U.N. Report

Ship of state

Only six months into office, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken aim at press leaks, posting on the U.N. Intranet an ill-timed memo to all U.N. staff just hours before a brutally candid assessment of the organization’s shortcomings in the Middle East was published on the Internet.

“I am asking all departments, offices, funds and programs to review and tighten their systems and ensure that sensitive communications are well secured,” said the note, which was signed by Mr. Ban. “I cannot overstate how seriously I take this issue.”

U.N. officials say the memo is a response to a draft proposal from the U.N. political affairs office urging closer U.N.-North Korean relations, which wound up on the Internet two weeks ago. The report apparently created alarm in regional capitals where officials were unaware that the issue was under consideration.

“The note was referring to something specific: the leakage of a policy document,” Ban spokeswoman Michele Montas said during a fractious press briefing Wednesday.

However, the memo did not refer to any specific document, merely warning staffers to respect their obligation “to respect confidentiality whenever necessary” and not share “sensitive information.”

So is the Secretariat clamping down on embarrassing leaks? Trying to hobble reporters’ ability to obtain interviews and information that don’t necessarily reflect the official thinking? Curtailing freedom of speech and press? No, Miss Montas said.

“At every policy briefing on the 38th floor, there are points of views expressed,” she said, noting that the contents of those meetings should remain confidential.

“Once there are policy decisions that are taken, you are aware of them, you are told about them. … But there is a process of decision making which is not part of the public domain. It is normal.” The spokeswoman added that the U.N. policy was no different from that of the British government.

The U.N. press corps, many of whose members received forwarded copies of the e-mail letter, were concerned that the Ban regime seeks to shroud its decision-making process. Diplomats, midlevel U.N. officials and privately funded organizations have increasingly complained about their inability to track issues that concern them.

Waldheim eulogized

Eighth U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon honored the fourth, Kurt Waldheim of Austria, who died last week after a heart attack.

Mr. Ban did not mention the Nazi shadows that cloaked Mr. Waldheim until his death last week at 88, but focused on the tumultuous era when he helmed the world body.

In January 1972, Mr. Ban noted in the General Assembly, the Cold War was still “icy,” the communist mainland had just assumed China’s contested seat and the Vietnam War was still playing out.

During his tenure, Mr. Waldheim visited Tehran to try to negotiate the release of U.S. hostages from the embassy, and dealt with wars in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

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