As United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon approaches the end of his second year in office, a stream of recent actions have staff and diplomats scratching their heads trying to decipher what exactly is going on.
In August, the secretary-general decided to pass on a personal invitation from China President Hu Jintao to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A series of conflicting explanations for Ban's apparent snub of the Chinese ensued. First, the U.N. press spokesman's office talked of schedule conflicts, but Ban's official itinerary for the opening week of the Olympics showed no such conflicts.
Then Ban's spokeswoman, Michelle Montas, told Newsmax that the secretary-general would not attend the Olympics because Chinese officials would not have time to discuss matters of mutual interest. Some viewed that as Ban’s feeling that other VIPs, such as President Bush and Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, would overshadow him.
Then, China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, told Newsmax that Ban had told him that he "did not have the money available to make another trip to China.” The secretary-general had made two trips to the country this year. Wang offered no reaction when asked whether money was the true issue, whether his government would have financed an Olympic visit for Ban, the former South Korean foreign minister.
In the end, Ban was a conspicuous no-show at the Olympics.
What does show up is a chilly relationship between the United States and the U.N., partly because of Ban’s perceived snubs.
Last month, the U.N. ignored the departure of Ric Grenell, long-time communications director and press secretary for the U.S. at the U.N., when he resigned his State Department post and returned home to California. Grenell, one of the few appointees left from the first Bush term, was one of the longest-serving U.S. staffers at the U.N. and played a key role in U.S. support for Ban's election in 2006.
Less than two weeks later, Ban gave the cold shoulder to first lady Laura Bush.
Mrs. Bush, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, was to pay her final official visit to U.N. headquarters to comment on a UNESCO campaign against world illiteracy.
For reasons not made clear, Ban ignored the first lady, although he sent his wife to attend the brief Bush address.
"This never would have happened if (former Secretary-General) Kofi Annan was here,” a veteran U.N. diplomat said. “He would have been at the delegates entrance to personally greet the first lady."
Another country, Russia, never was keen on Ban's candidacy for the U.N.’s top post, though it voted for him in 2006.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, himself a veteran U.N. ambassador, is engaged in a heated conflict with Ban that surfaced recently. Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that he discussed serious problems with the U.N. chief during his visit to the General Assembly last month.
At issue was a so-called "cooperation agreement" between the U.N. and NATO that Moscow contends was signed secretly.
The Russian news agency RIA-Novosty quotes Lavorv as telling reporters: "Before such agreements are signed, their drafts should be submitted to member states for reading. But, in this case, this did not happen, and the agreement was signed secretly."
It is no secret that relations among Russia, NATO and the U.N. have become strained since the invasion of Georgia in August. Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, had frozen that body out of any meaningful reaction to the Georgian crisis.
Moscow had feared that Ban was looking to undercut the Russian position inside the world organization with a secret deal with NATO.
Lavrov confirmed that he confronted Ban about the issue when he was in New York but "received no comprehensible explanation."
Russian diplomats tell Newsmax that they intend to pursue the matter.
"Lavrov is really very upset," said a Russian staffer at the U.N.
Former U.N. chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali once commented that a secretary-general needed the support of the five permanent members to be successful.
Newsmax has been told that Moscow's support for a second Ban term is not a sure thing.
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