Megrahi that was returned to Libya and the controversy around it. Some have said that Muammar Al-Qadhafi has in the past and would have this year, pitched his tent on the North Lawn but for the construction. Is that the case? What’s been the history in the past when President Qadhafi comes where he puts his tent? Has he put it on UN land, and will he be here this year?

Spokesperson: I can check… No, it’s not going to happen this year. I can check for you what has happened in the past. I don’t have the exact information, but we can check that for you. I know it is customary for him, whenever he moves around, to go with his tent. I don’t know what will be done in this specific case.

[The spokesperson later said that according to UN Protocol, the planned visit by Muammar Al-Qadhafi will be the first by the Libyan leader to UN headquarters.]

Inner City Press: Okay. And has anyone in the UN system had any response on the appropriateness of both the release of Mr. Al-Megrahi and his, the way he was received upon his return to Libya?

Spokesperson: We don’t have any comments on that.

  Media footnote: with American media in a frenzy on August 26 about Edward M. Kennedy, there were "get the news out of the way" press conferences by scandal-ridden basketball coach Rick Pitino and South Carolina's governor.

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At UN, Norway's Trashing of Ban Stirs Rumors of Endgame: Full Text

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 20 -- The indictment of the administration of the UN by Ban Ki-moon signed by Norway's deputy ambassador Mona Juul [full text below] gathered strength and supporters on Thursday. Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe on August 19 for Ban's view of Juul's memo and "how does it impact his planned trip to Norway at the end of this month?"

   Ms. Okabe answered that "We do not know the veracity of the reports to which you refer... we have not announced the Secretary-General’s next travel plans." Transcript here.

    Thursday it emerged that the plan had been to announced Ban's Norway trip on August 19, but that the announcement was pulled back in the face of news of and questions about the Juul memo. Inner City Press has interviewed two senior Ban administration officials, both of whom acknowledge that Juul's critique is devastating, even debilitating.

   Norway is a big donor, one of them said, noting that Sudan, on the other end of the spectrum, has also protested Ban. "Who will stand up for him?" the other official asked rhetorically. Of the reheated rumors in the memo, including that top humanitarian John Holmes might replace Vijay Nambiar as Ban's chief of staff, as Inner City Press has previously predicted, the official said that Holmes might do a better job. But India, then, would need another post.

  The Ban administration officials both said that a new communications strategy is needed. They speculated who will takeover as spokesperson in November. While one has been predicting another outsider from Newsweek, the better placed official now predicts a French speaker from within the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information. It's been a disaster, both conceded, of recent and reduced UN noon briefings.

  Things are actually worse that Juul presents them, in that her memo does not touch on the brewing nepotism and corruption scandals at the UN.

    Several under-reported aspect of Juul's memo are eye catching: her description of Deputy Secretary General Migiro's limited scope of responsibility, her diplomatic dismissal of Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann as a "rather special President of the General Assembly."  She hits Ban even on his signature issue, climate change. Juul describes "a culture of decision-making which is marked by information both up and down the system being filtered by the omnipresent assistant chief of cabinet Kim" Won-soo.

  Self- (or Norway-) servingly, Juul wrote that "Ban has consistently chosen special representatives and leaders in the Secretariat who don’t distinguish themselves, except for the case of Afghanistan" -- the SRSG is Norwegian, Kai Eide. One wonders why Juul didn't in the memo praise her husband, USG Terje Roed Larsen.

  Also ill-informed was Juul's quip that "As a woman from that part of the world, [UNDP's Helen ] Clark could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second period." New Zealand may geographically be in Asia, but politically at the UN it is part of the WEOG (Western European and Other Group). More likely is the scenario first laid out by Inner City Press, that China in exchange for getting to head the World Bank in 2012 allows another group -- possible WEOG or an Eastern European -- to take over the UN Secretary General's post. Click here for that Inner City Press exclusive; see below for full text of Juul. Watch this site.

Team Ban on 38 last month, Mona Juul not shown

  The Juul memo, translated by the "Group of Friend on Inner City Press," is below:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moons fruitless visit to Burma at the beginning of July was emblematic of a Secretary-General and an organization that is struggling to show leadership. At a time where the UN and the need for multilateral solutions to global crises is more necessary than ever, Ban and the UN are conspicuous by their absence. In the last half-year, follow-up to the many crises that dominated last fall’s General Assembly should have brought the Secretary-General and the UN fully into the fray, but the opposite seems to have occurred.

In relation to the financial crisis, neither the Secretary-General nor the General Assembly – despite the major meeting on the financial crisis at the end of June – have distinguished themselves as the most important arena for discussion, and the vacuum has been filled by the G-20 and other actors. Ban's voice on behalf of the G-192 and the poor has hardly [there’s a misspelling in the original; “kapt” is not a word but “knapt” means “hardly”] registered. An at times invisible Secretary-General in combination with a rather special President of the General Assembly has gone far to sideline the UN, and the organization hasn’t realized its limits. On the environment/energy area the UN is also struggling to be relevant, despite the planned high-level meeting on climate change at the opening of the General Assembly this fall. Even though the Secretary-General to the point of boredom repeats that Copenhagen is supposed to “seal the deal,” there is widespread worry that the UN-high-level meeting won’t contribute notably to the process leading up to Copenhagen.

