05/31/2001

Calling Ali Baba

Turkish business wheeler-and-dealer and former cabinet member David Goclar, who was picked up in New York and sent to Istanbul, suggested $5 million bail, which was found to be insufficient. He was accused of diverting funds from "Iteh" bank, which he once owned, and "assisting" in the defrauding of another financial institution, Eagele Bank. While en route, Goclar reportedly discovered one of life's ironies.

He had offered his own private plane to "transfer" Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, when Ocalan was brought to Istanbul from Nairobi to stand trial. Now, he observed philosophically, he gets the same treatment in someone else's plane. Ali Baba must have followed that sudden air travel with interest, and may have called his newly promoted desk-hopping friend in Geneva to ensure that all remains well.

UNHCR Joins the Club

From Prince Sudruddin to Mrs. Ogata, the Office of the High Commission for Refugees historically had little time to worry about funding. Effective, discreet fund-raising for widely-supported humanitarian causes kept the voluntary budget ahead of all other UN agencies, whose budgets were decreasing with the speed of program "reform." Even the regular budget itself was being slashed quicker than Joe Connor would say "quiet revolution." Now, it's HCR's turn. For the first time, available funds run less than $1 billion annually and senior officials are panicking. They never bothered before with real public outreach, except for occasional financially covered and volunteered campaigns. Now the new leader, former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, is wondering what he got himself into. Well, a man of his experience should have realized that a crucial part of his job is to raise funds. This is not the Netherlands government, where the finance minister will provide his premier with what is reasonably required after some understandable politicking. It is the world of donor fatigue: more prolonged conflicts yet less headline wars and tough competition by everyone to get a share of the rapidly shrinking pot. Mr. Lubbers is said to have indicated that he "will not have it." What does that mean? Would he leave and go back to Scheveninger-on-the-Sea? Would he start phoning his former colleagues, prime ministers of European countries, and asking them to pay more? Would he call on his former cabinet member competitor for the HCR post, Jan Pronck, for international cooperation funds? Will he bang the table in front of other UN agency and program heads when they meet, perhaps next October?

Welcome to the club. But first, how about some grassroots outreach by its Public Information office? Do they have one?

Behind the Roundabout

Some Asian diplomats are amused by the volte-face on the part of the distinguished and effective Ambassador Chowdhury of Bangladesh. Since last December, he's been urging the Asian group to agree on the Asian candidate for the post of Secretary General, on the assumption that Kofi Annan had completed the second term for Africa and now it is Asia's turn. So they eventually started stirring, with little movement except some vague exchanges on the need to discuss the matter further. On Friday, 27 April, however, the fairly competent Ambassador was pushing for a consensus to support Kofi Annan's reappointment. The attempt at an about-face was not agreed to by the group, an awkward outcome which the Secretary General could have been spared.

Amused delegates familiar with national politics in Bangladesh reasoned that an upcoming election this summer is likely to cause a change of government-ergo a change in the Permanent Representative. Was the former UNICEF staffers preparing for a role on the TV show Survivor? It is unlikely that anyone on the 38th floor was involved, except possibly the Lone Ranger, "Athlete of the Year," who fancies his role as that of a master political operator. Certainly neither Kofi Annan, who was away in Africa, nor his close aides, had prior knowledge.

Workaholique

Former Permanent Representative of France Alain Dejammet, recognized for his meticulous performance, gracious exit, and a unique sense of when to nap discreetly in the UN corridor, was also known as a workaholic. Before and after Security Council meetings, diplomatic dinners, or social engagements, he was regularly seen with a reading light in his backseat, reading or drafting reports, documents, or messages. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, who replaced him, was thought to be equally distinguished, yet less determined on late night shifts. However, the courteous, business-like Levitte is now seen around midnight driving himself away from the mission's premises on 47th street, even when there is no Security Council meeting. It must be the time difference between New York and Paris. . .or the engrained habits of the Quai d'Orsay.

