1 August 2003

NOW SHE'S AN EXPERT ON IRAQ:

A woman of special interest to the Director of the Secretary General's office has now been placed in the special office handling Iraq. Only three years ago, the young Indian was merely working at the U.N. Development Programme until she was discovered by Mr. Riza who helped getting her promoted to a D-1 regular post as Focal Point for women, that is, in charge of ensuring that deserving women are appointed on their own merit and through their own hard work. The urgently required appointment was made on the rightful claim that a full-time woman had to be placed in charge of that priority issue. Apparently, advancement of women could now wait a while. Although little is known of her experience in Iraq, the Middle East, or peacekeeping, she has been urgently planted in the office of the Special Advisor on Iraq, the very decent and experienced Rafeeuddin Ahmed. Possibly Mr. Riza would like to keep tabs on what's going on so he in turn will report accordingly. Or possibly he would like to accommodate that particular woman by widening her experience and enriching her portfolio. Who cares, except that the U.N. is facing so many questions about its role; the last thing it needs is giving an impression that the plight of Iraq is being used to place favourites.

WHO IS LEAKING IN BAGHDAD?:

While Paul Bremmer was visiting Washington, items appeared in some Arab media that the American special envoy in Iraq was being recalled for good and will be replaced by Ambassador Wolf, currently an emissary between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Daily "Al-Hayat" published a front page story by a correspondent in Baghdad, reporting "a political coup" deposing Bremmer of his overall authority. A Lebanese local paper had carried a similar, though shorter version.

The leak was obviously inspired by a recent international source in Baghdad which seemed to be feeding the correspondent statements and interpretations presumably reflecting the views of the new U.N. team in Iraq. The leaks turned out to be wrong. Mr. Bremmer was received warmly by the U.S. President and senior congressional leaders who confirmed renewed confidence in his mandate. Since, unlike the U.N. Secretary-General, he receives a factual press feedback, he may be interested in finding out who leaked the story against him. An indication that it was duly noted came when the reporter of the same paper "Al-Hayat" in Washington wrote a piece stressing that there was no intention of changing Mr. Bremmer in the foreseeable future. If anything, the change may be where the leak came from.

SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO GENEVA:

The longest serving Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. in New York will be transferred to the similar post in Geneva. After seven years of making effective work and visible impact, Ambassador Michael Wehbe who underwent heart bypass surgery last year, will have the opportunity of chairing the Security Council for the month of August and leave as his country gives up its two year membership in the Council. Syria's pivotal role in the Arab region plus his own good standing at home, never allowed him a moment's rest. Despite his delicate health, he was constantly trying to be everywhere. His Deputy Faisal Mekdad is likely to take over early September.

WHAT? NO WINDOWS?

The new head of World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Lee Jong-Wook has shocked his staff by opting for a windowless office. The Financial Times reported it with some amusement, but senior staff are amazed. News travels far and fast when it comes to administrative perks. What would more junior staffers do? Standard practice proclaims that the higher you get, the more windows you you acquired. Three windows for a mere Director, four for a Super Director. An Assistant Secretary-General, let along a head of Agency, gets the full treatment. And here comes Dr. Lee to turn his back on the window system. What is he up to? His predecessors enjoyed possibly the most prestigious view in the world -- on top of an exclusive hill overlooking the Mont Blanc, Lake Geneva, the Saleve mountain chain, the manicured gardens of Avenue Budet all the way through Cointrin airport to France. He must be claustrophobic, some nervous "functionnaire" started to whisper. Otherwise, something must be afoot -- a "complot" hatched sneakily to deprive them of their windows. Maybe they should have a word with the doctors.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MADIBA:

Africa's greatest leader Nelson Mandela celebrated his eightieth birthday with well wishers around the world, reflecting on how he had affected their lives. Madiba, as he is known to friends, received tributes from the Queen of England as well singers, artists, athletes and ordinary people. One of the most symbolic came from Wilma Verword, granddaughter of Apartheid Prime Minister Federic Verword, who sent Mandela to jail for twenty years. She sent him drawings of balloons and roses saying: "You changed my life to the better. You taught me to love all people and all colours."

