Turtle Bay

Ban takes the high road

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today that the U.N.’s top Chinese official, Sha Zukang, had "apologized deeply" to him for delivering an embarrassing drunken toast before the U.N.’s top brass at an Alpine retreat in Austria earlier this month, and that he hoped to put the matter behind him. "Mr. Sha has apologized deeply ...

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said today that the U.N.’s top Chinese official, Sha Zukang, had "apologized deeply" to him for delivering an embarrassing drunken toast before the U.N.’s top brass at an Alpine retreat in Austria earlier this month, and that he hoped to put the matter behind him.

"Mr. Sha has apologized deeply in person," Ban told reporters at a press conference at U.N. headquarters. "He regretted that his behavior was not appropriate as a senior advisor. And he also knows that his behavior has embarrassed most of the [other] senior advisors at that time."

Ban said that he preferred to focus his attention on preparing for next week’s U.N. General Assembly debate, which will be attended by President Barack Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a U.N. summit that will draw more than 130 world leaders to U.N. headquarters. The United Nations has "many, many things to do, so let us get on [with] all these important issues at this time," Ban said.

U.N. officials said that Ban has no immediate intention of firing Sha, the U.N. undersecretary general for Economic and Social Affairs. The former Chinese diplomat was recommended for the post by China, which has the power to veto any bid by Ban for a second term as the U.N.’s top diplomat. But a top Ban aide said he expected Sha would be moved out quietly before Ban’s first term ends at the end of December 2011.

Sha, 62, offered Ban a toast last week at a retreat in the resort town Alpbach that was intended to highlight Ban’s leadership qualities but which degenerated into an intoxicated rant against the United Nations, the United States, and his boss, Turtle Bay first reported last week.

"I know you never liked me Mr. Secretary-General — well, I never liked you, either," Sha told Ban at a dinner attended by the U.N.’s top brass, according to a senior U.N. official who attended the event. "I didn’t want to come to New York. It was the last thing I wanted to do. But I’ve come to love the U.N. and I’m coming to admire some things about you."

The blunt dinner remarks — which came after Sha had a few drinks  — prompted U.N. officials to try to coax Sha into putting down the microphone, according to a U.N. spokesman and several sources who were present. It didn’t work. Sha continued the lengthy speech, in which he also expressed his antipathy toward the United States.

"It was a tribute gone awry," said a senior U.N. official who was at the dinner. "It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes but it felt like an hour."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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