|UN Beirut Unified Premises
Require Closer Coordination
Despite the difficulties inherent in having just emerged from
three decades of conflict, Lebanese authorities offered the UN
a large, modern building in the prized, renovated center of Beirut.
Secretary General Kofi Annan inaugurated the building, which houses
the UN's offices and programs, during his first visit there in
March 1998. Although ESCWA is the largest operation, and its Executive
Secretary is the highest ranking at the Under-Secretary General
level, there is an active UNDP office headed by the experienced
Yves de San and his deputy, the dynamic Nada Nashef, an average
UNICEF presence incommensurate with its earlier, prominent role.
There are other agencies, as well as the representative of the
Secretary General for Southern Lebanon, who still serves--at least
unofficially-as Director of the Information Center in Rome, Steffan
de Mistura, and-de facto-the Office of the Middle East political
coordinator Terje Roed Larsen, when in town. Everyone shares a
cafeteria, conference facilities, and logistics. Staff mix at
the operational level and have a positive camaraderie fostered
by the premises.
At higher levels, however, there seem to be courteous contacts,
but no similar esprit de corps. For example, the new ESCWA chief,
Ms. Tallawi, must have felt awkward when the newly appointed head
of the UNDP Arab bureau, Ms. Khalaf, did not attend the opening
of the Commissioner's session, which covers her own region, and
appeared at a roundtable only when the Prime Minister participated.
Introducing herself mainly as UN Assistant Secretary General first,
and then as UNDP Arab bureau director, Ms. Rima Khalaf, a former
Jordanian cabinet member, met with the president, prime minister,
and foreign minister, among others. This was just before the ESCWA
session, in which she did not actively participate, even though
its agenda is relevant to her new assignment. If Ms. Khalaf had
no interest in the ESCWA session, then her visit was badly timed.
In a UN-watchful city like Beirut, it was noted that Ms. Khalaf
seemed determined to outshine Ms. Tellawi, who is also a former
cabinet member (in Egypt), and happens to be senior to Khalaf,
in UN terms. Khalaf did not even bother to make a symbolic appearance
at the two-hour reception. Nor did our cordial, protocol minded
friend Steffan de Mistura, who may find it useful to brief Ms.Tellawi
more frequently. He needs all the help he can get.
Incidentally, an excellent initiative about a de-mining conference
would have been more impressive had all heads of UN offices in
Beirut been given a visible role. The contribution of a prominent
Arab woman like Ms. Tellawi or Ms. Khalaf would have given it
a regional flavor and a comprehensive UN presence, especially
since ESCWA provided the conference facilities. It was obvious
that the participant from the United Arab Emirates was there because
of a financial contribution.
Similarly, ESCWA may find it useful to bring additional senior
officers more often, and to unite them through joint events and
an effective, comprehensive communications strategy. There is
an Arab proverb, stating that the leader of a group is he who
serves them best. The Lebanese people perceive all UN commissions,
agencies, programs, funds, missions, and activities as one: The
UN. It's time for the senior UN officials in Lebanon to prove