15 April 2005

MONSIEUR REFORME DE L'ONU:

Le Monde of 23 March carried a positive story about new Chief of Staff Mark Malloch-Brown. With so many depressing negative reports on scandals and investigations, it was heartening to have a mainstream daily with such stature devote half a page of impressed and impressive reporting by Corine Lesnes under the title: "La Reforme de L'Onu, C'est Lui." The habitually measured Parisian oracle unusually produced a large photo of the former British journalist taken in his new office. He looked somewhat haggard and untied. But then, that is part of the picture.

THE LATEST STRAW:

When Britain's Foreign Secretary announced his opposition to the designation of Omar Karami to form a cabinet in Lebanon after parliamentary consultations, the Speaker of Lebanon's parliament must have had the last straw of everyone outside getting involved into the tiniest details of Lebanese internal politics. Nabih Berri announced through the media that he sent a fax to Jack Straw informing him that Lebanese parliament took serious note of his objection and asked him to nominate his candidate for Prime Minister of Lebanon. With such close collaboration, the Lebanese parliament may also wish to express its opinion on who should be Britain's Foreign Secretary.

KWASNIEWSKI PONDERDOTSKY:

The Polish President came out more clearly for "considering" running for the post of U.N. Secretary General "on condition" the U.N. was reformed and had more clout. It was not clear whether he expected such "conditions" to be met fully within the remaining 20 months of Mr. Annan's mandates. "Some conversations with me took place" he told Reuters in an interview which was "cleared for publication" (what does that mean?) a day later. If the U.N. functions as it did now, "I am completely unsuitable for such a role," he confirmed. Again, is he running or not? If he is expecting the job to be offered, he may have to double check with at least two veto-wielding powers most likely to block him. There is also the linguistic question of whether the Secretariat staff will have to start learning Polish in case President Kwasniewski's English or French did not improve.

YOU'LL ALWAYS NEED PARIS:

A visitor flying through Paris CDG airport noticed familiar faces of two U.N. New York-based security officers held in a small room trying to communicate with their French counterparts. A curious follow-up indicated that they belonged to the advance team of the Secretary General but since there was no appropriate official liaison, they were promptly disarmed pending an awkward investigation. Eventually they were released, not realizing that a former senior U.N. official who had coincidently spotted them had called a former French ambassador who made the right call.

WHAT ASSETS?

Before visiting Lebanon and Syria to pursue implementation of resolution 1559, Terje Roed Larsen, who has a dual role of Director of the privately-financed International Peace Academy in New York, wrote to the Chief of Staff requesting that U.N. offices should be instructed to place all their "assets" in the Middle East under his disposal. The request was obligingly passed on to various offices. The only question raised by most recipients was: What assets was he talking about? Where there any U.N. "assets" in that region? It was eventually noticed that during the recent visit, the former Norwegian diplomat was being escorted by Norwegian bodyguards.

GOD SKI WITH YOU:

While devoting his full energy to spreading the faith, Pope John Paul II found an invigorating exercise in skiing. He went to a specific area of Italy which reminded him of his Polish homeland once a year with a small entourage. An inside quip amongst local instructors was to replace the wishful greeting: "God be with you" to "God ski with you." The Pope had a special rapport with youth. He held special occasions and received young representatives in every host country. During a visit to Lebanon in 1997, the mostly Catholic youth crowds shouted rhythmically the usual chant: "John Paul Two; we love you" in English. He wondered through the microphone why wouldn't they say it in Arabic? After a short while, the crowd devised their own Arabic version. "I now know that you were actually paying attention," he joyfully commented.

A SECRET PASSION:

We were reliably informed that a very senior U.N. official has developed a passion for broadcasting the weather.

THE SON ALSO RISES:

Kojo also seems to have found a taste for making press statements. He is either awaiting developments before expressing his view or taking time out to read annexes to reports if not offering his assessment about a right wing conspiracy against him or his father. Maybe he should give his father a breather but that's too late now. Having tested the media limelight, however negative, he may be wishing to bask in more sunshine. And he has those hip dark glasses, just in case. Maybe David could help -- pro bono, of course, as usual -- as Shashi is otherwise preoccupied with Shashi.

THE OTHER SON SETS:

What about Imran Iqbal Riza, who was recruited in evasion of staff rules when his father, the Chef de Cabinet, thought he ruled the world? At the time, Kofi could say little as it was internally -- though discreetly -- known that his own son was not beyond reproach. Now that Beirut Meeter/Greeter Demistura was shelved to the obscure role of Deputy to the similarly obscure Representative in Iraq, the hot-headed (occasionally shaven-headed) Imran seems to be pondering his next move, as he cannot go back to the World Food Programme in Rome. He had once made "demands" on the head of agency for which he was temporarily employed (that story when we next review the Riza-Tharoor hit team). Now his best advice is to stay put and earn his job like everyone else. Maybe Cyprus.