In the many political/security crises around the world, the Secretary-General’s leadership and ability to deliver on behalf of the UN is still being sought. Burma is a shining example of this. There was no lack of warning that the Secretary-General shouldn’t go at this time. The Americans were among the most doubtful to his trip, but the British thought he should go. Special Representative Gambari was initially also doubtful, but Ban insisted. Gambari pointed to the fact that recent negative press coverage (headlines like “Whereabouts unknown in The Times and “Nowwhere Man [sic]” in Foreign Policy) had made Ban even more set on visiting Burma. After an apparently fruitless visit by the Secretary-General, the UN’s “good offices” will become even more problematic. Special Representative Gambari will have big problems continuing after “the top man” has failed and the generals in Yangoon [sic] no longer want to meet him.

Another example of weak handling from the Secretary-General’s side is the war in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to civilians in their thousands losing their lives and being driven from their homes. The authorities in Colombo refused to receive the Secretary-General while the war was going on, but he was an honored guest -- and he accepted the invitation -- once the war had been “won.” Even though the UN’s humanitarian effort had been active and honorable enough, the Secretary-General’s moral voice and authority have been absent.

Also in other “crisis areas,” for example Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and not least Congo, the Secretary-General’s passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears. Many would also claim that the handling of the inquiry commission after the war in Gaza ended up with an unsteady and too-careful follow-up.

More surprisingly, and therefore more disappointingly, Ban Ki-moon has been almost absent on the disarmament and non-proliferation area. This was a field he himself presented as one of his priority areas before he started his post. The reorganization of the department of disarmament to an office directly answerable to the Secretary-General, led by a High Representative indicated a big stake in this area, also given the Secretary-General’s own background on the Korean peninsula. With a new nonproliferation treaty review in 2010 and an American administration which has put the team much higher on the agenda, it’s cause for concern that the Secretary-General isn’t more committed.

The common thread in all these cases is that an unclear Secretary-General with a lack of charisma is not compensated for by high-profile and visible colleagues. Ban has consistently chosen special representatives and leaders in the Secretariat who don’t distinguish themselves, except for the case of Afghanistan. Furthermore, he seems to prefer to be in the center himself, without competition from his colleagues, and lets it shine through pretty clearly that commenting to the media is a privilege belonging to himself. The result is that the UN becomes a less visible and relevant player in areas where it would have been natural and necessary for an active UN-engagement. A notable exception is the selection of Helen Clark as the new leader for UNDP. She has in her short time on the job shown promise. It will be interesting to follow if she is given room to distinguish the UN’s development side. As a woman from that part of the world, Clark could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second period.

It was common knowledge that it was a conscious choice [NB! The Norwegian word “bevist” which is written here means “proven,” but in this context it appears to be a misspelling of the word “bevisst” meaning “conscious.”] from the then-current American administration that an activist Secretary-General was not wanted. The new American administration hasn’t yet signaled any change in their attitude to Ban, even though there are rumors that some people in Washington are now referring to Ban as “a one-term SG”. It’s said that the people around both Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton are very negative to Ban, but the two are yet to speak on the matter. China is probably pretty happy with him and it’s primarily China which holds the key to whether Ban will be renewed for a second term. Russia has for a long time been dissatisfied with the Secretary-General both in terms of his handling of Kosovo and Georgia, but also because of a lack of recruitment of Russians to important positions. At the same time, Russia is well served by a Secretary-General who isn’t too interventionist.

Among the remainder of the member states one notices that the perception of Ban at the midway point is growing steadily more negative. Among the many who thought he should be given some more time, that everything would get better once he warmed up, and that the comparison to his predecessor’s charisma was unfair, the tune is now that the beginner’s goodwill [direct translation: “learning potential”] appears to be spent and that a lack of charisma is actually a problem. The Secretary-General seems to function well enough when he sticks to the script, and shows up to a lot of meetings and other events. The problem arises when he’s “on his own” where he can’t manage to set the agenda, create enthusiasm and show leadership – not internally either. Ban’s lack of engagement and lack of interest in mastering the issues means that he doesn’t become an effective player or negotiator in the many conflict situations he is expected to handle.

The mood at “the house” is still characterized as not very motivated, with a culture of decision-making which is marked by information both up and down the system being filtered by the omnipresent assistant chief of cabinet Kim. After recent negative media stories about the Secretary-General, the mood on the 38th floor is said to be pretty tense. Ban has constant temper tantrums [direct translation: outbreaks of rage] which even levelheaded [the Norwegian word “sindig” is untranslatable and describes a quality of being capable and calm as well as having common sense] and experienced colleagues have trouble handling. The relationship with next-in-command Migiro is as strained and her sphere of action appears to have shrunk even further. There are constant rumors of replacements and switch-overs. In addition to rumors that Migiro is on her way out, it’s rumored that OCHA-boss Holms [sic], who is roundly praised, is taking over as Chef de Cabinet, and that Nambiar is quitting. The same is said about the head of the political department, Pascoe, and that Holms [sic] is also a candidate to taking over his job. The British are probably still very concerned about getting that post back. These are, however, only rumors and most probably, Ban will continue with the same crew – at least ‘till the end of this year. If that’s good enough for a second term only time will tell.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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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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