15 April 2006

A WONDERFUL REPORTER:

Question: What a wonderful opportunity. How good to have you here. Thank you for coming.

Answer: Well. I happened to be walking by, you know. The Secretary General has honoured me; he called to say hello and discuss things. The President of the Security Council consulted me on a presidential statement, you know.

Question: How wonderful! Thanks for sharing this with us. Will that be for the record?

Answer: We live in a world of turmoil, and we have, you know, to do something about it.

Question: Any special reason for your decisive action?

Answer: I think there is a realization that at this stage we have to put the bridge above the water.

Question: You, of course, mean the Human Rights Council? Or perhaps other reform proposals?

Answer: I am truly convinced that we have to proceed working together, to move the process forward.

Question: Does it mean that the tension between some Security Council members and General Assembly Group of 77 has been resolved?

Answer: I know, you know, the Secretary General knows these are sensitive issues and we live in difficult times. When you read your papers in the morning, you are reminded of that every day. But we have a task to take a longer perspective.

Question: How wonderful.

Answer: (Smile; Grin; Handshake -- Profusely.)

VIAGRA WAR:

Egypt has declared war on Viagra. Dr. Youssef Boutros-Ghali, nephew of our illustrious former Secretary General, announced a plan to combat the increased smuggling of the blue pills after discovering that they were being placed inside cellular mobile phones. Recently, 4.2 million were caught within two weeks in March hidden in containers purportedly carrying vibrating telephone equipment. Alert custom officials were intrigued about the link between Viagra and vibration. They intend to demand answers from the importers, which reportedly include some members of parliament.

"PLUS DE CARESSES:"

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who dazzled at least the media in his Security Council presentation on Iraq, had to face a different, somewhat less ruly audience. Some "trottoire" women had to be forced by the police off the "trottoire" near the Prime Minister's official residence as they protested against a law prohibiting them from plying their trade. Their demand? They were chanting: "Plus de caresses." That rhymed with an anti-police intervention slogan: "Moins de CRS."

UN-OPS!

Copenhagen lost a U.N. Information Centre, but it is gaining UN/OPS! The Danes, who are usually generous to U.N. causes though very cautious on money matters will have to fork out 100 million Kroners for their new guests when they were having an advanced communications operation covering the whole Scandinavian region for peanuts. Penny wise, kroner foolish.

WILL GET BACK:

The response has become almost habitual these days, especially if the speaker was not the official Spokesman. It looks like some people are hurriedly dispatched to face the media on behalf of someone else without adequate preparation. Any question beyond the time of day or the name of his/her supervisor will require further research. It reminds us of a famous old quip by a telephone operator -- when it was still individualized -- who responded to an enquiring caller: "Would you want to speak to the Chief of Section or to the woman who does everything?"

"QUI ROULE ANNAN?"

The influential monthly on African affairs "Journal de l'Afrique" devoted its March cover story to questioning the African credentials of Kofi Annan. Its managing editor Blaise Pasqual Talla expressed disappointment that the current U.N. Secretary General who was elected on behalf of Africa did not prove faithful to it (the strong word used was "trahi l'Afrique"). Possibly no one in New York has seen the article which did not appear on any U.N. media feedback. That's how problems grow. No one wants to report a negative problem; thus no one could be able to deal with it.

ANOTHER CALLIXTE:

Who at the U.N. is still helping out some of those accused of the 1994 Rwanda massacre? First it was a Callixte who found an international assignment in Kosovo and found out by victims' relatives. Now it is a Callixte Gakwaya who was recommended to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. That is, he was placed to judge when he should have been investigated. Someone fairly influential must have helped him slip into that key operation and stay there for a while. Tribunal officials announced that they had asked at least five times about him with no response. Recently the Sowetan of South Africa revealed that he was involved in the genocide.

QAZI'S FOREFRONT:

A report on investigating the office of the Secretary General's Special Representative in Iraq did not seem to faze anyone in New York. Ashraf Qazi's computer and other material were being reviewed closely by members of the U.N. Office of Investigation and Oversight; related operations in Jordan (and possibly Cyprus) are also under scrutiny. When asked, a Spokesman stressed that the Secretary General has full confidence in Mr. Qazi (like Messrs Riza, Nair, Lubbers, etc.). Actually, another Spokesman, when asked about any U.N. activity during the current Iraqi political mess, claimed with a straight face that the Special Rep was indeed "in the forefront of efforts on the ground," although he had to admit that the nowhere envoy "was not directly involved in the negotiations." Carry on, Qazi!

