UNITED NATIONS. LISTEN, PERHAPS

 

1 NOVEMBER 2013

LISTEN, PERHAPS

During a friendly encounter, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that it would be helpful if she attended a certain forthcoming meeting. According to a verbal account, she responded positively that she would. Yet when a few minutes later the Secretary General once more suggested that she should attend that same meeting, the puzzled Chancellor muttered under her breath in local German about the need to listen.

During the opening day of the U.N. General Debate, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, who had been asked by certain Heads of State about the tragic situation in neighbouring Syria, made several substantive points, drawing on his own country's closeness to both the widening conflict and the growing humanitarian tragedy. He pointed out the specific suggestions relating to the U.N. role. A former army general, a Royal of the Hashemite Dynasty, he was speaking in flawless English with the habitual gracious modest confidence about what may develop in that inflammable region, the impact on other countries, the evolving of big power politics, and -- of course -- where the U.N. could effectively help. As other dignitaries were listening attentively to valuable informed experienced advice, a number of them gasped as Ban Ki-moon suddenly sought to inform His Majesty that the following day there will be a "high-level" meeting on Climate Change!

A brief, sincere advice.

Several Heads of State who attended the General Debate in September left with the impression that amongst senior Secretariat officials there was more readiness to talk than a willingness to listen.

Understandably, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had varied priority issues on his agenda and a pressing list of talking points to pursue with influential visiting dignitaries. Yet, at times, he seemed to some of them that he was swiftly shifting from one issue to another, as if on a programmed teleprompter rather than taking convincing time to absorb a point at hand.

We are fully behind the Secretary General, the symbol of our U.N. The higher his regard, the happier we are. For example, we all felt gratified when the President of the Host Country, Barack Obama, made an exceptional reference in the official luncheon toast to the valuable role of the U.N. and the appreciated role of its Secretary General. Whatever the reason or need for that welcome reference, it offered Mr. Ban a needed boost -- and his beaming face reflected the sentiment. Many of us felt cheered up too. Yet in his own interest, similar attention could have been paid to substantive points mentioned about pressing priority issues. Merely ticking numbers of meetings off or churning out "readouts" may not be enough to impress experienced Heads of State, particularly on keen problems of direct relevance to their own country's role within a range of crucial U.N. operations.

Obviously, the Secretary General may need better briefings on the temperaments and priorities of those he meets or the occasion he attends. Ban Ki-moon seems to portray an impressive keen image when he speaks from his heart. Reading from notes, especially when rushed, is not his forte. At least he makes a polite genuine effort to be attentive, although it doesn't always work. But what about Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson? He never found any gathering he did not wish to address. Since he was voted out by the people of Sweden and sprung on the U.N. with a little help from his "friends," Eliasson clearly does not listen. He carries a list of politically-correct phrases and sprinkles them wherever and whenever sighting a camera or a listening ear. He has one groupie who was similarly voted out by her colleagues but keeps hanging on. Now he claims an urgent role on Syria; a while ago he postured about Sri Lanka but swiftly shifted gears when hitting sensitive ground. Even when the Secretary General is attending special meetings, he also joins in, with or without sunglasses -- depending on the number of cameras.

Although it would help a lot if at certain occasions the Secretary General took time to dwell on a specific issue elaborately with a specially interesting and interested guest, could he at least instruct his Deputy to LISTEN?!