10/23/2000

A Balancing Act

One day after it was announced that Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be attending the Islamic Summit in Doha, Qatar next November, its neighbouring state of Bahrain announced a cabinet decision to "welcome the forthcoming visit" of Mr. Annan to Bahrain where he will open UN House, which includes all UN offices.

Drugs in Sydney

"It Could be Done" UN representation in the Sydney Olympics should have included the leader of the UN anti-drug campaign, Pino Arlacchi. The dynamic former Italian prosecutor who courageously confronted the Mafia, had raised a slogan: "It could be done", about combatting drug abuse. That was proven in the Sydney Olympics. Medals were given to those who could do it without drugs while a big case was made publicly against those who could not.

Irish eyes are smiling

After twenty years of dedicated work in the shadows, Ireland went sailing through the Assembly in its quest for a Security Council seat. With three countries, Italy, Norway and Ireland, competing for the two seats, "European and others", the Emerald Isle was the only one to get the required votes (two thirds majority) from the first ballot by ringing 130 "yes" bells. Those who had predicted that Ireland was running "a poor third" had clearly underestimated the long-term stamina of Irish diplomacy, its unassuming efficiency and the empathy for its straightforward approach. Incidentally, one of the bonuses for Ireland's success may be the return to New York of former UN colleague Paul Kavanagh, who was best known by those who worked with Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cueller. A rising star at the time, Paul drafted speeches, took meeting notes and performed outstanding services for the Secretary-General. He returned in 1997 to the Foreign Service after serving as Director of the UN Information Centre in Tokyo. At the time, Paul was briefly considered for a senior post in Geneva but had to return to Dublin instead. In the current turn of events, Geneva's loss will be Ireland's (and New York's) gain.

Waiting for Maradona

Former soccer legend Diego Maradona is so keen on beating the habit that he is interested in offering his services to the UN in a public campaign against drug abuse. As the current treatment is going the international community may have to wait a while. Mr. Maradona is famous not only for his superb movements but also for a goal he scored against England in the Mexico Mundial, stealthily using his hand unobserved by the referee. Diego Armando (he hates being called "Diegito") at the time described the incident as "the hidden hand of God". Let us pray.

Norway-UN Love Story

Norway, like other Scandinavians, prides itself on being a UN country. The first Secretary-General Trigvye Lee was Norwegian. Its record of contributions in every field, from peacekeeping to mediation to development is so evident that Norwegians neglect to mention it as often as popularly required. Running for the Security Council seat, they initially received 114 votes against 94 by Italy (Ireland already won its seat by 130). A frustrating one vote was needed for the required two third. Like in the case of Ireland, many had underestimated Norway's tenacity and were still in awe of the formidable "Fulci machine" which never lost an election for Italy over the last eight years. The new Ambassador Sergio Vento inherited the ambition for the seat but not the machinery to win it. While casting four ballots, commotion in the Assembly hall was so high that the new President, Finland's former Prime Minister Holkeri had to reportedly remind delegates that an official meeting was still on. Some old-timers were reminded of a comic TV show where the theme cry by Sammy Davis Jr. was: "The court's in session. Here comes the judge!" Norway won fairly and squarely. In addition to the experienced efforts of Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby, another Norwegian ambassador with close UN ties, Tom Vraalsen was also on hand for the challenging and winning moments. Skol!

UN meeting improves Sudan-Eritrea relations

A discreet meeting in New York early September between the Presidents of Eritrea and Sudan were followed by a visit on 23 September by President Omar Bashir of Sudan to Asmara. Sudanese opposition leaders wee said to have entrusted one of them, Mohammed Osman Mirghani, to experss their views during a meeting set up by President Isais Afaerki. It was noted that Asmara and Khartoum radios have toned down their rhetoric and that Sudanese opposition groups were invited to more from the Eritrean capital to the seaport of Massawa. Once again, discreet UN diplomacy works, with no need for photo ops.

