The absence of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from the funeral
services of New York Cardinal O'Connor was clearly noted but hardly
noticed. He had been assigned a seat immediately after the President
and vice-president and their wives. A no-show was untypical of
Mr. Annan. He is usually sensitive to questions of faith and repeatedly
talked about the need to show New Yorkers the relevance of UN
to New Yorkers daily lives.
Preoccupation with Sierra Leone could not have been a convincing
serious reason. In fact the opportunity of joining the President
and vice-president at St. Patrick's Cathedral could have given
him a better chance at decision making than the time spent that
same day on regular business including a photo exhibit.
Maybe the president had ruled out a meeting. Still a brief exchange
would have helped, to be followed by the inevitable friendly get
together with Secretary Albright. Also, the symbolic presence
of the UN Secretary-General at such an occasion would have gained
the UN much- needed friends in New York. It would also have averted
some unfair interpretations.
An added puzzle was that there are so many senior Catholics in
his cabinet whom he could have otherwise designated. For example
Joseph Connor (who would have been the most favored as an Irish
American like late Cardinal), Deputy Secretary-General Louise
Freschette (the most appropriate), Sir Kieran Prendergrast or
Alvaro de Soto (or even the ever- ready Giandominico Picco who
is in charge of the year for dialogue among cultures). Instead,
it was Iqbal Riza, Chef de Cabinet who seemed uneasy, almost bitter
at his designation.
While the President and First Lady, vice-president and Mrs. Gore,
Mayor Giuliani, Senator Moinayhan Governor George W. Bush and
everyone else concentrated on solemn thoughtful response to prayers,
our UN man seemed to alternate between gulping, rolling his eyes
or indignantly staring down on zooming cameras. Not learning exactly
who he was, participants left him in peace. When everyone present
including the President, Mayor Koch and other non-Catholics joined
in reading the farewell "salve regina, salve", Mr. Riza, who has
the edge of Spanish, seemed to be eyeing his own salvation at
Briefly, to quote former General Assembly President Razali Ismail,
it was an example of UN's creeping irrelevance.