Sniping at Arlacchi: It can be done
Italian Senator Pino Arlacchi broke the back of the Italian mafia.
As Director of the UN anti-crime and drug efforts in Vienna, he
launched a fairly successful campaign with proven results and
organized two widely attended international conferences. His main
theme was : "It could be done".
The idea of holding a recent world meeting in Palermo, Sicily,
formerly the mafia's main citadel, was mainly to prove that theme.
Clearly, UN-designated "envoy" actor Michael Douglas seems through
his film "Traffic" to disagree. Indications by senior sources,
including the United States anti-drug unit, confirm that the fight
is worth the effort. Maybe Mr. Arlacchi should not have registered
any success. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" might have been
the advice. Or "Do not disturb", so he would be allowed peace
and tranquility. He should not have become prominent and should
have avoided the news coverage he generated in The New York Times,
Washington Post and European mainstream media. Sniping has already
started at the heels of the active Italian, who expected a frontal
battle with druglords and organized thugs; but now with the poisoning
of the wells in his own domain, while he managed to force some
changes within his machinery, the unsuspecting Arlacchi may not
know that some of these arrows actually originated on his own
turf in Vienna. Watch out for that bitter-looking character, Pino.
She is reporting directly to her contact in New York.
One more club member
"Aiming to reach out to the world of athletics in order to promote
greater understanding of the United Nations", former Swiss President
Adolf Ogi was appointed Special Adviser on Sport for Development
and Peace. No doubt, he will consult with other members of the
exclusive all-male Club 71 (now about 75) and receive helpful
guidance from our dynamic "athlete of the year".
James Baker not interested
Republican personality James Baker is not poised to take any
full-time assignment, including that of the World Bank which was
initially reported. He told personal friends that he has achieved
enough to be proud of and at 71 years of age he would like to
slow down, to enjoy the quality of life more and to undertake
only selected specific assignments.
Brahimi new designation
When requested last year to head the group that produced the
now-famous report on peacekeeping, the title of Lakhdar Brahimi
was changed. The experienced former Algerian Foreign Minister,
who until then had been described as Advisor to the Secretary-General,
was newly designated as Under-Secretary-General for Special Assignments
in Support of the Secretary-General's Preventive and Peace-making
Efforts. He certainly has earned his salary, which is hopefully
as large as the title.
Observant Security Council members noted an interesting shift
of positions over a recent weekend. On Friday, the French delegation
was pushing for a specific position on the Congo, which was not
supported by the British, who had an unrelated proposal on Sierra
Leone not supported by the French. Come Monday, the two friendly
delegations from across the Channel came up with two jointly supportive
positions on both the Congo and Sierra Leone.
Helicopters fly, Corruption kills
Whatever happened to the investigation of the helicopter crash
in Mongolia that took the lives of a multi-UN team? Who hired
the plane? Who checked whether it was airworthy? How much was
paid by whom to whom?
A somber ceremony was held in mid-February honouring the victims.
The Secretary-General gave a moving tribute to fallen civil servants:
"They feel their duty to help those in need more deeply than they
feel for their safety", he said, assuring their loved ones that
their hurt is shared by many, many people in the UN family and
in the countries where they served with dedication. Let an investigation
be conducted and announced with that same spirit.
Under a Cloud
A long-serving ambassador to UN headquarters is under investigation
for alleged financial misdealings. The case does not involve his
current work in New York. Reportedly, it is related to some disputed
partnership at home.
Madison Avenue encounter
A self-important ambassador from a relatively unimportant country
inadvertently bumped into television personality comedian Bill
Cosby who was strolling along Madison Avenue on Monday, President's
Day. Obviously ignorant of the personality he had encountered,
the ambassador stared down as if expecting Cosby, who was wearing
a casual knit sweater, to apologetically move sideways. The prominent
comedian kept smiling away, not noticing or knowing the transient
Annan Mideast Visit
Secretary General Kofi Annan is likely to visit some Middle East
countries by the end of March - beginning of April. Though seemingly
less violent, the situation there is potentially inflammable with
several explosive points which could be triggered by a flare-up
No way to treat a Lady
One of the most dedicated Secretariat staff, Hiroko Kimura, decided
to leave. She did not even wish to wait one more year for a smooth
early retirement. Despite pleas by her affectionate colleagues
in the Information Centres Service, Hiroko has had it, although
being such a discreet professional she never uttered a word of
complaint. A loyal colleague who has defended particularly helpless
junior staff at politically isolated Information Centres in the
field, she is always available to help at any time. Her health
may have been adversely affected as she contained within her the
shameless attitude of transient Japanese DPI "head" Konsako Hogen,
who was expected at least to respect her pain. Now that she is
determined to leave, the United Nations will be losing a dignified
lady and a proven professional communicator.
