SEPTEMBER 22, 2017 - UPDATE

SOCIALIST?:

There were moments of silence and some hum when U.S. President Trump, while deriding Venezuela's government for oppression, described it as real "Socialism." It is not only that certain heads of states have "Socialist" as part of their official motto. but also U.N. Secretary-General Guterres, with whom he had exchanged mutual compliments earlier on Reform, was the President of Portugal's official Socialist Party before joining as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. Of course, the cameras that zoomed in during that instance on other delegates did not show the expression on his face.


UN Photo/Kim Haughton

AMINAS:

Amina J. Mohammed, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General of Nigeria, had a bilateral meeting on Friday, 22 September at 2:30p.m with Amina C. Mohamed, "Cabinet Secretary of Foreign Affairs and International Trade," Republic of Kenya. The substance of the discussions was kept "Amina" (secure).

HEAVY TRAFFIC:

A main reason for the U.N. to communicate publicly and effectively with residents of its host city is that busy New Yorkers -- unaware of what's happening in the compound by the East River -- mainly observe heavy traffic, police cars, sirens moving senior visitors through specially blocked avenue lanes, steel cordons and searches particularly between Second and First Avenue with visitors trying to get through to First where car passage is totally blocked. An indicative sign on approaching highways announces: "U.N. Meeting. Traffic Delays." By evening of Friday, 22 September, most barricades were being removed to the (partial) relief of the neighborhood. However, a particular U.N. effort continues to be seriously required. More waiting will add to more misunderstanding. After all, a main theme of the proclaimed reform was getting results -- not just focus on the process. When does it start?

THAT'S REFORM?:

"Patron of The Wilderness" is one more title invented for a newly designated envoy. While Secretary-General Guterres repeatedly announces a determination to undertake substantive reform, an official release announced that the U.N. Environment Programme has designated a "British broadcaster and adventurer" to undertake that fictitious task.

PROTOCOL:

Try in one easy breath to introduce H. E. Mr. Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana, President of the Republic of Madagascar to H.E. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.

RUDE OFFICER ROIBU:

Several complaints about a rude, discourteous U.N. Security Officer at the corner of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue on Thursday, 21 September, blocking passage and openly insulting visiting diplomats and staff with proper passes hurrying to be on time for speeches by heads of state at the General Debate. While repeatedly announcing that he alone decided who crosses where and when, his ID card was turned backward, hiding his actual identity. He started shouting when someone asked him to turn it correctly to indicate his true identity. His name turned out to be: Roibu. While U.N. Security are normally trained to be courteous and efficient, there have been recent cases of very unusual rudeness, like an officer at the 46th Street entrance who told distinguished visitors with passes to "go away right now," showing his officer's ID and announcing his name, which sounded like Tygros. By the way, is there a new Chief of U.N. Security?

LUNCH TOAST:

After speculation on whether U.S. President Trump would stay for the traditional luncheon for heads of state at the Delegates Lounge, he actually shared a table with Secretary-General Guterres, together with Japan's Shinzo Abe, South Korea's Moon Jae-in, Jordan's King Abdullah, Turkey's Recep Erdogan, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (a former U.N. official), Guinea's Alpha Conde, Lithuania's Dalia Grybauskaite, Equador's Moreno, and Switzerland's Doris Leuthard. A menu of filet mignon with potatoes, mushrooms and carrots was topped by wines from France and California, plus a special selection from Mr. Guterres' home country, Portugal. President Trump toasted: "As someone born and raised in New York, it's a great honour to have the U.N. in New York. For years I've been a critic, but I'm someone who's said that the U.N. has tremendous potential. There is no better forum and certainly there's no better location where everybody comes together. But we can do better and we're going to. The potential of the United Nations is unlimited. A toast to the potential, the great, great potential of the United Nations."


UN Photo/Kim Haughton

GRACIOUS BOND:

Two of the most admired senior officials around new Secretary-General Guterres are Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, his highly-regarded, practical, and enlightened Chef de Cabinet from Brazil, and Amina Mohammed, the proven human development active participant Deputy Secretary-General from Nigeria. It was a pleasure to see them graciously bonding at the additional Peace Bell Ceremony on 15 September to signal International Peace Day.


