UNITED NATIONS. NAWAF SALAM, WHO POSED AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 

1 NOVEMBER 2013

NAWAF SALAM, WHO POSED AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

Everyone at the U.N. knows that there is one President to every General Assembly Session, rotating on a geographical agreement.

Everyone at the U.N. knows that a number of Vice Presidents are elected every year, again on geographical rotation. Anyone aware of the Rules of Procedure will indicate that there are normally 21, repeat TWENTY-ONE, Vice Presidents rotating annually: Six from Africa; six from Asia; one from Eastern Europe; three from Latin America; two from Western Europe; plus the Five permanent members of the Security Council.

Diplomats, accredited reporters, international columnists, civil society groups within the U.N. galaxy of interest are familiar with these facts. The President chairs the meetings yet may call upon one of his Vice Presidents when tending to other business or responding to the call of nature!

However, one Permanent Representative who perceived himself as smarter than his national media tried to exploit his rotational position as one of 21 Vice Presidents to present himself with some awkward stealth as the General Assembly President.

Instead of promoting his own country's national interest, particularly on issues relating to occupied border areas, or making an effort to widely introduce his President of the Republic or Prime Minister to mainstream international media, or at least key New York ones, a politically-appointed Permanent Representative of Lebanon, Nawaf Salam, seemed to be almost obsessed with bluffing his way into his national media.

Last year as the General Debate started in September, one week after Vuk Jeremic officially took over as General Assembly President, Nawaf Salam pressured certain Lebanese journalists to report that he was the Assembly President; and he demanded a photo while seated at the podium to authenticate it.

Visiting reporters who accompany heads of delegations for the Debate require a special accreditation by the U.N. Department of Public Information. That would entail certification by their Mission. At least one reporter was cornered while anxiously seeking to cover the opening statements; she was told that his signature would be forthcoming when it was elaborately reported to a Beirut daily with a snapped illustration that he was presiding over the Assembly. Adding a historic edge to his ego trip, he wanted it bragged that his so-called "Presidency" was a diplomatic landmark which had not occurred since 1958 -- that is in 64 years! This September, he repeated the claim to the Presidential delegation, arranging to plant it in another Beirut daily, about being an outgoing President plus the "historic" dimension!

Besides the misleading presumption and error of judgment, it seemed farcical for a former member of "The Communist Action Organization" to aspire to emulate the most pro-American symbol in Lebanon, Dr. Charles Malik, a full-time authentically-elected General Assembly President. But then, by now, like a number of his former "comrades," he has shifted gears since the fall of the Soviet Union. Also, a main difference is that Dr. Malik, however controversial at home, was actually elected President of the General Assembly by a vote while the presumptive Nawaf Salam was just ONE of TWENTY-ONE routinely arranged Vice Presidents, a position shared by many other Permanent Representatives.

A founding member of the U.N., Lebanon managed to send a successive number of outstanding diplomats to New York. Since Camille Chamoun (later President) and Abdallah Yafi, Prime Minister, signed the U.N. Charter in San Francisco, most members of the Mission, not just the Ambassador, were carefully and effectively selected to meet Lebanon's highest commitment to the Organization. That partnership was increasingly strengthened by having most U.N. Regional offices, Funds, and Programmes hosted in Beirut -- in addition to UNIFIL in the South. The U.N. has a unique place in Lebanon's diplomacy. U.N. records show the formidable performance of delegates like Ghassan Tueni, the late publisher of An-Nahar, especially his memorable speech at the Security Council: "Let my People Live."

However, recently, despite Lebanon's truly historic opportunity as a member of the Security Council for two years, there was hardly any impact to remember. Most Secretariat staff would not even recognize Lebanon's Permanent Representative Nawaf Salam if they saw him! Unlike professional Lebanese diplomats like the capable, distinguished, professional Ambassadors in Washington, D.C., London or Paris -- for example -- he doesn't know diplomatic opportunity even if it stares him in the face. When in one instance the President of Lebanon arrived to share with other heads of state a Security Council meeting, Nawaf Salam mainly thought of how he personally could gain favour rather than spreading the word about the patient and persistent work of his country's President to avert delicate explosive issues in the region.

A novice in diplomatic practice, Nawaf Salam seems to think that diplomacy at the U.N. entails putting on a threatening frown, faking smiles for key members of the Security Council (and tagging along with them) while terrorizing several devoted staff of the Lebanese mission and antagonizing people with a dismissive manner. He also seems to think that the Permanent Representatives' official residence is his personal property.

Regrettably, very regrettably, Lebanon -- our internationally beloved Lebanon -- deserves much better.