15 JUNE 2008 -- UPDATED 20 JUNE 2008

A www.unforum.com headline report earlier this year that France's minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, was the leading candidate to take over the U.N. Peacekeaping Department may have seemed premature at the time (click here for the article from our 15 January 2008 issue). For a brief while, nominations were clouded by internal French politics and a divergence between New York and Paris over certain names. We now understand that Dr.Kouchner's name is very much on and that, after all, Mr.Ban Ki-moon will be the guest of honour in Paris on 14 Juillet.

The Peacekeeping post may not have been the main item on Secretary General Ban's recent visit to Paris. But someone surely would have raised it. Although the question is obviously on the mind of the Quai d'Orsay, the Elysee Palace would mention it "en passant." Whatever the formula or the venue of raising the question, it was clear before leaving for the French Capital that no decision had been made. While the incumbent was expected to leave in June as he told his Departmental colleagues, he is now cheerfully saying that he has also July to stay in New York. By then the uncertainty between the nominations of Ambassador Ripert and Special Envoy Jean Arnault would have been cleared. Arnault, a former translator who had worked with former U.N. Envoy Brahimi and U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad in Afghanistan has their considerable support. He also has a dossier of working within the Secretariat. To put it bluntly and briefly, he enjoys the support of "New York" -- the Secretary General and those immediately influencing him. Ambassador Ripert has the support of the Foreign Ministry at the Quai d'Orsay, particularly the enthusiastic support of current Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Also the French Establishment considers Ambassador Ripert much more qualified by far. He had dealt with U.N. affairs in Paris and at the European Office in Geneva. He also comes from a "U.N. family;" his father was number two -- equal to deputy Secretary General -- under Javier Perez de Ceullar.

While Ambassador Ripert has a higher standing and wider impact in French and European circles, Mr. Arnault seemed to have networked his way inside the currently influential internal U.N. structure. While Ripert is very outspoken, to a point of self-assured independence, Arnault makes jittery senior officials feel at ease by simply going along, the same as Guehenno. Clearly, that's why they would prefer an easy rider than a contesting partner.

The argument goes on, but only for a short while more. Surely Ambassador Ripert would not wish to be placed at the same level as Mr. Arnault and he may prefer to hang on to his just assumed job which he is performing with great competence. In turn, Mr. Arnault would wish to get out of Georgia -- after getting out of Afghanistan -- as the situation there gets a bit risky. To what extent will the Russians support his peacekeeping quest remains to be seen, particularly after a recent report about Georgian overflights.

It may be that with such an inconclusive French "cuisine interiere," a third person would get peacekeeping while a French person would replace Louise Arbour or Nicholas Michele. Names have gone full circle since March, when it was known that the post would be vacated. First it was Arnault everywhere two insiders whispered. His supporters in New York, Washington, and Princeton (Princeton?!) made him look as a "fait accompli." Foreign Minister Kouchner, whose name was floated in the then scenario of a governmental change after the French municipal elections, was swiftly pulled out as he remained in office, despite occasionally tense relations with the President's Cabinet. By May it was almost certain, almost announced that Ambassador Ripert, the French Permanent Representative will be the one. An article on U.N. peacekeeping in the Financial Times by its experienced U.N. Correspondent Harvey Morris took it for granted. But Arnault's supporters re-emerged with more open support for their man to the point that it was known amongst observers of the U.N.-French scene that the "Secretary General" was trying to persuade Paris to agree to that choice.

That gap between New York and Paris has encouraged speculation on other names, including some Americans. The fact remains that the Secretary General will find it difficult to break out of the French circle, especially if -- as is very likely -- he is hoping for a second term. True, it was not Ban Ki-moon, but Kofi Annan who first made the deal to give France its own Peacekeeping post in return for lifting the veto on his selection in 1996. But Ban Ki-moon followed suit with at least a tacit agreement ("en vas traveller ensemble") in his initial nomination. Most likely he will remain on the same track unless other forces come into play to allow a circular movement within key positions. But until now, Paris is not buying and Ban Ki-moon is too cautious to come down with a final answer. Deal or no deal.

However, as unforum.com goes to press, a third name has appeared. As usually happens in similar cases, neither Ambassador Ripert nor Mr.Arnault would eventually get the post. A third name would come up. For example, after the Secretary General's recent visit to Paris we keep hearing the name of Alain le Roy.

In our most recent update, the real story is that the name of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is floating again seriously. One indication of French appreciation is that Secretary General Ban will be a guest of honour on 14 Juillet National Day celebration at the Champs Elysee. Does it mean the deal is done?