ADS FOR COVER UP:

Certain countries whose governments have been accused of human rights violations seem to have found a venue for offsetting the "imbalance" from negative reporting by buying paid advertised space in the haughty New York Times. Sudan, Congo, Haiti, Nigeria and Indonesia hired a New York City-based public relations firm which claims it has an exclusive arrangement with advertising reps of the Grey Old Lady to produce stuff highlighting "sweeping reforms and positive developments."

INTEGRITY:

"Integrity needs no rules."
-- Albert Camus

INSTITUTIONAL CANDIDATE:

"Except for the Giants of history, most of us leave behind footprints in the sands of time. Collectively, though, what we leave behind in institutions remains greater than all our individual contributions put together."
-- Jayantha Dhanapala

AN INDIAN VIEW:

Indian Professor Ramesh Thakur, vice-rector of the U.N. University of Tokyo has written an article expressing his personal view that India should consider supporting the candidacy of Sri Lankan Jayantha Dhanapala for the post of U.N. Secretary General. He concluded by saying that without commenting on the merits and suitability of other candidates, "I would have thought that his candidacy does deserve Indian support based on regional solidarity."

UNFAIR TO DENMARK:

Admittedly, the scandalous cartoon episode was badly mishandled -- in Denmark. But it is unfair to blame the Danish people whose commitment to human dignity and human values is by far much more proven than in many countries. However tragic the cartoon controversy, it was wrong, very wrong for the U.N. office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to mix the whole population of Denmark with accusations of racial discrimination. A UNOHCHR poster entitled "Racism takes many shapes" depicted a jigsaw puzzle and a brick of the famous Danish toy company Lego. Many Danes devoted their lives for U.N. objectives and served with honour at peacekeeping operations. The "High Commissioner" Ms. Louise Arbour may need to exercise more supervision to avoid being unfair to Denmark.

CYPRUS PORTFOLIO:

After suffering "withdrawal symptoms" for a year, the Secretary General is likely to move on Cyprus again. Very cautiously. One obstacle remains: Turkey's suspicion that the new Special Representative Micheal Mollere is closer to the Greek side. Thus far, the Turkish government in Ankara has refused to deal substantively with him. Several official and informal reasons were mentioned, but we won't get into that here. During a meeting in Khartoum on the side of the Arab Summit, Under Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari appealed to Prime Minister Erdogan to give the young (somewhat pompous) Dane a chance. Mediation efforts led by Gambari are expected after elections next month, if appropriate grounds are prepared.

ANOTHER SHORT LIST:

After taking points raised about the excessive number of ambassadors seeking Secretariat jobs, a reconsidered short list of the post of Assistant Secretary General for General Assembly and Conference Affairs has been limited to insiders. Among them are: Margaret Kelley, a Director in that same Department; Maria Maldonado, an admired colleague with varied long experience in General Assembly as well as Political Affairs; Omar Abu Zahr, who heads conference services in Geneva and a long-time staff negotiator; and Ahmad Fawzi, Director in the Media Division who just returned from a recuperating leave. All of them are qualified professionally.

PUNDITS TIPS:

It is not clear which pundits. But some delegates are circulating a page one "simple tips from the pundits" about the campaign for Secretary General. It does have an Eastern European tilt, but we are reproducing it nevertheless -- in case it could help someone:

You are in the process. Your candidacy is officially nominated or informally mentioned. You passionately act or patiently wait. No matter. You are being considered by the major players and discussed by the public.

Perhaps, these tips will be useful for you...you still have some time.

P5 positions

Asian: do not be discouraged with the US' hints on the Eastern European as the next SG. Historically, during most of the elections of the UN head (except for the 1996 Boutros-Ghali saga, when Russia was still stagnating after the Soviet Union collapse), it was not the Americans, but the Russians who proved to be the masters of the tactics. Their position never seemed to be as firm as it is today.

Eastern European: do not be depressed with the China/Russia's support for the Asian candidate. Remember: the Chinese will never support the person, whom Russia is behind (remember the selection process of U Thant's successor in 1971?).

Agreement on duo

Asian: make an agreement with the Eastern European: you are up for SG, he/she - for DSG. If it's a deal, you'll have a better chance in the race as the duo.

Eastern European: try to convince the Asian in running for DSG. Again, if you two reach a compromise, your tandem will be more perspective.