FRESCHETTE DEFENCE OF STAFF:

Deputy Secretary General Louise Freschette has a number of internal detractors and she may give the impression that she relishes being controversial. Whatever one can say about her, she is open and straightforward. What you see is what you get. The former Canadian diplomat recently sprung to the defence of U.N. staff without trying to curry favour or take credit for such admirable defense. She told a meeting of top diplomats, politicians and international experts in Waterloo, Canada: "I cannot remain silent when I see the reputation of U.N. staff tarnished by the misbehaviour of a few of their colleagues or by their shortcomings, real or imagined, of their leaders, mine included." A truly refreshing honesty as the real Louise Freschette stands up.

DON'T CRY FOR ME ANGELINA:

One who will miss UNHCR's outgoing Commissioner would be Angelina Jolie. The actress turned activist is a designated "envoy" for the Refugee agency traveling around camps. Her adopted Cambodian boy is the envy of most hopeful men around the globe. Those attending the U.N. Correspondents dinner two years ago where Angelina was the main attraction witnessed his rhetorical excitement about her enthusiasm when they traveled together. Alas, the longest-serving Prime Minister will have to look elsewhere as the woman with the sexiest lips in Hollywood gets on with her international life.

THE NEXT ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT:

An agreement on Jan Eliasson to be the next president of the 60th Anniversary General Assembly Session is a welcome reflection on the role of his country, Sweden, and a tribute to his own qualifications. A great number of heads of state are expected to attend as reform proposals will be submitted by the Secretary General and reviewed by member states. Eliasson had served both within the Secretariat, at the Mission to the U.N., and in diplomatic postings, including that of Ambassador in Washington. He was also a special envoy to mediate conflicts. As an indication of his high level of performance, his name was once mentioned for the post of Secretary General. But then that's any Swedish diplomat's ever elusive dream. Regardless of any potential reward, however, Eliasson, like any good Swede, will do his best to deliver the best.

U.N. BEIRUT FORTRESS:

As mentioned in earlier issues, security concerns about the unified U.N. premises in Beirut, known as the ESCWA building, have increased to the point of erecting barbed wire and sandbagged walls around it. Blocking nearby traffic in the centrally located neighbourhood raised complaints, particularly by taxi service drivers, who depended on that route for their livelihood. Columnist Faisel Salman in Al-Safir wondered what was behind turning a U.N. office into a war zone. He noted that special envoy Larsen who was knowledgeable about Lebanese matters had raised some questionable issues. For example, he went on, Larsen raised the question of Chabaa farms saying they were Syrian not Lebanese, thus hinting at the need to disarm Hezbollah -- a potentially divisive question. He also asked that parliamentary elections should be held at a certain date, which is a non-U.N. internal Lebanese political item. Additionally, the writer thought that Larsen's decision to form a committee to confirm a final withdrawal of Syrian forces was too vague. All these indications drove the Lebanese to suspect that there may be attempts to create internal disputes to serve external purposes to the point of encouraging a federal form of government along the Iraq model. Salman concluded that the truth the Lebanese people earnestly seek about the terrorist murder of statesman Hariri may be only granted to them at a very high cost.

INTELLIGENT CARS:

The French satirical weekly Canard Enchaine carried a carton showing a business executive expressing concern to his board members about the increasingly technological introductions. It said under the caption: "Our cars are getting more intelligent than our customers."

DRASTIC REFORM PROPOSAL:

Commenting on the latest "Reform" proposals by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a cartoonist in the International Herald Tribune had a somewhat drastic proposal:

QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:

"Until now, big powers never cared for us. We don't have oil. We have olive oil."

...A Lebanese demonstrator

MYSTERY AMENDMENTS:

Someone's daydream may be someone else's nightmare. The Lebanese are fed up and they let it be known that they will not take it anymore. Hence the heated argument through the Lebanese media about a mysterious list of amendments reportedly suggested for the draft resolution which was eventually adopted unanimously as number 1595. The reported amendments, including deleting the word "terrorist act" and "all" individuals were clearly denied by the Foreign Minister and the head of the Lebanese delegation in New York. The President publicly announced an open welcome of an international investigation Committee. Yet several members of the Security Council said they had been approached "on behalf of the Lebanese government" about the amendments, which were circulated in an unsigned non-paper. Normally, instructions from the Foreign Ministry are signed. Initial search pointed to someone with ambassadorial rank from Lebanon but not the one officially entrusted with handling the matter with the Security Council. He works under another title and is reputed to be sustained by close links with certain security services in Beirut and elsewhere. Demands that he should be questioned for causing embarrassing confusion may remain unfulfilled -- until the situation on the ground really changed.

REUTERS FIRST:

"No sex please, we're British," reported in the previous issue overlooked a credit due to Reuters. As reported, the BBC had broadcast an item on instructions sent from U.N. Headquarters on the "non-fraternization" by peacekeepers (in the Congo) with the locals. It was the ever alert Reuters office at U.N. New York Headquarters that flushed out that story from an otherwise boring statement and was the first to circulate it. The BBC then picked it up. For that, credit -- and thanks -- go to Reuters brilliant correspondent, Evelyn Leopold.