UN Photo/Kim Haughton

It was similarly welcome to watch Secretary-General Guterres with both of them and other senior female colleagues, like the new Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Alison Smale, at that ceremony by the Japanese-gifted Peace Bell in the Garden between the Secretariat and General Assembly buildings.


UN Photo/Kim Haughton

It is a good omen that the Day this year passed positively. Some of those with institutional memory will remember that just while Secretary-General Kofi Annan was ringing the Peace Bell, on 9 September 2011, upon starting his second term, terrorist airplanes were crashed into the World Trade Towers. Let's hope this year human bonding initiates effective efforts to curtail human suffering and advance real peace.

A WOMAN FOR GREECE:


UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Ambassador Maris Theofili is the first woman to hold Greece's post of its Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York. She presented her credentials to the Secretary-General on 15 September, particularly welcomed by senior women staff at Headquarters. She joined the diplomatic service in 1984, having studied law in her own country and a high degree from the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. Before coming to New York, she served as Ambassador to France. The first woman to serve in the Greek Cabinet was Dora Bakoyannis, Mayor of Athens, who was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs 14 February (Valentine's Day) 2006.

MORE TEXT, LESS SEX:

A visiting head of state privately commented on the obsession by young men and women with texting, even when crossing a sidewalk with blinking lights and heavy traffic. He mentioned the findings of an experimental review that showed there is now more enthusiasm about texts -- while consequently -- less interest in sex. A listening diplomat commented that during last year's Session, a young couple next to his restaurant's table, who were also visiting, were quietly seated when the young woman reprimanded her companion, saying: "Why do you keep on texting me while I am here with you?!"

NEGOTIATE:

"Climate does not negotiate."
-- President Emmanuel Macron of France in his U.N. Speech

PARIS WITHOUT PARIS:

A rarely-noted side meeting on climate change was held at U.N. Headquarters on 18 September on the same afternoon that U.S. President Trump chaired an officially attended meeting on U.N. Reform. A number of mostly U.S. former officials, like former Vice President Al Gore (who looked as if he was yawning, perhaps due to jet lag), former N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and current California Governor, Jerry Brown, co-ordinated by former U.S. adviser to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Robert Orr, sought to highlight the need to adhere to the Paris Accord. However, no one from France was there, certainly not Ms. Ségolène Royal, who had chaired the concluding meeting on the Accord. It was like Paris without really Paris.

BLUE SIGNAL:

All male heads of state who addressed the Opening Session of the U.N. General Debate wore dark suits and variations of ties. Some curious diplomatic observers were particularly interested in the colours worn by President Trump in his first official speech as head of the U.N. Host Country, particularly that he had designed a line of men's clothing. His usual grey suit was replaced by a dark blue one, and his usual red necktie was changed to a light (U.N.) blue. Was that a casual choice or a carefully selected signal?


UN Photo/Cia Pak

ARAB LEAGUE REP:


UN Photo/Kim Haughton

Outgoing U.N. Adviser to Secretary-General on Africa, Maged Abdelaziz presented his credentials to Secretary-General Guterres as the new Permanent Representative of the League of Arab States to the U.N. Before joining the U.N. during Ban Ki-moon's two terms, Mr. Abdelaziz was Ambassador of Egypt in New York, following the return to Cairo of Ambassador Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, currently Secretary-General of the Arab League. Professional diplomats of Egypt, a major player on the U.N. stage, have traditionally displayed detailed knowledge of international affairs while keeping in close touch with events in the region, where they are strategically placed between Asia and Africa, while overseeing the crucial maritime passage at the Suez Canal.

HARDTALK:

In an interview with BBC's Zeinab Badawi on Hardtalk, Secretary-General Guterres highlighted that he formed a special group to review U.N. peacekeeping operations, pointing out that he intended to close down certain missions like in Darfur. Dealing with Peacekeeping was always an announced priority for every new Secretary-General; each composed a special review group under varied titles. A main effort should focus not on cutting the number of troops to accommodate influential Permanent Members, but to ensure effective performance where needed. Once awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, recent and current Missions have been tarnished with reports of corruption and sexual abuse. Why? Was any senior official or "Special Envoy" directly involved held accountable? Why not? On Darfur, which Secretary-General Guterres said he would cut, it was once a priority for Secretary-General Kofi Annan (until he lost his way to its main camp) and Ban Ki-moon declared it his main priority then left it for George Cooney (who is now otherwise pre-occupied), when U.S. President Obama pushed hurriedly for the creation of South Sudan without adequate structural preparations. The U.N. mission there was somehow ironically entitled UN/MISS.

