Martin Nesirky, the spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, is leaving his post on March 7 in New York to work for the UN in Vienna on a six-month assignment. Nesirky, who is British, has been the spokesman for four and a quarter years.
His replacement is a longtime UN media official, Stepháne Dujarric, a Frenchman who has been the director of news and media division at the UN’s Department of Public Information since 2011. Previously, he was director of communications for the UN Development Program and before that spokesman during a portion of Kofi Annan’s terms as secretary-general, handling the oil-for-food scandal, which put the UN in crisis mode in 2004.
Nesirky, who was born in London, came to the spokesman post as an outsider in November 2009, having worked as a spokesman for three years at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Vienna-based group of 57 member countries. Previously, he managed a journalism career with Reuters, including as a senior editor in London, bureau chief in Moscow as well as postings in Berlin, Seoul and The Hague.
At the announcement, made to the UN press corps on Feb. 19 by Ban, Nesirky, who in the last month or so flew with his boss to meetings in Cuba, Geneva, Munich and Russia and was still recovering from jet lag, said that he appreciated Ban’s “deep trust in me” over the years and that it was an “immense privilege” to serve “any secretary-general” and a “huge honor to serve this secretary-general in particular.”
It was “not an easy decision to leave a job I love so much,” he added.
Nesirky had uncommonly close access to Ban — and was known for getting up long before dawn to provide Ban with international news updates to keep the secretary-general apprised of events that had occurred while he was sleeping.
Ban noted this particular role Nesirky played, calling him a “model spokesperson” — “cool under pressure” and “fast on his feet,” while taking “slings and arrows” from the media. Ban said that he hoped Nesirky would have stayed longer (Ban’s current term, his second, ends in 2016), but he “respects his wishes and circumstances.”
“He has been at my side during an especially tumultuous period in world affairs,” Ban said.
Nesirky’s new job in Vienna, as director of the UN Information Service, is temporary, he said. He cited family issues as one reason behind his move back to Europe; besides his wife, who is Korean, and a young daughter living with him in New York, he has three adult children and a mother who live in England.
With his clipped British accent and brusque manner, Nesirky seemed eager in his spokesman job to protect Ban’s reputation above all, promoting the secretary-general’s efforts as the leader of the UN and its 193 member states, coping with an endless flow of serious problems across the globe.
Yet Nesirky was also comfortable with barbed back-and-forths with the media as he kept information close to his chest. Occasionally, he would show a biting sense of British humor, letting slip asides that defused tensions and tedium between the UN and the media, always hungry for details and facts.
Dujarric starts his new post on March 10. He was educated at Georgetown University; his French background, a UN official suggested, would appease the French-speaking diplomats who work at the organization, reflecting the constant tug of war over English versus French language domination at the headquarters.
In addition, Farhan Haq, a Pakistani who has been an acting deputy spokesman for Ban, will become full deputy spokesman. His father, Mahbub ul Haq, created in 1990 the annual Human Development Index, a measure used by the UN Development Program to gauge the wealth of nations by their level of living standards.
[This article was updated on March 4, 2014.]
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.