15 SEPTEMBER 2008
|IT'S CHRISTOPHER ROSS NOT WARREN
CHRISTOPHER FOR WESTERN SAHARA
Finally, the Secretary General managed to discipline one of his freelancing envoys. He simply did not renew Peter
Van Walsum's contract when it ended in August. Early December Al-Jazeera had a one hour program, "In Depth,"
moderated by one of its experienced stars, Khadijah Bin Qinneh, exploring the implications, but mainly focusing on
tired monologues by two dogmatic protagonists: a "Professor" from Morocco, and a London-based "analyst" from
the Sahara. It reached nowhere. And as the moderator herself had turned from an outstanding anchor to a stern
announcer, viewers were left with no clue to follow.
Only three months ago, the former Dutch diplomat seemed to feel that he was flying high. High enough, for
example, to attempt to spread his wings amongst Security Council members without proper clearance from his official
boss, Ban Ki-moon. He distributed his draft report before it was appropriately approved by the Secretary General.
We raised the question in our May issue. Under a Headline: "Why do Those Envoys Embarrass the Secretary
General?", we added that Van Walsum was not the only envoy who behaved as if he owned the issue. Others were
mentioned. To be fair, it was stated that such freelancing started with the outgoing Secretary General and seemed
to be tolerated by the current one, only because they could get away with it.
A welcome signal by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that he intends to take charge is his refusal to renew Van
Walsum's contract. It helped that one of the parties to the conflict had announced bluntly that they had lost confidence
in him. It will help if his replacement was appropriately accountable while having adequate leeway to take
well-considered initiatives. Early September, there was corridor talk about former U.S. Secretary of State Warren
Christopher. He is certainly a very discreet diplomat with a solid record, except that he may now be in his mid-eighties.
Plus, he is a noted member of the Democratic Party elite and his immediate appointment would raise a question about
Ban Ki-moon's perception of the U.S. presidential elections -- a question which the cautious former Foreign Minister
of South Korea will studiously -- and wisely -- avoid. Hence the leak about the former U.S. Secretary of State
indicated that the nomination would be made after the November elections or -- in U.N. terminology -- before the end of
the General Assembly Session in December.
A closer look displayed a mix-up between two Christophers: Warren Christopher and Christopher Ross. That's what happens
when those who leak are as clueless on the issue as their beneficiaries; like the bland leading the blind. It is very
doubtful that the dour Democrat super lawyer was ever considered for -- or even interested in -- the post. On the other
hand, Christopher Ross makes very good sense. Having served as Ambassador in Algiers and Damascus, worked in his
country's Beirut embassy, and resided in the Moroccan city of Fez, he has unique experience in the region and
professional competence in diplomatic matters. A graduate of Middle East studies from New York's Columbia
University, he speaks very good Arabic, with a touch of a Syrian accent!
And he's a bi-partisan official of the U.S. State Department. That means that his appointment could be safely
announced within days.