WHEN IT RAINES:

In an interview with Charlie Rose, former N.Y. Times Managing Editor Howell Raines expressed disappointment because many of those who shared his vision in the Grey Lady did not speak out when he was forced to leave. Little did he recognize that those who were telling him on every occasion what a great innovator and bold thinker he was were at present now telling the same things to his successor. And it isn't only in New York. Its everywhere. When it "raines," it pours.

TREVOR BACK IN TOWN:

Former National Public Radio correspondent at the U.N. Trevor Rowe has returned to New York as a spokesman for the World Food Programme. He had gone to Rome initially for a fixed term period of transformation from a free-spirited reporter to a free-spirited international officer. It was good to note that he maintained his cheerful sense of humour and lost some weight -- possibly as part of a campaign to divert the food for the less fortunate. He is reviving old friendships and as usual, building new ones.

NOW HE TALKS:

None other than Saddam Hussein's former Information Minister has made comments on Uday and Qusay. Al-Sahaf told Abu Dhabi TV recently that "Uday did some things that antagonized cross sections of Iraq society." "Sons of officials should not be that way," he said, adding that during the war, certain "engagements in the Baghdad region were wrong and led to losses -- the late Qusay was behind that."

BOUTROS-GHALI ON AL-JAZEERA:

For two hours (as opposed to five minutes), former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali responded to questions by Al-Jazeera TV on the U.N. role in Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the future prospects of the Middle East. Typically blunt and sharp-witted, he displayed his conceptual approach in defending a basic role for international community in rebuilding a new world order (or disorder). He averted several openings to criticize his successor. Towards the end of the interview, and after persistent questioning, he hesitantly let on that Kofi Annan was "weak." Boutros-Ghali is spending much time in Paris, with an office in the Secretariat of the Francophonie which he headed for five years until succeeded last year by former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf. Those who worked with him in New York will recall his keen interest in the "Blue Books" about U.N. success stories. The series -- which was picked upon by then U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright -- was stopped immediately after Kofi Annan took over. Any visitor to the former Secretary-General will find out that the "Blue Books" continued in another colour as Boutros Boutros-Ghali remains the same.

VIVA MARICHU:

Where else would the President of the Security Council help serve the Paella? Marichu, a tiny family style restaurant owned by a former Spanish diplomat and her German husband, celebrated its ninth year across from the U.N. Friends and colleagues mingled as usual in a jovial atmosphere, sharing a taste of exquisite Basque food and the hospitality of the friendly couple. Spain's ambassador Inocencio Arias, a playwright and actor, as well as an accomplished diplomat who presides over the Security Council, showed his true colours of modest confidence and loyalty to friends when he volunteered to help the hostess serve the special Paella. Marichu is a favourite luncheon hangout of certain diplomats and Secretariat staffers who share its limited space, regardless of rank or function. U.S. Ambassador Negroponte, British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Irish Ambassador Ryan; German, Spanish, Latin American, Portuguese diplomats spread like a mini-U.N. among the tables enjoying a limited selective menu. Marichu looks more like a private party than a regular restaurant, attended mainly not by regular clients but by loyal friends who feel that loyalty is a two-way street. Bravo Marichu.

SEVAN LEAVING:

A perennial pillar of international civil service. Benon Sevan, who headed the Food for Oil Programme over Iraq will be leaving by November. Although his contract runs until January of next year, Benon told the Secretary-General that he is ready to leave earlier, after serving over thirty years rising from the professional ranks to the post of Under-Secretary-General. A workaholic by necessity, he spent weekends and weeknights at work to occasional, yet understanding complaints by his wife Micheline, a colleague who will also be leaving soon. Benon's former work as head of Conference Services and Building Management is now shared by one Under-Secretary-General and three Assistant Secretary-Generals. Good Luck, Benon.

