05/14/2002

Larsen Investigated; Not By UN

Reports in Scandinavian papers that Terje Roed Larsen, UN Coordinator for the Middle East, is under investigation for possible financial violation, did not seem to be noticed by the UN. Claims that he and his wife received about $100,000 from the Shimon Peres Foundation without reporting it to the Norwegian government have been circulating for awhile. Recent reports stated that his wife, Norway's ambassador to Israel, might get the brunt of the official review. No one at UN headquarters seems interested in exploring exactly what happened. Roed Larsen is a senior diplomat, and holds a key position dealing with major conflicts. It may be worthwhile to probe whether the reports are just a "Roed Herring" or is there more to it than meets than the eye of a Nobel Prize operator.

Excuse Me, Your Excellency

A newly appointed ambassador recalled a passage from a novel by Mexican author Octavio Paz, in which a parrot startled a newcomer with expressions of impressive yet repetitive self-importance. "Pardon me, your excellency," the man says. "I thought you were a bird."

Bungler in Beirut

Most heads of state attending the Arab summit in Beirut had suites at the Hotel Vendome, except Secretary General Kofi Annan, who stayed at the Phoenicia. Every meeting meant the inconvenience of moving with a motorcade and entourage just a few hundred feet, while others met openly or discreetly simply by taking the elevator. It transpired that the Lebanese hosts actually offered Mr. Annan a suite in the Vendome. They felt it was more respectful and practical. He is highly regarded there. However, his representative, Steffan Demistura, decided that the elegantly decorated rooms at the Vendome were "too small" for the Secretary General. All suites are similar in size, at least for heads of state. The hotel's owner, who was in London at the time was so certain Annan was there that he sent him a personal welcoming note inviting him and his wife to visit again any time. The letter apparently fell into the hands the bungler in Beirut, not to be forwarded or acknowledged. Incidentally the Secretary General, who had to return immediately to a Security Council meeting in New York, flew back on a private jet offered by Prime Minister Harriri.

New Iranian Ambassador

According to an Iranian source quoted in the daily Asharq Al Awsat, Hussein Moussayan, former ambassador to Bonn and special advisor to former president Hashemi Rafsanjani will replace Iran's permanent representative in New York, Nejad Husseinien, this summer. In political terms, that may be interpreted as an indication of where the influence really lies, and possibly open a new channel of communication with the U.S. by previously reluctant powers.

UNIFIL Spokesman Remains

After an announcement that Timor Goksel, UNIFIL spokesman, will be transferred, he is remaining in South Lebanon, albeit discreetly. Talks regarding his move to Afghanistan did not materialize. He has about 16 months left before retirement, and seems to be popular with all parties on the ground. Regardless of what reports indicated, he is likely to remain where he has been over the last two decades as part of the terrain.

New Old Greek Representative

A former Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece will return in the top post. Andreas Vasilakis, who spent the last five years in Brussels as representative to the European Community, took over the mission in New York. His outgoing, socially active style earned him a wide range of friends during his previous posting. He now has a new chance to accumulate even more achievements for the great Hellenic culture. Welcome back.

UN Works-Finally

A year-old project finally found its way to the UN website. The "UN Works," which stresses the relevance of the organization's work in everyday life, was encouraged by deputy Secretary General Louis Frechette last year, in an effort to provide practical substance to visitors and ordinary citizens from around the world. A campaign on subways and buses during the millennium assembly served as the formal testing ground. After protracted internal arguments, the project was on and off, then on again. Now it appears under a new heading on the website. Congratulations to Mahbub Ahmed and his team. Better late than never.

Kingdom of Bahrain

A new decree proclaimed the state of Bahrain an "Arab Islamic kingdom independent and sovereign." The head of state will become a king, and shall be addressed as "His Greatness Sheik Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalijah, King of Bahrain." Before its independence in 1971, Bahrain was a British protectorate whose "sheik" becomes the "emir" of the newly created state, established by a UN mission that supervised a referendum and ensured that Iran withdrew its claims. The island-nation will become the smallest kingdom in the world: 620 kilometers, with about 400,000 citizens.

First UN Ombudsman a WOMAN

A senior Jamaican diplomat has been appointed United Nations Ombudsman; a newly created position designed to help UN staff raise matters of concern. Ambassador Patricia Durrant, who has been Jamaica's representative to the UN since 1995, who will serve as Assistant Secretary General, will have her hands full. During a period of change and uncertainty for many staff, not always well handled by senior administrators, there will be many justified complaints. Durrant will work independently, and under strict confidentiality concerning matters in her purview. She will have direct access to the Secretary General, and to staff records, except for records of ongoing investigations and medical information not available without the express request of the individual. She may consider conflicts related to employment by the UN, including benefits, conditions of employment, managerial practices and professional and staff relations.

A Finn to Replace Robinson?

The UN's number one supporter in comparative budgetary terms may finally receive a post. The consistent contributions of Finland to every UN field, from development to peacekeeping, have been thus far ignored, possibly due to the selfless approach, which silently expects appreciation, while becoming a sacrificial lamb. The dynamic, experienced and popular ambassador, Marjetta Resi, plays a prominent role in every serious meeting, yet as a true believer in the working of the organization, she makes her points correctly, elegantly and with good cheer, allowing some administrators in the Secretariat to conclude that it may be time to relinquish their doubletalk and get on with a wider allocation of the most senior post. It may yet happen. Meanwhile, there is speculation that when Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson leaves this year, former Finnish president and senior Secretariat official Marti Ahtisaari will replace her.

Deputy Spokesman Located

The Spokesman's office still shows signs of missing Manuel de Silva e Alameda, who left for the Afghanistan mission. After a thorough review, Fred Eckert has decided on a new deputy, a Chinese national with wide media experience, including an international assignment with the BBC.

Connor Leaves

Joseph Connor, the American Undersecretary General for Administration Management, is a dominant powerhouse. He controlled administrative policy and implementation, including a stream of budget cuts. A shadow of himself ten years later, he is preparing to leave by year-end. Many of those whom he left without jobs in a foreign country do wish him well in his second retirement. His first was from Price Waterhouse, of IMIS fame. Despite differing views, Connor was always courteous and correct. But you don't get to a top managerial accounting job by running a popularity contest.

Press Freedom Day

An impressive reminder that freedom of the press needs continued effort was displayed at a seminar sponsored by DPI on World Press Freedom Day. Deputy Secretary General Louis Frechette made impressive opening remarks and Jim Ottaway of the World Press Freedom Committee gave a typically precise overview of the challenged ahead, while confirming the commitment to face them. The forum was mediated by Shashi Therour, interim head of public information.