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|U.N. leader's visit on despite memo
Ban Ki-moon to tour Svalbard next week after Norwegian official calls him 'spineless'
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon may be coming to Svalbard next week to learn about global warming, but the introduction couldn't have been much icier.
An internal memo by Norwegian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul calling Ban "spineless and charmless" was leaked to the press last week, prompting speculation the visit might be canceled. But following public and private apologies by Norwegian officials, he is scheduled to arrive next Monday for a three-day tour of Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund.
"He will visit polar research stations and the (Svalbard) Global Seed Vault, get the latest updates on issues relating to the thinning ice, and make his way to the polar ice rim," said Michèle Montas, a spokesperson for the secretary-general, during a press conference Monday at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.
U.N. officials, despite announcing the planned visit months ago, initially declined to say the visit was confirmed after the memo was published. But Ban, after receiving a conciliatory call this week by Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre, said it's normal for diplomats to report to their home countries and "you have the right to say what you believe and what you have seen in my job as the secretary-general."
"As a matter of principle I welcome all these criticisms," Ban said. "Criticisms, when they are constructive, help me improve my work, my performance."
Ban, who calls fighting climate change a top priority, is making the trip as part of a longer series of visits and meetings focusing on the issue before the annual General Assembly debate Sept. 23-26 in New York City and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.
The secretary-general will arrive in Oslo on Aug. 31 to meet with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Støre, the foreign minister. He will also place a wreath on the tomb of Trygve Lie, the first secretary-general of the United Nations. He is scheduled to fly to Longyearbyen and be greeted by Svalbard Governor Per Sefland that evening, then depart for Ny-Ålesund aboard the KV Svalbard about an hour later.
Ban will visit research facilities in Ny-Ålesund, including the Korean Polar Research Station and Norwegian Zeppelin station, during the morning of Sept. 1. He will fly by helicopter to the research vessel Lance at the polar ice rim between 81 and 82 degrees north, spending the afternoon walking on the ice and discussing climate-related issues. The day concludes with a return helicopter to Longyearbyen and dinner at the governor's residence.
A tour of the seed vault is scheduled the morning of Sept. 2, followed by a visit to the Svalbard Science Center and The University Centre in Svalbard. An hour-long panel discussion with government and NGO officials is scheduled at 10:15 a.m., with Ban departing Longyearbyen early in the afternoon.
Hard feelings from Juul's memo may be sufficiently smoothed over, but some of his concerns are likely to come up during Ban's visit.
Juul's memo accused Ban of "constant outbreaks of rage which even the most cautious and experienced staff find hard to tackle." The ambassador was equally critical of Ban on a range of global issues, calling him a "powerless observer" during crises in Sri Lanka and Burma, and a missing presence on subjects such as the financial crisis and disarmament.
"In the environment/energy area the U.N. also struggles to be relevant, despite the planned climate summit at the opening of the General Assembly in the fall," Juul wrote. "Even though the secretary-general repeats ad nauseam that Copenhagen must 'seal the deal,' there is widespread concern that the U.N. summit will not contribute anything worth mentioning in the process towards Copenhagen."
Norwegian officials declined immediate comment after the leak, but have been apologetic in the days since.
"The first U.N. secretary-general, Mr. Trygve Lie - a Norwegian - once said that the post of being the secretary-general is 'the most impossible job in the world,'" Støre said. "And I think he and all his successors have experienced that criticism comes with the job, it is the nature. For diplomats everywhere it is part of their (job) description to report on relevant topics."
Støre said "in Norway there is a strong bipartisan support for the U.N." and a poll shows 61 percent of U.S. residents have a favorable view of the organization, up from 48 percent two years ago.
"I simply like to say that in these trying times of multiple crisis - financial, climate change, poverty, security - the call for international leadership has never been greater," Støre said, adding "It is clear that the vitality of any organization depends on its ability to reform and renew itself. The secretary-general has emphasized time and again the importance of making the U.N. more efficient, more effective and more accountable. These issues will also be on the agenda when the secretary-general visits Norway."
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