U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to smooth strained relations with the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in their first face-to-face meeting since the disclosure that U.S. diplomats had been spying on him and other senior members of the world organisation.
Ms. Clinton stopped short of an apology but Ban's office, in a statement issued on Thursday after their meeting on the sidelines of an international summit in Kazakhstan, said she had opened by "clarifying" what the U.N. referred to as "the complications caused by the recent massive leak of U.S. diplomatic cables".
Mr. Ban does not like confrontation and his office has been careful in its responses, not wanting to alienate the U.S., but in private there is a lot of unhappiness. That the U.S. spies on other diplomats and staff at the U.N. did not come as a surprise to senior U.N. staff but the scale of it did.
The U.N. statement said that Mr. Ban thanked Ms. Clinton "for clarifying the matter and for expressing her concern about the difficulties created". The U.N. placed great importance on an expression that the two would work on the basis of mutual trust. The statement said: "The Secretary-General reiterated his commitment to work in a transparent manner, and they reaffirmed the need for the U.S. and U.N. to continue to work together."
The WikiLeaks releases have dominated U.N. headquarters all week and were raised again by UN-based media at the daily briefing on Thursday. There appeared to be a mood of resignation at headquarters that eavesdropping, from all sides, was a fact of life.
"We're well used to espionage here," said one official. "Of course the Secretary-General takes equipment with him around the world which allows him to encrypt communications, but we are well aware none of this is 100% foolproof."
Questions are being raised by former U.N. staff, such as Stephen Schlesinger, author of a book about the organisation, who said that it was surprising that the Obama administration was continuing a policy pursued by the Bush administration. "The fact that Hillary Clinton signed off on these instructions, without modifying them, is startling," he said.