VOTRE PLUME:

Official elegance means not placing any pen or paper in inside pocket. That's why, perhaps, when French President Macron was rushed after making his U.N. maiden speech to a side press briefing, he was overheard asking someone: "Vous avez votre plume?" That's, like, would you lend me your pen.


UN Photo/Kim Haughton

PHOTO OP:

Foreign Ministers of Gulf feuding countries Qatar and Saudi Arabia were placed next to each other for a collective photo of a meeting by 16 countries on Syria in New York, called by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Whether it was intentionally planned by the host is unclear; both exchanged brief greetings, yet when Turkey's Foreign Minister Cavusoglu suggested that they shake hands, one smiled and the turned his head.

KALINKA:

A meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the eve of the U.N. Session drew attention of residents around the Russian Mission as officials and police security cars blocked traffic on 67th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenue, blinking lights and shifting the route of a cross-town bus. When Maria Zakharova, Russia's Spokeswoman, briefed waiting reporters that the discussion was about the Syrian crisis, the Middle-East solution, and Minsk Agreement, some recalled how during a high-level meeting in Sochi, she promised to dance if the dinner's band played the folk song "Kalinka." They did. And she did. That attractive dance went viral.

FROM MEDIA TO DIPLOMACY:

Two Lebanese women who made their career in media journalism have just been given diplomatic posts. Dr. Amal Mudallali has been appointed Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the U.N. in New York, although the current incumbent, former teacher Nawaf Salam, in a macho ego trip managed to delay her taking over until after the media-covered Debate week when Lebanon's President Michel Aoun addressed the Assembly. Also, Ms. Sahar Baassiri, a former prominent columnist for Beirut daily An-Nahar, will go to Paris as Lebanon's Representative to UNESCO.

NOT PARIS?

While Secretary-General Guterres has been travelling monthly -- sometimes weekly -- to Europe over the last eight months, a veteran observer noted that he did not visit Paris. Interestingly, a meeting at the Élysée Presidential Palace showed outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on the occasion of a meeting on Climate Change where the main vedette was Ms. Ségolène Royal, former Socialist Party Presidential candidate and mother of outgoing President Hollande's children. Diplomatic corridors had indicated that Ms. Royal was a serious contender to head the U.N. Development Programme (U.N.D.P.) and had visited to meet with the new Secretary-General, interviewing for the post, which she thought was hers already until the appointment of German diplomat / politician Achim Steiner was announced. She reportedly commented: "C'est la vie." Did President Macron, who was supported by President Hollande, and -- like many in France -- has very high regard for Ms. Royal, indicate his displeasure, however discreetly, with the Secretary-General's decision? Did the Q'uai d'Orsay try, or would it wait until September's General Assembly meeting?

U.N. WOMEN:

Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka did not make a noticeable impact on women issues since former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed her to succeed the impressive Michelle Bachelet, who left the U.N. and went home to become President of Chile. Yet Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka's country, South Africa, carries of course a special weight in U.N. matters, even in its current situation. More to the point, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka is a very competent women's advocate despite a lack of communications appeal, and -- perhaps -- the difficulty that powerful New York women groups who hold widely-covered meetings have in connecting with her. Anyway, Secretary-General Guterres has decided to extend her for a second term of four more years. Let's hope she finally takes off.

DEJA VU?:

In April 2015, a farcical designation of Special Envoy was created to accommodate a socialite married to another socialite. "Road Safety" was designated to Jean Todt, a French President of Federation International d'Automobile (FIA), who made his reputation of managing speeding car racing teams for Ferrari Formula One. Perhaps his experience with reckless accidents and speeding victims taught him to pay attention to obvious risks. But popular guidance in every country to Drive Carefully and Don't Drink and Drive have been clearly -- and officially -- monitored. A growing list of mainly symbolic Envoys, with due respect to all, has eroded the seriousness of that once highly-regarded designation.. Monsieur Todt is married to socialite former Malaysian Michelle Yeoh, actress in the James Bond movie, "Tomorrow Never Dies." Her official name is "Tan Sri Dato Seri Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng." That Envoy designation was toasted socially, at limited quarters at home, near the Champs-Elysees. But, perhaps in the search for a renewal, a dutiful press release addressed a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria that "cross-sectored" measures were required to make significant road safety in the future. Sounds like Deja Vu, or as a famous New Yorker used to say: "It's Deja Vu all over again."