Now you see themů

When Secretary General Kofi Annan made an opening statement t the special session of the General Assembly Friday October 18 on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Chef de Cabinet and the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs took their seats in the designated VIP area. After the Secretary General left and when delegations started to express their views, Mr. Riza quickly disappeared. Of course he has to be where he is needed most. Mr. Prendergast followed a bit later, though more quietly. The discreet former British Ambassador had farsightedly taken a third row seat, just next to the exit.

Title, yes; Solidarity, no

Mohammed Sahnoun happened to be in the building during the march to protest the brutal attacks against the UN civilians in the field. A persistent member of Club 71, Mr. Sahnoun, like 17 others is vaguely titled Special Representative in Africa or something similar. He had been appointed in Somalia during the catastrophic events, then Mr. Annan appointed him briefly in the Congo where, to put it gently, it didn't work. Holding a diplomatic UN passport with claim of "per diem" days of "performing functions", the least he could have done was appear however briefly to express solidarity. Instead, the former Algerian functionnaire who faced an advanced party in the hall, near the elevator of the second floor, shook hands profusely with Somali UNCHR representatives whose colleague had been massacred in East Timor, and without even expressing any words of sympathy, moved hot foot northward.

State of facts

Asked on "This Week On ABC" Secretary of State Madeline Albright expressed her view that her country did not import any oil from Iraq. She may be 124.6 million barrels wrong, as counted by Reuters new agency. That is the amount imported by the American market from Iraq during the first seven months of this year, according to the Department of Energy. Incidentally, before its misguided and illegal invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was the sixth source of oil to the United States with almost 585,000 barrels a day, double the 217,000 which was imported from Kuwait during the same period.

Women Power

While thousands of women from various nationalities and in varied costumes were streaming from The Plaza on 47th Street into Second Avenue on October 17th carrying multi-lingual banners, a group of them stopped for a moment possibly to make some space for the group ahead. A somewhat elderly stern-looking policeman shouted at them to move right away. The chain reaction of boos he received prompted him to wonder what was going on. He discovered it was "World March of Women" mainly to protest violence and harsh treatment by men.

Retirement or Recruitment

The newly appointed head of UN Information Centre in Tokyo turned out to be sixty years old- an age for retirement not recruitment. Yet there is a technical loophole. Those recruited after 1990 could get to retire at the age of 62. Thus, our Japanese man in Tokyo could have two years and possibly a third until "a suitable placement may be found".

Promotional Chain

Finally, appointments for two Principal Officer (D-1) posts were settled in DP1. Two deserving staff received their promotion through open competition despite some attempts at twisting elbows. Ms.Sherly Brownell was selected as Chief of Publications Section and Mr. Roy Laishely as chief of Press Section. Although both- or one of them at least- would have preferred a switch, it is a clear recognition of the professional qualifications of available staff. An added reason to welcome such appointments from within is that now two P5 posts will be available for promotions in a continued chain- unless otherwise interrupted.

Nan Annan walks against Breast Cancer

The Secretary General's wife Nan Annan led a walk by UN women in New York: Central Park on Sunday October 15th to raise funds in order to combat breast cancer. Other marchers included the ever-smiling Dr.Narulla of the Medical Service. Another longer march over the weekend for the same purpose started in upstate New York for about seventy miles, arriving in Manhattan also on Sunday. Among the resilient marchers was Paula Refolo, Special Assistant to the Under-Secretary General for Public Information, who arrived fairly exhausted yet exhilarated because of the amount of funds the march raised.

Incense Burners disappointed

More Incense was required mid-October to clear away the air of disappointment as the group of incense burners received word that the Nobel Peace Prize was given to President Kim of South Korea. Those self-promoters had actually hurt the man they claim they serve. If they had not whispered their expectations, they would not have had to cover their chagrin. Maybe the prize will go to their desired man if they just let people know him directly, not through an undependable shroud of incense.

Undiplomatic cellphone

A senior diplomat was almost run down by a car on First Avenue and 48th Street while intensely reporting home on his cellphone. Startled, he uttered a demi-foul word in his native language. He was even more startled when the car's driver responded in his same language only with fouler vocabulary.