Gridlock Ban

The new Secretary-General of the United Nations made his first public speech outside the confines of his Turtle Bay HQ this morning – and took the opportunity to talk about traffic jams.

Ban Ki Moon, who officially succeeded Kofi Annan on January 1, tried to reassure New Yorkers that he would do his best to minimize inconvenience during major meetings of the world body. “Maybe I can help reduce traffic jams by asking visiting heads of state to take subways as Mayor Bloomberg does,” he joked.

Keeping the focus local, Mr. Ban also cautioned that the renovation of the UN’s headquarters might cause “disruption for the neighbors.”

Mr. Ban mostly steered clear of contentious topics. However, in response to a question from the floor about anti-Semitism, he talked about the concern he felt when “a certain country would not recognize the existence of a certain other member state of the United Nations. This is not acceptable.” The reference, presumably, was to Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Ban’s remarks came at a breakfast hosted by The Association for a Better New York (ABNY) and The Business Council for the United Nations (BCUN.) Among the attendees were former mayor David Dinkins and Diana Taylor, the mayor’s partner and the Superintendent of Banks for the state.

On the vexed issue of the U.S. relationship with the UN, Mr. Ban played safe, arguing that the world body and the superpower both benefited from engagement with each other. But, perhaps showing the degree to which Turtle Bay feels under siege, Mr. Ban told the audience, “I hope you will speak up in favor of the United Nations in New York and around the world, and about the importance of U.S. leadership and engagement with the organization. All of us have a stake in getting these relationships right.”

The Secretary General also treated the audience to a long and somewhat labored joke about the pronunciation of his first name. Apparently, it should not be pronounced ‘ban’ but more like ‘bawn’. He admitted that he should have changed the English spelling — maybe ‘Bahn’ or ‘Bon’, he said — before now. But “since there will be so many things to ban as Secretary General, it is very relevant to my job.”

– Niall Stanage