DEJA VOUS?:

The senior fellow keeps showing up under varied spots. From hanging around the U.N. Iraqi scene to getting into regional political issues to inching into a Secretary-General office, the mumbling operator hailing from a Permanent Member country used a highly-regarded long-retired compatriot to claim relevant credibility, even on leaders he never knew like former Secretary-General Daj Hammarskjold. Now he's an expert on Human Rights, with U.N. official press releases -- but nowhere else -- announcing his visits to welcoming countries, including some with a record of oppression and cutting opponents heads and limbs. Yet no one seems to question, bother, or care. Senior U.N. officials who agree to such appointments do not realize the damage to U.N. reputation and credibility as people on the ground know precisely who's who, regardless of what they are officially told. How long will this go on?

PAUSE:

"The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is interrupted by someone doing it."
-- Elbert Hubbard, 1856 - 1915

TIMES PASS:

A veteran staffer visiting the Secretariat building a couple of months ago noted a former very senior official walking slowly, by the newspaper stand unnoticed by harried staff passing by. For at least ten years, the very senior officer was surrounded, almost glorified by colleagues. With time change, he seemed to feel at ease wandering uninterrupted.

IF:

"If you build a house, finish it."
-- Hesoid, Greek Poet

YET:

"To know when to stop is an art."
-- Apelles, Greek Painter

PEACEKEEPERS:

"The greatest tribute we can pay to those who died is to re-dedicate ourselves to continuing their work to build and maintain peace."
-- Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General

FOREVER YOUNG:

"La jeunesse n'aime pas les vincus" (The young don't like losers)
-- Simone de Beauvoir

DORADE:

There was once a mini-war between Britain and Iceland over fishing. Now, there is tension between Turkey and Greece over Dorade. Fish may generally look alike, but each season, each sea has its own brand. If salmon swims upstream, and rivers cradle trout, Mediterraneans have their own "Dorade," with varied accents -- Dorado in Spain, Dourada in Portugal, Sultan Ibrahim in Lebanon. Anyway, as Greece was proudly marketing its fresh Dorade, Turkey started underselling it with its own precisely similar fish in precisely the same nearby sea. It's still brewing internally, but -- in an increasingly bizarre world -- it may turn into an open conflict. Watch out Doratto - Dorada!

THE OTHER MARX:

"I could never insult anyone. They all thought I was joking."
-- Groucho Marx

"ELDERS":

Who is substantively paying to financially support the travel and other operating expenses from a once highly regarded group called "The Elders" which persuaded the hollowed Nelsen Mandela to briefly head before sadly passing away? Certainly not its current president Kofi Annan, nor its newest member, our distinguished outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Is it exceedingly cash-packed former senior official from a Gulf country who once behaved like a master of the universe? He was spotted recently attending an international gathering amongst other "Elders." At least he has been -- atypically -- discreet, most likely to avoid being drawn into a public feud between his state and neighbouring ones. Inchallah!

SLOVAK:

During a social dinner, an Ambassador of Slovakia in London amusingly commented that former U.S. President George W. Bush was often confused between Slovakia and Slovenia, but current President Trump will certainly know the difference; his current wife is from Ljubljana in Slovenia and his ex-wife is from Czechoslovakia.

PAUSE:

"Knowing when/to fight is just as important as knowing how."

AMBASSADOR DE SOTO:

U.N. visitors to Paris could find a welcome supporter at the Embassy of Peru at Rue Kleber. Former Under-Secretary General Alvaro de Soto, who joined initially at the Executive office of Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, was appointed by a new Peruvian President as his country's Ambassador in the French capital. An excellent choice, not only due to diplomatic personal political qualifications, but also as Professor de Soto has been familiar with his surroundings as a lecturer at "Sciences Po" and an impressive participant in major intellectual and academic events. Wish him continued success.

