09/27/2000

Athlete Of The Year

From the vibrant group of Under and Assistant Secretaries General, who should represent the Secretary General and the United Nations at the Sydney Olympics but our own athletic Chef de Cabinet. Possibly the hosts down under did benefit from such a visit, however brief, to know how to master the "good guy bad guy" approach. Or maybe a new series could be added to the championships: flying carpets.

Consensus on Yemen

One of the most attended social gatherings during the summit other than the one given by President Clinton at the Metropolitan Museum was the invitation by Yemen Ambassador, Abdullah Al-Ashtal and Ray Irani at the Hilton for the President of Yemen. Given on the eve of the summit, it was an opportunity for many arriving dignitaries to touch base and explore the evolving setting. Al-Ashtal is the longest serving Ambassador of the United Nations, Dean of Arab Envoys and one of the most popular delegates at the UN. He gave the title of Permanent Representative a real and welcomed meaning. Return of familiar faces: Among former UN staff who returned as government officials was Benita Waldner- Ferrero, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria who had served as United Nations Chief of Protocol. The persuasive and diligent Benita is credited with a special role in helping to lift the European embargo against her country. Another welcome returnee is Yokio Takasu, former UN Controller and currently Head of the UN department in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Takasusan, who gained many friends as a trustworthy and dependable colleague counted about 100 Heads of State as expressing support of a permanent seat for Japan at the Security Council. He participated in the extension of the Japanese Garden inaugurated by the Secretary General around the Peace Bell outside the Assembly building.

Population Fund Leadership Proposition

The competition for the post of executive director of the UN Population Fund Activities intensified as Ms. Nafis Sadiq is expected to leave within a few months. The frontrunner seems to be Ambassador Mirvet Tellawi, a prominent Egyptian social scientist with an outstanding reputation in the diplomatic community. Her position was strengthened recently by the indication of the Egyptian government that she would be the only candidate officially supported for any senior United Nations post. That would leave ESCWA'S Executive Secretary Hazem Biblawi to his own devices, which are abundant anyway. An ace in the hand of Ms.Tellawi is the formidable determination of the dynamic Ambassador of Egypt in New York, Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, an experienced lobbyist who is very familiar with UN lobbying. Another candidate remains Ms. Thoraya Obaid, Director of Division for Arab states and Europe UNFPA. She indicated that she is the candidate of Saudi Arabia for that particular post and not any other. Another candidate is a prominent Ambassador from Asia who may push harder if he feels that his chances for a more senior international post are diminished. Incidentally, Ms. Nafis Sadiq is not easily replaceable. She is a historic figure in her domain who made infinite progress in a sensitive area during a very difficult period. It's not yet time to bid her farewell. But at least it's a point to be made at anytime.

New Promotion, Old Inspiration

Ed Mortimer, on loan from the Financial Times to head the speech writing team for The Secretary General has just received a promotion to Director [D2] level. Initially, Ed moved from London to New York in 1998 for two years. He has since become a member of the "Communications group" supervised by the "Communications Director" in the Secretary General's office. Such a timely promotion may reflect a reward for services rendered, an incentive to stay on for a renewed period or an appreciative handshake to one of the first British columnists to draw attention to Kofi Annan's potential. Incidentally, Ed now works closely with the Department of Public Information which, six years ago, he wrote should be closed down. Who was the inspiration at that time? One wondered and perhaps now could guess.

Millennium Summit Site

Why did someone at the Security General's office on the 38th floor have to intervene with the staff of the Department of Public Information in order to decide the exact wording of each subtitle related to the millennium meeting? Why do some of the supposedly responsible offices have to habitually seek such clearance and were they not placed in their jobs in order to operate with the least necessary supervision? Why do some of them waste their professional talent by merely burning incense?

Missed Diplomat

Many permanent representatives in New York missed during this season the experienced diplomatic flair of former Ambassador Samir Muberek of Lebanon, who was transferred earlier this year to Madrid. The cultured diplomat who had served in New York in various capacities is highly regarded by all Lebanese factions and may yet return to New York in a higher capacity.

Diplomatic Columnist

A prominent Arab columnist Jihad El-Khajen covered the summit from a diplomatic seat. One delegation gave him a rare pass, which he seemed to use wisely to contact heads of state and foreign ministries he knew since his days as chief editor of "Al-Hayat" daily. Jihad who now writes a popular daily column in that paper has been covering the General Debate of the Assembly over the last decade.