RESIGN? TO WHOM?

In an interview with Al-Hayat/LBC Satellite TV, Yemen President Ali Abdalla Salah gave his own interpretation of why many heads of the state in the Arab world do not seem inclined to leave office easily. He said he was willing to give his post to Egyptian President Mubarak or Saudi Crown Prince Abdalla "if Arab unity was achieved." When asked why would he not just resign after 25 years in power, he answered sarcastically: "Resign to whom? To Amr Mousa (an Arab League Secretary-General) or to U.S. President Bush, who runs today's world?" Well. How about to his own people?

HEAR, HEAR:

Quotation of the season was made by U.S. President George W. Bush after visiting Goree Island in Senegal, the point of forced deportation to life in slavery:

"In the struggle of the centuries, America learned that freedom is not the possession of one race. With the power and resources given us, the U.S. seeks to bring peace where there is conflict, hope where there is suffering, and liberty where there is tyranny."

BUREAUCRATIC TALE:

An anointed "expert" lost his way in the desert and, deperate for water, started seeing mirages. He staggered along for days, through miles of oppressive heat, until he met someone who offered him a tie. "I need water," the appointed expert announced, "water before anything else. If you want me to advise you, water is a prerequisite to my role." As the man could only offer neckties, the expert continued his weary trek several more days until he reached a spring surrounded by a fence protected by guards. He introduced himself as an international functionnaire as he dashed towards the water. But the guards stopped him saying he could not pass through without a tie.

IT'S ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE:

More than half the people living in least developed countries -- 718 million or 11 percent of the world population -- are unable to earn more than one dollar a day, according to a report submitted to the Economic and Social Council meeting in Geneva. That means total failure of a plan launched in 2001 supposedly to improve below poverty levels. It was stated that AIDS/HIV, national debts, and rich countries' subsidies to their farmers were among the main obstacles. It is interesting to note that a country like Mozambique which reportedly has oil reserves explored by international conglomerates is listed among those who had less income than earlier years when oil was not yet discovered. Could it be that not all income is going into the national treasury? Last year a report by the International Monetary Fund questioned the disappearance of about $5 billion, hinting it went to private pockets of senior officials. Maybe the Economic and Social Council should stop discussing unimplemented plans and focus on good governance. Otherwise, they might as well just enjoy the view of Mont Blanc from Lake Geneva. Meanwhile, reports indicate that $37 billion a year is spent on perfume and pet food. Japan spends $2700 subsidizing each of its cows while contributing an average of $1.47 per inhabitant of Africa. Europe pays $913 per cow and $8 per African.

A "PIG" RETIRES:

Making a farewell speech on the retirement of Salim Lone, Media Director in the Department of Public Information, Shashi Tharour borrowed a standard story usually told by Kofi Annan on a conversation between a hen and a pig on how to help overcome world hunger. The hen proposed laying eggs while the pig will provide the meat. For the hen, it was a valuable contribution, to the pig it was total commitment. Amid laughter, the jovial Indian turned to his Kashmiri/Pakistani/Kenyan colleagues to say: "it's a terrible thing to say to a Moslem; you are a pig." Far from being offended, Salim Lone announced almost obsessively his exclusive and complete fascination with everything Shashi to the point of quoting proudly a colleague he thought that his real love was neither his wonderful and brainy wife Pat, nor his consuming work; his real love was Shashi Tharour. He was carried away by the emotions of the moment that he acted out a conversation with the Secretary-General about a funeral for Julius Nyrare, reaching out to place his arm around an amused Shashi who wisely and coolly pointed him back to the microphone.

All was taken in good cheer despite a clearly emotional moment for someone who spent more time at the office than at home. Before going into retirement, Salim Lone will serve for two months in Iraq. He certainly knows that being a "pig" there may not be the best introduction. He may wish to explore a different approach.