WHAT IS?:

HIGH...:

Particularly during his first months of this year, as new Secretary-General Guterres had to travel almost regularly to or through Geneva, where he had headed the U.N. Refugee operation, he seemed to casually use expressions from his old posting by the Lake. Perhaps in jet-lag mode, he seemed to refer to himself as "High..." before retrieving his new designation; and in one case "Deputy High..." before a swift correction.

SANDWISCHERIE:

Leave it to a Parisian to add "Cherie" to a loaf of bread, fill it with a selection of jambon / fromage, place it in a truck and tour touristic neighbourhoods to sell it. It does not have the same taste as our friend Denise Allec's favorite bakery, Maison Kayser, but a hurried visitor with a group by the Eiffel Tower would hardly note the difference. It's fun; and it's cherie.

ROSARIO:

Lionel Messi, soccer football legendary player, placed his Argentinean hometown Rosario in the social institutional map when he married Antonella Roccuzzo, his childhood sweetheart, there early July. Other previous football stars joined the "wedding of the century" while the glorious Shakira and her longtime mate, Barcelona's Gerard Pique, took photographs. Decades earlier Rosario was known as the hometown of revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevarra. Although Messi lived in the Spanish Catalonian capital since childhood, he always reminded everyone where he came from. With the last Mondial, Spain had asked him to play for its team. He explained that, firstly, his skin bore the imprint of Rosario. Adding that he had his home town accent, which pronounces "yo" as "jo" -- so the moment he opened his mouth, people could tell where he really came from. He eventually paid a legal price over taxes. He then insisted on returning to Rosario for this star-studded wedding.

NEYMAR'S MOVE:

As Brazilian football artist Neymar became the most expensive athlete being paid over $220 million to move to Paris' Saint Germain team from Barcelona, he was inadvertently caught within the competitive feud between Qatar and its neighbour the United Arab Emirates. Both countries seem keen on having soccer football teams with jerseys carrying their name, whether the country or its airlines. Examples are the Real Madrid and Barcelona. Qatar actually owns the SG (that's Saint Germain, certainly not U.N.). With Neymar's next expensive move, he will also be Qatar's Special Envoy (again, please, no U.N. hint) to promote hosting its forthcoming Olympics. That has raised ire and ponder by internal Emirates authorities. Perhaps he could handle eventual tension by performing one of his rhythmic renderings of Brazilian Michel Telo's popular song: "Ai Se Eu Te Pego. Assim voce me mata." It has over 100 language versions, including one in Arabic. Both sides could then dance, rather than fight.

DESPACITO:

It's the most streamed viral song with 4.6 billion hits in the last few months. Puerto Rican artist Luis Fonci galloped to world recognition joined by Daddy Yankee in a presentation with voice and soul photographed in Old San Juan's la Perla seaside streets. Young beautiful and older experienced women and men groove slowly sexually with relaxed enjoyable rhythm. It suggests taking time to enjoy love, slowly -- as the title means. "Quiero respirar tu acuello despacito, quiero desnudarte a besos despasit, y hacer de tu cuerpo." That is, otherwise: "Come and move your groove in my direction; take it slow so we can last long."

TRIO JOUBRAN:

"In the Shadow of Words," three Palestinian brothers from Nazareth performed during New York Lincoln Center summer Festival to a full house. Adnan, Samir and Wissam Joubran strung their Ouds in talented harmony with the voice of departing poet Mahmoud Darwish reciting his inspiring poems. "The Dice Player", Sarab (Mirage), Safar (Travel) and other poems reverberated to an enchanted audience. One hour passed like an instant. Perhaps the Mission of Palestine to the U.N. currently headed by the experienced Riyad Mansour would invite that talented credible team to perform at the U.N. on a commemorative occasion. They certainly are more impressive than repeated rhetorical speeches.

SHALA:

Shala Sheila Mokgethi, a retired U.N. Information Officer, passed away recently in a Salsbury, South Africa hospital. A Fulbright scholar, Shala was always helpful to colleagues and dedicated to her work, never hiding her true feelings. She was an integral part of the long struggle to liberate her country from Apartheid and shared in celebrating its independence under the leadership of its legendary leader Nelson Mandela. Our most sincere condolences to her mother and daughters Bianca and Sonia. May her soul rest in peace.