Rotation

Asian: do not push the idea of regional rotation and, especially the Asia's turn for the next SG - let your country-fellows or, better, other Asian countries do that for you. If you insist on Asia's turn, it might boomerang yourself (what kind of SG you want to be, if you disregard one of the five UN regional groups - the EEG - which indeed did not have its own SG?).

Eastern European: do promote the principle of regional rotation - it's the only chance for the Eastern Europeans to get the top job at the UN. Ideally, you could obtain endorsement by any regional body (how about the Central European Initiative? Or at least the Vysegrad Group?). After all, why leaving the groundwork that your Group was persistently building for the last decade?

General

Asian: if you are able to control your ambitions, try to consolidate your contenders from the region and come up with the list of the Asian candidates (as the Africans did at the 1996 SG elections) - thus at least the post would be preserved for the Asian Group.

Eastern European: do not worry on the above. It will never happen (although the common backing of one candidate in your Group is a no less problem).

Middle Easterner: with all the mess on the next SG and geography, your candidacy would be the best choice - but only as the last option - to resolve the tension within P5 and neglect the claims of the both rivaling groups (you are not an Asian, but your belong to the Asian Group).

Asian and Eastern European: pour l'amour de Dieu, parlez francais!

Northern European: forget about it. No chance, not for this term (and you know it).

Female: "The world is ready for a woman Secretary-General" (Kofi Annan, Special event on International Woman's Day at UN, 8 March 2006). True. The UN isn't.

APPLE DIPLOMACY:

Despite harsh rhetoric between Syria and Israel, some kind of Apple diplomacy was going on along the politically heated yet militarily quiet Golen Heights. Early April, drivers from Kenya drove Jordanian trucks carrying tons of apples produced by Syrian farmers in the occupied foothills of Mount Hermon across to the market of Damascus and beyond. The U.N.-supervised operation was held under the watchful eyes of a peacekeeping unit from Slovakia. One little step for the farmers. Let's hope for one bigger step for the politicians.

MICKEY MOUSE CANDIDATE:

A British Conservative Party ex-member of Parliament, Nirj Deva seems to be the most amusing self-proclaimed candidate. Mr. Nirj (or Deva, depending how you look at it) is now a member of the European Parliament. But by virtue of his place of birth in Asia, he proclaims the right to run for the post of U.N. Secretary General. By that token, millions of Asians around the world could clog the circuit. Obviously he is being encouraged by spoilers seeking to undercut credible Asians seriously considered for the top post. Let's hope the joke remains limited to Brussels.

TEN MINUTES MORE:

The farewell party for outgoing Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette was proper and correct. The Secretary General who appointed her dropped by for about 10 minutes leaving the farewell speech to her replacement, who, of course, pulled all the right expressions. It is a real pity that someone who had performed with worth and distinction as Ambassador of Canada to the U.N. accumulated an impression of being a detached Deputy Secretary General, unconcerned about the human aspects of U.N. work. Although it is an unfair and inaccurate image of someone whose heart was -- and continues to be -- in the right place, it seems that Ms. Frechette played into the hands of those seeking to undercut her performance and her personal commitment. Let us hope that in her resumption of Canadian activity -- in whatever role -- we will regain a wiser, gentler Louise Frechette.

PAUSE:

"And remember while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are."
-- From Duck Soup by Groucho Marx

FASHION FOR DEVELOPMENT:

Introducing fabrics from traditional weavers in less developed countries to the Western world was highlighted by the mission of Spain to the U.N. During a fashion show on 3 April, international model Karolina Durkova, microcredit expert Ela Bhatt and NGO Women Together displayed how they would foster development through fashion. That effort should not be confused with the designation by one U.N. official of designer Giorgio Armani as their special envoy for Afghanistan.

BLAME IT ON JAN:

It turns out that Mr. Annan was booed by the staff because Jan Beagle did not do her job. That's the version some of those around the Secretary General were spreading after an unprecedented withdrawal of confidence from a Secretary General who rose from the ranks. The claim is that the recently promoted head of Human Resources should have taken more time to soften the blow through prolonged conversations with staff as the new proposals were being presented. Ms. Beagle who is excellent at her work but does not take time to smooth ruffled feathers may feel that she is being scapegoated. But then, she isn't the only one. Join the club.

