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Posted on on September 12th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

UN’s Ban Avoids Questions of New Cold War, U.S. War on Terror, Excluded Journalists Speak. Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis. UNITED NATIONS, September 11 — A new Cold War is how many have described recent dynamics in the UN Security Council. Things came to a boil when American criticized Russian military and political moves with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, breaking away from Georgia. Russia countered by citing the precedent of Kosovo, not only the recognition of its break-away from Serbia earlier this year by the U.S. and most of the European Union, but also NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in 1999. Russia vetoed a draft resolution to impose sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, along the China, put Iran sanctions on the slow boat thereto, and asked the U.S. whether it had found the weapons of mass destruction it had claimed were in Iraq. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was largely invisible during these fights. On September 11 he finally held a press conference, and began by apologizing for what he called his summer absence, promise to henceforth do monthly question and answer sessions. Inner City Press asked about what’s called the new Cold War, what Ban thinks and is trying to do about it. Video here, from Minute 14:28. (see the site) *** After reading from notes about humanitarian aid to Georgia, Ban did not answer the question. So Inner City Press repeated it, linking the rift not only to Georgia but also Kosovo and Zimbabwe and asking if Ban is seeking to be an impartial mediator between the U.S. and Russia. “As Secretary-General, I really try to avoid your question,” Ban said. “I do not want to think of that kind of possibility.” Video here, form Minute 19:33. This candidly admitted attempt to avoid questions was repeated in the balance of the press conference. Ban was asked twice to comment on U.S. military incursions into Pakistan in search of insurgents. First he said he was not ready for the question, then that he did not want to answer it. *** A journalist from Lebanon asked about Ban’s previous envoy to Beirut, Johan Verbecke, who as Inner City Press reported left his assignment due to death threats. Ban called these “unavoidable circumstances,” adding that “I do not wish to discuss [them] with you publicly.” Ban was asked, is Kim Jong Il of North Korea dead? “I am not in the position to have any independent source of information to confirm” that, he said. Some of Inner City Press’ sources opine that the North Korean military may have moved against Kim Jong Il, finding him too conciliatory to the West, and then moved to restart North Korea’s nuclear program. Surprisingly, Ban did not raise and no one asked about either Iran or Sudan. The latter can be ascribed to Ban himself. He described Darfur and climate change as his two signature issues. Now things are going so badly in Darfur — even the U.S. contractor to which Ban’s UN gave a $250 million no-bid contract, Lockheed Martin, is leaving in failure — that Ban has dropped the issue. The press corps shouldn’t. *** Speaking of failure, Inner City Press asked Ban about the trip of his envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Mynamar without having met with democracy leader Aung San Soo Kyi or military strongman Than Shwe. “I do not like to characterize it as failure,” Ban said. “Video here, from Minute 14:50. Ban also took issue with press reports, presumably including this one, that focused on a speech he gave to or at his managers in Turin, Italy. Ban said he was misunderstood, that he is flexible, that if anything he was criticizing senior officials, not lower level staff. He was not asked to example the phrase, “I tried to lead by example. Nobody followed.” That line is more and more repeated in the UN and now beyond. How to avert a Cold War, in the UN and more importantly the wider world? While there were on September 11 more responses than before, which must be noted here, no real answered were advanced. Footnote: After the press conference, there were complaints about perceived bias in the way questions were allocated. James Bone, who among other things famously questioned Kofi Annan about the financing and whereabouts of his son Kojo’s Mercedes until being called “an overgrown school boy,” told Inner City Press he has not been called on for a question since. Nizar Abboud, representing both a television station and a newspaper in the Middle East, was again not called on. He told Inner City Press, on the record, that he asked Ban’s Spokesperson why he hadn’t been called on. The Spokesperson in turn asked, “Remember when you walked out of the briefing?” Abboud did remember, it had been in protest of not being called on. “Well it was wrong,” the Spokesperson said. Abboud comments that this shows the arbitrary basis of exclusion, which is also inconsistent because Ban personally is nothing but polite with Abboud and others. Abboud notes that another correspondent more favorable to the U.S. position on Lebanon was called on for three questions. Another long-time correspondent, who asked for anonymity in order to retain access, said that everything Ban does is in favor of the U.S.. But that analysis can wait for another day. To be charitable, Ban was better on September 11 than in previous press conferences. His offer to come at least once a month is welcome. Whether anything will be accomplished is another question, the results of which will be reported on this site.

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