Disarmament campaign revived
Slowly but surely, Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala
started breathing new life into the disarmament campaign. After
a decade of bureaucratic disarray, the former Sri Lankan Ambassador
to Washington and active internationalist formulated a strategy
and a plan to implement it. With very limited resources, he motivated
his Department's staff, enlisted talented support from the Department
of Public Information and enlarged the network of professional
friends. The cool-headed, unassuming Asian with a practical approach
is gaining more ground for his cause, which is that of the United
Now the General is missing
Anyone with institutional memory will notice that a delegate
from a Central Latin American country has gone down, rather than
up, the ladder in diplomatic listing. In early 1998, the delegation
of Honduras described "H.E." Luis Discua Alver, its number two,
as "Ambassador Deputy Permanent Representative". The "H.E." disappeared
in the summer of 2000, when the newly listed "Sr." Luis Discua
Alver appeared as "Counsellor", number four in that delegation.
Nowhere does it mention the fact that he is a former army General
who headed "B-16", a counter-insurgency brigade suspected - to
say the least - of causing the disappearance of hundreds of his
compatriots. That may have gone unnoticed were it not for the
General's penchant for spending most of his time with old "corridos
hermanos" in Miami, to the point of actually living there rather
than in New York where he presumably worked.
Times change. The U.S. Government has now canceled his visa,
according to the Financial Times "Avenue", together with that
of former Panamian President Ernesto Perez Balladares. Apparently,
the General also faces corruption charges at home. After overseeing
many disappearances, now the General himself is missing.
Take your time
Despite a three-year emergency involvement by the international
community in Kosovo, including tireless work by outgoing French
High Commissioner Bernard Kouchner, the new UN Under-Secretary-General
for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenne, gave the following undiscovered
gem of wisdom to the Security Council: "Developing a framework
for elections and provisional self-government in Kosovo is complex
and should not be rushed". The former French diplomat continued,
"Hasty decisions may set the mission on a course from which it
is too difficult to deviate". Take your time and count your blessings.
Where is Gugu?
Having left New York in early January, she must be somewhere
in the neighbourhood of Place des Nations. The Pakistani environmentalist
with sharp wit and smashing charm is missed by her UNDP friends
but possibly not yet fully discovered by her future WHO colleagues.
Curious seekers may not be able to find her, as she takes official
cover under her actual name. She will find you.
Chiefs of Information Services may not have a Joint UN Information
Committee to attend any more. The annual gathering held normally
around the Fourth of July weekend was the only opportunity for
them to review their joint programmes at the headquarters of one
of the participating agencies. Apparently, heads of agencies are
no more enthusiastic about it as their Information staff. A small
inter-agency group reviewing its recent work reportedly felt that
it had "a long menu without producing a main dish". Politicking
and internal lobbying among members of the same profession apparently
sealed its fate. That is certainly unfair to dedicated professionals
when the UN image requires consolidated joint effort. They may
have to wait some time before reviving their gathering as usual
under another name.
During a meeting with regional organizations, there was a somewhat
tense exchange between Arab League Secretary General Ismat Abdel
Meguid and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. When the former Egyptian
Foreign Minister criticized the lack of clear support by the UN
for the plight of Palestinians, Annan responded with obvious and
unusual anger. It may have been a bad day for both, who are normally
very courteous towards one another.
How Negroponte's appointment was announced
Speculation about the awaited appointment of the new US Ambassador
to the UN was ended by the news that it will be John Negroponte,
a former National Security Council Deputy Director under its then-head,
Colin Powell. He was also a former Ambassador to Mexico, Honduras
and the Philippines. Considered a thoughtful foreign policy expert
with wide-ranging experience, Ambassador Negroponte is known for
his quiet yet effective approach and hard work without insisting
on getting credit for every move he makes, every break he takes.
Some observers have noted that worldwide reports of the appointment
were not based on an official announcement, by or in Washington.
It appeared on a Friday-Saturday report by the Reuters UN Office,
headed by the well-wired Evelyn Leopold, quoting UN sources following
a Wednesday visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell to New York.
Incidentally, The New York Times report was not written by its
outstanding UN correspondent Barbara Crossette, but by someone
else who seemed, based on the news agency report, to have sought
or received further details from former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
The obvious outcome was a story turned to look on the incoming
Negroponte as a continuation of the outgoin Holbrooke.
New York visitors
Therese Sevigny, former Under-Secretary-General for Public Information,
spent a long weekend renewing old friendships, accompanied by
successful Canadian communicator Monique Bruneaux. Holger Martensen,
formerly an active member of the Committee on Information, arrived
from Buenos Aires to attend a meeting. He is currently with the
Legal Department of Argentina's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yasushi
Akashi, who headed the UN Departments of Information, of Disarmament
and of Humanitarian Affairs breezed through. He is now lecturing
in Tokyo and writing weekly columns.
