Creeping Irrelevance

06/07/2000
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 the exit.

Briefly, to quote former General Assembly President Razali Ismail, it was an example of UN's creeping irrelevance.