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Ban Ki-Moon's Role of UN Secretary General
[Part 2] Impact of press on actions of the UN head
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-07-04 12:26 (KST)   
June 30, 2007 marks the first six months that Ban Ki-moon has held the position as Secretary-General of the United Nations. The following two-part article is an effort to look at the role of Secretary General and some of the challenges he faces.  <Editor's Note>
You can find part 1 of this article here.

How has the role of the press affected the actions of the new Secretary General? There is an important example that has developed which helps to demonstrate the impact that the press has had on Ban Ki-moon.

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In the interview with Hankyoreh before he took office,(1) Ban described how he would act to support a solution to the problem of relations between North Korea and the Northeast Asia region, and the disarmament of the Korean peninsula.

On January 19, 2007, just a few weeks after Ban became Secretary General, there were news reports of a breakthrough in negotiations between the Christopher Hill for the U.S. and Kim Kye-gwan for North Korea.(2) The International Herald Tribune reported (3):

"The movement toward a possible breakthrough came during the talks in Berlin between Hill and Kim, Chosun Ilbo reported, citing unidentified officials in Seoul and Beijing."

Timed, it appeared, to coincide with the breakthrough, however, was the publication in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) of an article "United Nations Dictator's Program" by Melanie Kirkpatrick. A similar article was published by Fox News. These articles alleged that North Korea was manipulating funds from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in North Korea. These press accounts reported that UNDP funds were being used by Kim Jong-il, for whatever he wanted, including "his weapons program." (4) No proof was provided for this accusation. The articles included other unsupported allegations.

While most of the press reports in the U.S. just repeated or exaggerated the original allegations, a few Korean publications provided a different perspective. The Korean newspaper Voice of the People pointed out that the allegations of UNDP mismanagement appeared just as the North Korean and U.S. representatives had had productive negotiations in Berlin.(5) The Voice of the People asked why the U.S. Mission to the U.N. was raising these issues "at this time."

"Despite the totally unfounded allegation by the hawks," the editors write, "it has a political effect for freezing (the) bilateral relationship between Washington and Pyongyang."(6)

Ban Ki-moon's response to the WSJ and Fox news articles was to call immediately for an audit of all UN programs. The audit was to start with an audit of all programs in North Korea. A few days later the call for an audit of all UN programs was dropped. The audit was to be of North Korea's UNDP program.(7)

Some Background

A difficult period for Ban's predecessor, Secretary General Kofi Annan was caused by the "Oil for Food Scandal." Annan had refused to support a U.S. backed Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq. Annan held that such an invasion would be a violation of the UN's charter. Reports say that in response, right wing neoconservatives in the U.S. government brought forward accusations that there had been corruption in the UN's administration of the "Oil for Food" program.(8) This program had been created by the Security Council supposedly to alleviate some of the harmful effects on civilians of the Security Council sanctions against Iraq.

While the "Oil for Food Scandal" investigation recommended systemic reforms, there was little evidence of corrupt activity by members of the UN Secretariat. The investigation created, however, a difficult environment for Annan and other UN officials.

When the WSJ articles appeared in January 2007 alleging corruption in the UNDP program, they brought up memories of the difficult situation created for the UN during the "Oil for Food Scandal."

South Korean Press Responses to Allegations

Several articles appeared in the South Korean press which analyzed rather than just repeating the allegations of mismanagement in the UNDP program in North Korea. One article in JoongAng Ilbo on January 22, for example, described what happened after the news reports appeared on January 19. Ban met with the Associate Administrator of the UNDP, Ad Melkert, and "vowed a thorough investigation." (9) The JoongAng Ilbo article, in addition, however, noted that this accusation came at a "sensitive time in negotiations" between the U.S. and North Korea.

The article also noted that this action by the UNDP "might be considered another financial sanction by Washington against North Korea just as the six party anti-nuclear talks were expected to resume." The reporters reminded readers that the "financial sanctions brought by the U.S. treasury office on Banco Delta Asia which led to freezing $24 million of North Korean funds" had become a "major sticking point" causing a deadlock in the six-party talks.