ABOUT THE CAIRO POST:

Over 120 Arab media professionals have applied for the post of Director, U.N. Information Centre in Cairo in Cairo. Special attention would have to be paid in selecting the right person who will be the most senior press officer in the Arab world that is both Asian and African countries. It seems to be a logical judgment coinciding with the presence of the Arab League in the Egyptian capital. An internal operative who had been lobbying for the last two years will be retiring within two months. The last we heard was that Ahmed Fawzi, the senior Arab in that Department has indicated he had no specific candidate and will try to ensure that the most professionally qualified candidate wins.

ROMA LA CAPITALE:

The hospitable city of Rome accommodated over four million visitors during the mourning period for Pope John Paul II. No serious problems or injuries were reported; signaling the Roman traditional of warm hospitality and gracious welcome. As the Pope is ex-officio the Bishop of Rome, the eternal city lived up to expectation as La Capitale.

WOLFOWITZ FRENCH OPENING:

A day before arriving in Brussels end March to gain European support for his World Bank role, Paul Wolfowitz gave a charmer's interview to Corine Lesnes of the most influential European daily, Le Monde of Paris. To know me is to love me, the former U.S. Deputy Defense Minister was telling his initially skeptical francophone audience. He knew how difficult it was to help cut down poverty but he will do his best, starting with Africa. He would mainly listen to member states, recognizing that as head of a multinational organization he will have to listen to all of 184 members. He welcomed new ideas and -- in case of any perception of conflict of interest -- will strictly apply internal IBRD rules. Asked whether he read Kofi Annan reform proposals and what he thought of the suggestion to raise the level of public development aid to 0.5% in 2009, Wolfowitz said he had not read Annan's report but felt generally that rich countries should help poor ones not only on moral grounds but because it was in their own interest. He passed when asked on a French proposal to impose a tax for international development.

A PAKISTANI IN PARIS:

Ali Akbar was the talk of Paris in March. A Pakistani who makes his living through selling 80 copies of French daily Le Monde in the area of St. Germains, Ali has his own special clients, embellishing the headlines which he can't read anyway. All Parisian media, including the International Herald Tribune and Al-Hayat carried elaborate articles on the occasion of his book: "I Made the World Laugh, It Made Me Cry." A native of Rawilpindi who slave laboured for food as a child, Ali was beaten and humiliated but kept his faith and loyalty to his parents as he landed in France thirty years ago, often sleeping on the street, a bench in the Champs-Elysee or under a bridge on the Seine. A devout Muslim, he answered when asked how could he love people when he was so ill-treated: "That is their problem. If they hate me they will be punished one day by their God. We should not hate anyone. No religion says you should hate." Working seven days a week he saved enough to fulfill his dream of buying a house for his mother in Pakistan. Ali Akbar, a newspaper street vendor in Paris has made his country and his people proud.

DHANAPALA'S BOOK:

Former Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Jayantha Dhanapala launched in Geneva his book on "Multilateral Diplomacy and the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- An Insider Account." The new book which carries an introduction by Secretary General Kofi Annan analyzes the outcome of the 1995 NPT conferences and updates the pressing issues. It serves as a handy curtain-raiser for the upcoming conference in New York next May.

MARKINGS:

During a commemoration of the establishment of the Dag Hammerskjold Library, Brian Urquhart regaled listeners with personal reflections on the very private Swedish Secretary General. There were questions about his book, "Markings," and whether the English translation by W.H. Auden was accurate. It was not, according to knowledgeable Swedes like Jan Eliasson who shared the podium. The airplane crash in Ndola, Africa, was most likely a pilot's error, Urquhart concluded, despite conspiracy theories propelled mostly by hard drinking mercenaries in bush bars. Nane Annan smiled along with others when, commenting on Hammerskjold's celebate life, Urquhart noted that the hectic life of the Secretary General would not allow any time for a wife. The workaholic Secretary General knew his staff individually and worked very hard to provide a living example. Although he received several drafts on priority political issues, he tended to write his crucial statements himself. While widely covered by the press, he refused to give special treatment to any single newspaper because he thought it would be unfair. While giving the impression of openness, he was extremely discreet when it came to his dealings with member states or negotiating sensitive issues. He never sought photo opportunities, nor did he seek the limelight. Keeping to himself and maintaining the dignity of his office gave him a special aura which gained him -- and the U.N. -- universal respect.

CALLING JOHN BOLTON:

Different delegates had different comments. They varied from amusement to amazement. Immediately after the nomination of John Bolton, who had signaled out Kofi Annan in his blunt attacks, the Secretary General issued a statement "warmly" welcoming him (the usual welcome alone was not enough). Now, as a seriously divided Congress started the hearings, it was revealed through questioning that Annan had called him with the urge to "please get confirmed quickly." As they say in Casablanca, this seems to be the beginning of a very interesting relationship.