In a crowded field of candidates where competitors from 26 countries
vied for only 5 seats at the Committee for the Protection of the
Child, the first person from Qatar to compete won. Sheikha Ghalia
Bint Mohammad, an active social worker heading an Institute for
the physically challenged in Doha, is also the first Qatari to
occupy a seat in any UN body. It was noted that last summer, during
an international conference to review the status of women five
years after Beijing, Qatar participated for the first time with
an impressive delegation led by Sheikha Hossa, who was the first
Gulf woman to address the General Assembly. And she did so with
dignity and confidence, while maintaining her country's traditions.
This new wave of active yet careful involvement is attributed
to the encouragement of Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Hamad, and the enlightened
perseverance of his wife, Sheikha Mozah, President of the Council
for Strengthening the Family.
Brain at 38th Floor
One of the best brains at the 38th floor will leave next spring.
While Professor John Ruggie was on a fixed-term loan from Columbia
University, his intellectual prowess dominated most of the forward-looking
strategies that were produced on behalf of the Secretary-General.
It helped that he saw eye-to-eye with Kofi Annan, who gave him
open latitude to think creatively and propose novel ideas. He
did so with impressive communicating skill. He will go to the
Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His innovative
approach and sound judgment , as well as good humor and warm team
spirit, were a great asset to the Secretary-General, who will
certainly find the difference that John made during his brief
but shining moment at the Secretariat. His replacement will be
52-year-old Professor Michael Doyle from Princeton University,
reportedly known for his "democratic peace" theory which states
that democratic States tend not to go to war against one another.
Wait until he gets to New York. Incidentally, it was the prominent
columnist Thomas Friedman who initiated the theory that no two
countries hosting McDonald's would go to war.
With increasing formal and informal meetings of the Security
Council, the bulk of organizing its deliberations falls on the
Secretariat staff, the unheralded dedicated soldiers not covered
by the cameras nor hailed by the media. They are directed by Joseph
Stephanides, the thoughtful Greek Cypriot who was appointed to
that post about a year ago upon the reitrement of his Turkish
colleague, Ms. Nylan Bali, a recognized pillar of the Council
Those who were not impressed by the UN appointment of Maurice
Strong to the Board of the University of Peace because he had
no college degree will have to contend with a renewed indication
of further confidence. Mr. Strong was recently appointed by the
UN as President of that University.
Egypt's next Foreign minister: Aboul Gheit or
Now that Egypt's Foreign Minister Amr Moussa is certain to become
the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, replacing
Ismat Abdel Meguid, speculation about his successor includes Ambassador
Ahmed Abdul Gheit, Egypt's Permanent Representative in New York.
The widely popular ambassador had worked closely with Mr. Moussa,
retiring from his Rome post to direct the Foreign Minister's office
before his appointment last year to the UN post. Other reported
candidates include Ambassador to Washington Nabil Fahmy, son of
former Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy, and Ali Maher, Ambassador
to Paris. There is also one more name rarely mentioned but very
likely. It is that of General Omar Suleiman, former chief of military
intelligence and a very close aide of President Mubarak. Particularly
during the last few months, the General was a discreet conduit
of negotiations between Egyptians, Palestinians and Israelis,
keeping lines open to Prime Minister Barak's close adviser, former
Israeli intelligence chief, Dany Yatoon. Most recently, he carried
a special message to senior Saudi officials from President Mubarak,
promoting the candidature of Mr. Moussa to the Arab League post.
In a region of symbolic gestures, that was read as a possible
indication that Egypt's President had him in mind to fill the
post which will be vacant next May.
The British, reportedly fed up with Liberian leader Charles
Taylor, who had been tolerated - to say the least - by some influential
Western powers for a while, may be encouraged by the departure
of Richard Holbrooke, who took on a specially active role for
awhile in that region before shifting his attention elsewhere.
Indications from the field are that Her Majesty's troops are cleaning
house and are determined "to get to the bottom of the Taylor issue".
Professional journalists and electronic whiz kids who were let
go by CNN in the recent crunch have started their own website.
Disappointed with the outcome of their relationship with Ted Turner,
they turned their satirical talents on him and other senior prominent
anchor broadcasters. They called it Ted Turnovers. Could Jane
be far behind?
Tellawy in New York
The new Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission
for Western Asia (ESCWA), Ms. Mirvet Tellawy, made a brief visit
to New York, where she discussed with the Secretary-General and
other senior officials her new assignment in Beirut. Tellawy is
an experienced diplomat with a solid track record, particularly
in management of special events. Just before joining ESCWA, she
was the driving force behind the first gathering of Arab First
Ladies, held in Cairo last December. While deliberately making
a "soft landing" on the delicate ESCWA-Lebanese scene, she gave
an immediate impression of dynamic determination to focus on specific
areas where that regional commission under her could make a positive
difference. The appointment of the former Egyptian Ambassador
was effectively pursued by Egypt's Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa,
and its Permanent Representative to the UN, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit.
