As UN Tells Yonhap of Kim's and Pascoe's Trip to North Korea (DPRK), New(s) Strategy Emerges

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 31 -- With North Korea firing over its maritime border with South Korea, on January 28 with UN and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had nothing to say, except "we are following up on that." From the UN's transcript of its January 28 media briefing:

Inner City Press: Has the Secretariat taken note of, and does he have any comment on this firing, this reported firing from the North Korean-South Korean maritime border? Do they have concerns about what it reflects?

Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq: Yes, we have taken note of that incident. Bear with me just a second -- let me see if I have something to tell you on that. I don’t have anything specific to say, but yes, we have taken note of yesterday’s incident, and we’re certainly following up on that. [Video here, fro m Minute 9:45.]

Then at 2 a.m. on January 31, Yonhap news agency published a scoop from an unnamed UN official that

"Lynn Pascoe, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, and Kim Won-soo, an advisor to Ban, will make a four-day visit to the communist country, starting on Feb. 9, said the official, requesting anonymity."

Following this UN exclusive disclosure to a South Korean outlet, Ban Ki-moon issued a confirming statement, which did not mention his main advisor Kim Won-soo. Ban's official statement did not specify which topics will be discussed with the Kim Jong-Il regime.

But Yonhap reported, again citing its Ban administration source, that "the special envoys will discuss issues related to North Korea's nuclear program and humanitarian aid, said the official."

Five months into Ban's tenure atop the UN, in May 2007, he was angered by the leak to Inner City Press of a internal memo (""Korea Peninsula UN Policy and Strategy Submission to the Policy Committee") proposing that the UN use its "comparative advantage" to make itself relevant on the North Korea issue.

Now, with the sending of his South Korea chief advisor as a co-special envoy, the competitive advance is being used, and promoted as such to Yonhap (but not in the subsequent official announcement).

UN's Ban, with Pascoe, Kim Won-soo and Serry, advantage not yet shown

Back in 2007, Ban had been forced to order an audit of the UN Development Program's North Korea practices, including funding project which it could neither visit nor oversee. UNDP's program had been suspended.

The UN memo stated that "Unless [the suspension] is reversed, the UNDP program risks being terminated. Rather than being able to support the six-party talks process and international engagement with North Korea at this critical juncture, the UN will lose its unique comparative advantage in that area altogether."

Recently, despite the continuing nuclear standoff and renewed firing across the border, as well as lack of movement on human rights, UNDP re-started its North Korea program. And now the Ban administration's "comparative advantage" is back.

Usually in the UN system there is a rule against officials working on their own country's issues. Kim Won-soo, despite his position of power in the UN, has never given a press conference there, and insists on never -- or nearly never -- being quoted. Now would seem to be the time to speak. Watch this site.

Footnote: the choice to semi-official leak the news to South Korea's Yonhap follows a challenged decision by Ban's new spokesman Martin Nesirky -- formerly Reuters' Seoul bureau chief -- to include South Korean television as one of only eight media organization he initially invited to accompany Ban to Haiti after the earthquake, over CNN, Bloomberg, EFE and Associated Press.

(After protests, CNN, AP and two others were included -- Nesirky has since disputed that he "caved," insisting that more seats on the plane were found but granting conciliatory one on one interviews with Ban, which did not include the news given days afterwards to Yonhap.)

Now the leak of this news to Yonhap, with Kim Won-soo's name in it, quickly followed by Nesirky's office issuing a Ban confirmation sans Kim, will raise other questions. To be continued.