03/07/2001

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.

Channel Channels

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 pedestrian.

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 or miscalculation.

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 Nations.

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.

Junic axed?

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.

Annan-Meguid argument

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.

Qatar first

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.

Stephanides noted

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 for years.

Roving Intellectual

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 Suleiman?

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.

Taylor's bottom

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".

Ted Turnovers.com

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.

UN works...when?

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 corner.

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 newly-found consultant.

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.

F.T. Liu

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.