UN Beirut Unified Premises Require Closer Coordination

05/31/2001
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 them right.