Quotable on Peacekeeping

Now that the incense burners have produced an unprecedented official UN book entitled "The Quotable Kofi Annan", to save succeeding generations from the scourge of self-promotion, a clear "quotable" position on his policy regarding UN peacekeeping could help. Two different and opposite views were expressed between November and May by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the role of UN peacekeeping, and noted by The Washington Post.

November 1999:"Peacekeeping and war fighting are distinct activities which should not be mixed. Peacekeepers must never again be deployed into an environment in which there is no ceasefire or peace agreement".

May 2000 (at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.: "UN peacekeepers cannot be expected to keep peace between angels. They face warlords and militia leaders whose only aim is power and enrichment. In the future, UN peacekeeping must have clear mandates to use force, and receive first-rate equipment and logistical support from rich countries".

Wanted: A (Practical) (Serious) (Working) Document for the Millenium Summit

At a closed meeting on 18 July, General Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab presented to Member States his working draft of a document he hopes Heads of State and Government will endorse, at the conclusion of the Millennium Summit. Being touted as the largest gathering ever of world leaders, the Summit will take place at UN Headquarters from 6 to 8 September.

Delegations had appealed to the President to present to them a crisp, concise, authoritative and forward-looking political document - one that could serve as a guide to the international community and the world Organization in the 21st century. The document presented after weeks of drafting was, sadly, a disappointment. This was most evident from the interventions made at meetings held to discuss the draft. Speaker after speaker, diplomats all, began by declaring this to be an excellent text, one that could serve as the basis for their work. In the next breath, however, they proceeded to tear it apart, suggesting that this or that reference be added or deleted. So numerous were the proposed changes - made orally as well as expanded written versions - that one delegate likened the exercise to "trying to squeeze an elephant into a rabbit's hole" and hoped that, in the end, the text would still be 26 paragraphs rather than 26 pages. Others pictured a New York City Christmas tree laden with everybody's wish list of what to include in the outcome document.

From an examination of the draft, it appears that all that the drafters did, after weeks of working on it, was to lift chapter VII of the Secretary-General's report entitled "We the peoples: the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century", and present it as the text of the President. For those already very familiar with the recommendations of the Millennium Report, the President's draft contained nothing new. If that had been the intention all along, critics argue, delegations could have begun work on the outcome document as far back as 3 April, when Secretary-General Kofi Annan first presented his report to the General Assembly.

Those delegations expecting to receive a revised text at the consultations on 2 August were sorely disappointed. Instead, the President held up, for all to see, a huge stack of papers containing the various proposals on how to fix the text. He said the team working on the draft was attempting to accommodate delegations' requests and, thus, needed more time.

Our guess is that the strategy will be to delay handing out a revised text until, say, late August, giving delegations little time to argue over its contents. Being unanimous in their belief that there is no text that can't be improved, delegates will be denied, for as long as possible, the chance to get at this one all over again. So what will be the outcome of this document, remains to be seen!

Roundabout Table

Confusion abounds regarding preparations for the Millennium Summit. The absence of many officials on summer holidays, as that event opens immediately after Labour Day, is not helping others who end up doing the work. Most are convinced that although it looks hopeless, somehow matters will work out - if only they knew what to do about those round-tables for Heads of State and Government. Who proposed that anyway, and where is he now?

Spiritual Fog

A presumptuous "Spiritual Summit" looks like a disaster waiting to happen. So many overlooked powerful leaders of important religious groups are seriously upset, and some of those invited are seeking a larger role and a clearer link to the UN. Incidentally, a European woman married to a businessman in New York introduces herself as a consultant to the Secretary-General on spiritual aspects of the summit and is desperately seeking advice during social dinners. It may be too late. UN staff were habitually advised, upon joining the Organization, to avoid discussion of religious matters, as they could be emotional time bombs. Who planted them?

Retirees Prohibited

With so many unresolved problems for the approaching Millennium Summit, someone focused on one firm decision: no retired UN staff would be allowed, even with their passes, into the UN Building during that three-day event (6-8 September). The threat posed by retirees, who devoted their lives to the Organization, is unclear. Some are puzzled particularly because those who took the decision are on their way out, with "limited miles" to go to retirement.

Man for All Missions

He moved wherever and whenever he was needed - from Kosovo to East Timor! It is now a year since the human catastrophe of East Timor faded from television headlines. Frustrations remain, and efforts to rebuild a new country continue. The UN team there is headed by Sergio Vieira de Mello, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. Sergio also spearheaded the UN effort on Kosovo, while the war was still raging, and established, under constant media coverage, the initial painstaking arrangements. In both missions, scarce resources were provided and he had to depend on his best resource - himself.

UNHCR Withdrawal

It's almost official: former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has declined an offer by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to vie for the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. If successful, he was pegged to succeed Mrs. Sadako Ogata of Japan at the end of the year. The Financial Times, in a piece titled "Busy Boy", said Ahtisaari had turned down the offer because he wants to keep on with his current projects. These include making sure that the IRA's weapons are beyond use, and helping sort out the European Union's problems with Austria. Nordic Business Report commented that the 63-year-old Ahtisaari turned the offer down because heading the UN agency would be a long-term commitment, and he wanted to spend time on the activities he had been involved with since his six-year term as Finnish President ended. For the others in the running, la lutta continua.