UN Home Page Redesigned

The UN Home Page, one of the best public sites in the world was redesigned recently. That site now headed by Mehbub Ahmad from Bangladesh started from almost scratch. The multilingual team was scotch-taped together despite opposition from the administration department which refused to grant special staff for that purpose. Even the right of the Department of Public Information to run a site was disputed. When about four million hits were received during one certain month, various individuals, including some who were not even present at the time started claiming credit for it. The new "cover" looks professionally clear and "relaxed" with appropriate reference to the six official UN languages. Sections are organized appealingly and clearly. There is one reservation about the alteration within the UN logo. That will be a subject of a separate comment. Well done Mehbub, Lilia Jean Pierre and the whole team! Also, thanks to Konscko Hogan for not surrendering that creative pilot project.

Coffee Nostalgia

President Sierre Leone Ahmad Tejan Kaba seemed to be happiest when he had a few moments to slip to the almost deserted Delegate's Lounge to sip a quiet cup of coffee. He relaxed on the same chair where he used to enjoy his daily coffee at in his long years of service at the United Nations.

Inonesians Puzzled

Indonesian delegates in New York are discreetly trying to find out the real reasons behind the vehement and persistent attack on their country’s position regardless of the government in power in Jakarta. After years of basking in glorious attention as a heavy weight Asian country with an internationally recognized Foriegn Minster like Ali Alattas, they now find that they are being visibly and noisily whipped whichever way they turn. Their embarassment is aggravated by their feeling that they are a “UN country”. Maybe they should try to explain more clearly which actions they are taking particularly on safety of UN staff. Or maybe someone in Jakarta should smell the coffee and start dealing more openly and effectively with the media. By the way, where is our friend Alattas? We really miss him.

An American Journalist In Baghdad

Betsy Pisik, the popular correspondent of the Washington Times at the United Nations was permitted to make a three-week visit to Iraq with a photographer. Her special report which appeared in early September reflected not only an experienced professional talent but also sensitive concern for the human condition of the people of an ancient land and culture trying to go about their daily lives “burdened by a dictator within and an angry world outside.”

Consensus Mediator

Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed has proved to be indispensable in these difficult times as a helpful bridge between the UN Administration and staff. As chairman of the Staff Management Consultative Commitee he has devoted his valuable time and experience to averting serious problems as staff are concerned about future contractual plans and working conditions. He is supported by all parties and by The Secretary General, who as former head of personnel would recognize the value of such special efforts.

ESCWA to the Gulf ?

Now that a Jordanian, Dr. Rima Khalaf, has been appointed as head of the Regional Arab Bueaux of UN Development Program, and Dr. Mirvet Tellawi is front running for the UNFPA , no Jordanian or Egyptian could be contemplated for the post of Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut by the end of this year. Could it be the turn of a generous Gulf country helpful to the Secretary General in other fields too? “Ibshir-inshallah”.

Prince Hassan Withdraws from UNHCR Race

The Jordanian government has sent a letter to the Secretary General withdrawing its earlier candidature of Prince Hassan to the post of UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Mr.Annan briefly confirmed receipt of the letter during a recent meeting wit Jordan’s Foreign Minister. In a lengthy interview with the “New York Times” during his brief visit to New York, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, now in Kosovo, confirmed his interest in that job. Also, our overworked colleague in East Timor Sergio Vieiro de Mello, a former UNHCR executive with noted field achievement is cheered on by internal staff who feel that it is about time to grant a qualified, hardworking man his due assignment.

Not Enough Sponsors?

The Financial Times special isue on the United Nations in the millenium did not appear on September 6th. Instead, a few pages came out with a special focus including a solid and positive article by UN correspondent Carola Hoyos and a brief profile of Kofi Annan, as a voice for moral values. There may not have been enough sponsors for a whole issue. However, free stacks of the FT were placed outside the press room in the basement and circulated to delegates.

Return of familiar faces

Among former UN staff who returned as government officials was Benita Waldner-Ferrero, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria who had served as United Nations Chief of Protocol. The persuasive and diligent Benita is credited with a special role in helping to lift the European embargo against her country. Another welcome returnee is Yokio Takasu, former UN Controller and currently head of the UN department in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Takasusan, who gained many friends as a trustworthy and dependable colleague counted about 100 Heads of State as expressing support of a permanent seat for Japan at the Security Council. He participated in the extension of the Japanese Garden inaugurated by the Secretary General around the Peace Bell outside the Assembly building.