15 January 2005

How can Terje Roed Larsen raise funds in his new job for the International Peace Academy while credibly representing the U.N. Secretary General in the implementation of Resolution 1559? E.g., was his last visit in December just to continue saying good-bye to certain countries or to start saying hello to potential contributors? Who, in fact, arranged some of his appointments during that visit? There was at least financial questions raised about Larsen about two years ago. To its credit, the Norwegian government conducted an investigation which also covered his wife who was Ambassador to Israel. Interestingly, the U.N. Secretariat never bothered to follow up. The Norwegian was untouchable while a Nobel Peace Prize was being sought and celebrated.

In the current atmosphere, where so many questions are being raised about some senior U.N. officials, it is only prudent if not crucial for the U.N. to make unquestioned appointments.

Whoever pushed to appoint Terje Roed Larsen as special U.N. envoy to pursue resolution 1559 while he occupies another full-time non-U.N. job must have his head examined. Whoever proposed that Larsen visit Beirut on Monday 3 January 2005 must be living in another planet. That is, if they really wanted their mission to succeed. No one in his right mind would expect to discuss any serious issue during a long New Year weekend. Even in Europe, Monday is a holiday. In Lebanon, where there are at least 16 religious sects, each celebrating the holidays according to their calendars, the minimum one could target is 7 January. Unless Larsen was finding a pretext to be in the area for the festivities and fundraising, it is common knowledge that neither the President nor the Prime Minister will find the time to delve into the intricacies of 1559 at that time. Sure enough, the visit was postponed discreetly "due to scheduling questions."

Questions indeed could be raised about the propriety of having someone with another full-time job, like heading the International Peace Academy, conduct negotiations on behalf of the United Nations. It is not illegal, as Al Gore would say; but is it proper or wise? David Malone, Larsen's IPA predecessor, was often consulted by senior Secretariat officials; but that was as far as it got. What complicated matters is the emotional atmosphere in the region surrounding resolution 1559. Suspicious observers are already chatting about Larsen's intricate relations with his new employers; with certain politicians in the region; his recent visit to certain Arab countries; and generally on Larsen's background -- as well as his ambition as candidate for Secretary General.

Briefly, all that puts Larsen in a vulnerable position and raises doubts about the approach of U.N. Secretariat, with particular focus on the intentions of Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Already, pursuit of 1559 faces delicate questions in Lebanon (and, of course, Syria). According to main daily An-Nahar, Lebanese officials consider the resolution an interference in internal affairs; however, they "respect" that resolution and consider it part of "international law" to which they adhere. At a New Years party for Foreign Ministry staff, the Foreign Minister stressed the close collaboration between Lebanon and the United Nations. There is a delicate balance there. The Lebanese hope to work with the U.N., but the U.N. should have an understanding approach to work with the Lebanese. The question is complicated further by the Syrian position that Damascus had been fingered by Annan. In a briefing in Damascus to Baath party senior members, Deputy P.M. Farouk Sharaa said that an earlier draft resolution, which was averted in a "secret vote" by the Security Council, would have been tantamount to another Sykes Picot-type agreement (which had divided the Arab world between French and British tutelage). He thought that Annan's report was based not on the approved 1559 resolution, which did not mention Syria, but on the draft that failed. A third complication is that the U.N. resolution has become part of Lebanese politics, with many in the opposition assuming it is helpful in their fight with the government of President Lahoud. Already the Prime Minister, Omar Karami, said that the forthcoming elections may be about support or opposition to 1559!

Lebanese politicians, like their counterparts everywhere, are experts at exploiting related external elements. The media, naturally, will be carefully noting not only every movement by U.N. officials but every word. They are now awaiting the report on UNIFIL's extension on end January. Intended and unintended views will be closely scrutinized. And whether it is Larsen, who was given the usual farewell diplomatic medal but is returning from the window; Prendergast who shares in decision making as head of Special Political Affairs; or the Meeter/Greeter in Beirut who generally poses for photographers; it is the Secretary General and the United Nation's name that will eventually be at stake.