SG for Scapegoat

It was a typical example of Kofi Annan's sense of humour. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he said he had always thought that SG stood for Secretary-General until he discovered that it also stood for scapegoat. An effective response - right timing - befitting a Secretary-General; a great contrast from those cracks pushed on him by some jokers in search of a comedian.

Dearly Beloved

A member of the "whirling dervish" group was so thrilled that he circulated the good news to other incense burners. Reportedly, a permanent member referred, in one of the Security Council gatherings, to the current Secretary-General as "our beloved". That, it was whispered, was "unprecedented" and a "hopeful indication of things to come". Like what? The US elections?

Larsen Twins

After months of tense negotiations, UN Middle East Envoy Terje Roed Larsen received confirmation from the Lebanese Government that UNIFIL could deploy further as full Israeli withdrawal had been jointly confirmed. The same day, he received word that his wife had given birth to baby twins Emma and Edvard. Larsen was in Oslo enjoying the twin achievement.

Homeward-Bound Policy

The first exception is usually accepted for various reasons. The second is also defendable. But the third would indicate a reversal of policy, or lack of ability to sustain it. That is what is happening regarding the post of Director, UN Information Centres.

A decision to appoint a Japanese in Tokyo reverses further a 55-year standard practice that a Director of a UN Information Centre should not be a citizen of its host country. The purpose of that policy, adopted by all other Secretaries-General, was to consolidate the integrity of the international civil service, avert any misperception of conflict of political or personal interest, avoid possible involvement in internal affairs of Member States or sometimes bypassing, for example, national financial regulations. In very exceptional cases, the appointed citizen would be someone already within the system with established international credentials who would mainly undertake specific assignments for a limited period. So many diplomatic battles were fought when every Secretary-General stood firm against breaking that policy despite constant pressure - with very limited and targeted exceptions.

Until now, Japan scrupulously accepted that position, as long as the number two person was Japanese. Over the last two years, however, several nationals have been appointed as heads of Information Centres. Fortunately, the new choice for Tokyo is a professional journalist from NHK who could help with the Japanese media.

But from now on, the accommodating Secretary-General will find it harder to resist diplomats insisting on home appointments, especially if countries are important to him. Take Egypt, for example. With its special regional and international role and as headquarters of the League of Arab States, it may recommend an Egyptian national for its UNIC. How could the Secretary-General say no to Cairo, having said yes to Tokyo, yes to Moscow and yes, yes to Washington?

Post Unblocked

Finally, common sense prevailed as other tactics faltered. After the issue was widely raised, the D-1 post of Chief of the Press Service was unblocked and the Japanese parachutist quietly withdrawn. A Departmental panel considered the names of various candidates. Although there are still differences on qualification, the competition now is between the professionals of the Department of Public Information, one of whom is already recommended but not yet approved by the Board.

Venetian Blinds for NGOs

No more sob stories by some NGOs about lack of funds. Their annual party this year will be held at the exclusive (and very expensive) 42nd Street establishment owned by Harry Cipriani, the famous restaurateur from Venice, Italy. Until now, the most lavish NGO party was at the Delegates Dining Room or at their lounge in the Library wing, which was given to them by DPI after they were placed outside the UN compound. Fortunately for the big spenders, the hawk eye of the Under-Secretary-General for Management will be glaring elsewhere at the time, possibly at the original Cipriani. He is a traditional visitor to the city of gondolas during his well-deserved end of August holidays. However, part of the evening's tab is being picked up by Finland, which holds the Presidency of the 55th General Assembly session, and is known to have deep financial pockets.

Israeli-Iranian President - An Optimists View

The election of Moshe Kassav as President of Israel was reportedly received positively though discreetly in Iran. A Sephardic Jew, the new President was born in Yazd, hometown of current Iranian President Sayyad Mohammad Khatami, with whom he reportedly went to the same town's elementary school. Some of his relatives still live in the old country. According to authoritative Asharq Al Awsat's correspondent in Tehran, the election to the Presidency of an Iranian may cause the Government in Tehran to conceptually absorb the Israeli situation in the region. It added: "At least Moshe Kassav can pick up the phone and ask his Iranian counterpart in authentic Persian: How are you?" Additionally, it was noted that two out of five Arab Knesset members may have voted for Kassav in the secret ballot. These included a prominent representative of the Islamic Movement, Abdel Malik Dahamshah.

Madame President

When the UN Staff Committee elected Mehri Madarshahi as President of the Staff Council, she had to overcome many challenges. Staff cuts, low morale and fragmented efforts by other colleagues did not deter her. That gracious lady, of third world background and first-class attitude, is trying her best and deserves any support she can get. She shows the positive dynamism of Iranian women and behaves with the dignity of a true international civil servant. Best of luck to her.

Jamaica, Jamaica

In normal rotation, Ambassador Patricia Durrant presided over the Security Council for July in her usual modest yet confident manner. This is Jamaica's first year as a non-permanent member, but Ambassador Durrant was on solid ground, having served her country at UN Headquarters in various capacities.

Welcome Delay

Philippine Ambassador Felipe Mabilangan was preparing to go back to Manila over six months ago. Hearings in the Senate delayed the approval of a new Permanent Representative. The popular Ambassador is as active as the first day of his arrival in New York. He may even stay beyond his term if he wins the Asian seat in ACABQ at the next Assembly session.