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UN's Ban Meets With Obama, No Pesky UN Press, Myanmar Convergence Described

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

WASHINGTON, March 10 -- As school children pointed at the White House and threw bread to pigeons and sparrows, a black limousine and 20-passenger bus swept by at 5:25 on Tuesday afternoon, carrying UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his press-less entourage to a meeting with President Barack Obama. An Inner City Press source emerging from the White House described it as scripted and untransparent. He was surprised that Ban's team had not tried and gotten any UN correspondents in.

  It's a pool, he said, predicting two questions to Obama, two question to Ban. Some taking photos through the fence asked this reporter about the black bus waiting in the driveway. The name Ban Ki-moon did not ring a bell with them. One mentioned Kofi Annan. The birds grabbed the bread and flew.

   The White House source mentioned a sample point of convergence. Ban paid tribute to Burma's General Than Shwe, he said. And now U.S. gas and oil companies have lobbied the Administration to change course on Myanmar, to move away from sanctions and toward economic integration. They want to make money, despite the dictatorship. They pitch it to Obama as an alternative for now to oil for the Middle East and Venezuela. The ground cover is to call it a helping hand despite Than Shwe's still iron gripping fist, a change we can make you believe in.

UN's Ban's van in front of White House, no Q&A, (c) M. Lee, ICP

  At 6:25 p.m., as shown above, the entourage pulled out, heading to Constitution Avenue, to a dinner with the UN Foundation. In the van, apparently after no question, was Ban's Spokesperson and media "liaison" team. An hour and a half later, Ban's press officer, which had not asked to get a single UN correspondent into the White House or pool, issued a bland summary that could have been written before the meeting. Climate change, why not, and Sudan, Iraq and Haiti, from which Ban had just returned.

   UN reform, transparency and procurement, were not listed on agenda. Pakistan and Afghanistan were mentioned, along with North Korea. No mention of Myanmar or the Democratic Republic of Congo, much less of Sri Lanka, where the U.S. has discussed military moves with Colombo.

  At 9 p.m., the U.S. put out a transcript, in which Obama  did not mention Pakistan, with no Q&A at all included. 

  The pool report, from the pool described as full and set, that asked now questions at all, issued this summary, including the presence of Hilary Clinton, Susan Rice and Lynn Pascoe:

From: Carol Lee
To: Finkenbinder, Benjamin N.; Singh, Priya
Sent: Tue Mar 10 19:04:32 2009
Subject: Pool report #3

Pool was led into the Oval Office around 6:25 p.m., and was in there for about 8 minutes for POTUS and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks.

POTUS said major topic of discussion was Darfur. Ki-moon called 2009 a “make or break year.” Full transcript to come, and some details below.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Lynn Pascoe and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs were present while pool was in the Oval Office, standing off to the side as POTUS and Ki-moon spoke.

POTUS and Ban Ki-moon were seated in chairs next to each other in front of the fireplace. They spoke for about 4 minutes each.

 POTUS, sitting with his legs crossed, spoke first:

“Hey guys. Sorry to make you work this late,” POTUS said as pool entered the Oval Office

“Let me just say I am very grateful for the secretary general

“I think the United Nations can be an extraordinarily constructive, important partner in bringing about peace and stability to people around the world,” POTUS said.

“We had a wide-ranging conversation” covering “a host of international issues.”

He said some of them included:

* Economic crisis: how it’s affecting developing countries but very poor countries around the world

* Afghanistan: How we can “ramp up and better coordinate” activities in Afghanistan, and the Afghan elections.

* Haiti.

*Darfur: “One of the things I think we spent the most time talking about was the issue of Darfur,” POTUS said. POTUS said he pressed upon secretary general how important it is to send a unified international message on the crisis. “The United States wants to work as actively as possible to try to resolve the immediate humanitarian crisis and to start putting us on the path for long-term peace and stability in the Sudan,” POTUS said..

* Climate change: how they can work together on climate change.

Ban Ki-moon spoke next for a few minutes:

He said it is “a very good sign” for the United Nations that “we are meeting at such an early stage in your administration.”

“I think the year 2009 is a make or break year” for crises on many fronts for the United Nations for the United States and the international community as a whole.

Climate change “is a priority for the United Nations,” he said.

To save our planet: “This is an issue of our era. I count on your strong commitment and leadership.”

Citing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, nuclear non-proliferation, North Korea, he said the UN will be relying on the United States’ leadership and commitment.

“The United Nations stands ready to work together with you Mr. President to make this make-or-break year turn into a make-it-work” year, full of optimism, which elicited a smile from POTUS.

Sent: Tue Mar 10 20:42:01 2009
Subject: Pool report #4
Some others at POTUS and Ban Ki-moon meeting:

From the White House:                                           

Mark Lippert
Mike Hammer
Samantha Power
Michelle Gavin  

From the UN:
Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operation Alain Le Roy
Robert Orr
Will Davis
Michelle Montas

Lid called. 

Carol Lee

  Ban Ki-moon will take his road show Wednesday to the House on Capitol Hill. Watch this site.

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

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

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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