Similarly, the article in Voice of the People on January 30, 2007, asked, "Now we have to see who's intriguing against whom because somebody is suffering from pain for it. We should not listen to the shameless and unscrupulous who are trying to curtail humanitarian aid for those who are in need of food."(10)

An article in OhmyNews International (OMNI) and a report by the Civil Network for a Peaceful Korea (Peacekorea) explain that UNDP administrators had denied that there were violations of UNDP policy in the North Korean program.(11) Both articles referred to the fact that the Resident Coordinator of the UNDP Program in North Korea had the authority to decide the financial practices to follow. Another report by Peacekorea noted many people think that Ban is "kind of pro American." (12)

Peacekorea advocated support for restarting the six-party talks and not letting the U.S. accusations against North Korea divert from support for the unification of the Korean peninsula. Such a policy is presented as a long term vision. Also the report explains that development aid to North Korea is preferable to humanitarian aid, as development aid sets a basis for self sufficiency, while humanitarian aid is expended after it is given.(13)

The six-party talks did resume and came to an agreement on February 13, 2007. Peacekorea offered a critique of the conservative South Korean newspapers which "made comments devaluing the agreement."(14) The report explained, "Korea셲 major newspapers spread a hostile perspective of North Korea on the Korean peninsula. This is not helpful toward gaining denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." The report proposes that "Under Kim Jong Il's dictatorship, North Korea, a weak nation, has developed nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the threat of an American attack, as exemplified by the Iraq war, and as a diplomatic tool for bilateral contact with the U.S." (15)

Alternative Approach to Ban's Policy on Korea

Such accounts in the South Korean press demonstrate an alternative approach to the policy that the Secretary General is implementing regarding the North Korean situation. For now Ban is not carrying out the policy he had proposed in the Hankyoreh interview with regard to the Korean peninsula. To the contrary, in response to pressure from the U.S. press and the U.S. government, he has adopted a policy which has allowed the politicization of the UNDP program that was in North Korea. This has resulted in an audit of previous UNDP programs in North Korea and the ending of the current UNDP program in North Korea.

Similarly, for more than four months, from February through the end of June, the six-party talks hit a deadlock over the decision by the U.S. government to find a small bank in Macau in violation of provisions in the U.S. Patriot Act. The bank complained that it never saw the evidence against it nor did it have a chance to refute the evidence.(16) Yet by using Section 311 of the Patriot Act against this bank, the U.S. Treasury Department was able to freeze $25 million of North Korean funds and impede North Korea's access to the international banking system.

Much of the U.S. press has been promoting a hostile policy toward North Korea. (17) Some of the South Korean press echo what appears in the U.S. press, or reprint articles from the conservative interests who are trying to impede further negotiations. Other South Korean publications, however, provide a critique of the hostile attitude of the U.S. press toward North Korea. For example, an article by Tim Savage in OMNI documents the internal struggle within the U.S. government between the interests which are hostile to negotiations with North Korea in contrast to the efforts at negotiations by Christopher Hill. (18)

Though he has occupied the office of Secretary General for over six months, Ban has yet to implement the program he proposed before taking office, the program of active UN support for a negotiated agreement in the six party talks. Ban's original plan was to appoint a diplomat or politician who would be available to intervene when needed to keep the negotiation process on track. Instead the UN's Secretariat has become embroiled in the controversy generated by unsubstantiated charges from the U.S. mission to the UN about the UNDP funding of North Korea's UNDP program.

'We Can't Prove a Negative'

The U.S. press continues to echo the U.S. government's unsubstantiated charges against North Korea and the UNDP, in a way reminiscent of how the same press supported the unsubstantiated and inaccurate U.S. government claims that Iraq possessed "Weapons of Mass Destruction". The unsubstantiated allegations being spread by the U.S. press about the UNDP, have the effect of politicizing the UNDP program rather than providing the public with the accurate information that is needed to understand the problems and challenges faced by such a program.

