MARCH 1, 2018


Kuwait took a Security Council seat in January and, by alphabetic order after Kazakhstan, became President of the Council for the month of February. Ambassador Al-Otaibi gave the usual luncheon during the first week. Diplomatic talk then referred to a Kuwait Watch, a time when the Gulf member state is about to play a visible role, after years of sidelined status allowing others to dominate the media -- until the recent Gulf in the Gulf. It was then that the wise experienced approach of the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, became widely appreciated. Actually, much of Kuwait's earlier prominent role, like the emerging one, was mainly the result of the hard work of Sheikh Sabah's initial role as his country's Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was the longest-serving Minister, who performed consistently, discreetly and effectively to build bridges and mediate conflicts.

Like most member states, Kuwait's U.N. Representatives were a mixed bag from excellent to mediocre to almost farcical, at least in one case. Its Mission delegates were mostly perceptive, diligent and pleasant. Deputy Permanent Representatives were almost always excellent. The current Ambassador was actually its Deputy -- until he fully took over.

Talk about a watch reminded a seasoned observer of a time when an aspiring Kuwait Permanent Representative tried an actual hand watch approach. There was once a habit amongst certain Gulf countries to offer watches to its visitors. The word "watch" in Arabic has several connotations, which could mean that your "time" had arrived, or your "hour" was up.

During the aggressive invasion of Kuwait by an Iraqi regime, the Kuwait Ambassador to Washington, a member of the ruling family, became a visible advocate in mainstream media. He was highly praised for his precise, focused presentations and responses to a Security Council Resolution supporting the independence of Kuwait. Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar prominently took a principled position, mobilizing the U.N. system, particularly heads of U.N. Departments. It was then that Kuwait's almost obscure Permanent Representative at the time, Mohammed Aboul-Hassan, tried to display a role, mainly geared toward his bosses in Kuwait then to the international community. In fact, having worked against the election of Peruvian Secretary-General in the interest of what he openly bragged as a need for an Islamist Secretary-General, he could hardly claim substantive influence -- depsite the courtesy extended to him as a representative of his valuable country and its highly-regarded Foreign Minister.

After elaborate preparation, Aboul-Hassan requested to meet the Under-Secretaries-General and Heads of Departments. He arrived with aplomb and fanfare to offer...a watch!

When he offered a watch to the Legal Counsel, Judge Carl Fleischhauer, who was running for the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the German Legal Eagle was visibly offended. Not only did he rebuke Aboul-Hassan while turning it down, but he went to the Secretary-General to protest an open infringement on International Civil Service.

To handle appropriately, Secretary-General de Cuellar thought of forming a small internal group to look into the matter. He thought of an Arab citizen who headed the Department of Public Information at the time, Samir Sanbar, whom he had known for years. Cautiously, the Secretary-General first asked him whether he had accepted a watch from the presumptuous Ambassador. Sanbar replied jovially that, in fact, it was he who had once given Aboul-Hassan a watch! He briefly explained that when once wearing an offered watch by a New York jeweler which had a Koranic reference, he happened to meet that diplomat on Second Avenue. The Ambassador had heard about the watch situation from a Kuwaiti Mission member, and when he saw the watch, he bluntly asked for it -- knowing that, in gracious Arab translation -- admired means offered.

Nothing, of course, was received in return. Indeed, it confirmed the impression that with certain characters, no good deed remains unpunished!