15 JULY 2008

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will eventually find out that his Middle East envoy Terje Roed Larsen is of no great value for him nor for the U.N. Mr. Larsen's main focus is on Mr. Larsen, with occasional allowances for his wife, Mona Juul. The latest controversy in Norway about withholding documents of the Oslo accord negotiations will certainly not be the last. Indeed, the former Norwegian diplomat, who found a treasure in Middle East politics, apparently relishes being very unpopular in that region and within the U.N., reportedly bragging (as we mentioned earlier), during Ambassador Bolton's tenure, that he was the second most hated person at the U.N.

Whatever Secretary General Ban has observed of Mr. Larsen's free wheeling since January 2007 is a fraction of what he would witness if that "envoy" who can't visit his region is allowed the same reign as in Mr. Annan's time. The matter, of course, is in the hands of the very perceptive Mr. Ban, who is obviously under great pressure from one or two very influential sources, but possibly not for too long; given a good alternative. Big powers have interests and need results on the ground which their man cannot reach despite his desperate recent attempts to re-open bridges including during a visit to Paris mid-July with Mr. Ban.

It may be worthwhile to consider an alternative. Two pressing issues may be -- at least may be -- advanced by one move if Jan Eliasson was designated as envoy for dealing with Lebanon and Israeli-Palestinian questions. To begin with, that would allow for a fresh start in Darfur for the newly-appointed mediator. Too many cooks, too much advice by several envoys, representatives and delegates has widened rather than limited that conflict. Mr. Eliasson has given it his best shot and perhaps could best leave matters to a new African team, more closely familiar with the intricacies of that issue.

Jan Eliasson is a distinguished, dedicated and highly regarded diplomat who was handed the wrong mission. He is more familiar and enjoys better recognition in the Middle East. Having dealt with the Iran-Iraq war, headed the U.N. humanitarian relief department, represented his country in Washington, chaired the General Assembly and served as his country's Foreign Minister, he is very well suited to help the U.N. and the Secretary General on practical complex pressing questions that arise regularly. Besides his personal experience, his country Sweden has a sterling record in the region. It has regularly fielded outstanding diplomats to its capitals. Its civil society was always active in extending sympathetic support. Even its peacekeeping battalions like in UNIFIL's early days provided medical, educational and social assistance to an appreciative host population. Its mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has even preceded the Norwegion Oslo process because before 1978 Norway had no relation with the PLO -- its first contact was with the establishment of UNIFIL. Furthermore, there are no recurring controversies about Mr. Eliasson who -- to his credit -- respects the lines of International Civil Service: whatever frustration he must have felt about Darfur may transform into potential accomplishments in Beirut, Damascus, Cairo, Ryadh, and Jerusalem.

At least, Jan Eliasson could devote his full time and energy to deal with a region which deserves better than a self-obsessed part-timer who can't visit some of its key capitals and can't walk down its streets without being booed.