15 March 2007

A new decision to give Gere Pedersen a wider coordinating role in Lebanon comes at a time of turmoil and confusion in that tormented country. With wily politicians assuming for themselves various interpretations of U.N. positions, it was very important at this time to have one U.N. person coordinate all political activities.

An earlier decision last year to "expand" Mr. Pedersen was taken locally as a political joke which the easygoing Norwegian colleague took in his stride. This time the wider role is serious, carrying with it heavier responsibility and more visible impact. Curiously, an announcement about it was to be made mid-December but, due to a certain intervention, was postponed until end of February. As it came around the same timing as a visit by Michael Williams, an Advisor in New York, Pedersen took the initiative of inviting a number of local reporters to brief them on the lines of authority. It was a very good step, even if some reporters interpreted his new role as "High Commissioner for Lebanon," as one paper put it. The important outcome was that the U.N. cared for Lebanon, sided with all the Lebanese without exception and that there is now a clear point of reference as whom to approach on any political matter of potential interest to the Secretary General. Wisely, Pedersen followed up by visiting all political players without exception to explain precisely what his new functions meant.

The relatively young Norwegian has made a swift career advance since joining the U.N. six years ago as a staffer of the Political Affairs Department -- under Mr. Prendergast. His replacement of a photo opportunist as Special Representative in Southern Lebanon was a welcome improvement although his initial performance received a mixed reaction. However, with experience and hard work, he started gaining ground in a very difficult situation. Some had inaccurately linked him to his very unpopular compatriot Terje Larsen whom he did not shy away from defending at certain times. But Pedersen managed to open more doors, persistently and patiently doing his job (and his homework), while keeping Headquarters in New York fully posted. He has made visible progress. But the greatest challenge is the one that lies ahead.