1 August 2003

"Terje Roed-Larsen has his own stories. Those who work with him or in his office or under his supervision speak about the personal consideration in his every move. Since a while the Israelis decided he was no more worth dealing with in a credible way but they accepted his role as a messenger or a conveyor of an atmosphere with other sides. At the U.N., people speak with sarcasm about his strong ambition to become Secretary-General and that he does not wish to antagonize three political capitals: Washington, London, and Tel Aviv. The Palestinians make use to some degree of some movements he makes with a claim that he understands their agony. In Lebanon and Syria there is deep suspicion and caution about that strange and peculiar personality: he has the experience and knowledge; but does not perform clear assignments. Sometimes he appears to be on an exploratory mission from which he comes out with catastrophic results. For some time now, he was involving himself in leaked statements, once on his talks with Palestinian Leader Arafat, and another with Syrian President Bashar Assad. In both cases, Larsen was trying to obtain an authorization to play a central role in their dealings with Israel. Recently, Larsen visited Beirut before traveling to Damascus to meet President Assad. As the meeting was postponed several times, he was asking anyone he met on the possibility of penetrating the high wall around the problem of prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah, one of the most complex issues in the history of negotiations between the two sides. It is noted that a German negotiator was still on the case, but Larsen thought he personally could achieve headway. But Israel never gave him authorization and Hezbollah is more at ease with the German negotiator who acts with the view of getting results for both sides. Larsen then went too far in trying to involve the Syrian leadership, attributing to President Assad what he could not credibly say because the Syrian President, like some influential sources in Beirut, is fully in the picture. It is based on an understanding that the matter was handled exclusively by one source. An added Larsen blunder was his claim of a Syrian position which would confuse negotiators of all sides."

That extract from a leading story in Lebanese main daily Al-Safir may or may not have reached U.N. Headquarters in New York. A press officer in Beirut who is expected to handle such matters has devoted his last five years to promoting Larsen, almost pushing him on Lebanese politicians and opening media doors for him in the hope of himself being promoted after eight years in the same grade. One never knows what those in headquarters would make out of such stories. It has been well known in the region that Terje Roed-Larsen is an envoy of diminishing returns, with the U.N. reputation a victim of his pushy approach and personalized style. But it was felt that he was given a free hand in the Middle East, at least while the Secretary-General was awaiting the outcome of his nomination for the Nobel Prize in Oslo, Larson's home capital.

It seems that whatever he does in the region apparently does not matter as long as there are no serious complaints by big powers, which in turn do not care as long as he toes the line. The problem may be that he seems to be constantly carrying his own road map.