David Morrison, the press spokesman for the UNDP, explained that "the point I'm trying to make is we can't prove a negative," (19) at a press conference held to answer the June 2007 set of unsubstantiated allegations made by the U.S. mission against the UNDP program in North Korea. This set of allegations appeared in the U.S. press just before the beginning of the June UNDP Executive Board meeting in a way reminiscent of how the previous set of allegations first appeared in the U.S. press just before the January UNDP Executive Board meeting.

Just as the impossibility of proving a negative created a media environment in which the U.S. government could falsely claim they had a justification for a war against Iraq, so a hostile environment is being created to impede the six-party talks by the unsubstantiated allegations against North Korea and the UNDP. (20)

Ban's original plan for the region provided a means to counter those interests which might impede a negotiated solution to the North Korean conflict. Much of the U.S. press has maintained a hostile attitude toward North Korea, even though there are signs that within the U.S. government there are forces interested in pursuing a negotiated settlement. The South Korean media landscape, however, presents a broader spectrum of opinion on what should be done with regard to North Korea, a spectrum of views which includes support for the policy that Ban originally proposed to implement for the region when he became Secretary General.


There are many people in Korea and elsewhere, who are watching Ban Ki-moon and are hopeful that he will do a good job as Secretary General. As the experience of former Secretary Generals demonstrates, however, there is a need for a vision to guide him if he is to be able to fulfill on these expectations.

(1)[Interview] Next U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. in conversation with Moon Chung-in, translated by Daniel Rakove, The Hankyoreh. November 3, 2006.

(2) "US-DPRK talks end, no comments on resuming 6-party talks", CCTV.com Jan 19, 2007,

(3) "U.S. envoy confident in North Korea nuclear talks", International Herald Tribune, January 22, 2007

(4) Melanie Kirkpatrick, "United Nations Dictator's Program", WSJ, January 19, 2007.

(5) "The US Stands in the Way of Pyongyang", Voice of the People, January 30, 2007.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ronda Hauben,"Hardliners Attack UNDP Aid to North Korea:Allegations of corruption seen as attempt to undermine engagement", OMNI, February 7, 2007.

(8) Thalif Deen, "Will the New UN Chief Stand Up to Big Powers", Inter Press News Agency, December 12, 2006.

(9) Nam Jeong-ho and Lee Sang-eon, "Report Says Kim Jong-il Cashed in on UN Office", JoongAng Ilbo, January 22, 2007.

(10) Ibid, Voice of the People.

(11) Ronda Hauben, "Hardliners Attack UNDP Aid to North Korea Allegations of corruption seen as attempt to undermine engagement", OMNI, February7, 2007. See also: Soohyun Lee, "UNDP's aid toward North Korea", peacekorea, January 23, 2007

(12) Soohyun Lee, UNDP's aid toward North Korea, peacekorea, February 13, 2007

(13) Ibid

(14) Ji-Hyun Lee, "The Ghost of Anti-communism Reflected in South Korean Media", peacekorea , May 7, 2007

(15) Ibid

(16) Ronda Hauben, "North Korea's $25 Million and Banco Delta Asia: Another abuse under the U.S. Patriot Act (2001)", OMNI, March 21, 2007.

(17) The McClatchy Newspapers have been an exception. See for example
articles like
"Bank owner disputes money-laundering allegations"
Kevin G. Hall about the BDA affair.

(18) Tim Savage, "Six-Party Talks Resume: Expectations high for progress in Beijing," OMNI, February 8, 2007.

(19) David Morrison, Press Conference, June 11, 2007, See Minutes: 38:46

(20) Ronda Hauben,"Weapons of Mass Destruction Syndrome and the Press [Analysis] How does one prove a negative?", OMNI, June 24, 2007.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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