Sunday, March 22, 2009

U.S. "Deadbeat-Gate" Draws Midnight Clarification from UN's Ban Ki-moon: He Said It, But...

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at UN

CAPITOL HILL, March 12 -- As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning, ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen emerged and told the Press that Ban "used the word deadbeat when it came to describing the United States... unbelievable."

Minutes later, Ban stopped and spoke to the three reporters present, including Inner City Press, all three of whom had tape recorders running. He was asked, did you use the word 'deadbeat'? Inner City Press asked, "Ros-Lehtinen seemed to say you did."

"Yes I did, I did," Ban replied, and then smiled impishly. His spokesperson, who also tape recorded the exchange, then said Ban had to go. He rushed away down the hallway surrounded by aides.

At least two stories were written. Then, past midnight, Ban's Spokesperson's office issued a midnight "clarification" --

Subj: To clarify any misunderstanding about the Secretary General
To: Inner City Press [et al.]
Sent: 3/12/2009 12:19:10 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time

The Secretary-General said: "The United States generously supports the work of the UN , both in assessed and voluntary contributions".

The Secretary-General also added that while the United States is the most generous contributor to the United Nations, it is also the largest debtor, with more than one billion dollars of arrears owed to the organization.

The Secretary-General enjoys an excellent working relationship with the United States and appreciates the many ways that it supports the United Nations.

New York, 11 March 2009

One problem with this clarification is that it does not address the point raised by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and the stories, Ban's use of the term deadbeat. Ban's Spokesperson was there with tape recorder running. Ban said that the U.S. has $1 billion in arrears to the UN, "soon to be" $1.6 billion.

The irony is that Ban is widely viewed in the UN as, if anything, too pro-United States. Another Republican who spoke to the Press outside the meeting on Wednesday, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, said he prefers Ban to Kofi Annan, noting that Ban supported Israel by speaking about and publicizing Hamas' rocket fire.

One interpretation of Ban's laughing statement that he called the U.S. a deadbeat is that Ban was trying to show some "street cred," that he is not in the pocket of the Americans. The Democratic chairman of the subcommittee on international organizations, Massachusetts' William Delahunt, told the Press he think Ban is right, that the U.S. should pay all its arrears before it criticized the UN.

In this context, it appears to some far to defensive and craven for Ban's Office to issue this midnight clarification. "If you said it, you said it," one source argued. "Stand behind it. And if you put out a clarification, at least address that quote you are trying to clarify."

Ban's promised monthly press conference, already delayed, is now scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m.. Inner City Press is still in Washington and cannot ask these questions. Most current UN correspondents, it seems, would agree with Ban's word choice if not his midnight retreat. Will the issue come up and be clarified by the man himself? Watch this site.

And see,