NAOMI KNOWS:

Clearly Naomi Campbell is a supermodel of undisputed beauty and a successful profitable career. Little known is her enthusiasm for some causes for which she devotes time, effort, and personal generosity (what does that mean?). Her adoration for Africa's most outstanding leader, Nelson Mandela, is well known. The great leader naturally enjoys that delicious attention, treating her like an adopted daughter. Recently during her mega birthday party in San Tropez on the French Riviera, Naomi intimated that she had a secret hiding place for Saddam Hussein. Would U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell volunteer to find out?

WHY ASK ME?:

Secretary-General's press encounter following his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Washington, D.C., 14 July 2003.

Q: Can you tell us how you feel about all of these reports about the intelligence on the uranium from Niger? Do you feel that the international community was misled? Do you feel that the other evidence of weapons might also have been tainted?

SG: Well, I'm not sure I have much to add to that. As you know, this was an issue that was discussed in the Security Council and the head of the [International] Atomic [Energy] Agency, [Mohamed] El Baradei at the time indicated that the documentation was fraudulent. And I think the Council dropped it there and we didn't take it any further.

Q: Do you feel that the American intelligence now should be examined on other issues?

SG: I would say that there are discussions going on now and the Government, the leaders in Washington, are discussing it and I will leave them to review that topic.

Q: Have you been told that there will be no decision today regarding (U.S. troops for Liberia)?

SG: Well, we haven't discussed when the decision would be, but I know that the issue is under consideration and I hope the decision will be coming shortly, and I hope it will be positive.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, do you think it's time for the United States to hand over the reconstruction and the political rebuilding of Iraq to the United Nations?

SG: There is quite a bit of discussion going on and there are many countries that have indicated they would feel more comfortable participating if the operation had been under a broader U.N. umbrella. Whether the Member States would revisit the issue with the U.S. is something that only time will tell.

SNOW TRUCKS IN JULY:

Danish troops stationed near Basra soldiering in the exceptional July heat of Iraq were surprised to receive from home a supply of snow trucks and snow melting equipment when what they really needed were air conditioners and possibly some Danish bread.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS:

A man in charge of eradicating drug abuse seems to have his own high expectations. Opium production in the notorious Golden Triangle region of Asia is expected to drop sharply, according to Antonio Marie Costa of the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. He went on to predict "within years" he will be able "to close" the century-old chapter. How high can you get?

HIS EXCELLENCY THE PARROT:

A seasoned diplomat was reminded recently of a story by Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz about some distinguished officials behaving like parrots, merely repeating what they had been taught to remember and proclaim. When the colourful parrot in the adorned glasshouse once announced atypically a serious policy directive, the diplomats turned to it and said, "Excuse me, your Excellency, but I thought you were a bird."

AN AFRICAN WELCOME:

During the African Union Summit Meeting in Mozambique, South African Presdient Thebo Mbeke thanked the Secretary-General for the appointment of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as his Under-Secretary- General dealing with Africa. That sentiment was endorsed through the applause expressed by other leaders present.

IN MEMORIUM:

The Secretary-General reflected the feeling of the international community when he issued a statement saying that he was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, philanthropist and lifelong friend of the United Nations. For more than three decades, Prince Sadruddin was engaged in the work of the U.N. for human rights, humanitarian, environmental, and cultural causes. He led the Office of UNHCR at a particularly challenging time, during the war that led to the birth of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Prince Sadruddin served the U.N. in many other capacities, including as Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Assistance during the 1990-91 Iraq-Kuwait crisis. Through his own Foundation, he worked tirelessly for the protection and improvement of the environment, for cross-cultural understanding and for disarmament. The Secretary-General extended his deepest condolences to Prince Sadruddin's wife, Princess Catherine Aleya Aga Khan, and to the rest of his family. He joined the Prince's many friends around the world in giving thanks for the life of this remarkable and deeply generous human being.