U.N. to Renovate Secretary General's Residence

Ban Ki Moon, left, incoming United Nations secretary general, will live in a hotel while his residence undergoes renovations that Kofi Annan was spared.
Ban Ki Moon, left, incoming United Nations secretary general, will live in a hotel while his residence undergoes renovations that Kofi Annan was spared. (By Stephen Chernin -- Getty Images)
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 7 -- After stalling efforts to renovate the United Nations' Manhattan headquarters, the Bush administration joined other U.N. members this week in approving $4.9 million to work on incoming Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's East Side residence, including a new $2.1 million central heating and air-conditioning system and a $200,000 kitchen upgrade.

The decision by the U.N. General Assembly's chief budget committee comes as the United States and other member nations are pressing Ban to assign high-level jobs to their nominees. The renovation is necessary because the 85-year-old neo-Georgian townhouse is plagued by power outages, leaky plumbing, an unsafe elevator and an obsolete kitchen exhaust system that poses a "potential fire hazard," according to a U.N. report.

"It does need refurbishing," said Kofi Annan, who will leave the Sutton Place house after his 10-year term ends at the end of the month. Although the house, built in 1921, has not had a major renovation since 1950, he said, "I'm happy that they did not do that to me and I didn't have to spend a year or so in a hotel."

The 14,000-square-foot residence on the East River was built for Anne Morgan, the daughter of the New York financier J.P. Morgan. The United States rejected the site as a possible residence for its ambassador to the world body, instead setting up a residence for the top U.S. diplomat in a penthouse apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria Towers.

The Sutton Place residence was donated to the United Nations in 1972 and has housed every U.N. secretary general since Kurt Waldheim. It has served as a meeting place for scores of kings, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.

Ban will be housed in a hotel for at least nine months as workers rip out antiquated air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems that require $60,000 and 1,100 hours to repair each year. They will spend $650,000 on a new security system and another $100,000 to renovate two small bathrooms in the entryway.

While U.N. delegates acknowledge the renovation is costly, they say it is essential for the world's top diplomat to entertain other leaders in style -- though some noted that the home's main reception areas show few signs of the wear and tear described in the U.N. report. "It's a very nice place," said Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram.

"I do not call it dilapidated," said Japan's ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, whose government recently poured tens of millions of dollars into renovating a new residence for its top envoy. But he said he agrees it is time for an overhaul. "My own residence looks fine from the outside, but inside there are lots of things -- water, piping, air conditioning, a lot of problems."

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, has appealed to Annan to transfer $40 million in U.N.-controlled Iraqi funds to upgrade its Upper East Side residence and mission and to build a new mission near U.N. headquarters. The new U.S. mission being built across from the United Nations will cost $50 million to $60 million, according to U.S. government estimates.

Iraqi Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari appealed to Annan last month to shift the funds from a $113 million account controlled by the U.N. weapons inspection team, which has not been allowed into Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. "Iraq plans to purchase a new building close to United Nations headquarters to serve as the permanent mission to the United Nations," he wrote. "It also plans to perform major renovations on the mission's current building and the residence of the permanent representative, which has been neglected for over ten years."

The Security Council's sole Arab member government, Qatar, proposed that the council authorize the transfer of funds. Britain, however, asked that the council be given more time to consider the request. But Britain's ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said he did not question Iraq's need for a new mission.

"How much do you need for new building? I just don't know," he said. "Have you been in their present building? I've been there lots of times. They do need a new one."

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