Verbal Misunderstanding

As if Syria and Israel needed further problems, in April 2001 the Security Council devoted a day to discussing the protection of civilians in areas of conflict. Given the situation in the Middle East, delegates from the region obviously participated. In a "right of reply," Syrian ambassador Michael Wehbe referred to an April understanding which was sponsored several years ago by the United States and France, and pertained to Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Through that understanding, he said, Israel and Hezbollah, the movement that fought the Israelis in south Lebanon, had exchanged prisoners. However, the simultaneous interpreter heard the Arabic word for prisoners, "asra," as the similar sounding "asrar" which means "secrets." Hearing the English version, the Israeli delegate responded angrily: It was Syria, not Israel, that supported Hezbollah, he said, and went on to accuse the Syrian government of repression, which engendered another response by an enraged Syrian delegate. As the official press release about the meeting reproduced the English version, news agencies and most Arab media reported the exchange of "secrets" rather than "prisoners." Some obtained a vehement denial by a Hezbollah spokesman. Only one reporter in New York, Raghida Dergham of the daily Al Hayal, double-checked the tape and reported the accurate story. In an area where conspiracy theories abound, some suspected a tangled web behind the confusion. Actually, it was a real misunderstanding. The interpreter involved was a qualified Arab professional with impeccable credentials, particularly with the Syrian delegation.

Fall Runs for OAU

While the competition for UN Secretary General seems to be almost over, the race for the Secretary General of the Organization for African Unity is still open. Selim Ahmad Selim, the incumbent hoping for a third term, faces other potentially strong candidates. To wit: Ibrahima Fall, UN Assistant Secretary General for Africa in the political department. A former professor and minister of Foreign Affairs of Senegal, Fall was brought into the Secretariat by Dr. Boutros Ghali, and reappointed by Kofi Annan. Influential francophone countries may feel it is about time for one of them to take the post, as an Anglophone held it for so long. That, however, does not in itself justify leadership. It is the relevance to current African issues that will make or break a candidate. Fsll is suitably qualified, all the more due to his current UN work. Elections take place this summer.

The BBC Interviews Annan on AIDS

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation in Abuja during an African summit on HIV/AIDS, Kofi Annan gave a detailed argument about the seriousness of the disease, and the need to effectively combat it. More Africans have died from AIDS than from armed conflicts. AIDS has claimed more victims than World War II. In his Abuja address, the Secretary General called for a "war chest" of $7 to $10 billion annually to wage an effective fight against the disease.

Remember East Timor?

No longer the flavor of the month, East Timor seems to be struggling persistently---though with little attention---to build a new state. The UN administration there, headed by the almost-forgotten-but-ever-resilient Sergio Viera de Mello, just completed a program to train 52 representatives from all 14 provinces in civic education, with special focus on the upcoming Constitutional Assembly elections, human rights, stability, security, and democracy. That is of course very commendable. But when is Sergio going to Geneva? Is he going to Geneva? Well, maybe next year. . .

Barb Crossette to Cover Canada

The New York Times correspondent at UN headquarters Barbara Crossette will be leaving this summer to cover Canada. Crossette won respect and affection from everyone with whom she dealt. She is an effective reporter for her newspaper as well as a valuable representative of what the UN stands for. Her stress on human rights and other issues of human dignity are reflected in her personal warmth and professional qualifications. While awaiting the arrival of her successor, Serge Schmemann, Crossette is working on her French, so as to succeed in bilingual Canada. Friends caution her to keep away from the "Quebecois" accent. Bon chance!

FCCC….C

Why can't some of those "bodies" and "organs" think twice before naming their new committees? A "non-paper," a "conference paper," and a paper paper are all well understood. But some of the abbreviations make one wonder. For example, the active Dutch environmental minister Jan Pronck, who as some will recall was a candidate for UNHCR until he was overrun by his former Prime Minister, is now chairman of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was thus announced that some 40 senior officials spent the weekend brainstorming ways and means to maintain a viable UNFCCC. Surely a further announcement will be made when they actually pull it off.

Home Support

UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen should be somewhat relieved by the arrival in Jerusalem of his professional wife, who has been appointed Norway's ambassador in the region. It is recalled that when Roed-Larsen worked secretly on the Oslo Accord, his discreet wife was in the picture.