Gore no Tipper
Former Vice-President Al Gore disappointed those who served him
dinner recently at a fashionable Italian restaurant in New York's
Upper East Side. He left no tip. The almost-President is not alone
on the tipping scale. A waiter who proudly offered a free bottle
of wine when the Permanent Representative of his country had dinner
there recently was embarrassed when the distinguished ambassador,
who was royally treated, gave only a 10% tip as he left hurriedly,
feigning an important call on his cellular phone.
New UNFPA Chief
Ms. Thouraya Cherif took over from the unforgettable Nafiz Sadik
as head of the Population Fund. The first Saudi Arabian woman
to head a UN agency (a Saudi man, Mr. Sudeiri, had led the International
Fund for Agricultural Development) had served in leadership positions
in ESCWA, as well as in New York. While it will be some time before
anyone can get used to the absence of the unique and articulate
communicator of population issues, who headed UNFPA for decades,
Ms. Cherif is gradually evolving her own management style. It
has been smooth though quiet sailing thus far. The real test will
come when reaching the bridge over troubled waters. Ms. Cherif's
record indicates that she is a capable navigator.
An innovative proposal made by some staff of the Public Information
Department over a year ago was accepted "initially". After skeptical
review, the fragmented group of minor decision-makers concluded
it was a good idea to display examples of how the UN works, briefly
and impressively, at public billboards or wherever possible. A
prolonged argument was concluded favourably by the decisive Deputy
Secretary-General, Louise Frechette. However, months have passed
without any visible outcome. Let us hope all that effort will
not end up as part of a press release or tucked away in some electronic
UN Volunteers -- Where?
The plea to support financing of UN Volunteers may fall on deaf
ears. Despite recent ceremonies for the Vienna-based operation
run by a very experienced Director, there is a feeling that the
money spent on at least some of those volunteers was not cost-effective.
The field of public information, for example, was particularly
called into question by National Information Officers who earn
less money, perform more substantive work and have more proven
experience. Volunteers had been used at a certain time to outflank
the locally recruited officers under cover of an "integrated process",
which in fact called for more use of "professional" people who
knew the national terrain and had professional skills. Many of
the volunteers in public information seemed to have been poorly
prepared and poor team players. Maybe they could be better used
in other fields.
Le grand Tralala
One story that F.T. Liu, who passed away last week, was fond
of telling during relaxed moments in the course of tense peacekeeping
situations was that of the Grand Tralala. It happened when he
was a young attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Paris. He was told
that an important visitor was descending on the City of Lights
and should be royally entertained, or at least kept preoccupied.
The aspiring diplomat sought urgent advice from the seemingly
experienced concierge of the prestigious Hotel George V. Ah, he
was told, the distinguished visitor could be shown around some
interesting sights - museums, bookstores, churches - for about
1,000 francs, a big amount at the time.
Reporting to his boss, the attaché was told that more attractive
events would be required to distract the visitor's attention from
breathing down the Ambassador's neck. This time the concierge
suggested that for 2,000 francs a wider net could be spread to
include an intimate gathering at Les Deux Magots with some first-rate
intellectuals, a candle-light dinner at an exquisite restaurant
with a fascinating lady and a stroll along the banks of the Seine
escorted by a talented accordioniste. When again informed by his
superior that more, much more, was required, he went back to his
Oh! exclaimed the experienced concierge, throwing both hands
up in the air. Then it must be "Le Grand Tralala", and THAT will
come to 5,000 francs. Staggered by the amount, F.T. went straight
without asking further questions to report to the Ambassador,
who swiftly instructed him to forget about it. If any Chinese
was to get Le Grand Tralala, it should be the one representing
his country with distinction in Paris and not a visiting fireman
from back home. Ever since then, the young Chinese who eventually
became United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping,
wanted to know what exactly that Tralala was. He died, age 83,
without finding out.
A thoughtful, soft-spoken man, F.T. Liu played a key role in
the most challenging United nations missions, from the Congo in
the 1960s to the Middle East in the 1980s. A close colleague and
ally of Ralph Bunche and Brian Urquhart, F.T. kept confidences
regarding his delicate work and gained the confidence of all parties
to a conflict through diligent spadework and persuasive charm.
Brought up in Paris, the son of a renowned Chinese painter, he
somehow kept a French rather than Chinese accent. Yet, he was
proud of his Chinese heritage, and particularly of his father's
art, which was eventually shown at UN headquarters in the late
1980s. He was an honourable example of a distinguished international
civil servant - a special breed sorely missed these days.