02/20/2002

"The Security Council and I"

It must be the end of the world as we know it. In a statement to an obliging Lebanese newspaper, the "Personal Representative of the Security General" in Lebanon, Steffan Demistura, indicates the outcome of a meeting with that country's prime minister by saying, among other things, "I explained to him that the whole international community, the Secretary General himself, a resolution by the Security Council and I personally were following up on the matter." It must be a long way from pushing UNICEF greeting cards and the ceremoniale on UNIC Rome.

Klaus Clout Turnabout

The enterprising initiator of the World Economic Forum, better known as Davos and recently as the "Waldorf Gathering," arranged to have a special guest in every session to attract attention and give it the cachet of power and influence-a head of state or at least a secretary of state. A mystery visitor promised for Sunday or Monday night was rumored to be none other than the most popular president of the most powerful country in the world. Only security measures, some key participants were told, stood between an announcement and a media rush. When it turned out that the down-to-earth commander in chief was too busy to accommodate distinguished photo-op seekers, a completely different guest was produced-his predecessor, founder of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library" who was only too eager for a post-midnight tour d'horizon for a varied group of "top dogs" from around the world.

Abdallah Abdallah or just Abdallah?

The vastly influential member of the "United" Northern Alliance, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, became a household name during the Afghanistan military campaign thanks to his ease with the media, his intuitive appreciation for the target audience, and his photogenic attire, suitable for varied occasions. Now that he is foreign minister of a reborn-hopefully peaceful-Afghanistan, he has decided to use one name: only one "Abdullah." This may be in keeping with the regional tradition, from Kabul to Jakarta. Some diplomats in New York thought it may be because he didn't wish to complicate dealings with certain sensitive UN officials by reminding them of another double-moniker: Boutros Boutros.

Ogata Outshines UN Relief Officialdom

Former high commissioner for refugees Ms. Sadako Ogata reemerged as the most effective power broker for the relief assistance to Afghanistan. She appeared in Kabul immediately following its liberation and effectively arranged the Tokyo pledging conference, which raised $4.5 billion. The formidable Japanese internationalist, who turned down the vacated post of Foreign Minister just as she turned down the post of UN deputy secretary general years earlier, operated in her usual straightforward, self-effacing manner, with a sharp focus on targeted results. Meanwhile, her successor, former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers, was busy breathing down the neck of his operational aides and trying to personally oversee administrative paperwork while vainly fending off a scandal in Nairobi. As to the officially-designated coordinator of reconstruction for Afghanistan, the gracious UNDP administrator Mark Malloch-Brown, he actually visited the most difficult area and managed to obtain BBC coverage. However, his tremendous energy seems to be handicapped by internal structural limitations and a change in desk officers, in which an experienced director is exchanged for a political appointee whose ability to lobby influential groups in a certain capital is not matched by professional skill in running such vast multinational, culturally-sensitive operations. At least on the political side, the UN did superbly well, thanks to sensible Mr. Brahimi and the sensitive Mr. Annan.

Ahmed Fawzi Stars Again

The former spokesman for Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and current director of UNIC, London, Ahmed Fawzi, once again dealt with global media during the Afghanistan crisis. Lakhdar Brahimi masterfully selected Fawzi, who with his cultured Egyptian face and clipped British accent is one more member of the Brahimi team to succeed with flying colors.

Two More ASG Posts Available

One position is already spoken for by a Canadian, the other is most likely going to someone from the third world. The two posts are for Afghanistan mission, one handling humanitarian assistance, the other political contacts. Both will come under the Special Representative Mr. Brahimi as long as he cares to remain in the post.

Whither Hang Seung-Soo?

One more local politics overwhelm international decorum. Korean Foreign Minister Hang Seung-Soo was suddenly relieved of his post by his president; but he happens to be president of the General Assembly session. Technically he is entitled to remain in his international position, because although he was elected as a South Korean official, he was personally voted by name. Politically, however, the decision hinges on his country's leadership, which most likely will feel inclined to provide a face-saving exit by keeping him in his lofty position in New York, where he had done very well. If he has to leave he will at least have the consolation of knowing that he received the Nobel Prize for Peace on behalf of the UN.

Earth Times Slams Media Apartheid

Every international conference since 1990 has been covered by special issues of the Earth Times, so the attempt to deal with Davos-in-the-Waldorf seemed to hit a raw nerve with organizers. When Pranay Gupta criticized mistreatment of journalists representing third world media who were allowed only limited access to participants, the "management" prevented free distribution of the paper. So much for free dialogue.

Washington Times Seminar

A seminar in the American capital on "UN-US: Building Future Relations," sponsored by the Washington Times and an NGO, was attended by several permanent representatives from New York. It highlighted the inevitable collaboration, despite mutual frustrations at various times. The UN needs the US to survive and the US needs the UN to succeed. American politicians and their public generally support UN objectives but want to mold them to their own vision, and UN leaders have historically tried to enact reform in consultation with US administrations. One key seems to lie in wider partnerships with NGOs, media, and individuals who have real influence on the decision-making process.

Fred's New Bank

A refurbished spokesman's office on the second floor reflects its added influence. Gone is the dimly lit, poorly equipped, almost unhealthy atmosphere. The area looks invitingly different, more in keeping with the times. It also has an air of openness. Many comment that it looks more like a bank. "Friends of Fred [Eckard] thought that was appropriate, his word is so credibly solid, you can bank on it.

New Afghanistan Spokesman

Deputy spokesman Manuel Silva has accepted the post of spokesman for the new mission to Afghanistan, now that Ahmad Fanji will return to his regular post in London. Kabul's gain is New York's loss, as the charming Brazilian communicator, who is fluent in five languages and boasts solid experience at headquarters and in the field, was a singular asset to the spokesman's office. Perhaps it was time to move on.

A Negroponte First

New US ambassador John Negroponte discovered during a visit to Lebanon that he is the first American chief delegate to set foot in the country in 24 years. Those making policy statements on UNIFIL seemed to have depended entirely on OPR (Other People's Reports). This time, feedback from Syrian and Lebanese media indicates that a positive impression was made. "Negroponte listened carefully" before making his points, was the general, appreciative comment. His visit to Damascus was particularly significant, as Syria assumed a seat in the Security Council.