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Thursday, December 12, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A diplomat Ted Turner's not, but his heart's with U.N.

Los Angeles Times

UNITED NATIONS — Ted Turner is the kind of guy who puts his money where his mouth is. And it's a good thing. He's got a lot of money, and a lot of mouth.

Yesterday, the United Nations paid tribute to both, honoring him for his billion-dollar donation to the organization five years ago that helped bring the United States back to the table at the world body and stimulated a new way of corporate giving.

Although the value of the stock Turner pledged has declined 75 percent, mostly since his Time Warner merged with AOL two years ago, he's still going to make good on his promise. His original idea was to hand over $100 million a year for 10 years, and so far, the U.N. Foundation is on target, disbursing $575 million in grants over five years. But the foundation's board decided this year to stretch the rest of the billion over a decade instead of five years.

He may have less money these days, but Turner's mouth is still as active as ever.

"I thought maybe I can extend (the grant) if I keep getting richer. That's what I did for 10 years. I went from nothing to a pile of money as high as the World Trade Center," he said yesterday at the United Nations. "And then just like the World Trade Center — poof! — it was gone overnight."

Even though he's one of the most undiplomatic guys around, he says he's always had a thing for the United Nations.

"Since I was a little boy, I've always been very partial to the U.N. I love the flags," the CNN founder said. From its inception, CNN has had a news bureau at the United Nations, and flown the powder-blue U.N. banner — along with a Georgia flag — in front of its Atlanta headquarters. But there's more to it.

"The U.N. is a place for people to argue," he said. "As long as we're talking to each other, even shouting at each other, we're not shooting at each other. When the talking stops, the poop hits the fan."

Though ambassadors raise their eyebrows at his way of putting things, some say they secretly wish they could say what he says. "Maybe it takes a billion bucks," said one diplomat at the lunch yesterday. "But I'm glad somebody out there is doing it."

The U.N. foundation has given more than 350 grants designed to teach people a way to improve their lives. The programs include health care for Afghan mothers, legal training in Latin America and help for African women with HIV/AIDS.

Turner also joined with fellow philanthropist Bill Gates, UNICEF and other agencies in a campaign to eliminate polio and measles, and they predict that in three more years, polio will be wiped out.

Two years ago Turner whipped out his checkbook again to solve a long-running dispute over what the United Nations said the United States owed the world body and what Congress was willing to pay. With U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, he worked out a last-minute compromise: Turner would contribute the $31 million difference, and the United Nations would adjust the percentage and timing of Washington, D.C.'s dues payments.

Thanks to Turner, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says, he can visit Washington, D.C., without feeling like he's carrying a tin cup. "It's not just the feel-good factor. There are tangible results that we can show," Annan said. "He is someone who has understood that if you take something from the Earth today, you need to put something back to harvest."

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