Balkan Neutrality

A special European meeting on Kosovo puzzled some diplomats in Paris, when the UN official representative at the meeting hailed from the former Yugoslav Republic of Slovenia. Usually, the Secretariat makes a special effort to stress its neutrality, but apparently very few senior officials in that political office seem to care---except when it comes to the Middle East: No experienced experts from the region allowed.

Remembering Muallimu

At a memorial service for Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyrere, held at the Holy Trinity Church, the diplomatic community paid full tribute to the vision, courage and dedication of one of the pioneers of modern Africa's liberation. Muallimu, "the teacher" in Swahili, as he was known among the admiring international community, shared the meager resources of his newly independent country with those still fighting apartheid in Africa. From South Africa to Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, Muallimu was a guiding light and a pillar of support. He continued to play an international role after he left government, and, as Kofi Annan stated, he provided constant help and advice in numerous attempts to settle conflicts in Africa. Ambassador Mselle, head of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary questions, who in his national service worked under President Nyrere, read a solemn message from the Book of the Apostles, and two Tanzanian bishops flanked Archbishop Martino, the papal representative. Tanzania's permanent representative, Daudi Mwakawago, made certain that a gracious and solemn reception followed.

Royale Monceau

A colleague on a recent trip to Paris had the pleasure of encountering Steffi Graf: he heard the tennis diva's startled "excuse moi" as she was rushing to enter the elevator he was exiting at the Hotel Royale Monceau. An attempt to explore the situation was cut short by another hurried champion: Andre Agassi, who was not far behind. A number of tennis stars were there for France's Roland Garosse Open, including the Williams sisters, who's father/manager, dressed in shorts and sneakers, walked every evening to the nearby Champs Elysee and back.

Warren Christopher Remembers. . .and Forgets

Former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher reminisced about his early years and career highlights during a chat in Union Square to promote his new book. In a top-floor bookstore arranged like a sitting room, the dour looking eminence grise of the Democratic Party displayed an unexpected sense of humor and, yes, some human warmth. Christopher's aloof attitude dates to his upbringing in the Dakotas, where his father was obliged to dispossess farmers who couldn't pay their loans.

Christopher gave fair credit to judges and presidents who gave opportunities, and recounted some delicate moments, as when he accompanied President Carter on a disastrous mission to Tehran (two helicopters collided), despite the reservations of his immediate boss, Cyrus Vance. Christopher, known as "Chris" to intimates, also described the soul searching he undertook when he failed to replace Vance, after the latter resigned as Secretary of State under Carter.

One issue Christopher completely ignored was the debacle with Dr. Boutros-Ghali over his renewal as Secretary General. Some interpret this as Christopher's elegant avoidance of a delicate issue, while others chalk it up to forgetful cool. Regardless, the question did not arise and Christopher didn't volunteer his own version of events.

Tellawi Shakes ESCWA

The Executive Committee of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) met in Beirut with an impressive roster of 18 ministers from its member countries. It was an impressive start for the new Executive Secretary, Mirvet Tellawi, who seems determined to give the Commission and its region the reputation and performance that it deserves. The challenge is to maintain momentum, mobilize human resources, and involve key partnerships in providing much-needed support, particularly with related events on relevant issues.

Paris Envy

An average information officer almost got away with travelling to Paris at UN expense over Memorial Day, until he was intercepted at the last minute by alert supervisors and senior officials. Salim Fahmawi, who runs a program on the Palestinian question, was en route to the City of Light (which also had a long weekend), ostensibly to ascertain whether conference facilities there were up to his standards. A "journalistic encounter," the sort that inevitably produces few prominent journalists and too many participants, is scheduled for Paris in mid-June, "when it sizzles." It will cost the UN, and the Palestinian cause, more than a quarter of a million dollars for two days. There is an unconfirmed list of prominent speakers, but confirmed attendance by some UN officials including, of course, the determined Fahmawi, who may yet wrangle a three day junket prior to that rencontre. Several noted Palestinians and other intellectuals have declined to participate in the vague gathering, as time and money are better spent assisting those suffering daily in the territories, and drawing attention to their plight. What a shame. But then, there are those who have no shame exploiting even their own people's misery.

Deep Thoughts From the CHEFDEC

"I am thinking. I know who I am. He knows who I am. Only that woman keeps getting it from the wrong side of the stick. I am thinking I should do something about it."