"I AM NOT RUNNING AWAY":

It was a win-win interview. Benon Sevan, now living in Cyprus, finally did what some of his true friends have been advising him for two years: talk -- carefully yet clearly -- to the media. Out of all people, it happened with Claudia Rosett, the prize-winning Food-for-Oil irrepressible investigative reporter who had made our former colleague one of her main targets. Claudia went to Cyprus, knocked on Benon's door, and bargained for a personal visit where she would not ask him to answer questions on the record on Food-for-Oil. From what she wrote in the Wall Street Journal of 1 April, a 2 1/2 hour chat seemed to project Benon Sevan as an experienced U.N. official who took risks serving in very risky places, while Claudia Rosett is seen as having out-performed any other media reporter getting a central scoop story. Declaring his innocence repeatedly, Benon is quoted as saying: "I sleep at night in peace," adding more ominously, "I hope others can sleep at night." On his work plans, he said he wanted to write two books, one on Afghanistan, the other on Iraq.

HEILIGENDAMM:

It's a castle. An 18th century old castle on the Baltic Coast in what was East Germany. An enterprising group turned it into a luxury hotel. That's where the heads of state of industrialized countries -- known as G8 -- will be gathering next year. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also hails from former East Germany, may need to do some advance preparations in that neighbourhood if she wishes to impress her influential visitors. For example, a coat of fresh paint would help.

QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:

"I am so happy about Mr. Armani. Mr. Giorgio Armani really respects the Chinese people."
-- Sheng Mei, a clothing factory manager in Hangzhou, China on making Chinese labeled Armani clothes in the Financial Times

WISE COUNSIL:

A sea change in the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Long gone are the editorials blasting the current U.N. Secretary General for everything from Food-for-Oil (which the Journal reporters followed in various world capitals) to claims of interference in U.S. elections. A centerpiece editorial by Mr. Annan on March 20 under title "Wise Counsil," was highlighted further by a subtitle "Another Successful Reform at the U.N." A few days later, a WSJ editorial started a paragraph with saying: "To his credit, Kofi Annan started shouting about Darfur two years ago..." Two years ago, if anyone remembers, the Journal was charging at Kofi Annan with piercing armour. Any speculation on what happened in-between needs to be directed above our heads.

DEVASTATING SEMIPALATINSK:

An equivalent of 20,000 atomic Hiroshima bombs were tested on Kazakhstan's Semipalatinsk region. Over 40 years, the Soviet Union used the region to launch 607 nuclear explosions devastating the region with tragic impact not only on its water and natural resources, but on its population. Photos taken by actress and photographer Kimberly Joseph, with obvious passion and professional brilliance, were exhibited outside U.N. Library on April 7 with a touching backgrounder by Struan Stevenson of the European Parliament. Raymond Sommereyns, Director of Outreach at the Department of Public Information shared in the introduction. The event was hosted by Kazakhstan Ambassador Yerzhan Kazykhanov, Permanent Representative. That tragic devastation at Semipalatinsk would explain the impressive action taken by Kazakhstan to be the first and only country with nuclear capability to give away its nuclear potential, demonstrating a firm and clear commitment to non-proliferation and credibly calling on other member states to follow suit.

CHICKEN OR EGG EPIDEMIC:

The Asian bird flu has extended to a chicken or egg dispute. While different people in different countries responded differently, there was unanimous suspicion of anything flying, particularly if it rested on the ground. Some governments displayed solemn firmness, while others took it into stride. The German government, for example, announced zero tolerance with any coughing bird while India and Pakistan agreed on a more selective approach, for example, extra handling if a pigeon was carrying a coded message. The French, who got agitated because they normally enamour each other in affectionate birdly terms such as "ma petite oiseaux," started sounding dubious. "My ducking" became a "non-non." In Syria, where public manifestations are usually limited to anti-imperialist governments, there was a unique demonstration of somewhat noisy chickens, whose farmers looked on silently from a distance. In Lebanon, it was the egg that drew most attention. Dozens of eggs, white and yoke, were spilled angrily in the strategic town of Chtaura, midway and commercial midpoint on the main highway between Beirut and Damascus. The chicken were left alone.

RETIRED INCENSE BURNER:

Someone reminded us about an incense burner who retired but still longs to practice that habit, even from a European distance. The woman who worked to destroy any U.N. communications capacity in Europe by dissolving the role of local press officers is reportedly still yearning to be brought in to "do something" before the year's end, her last chance. In the annals of supping up to senior officials she established herself by any infamous draft note where she claimed that there will be no need for any U.N. activity in Europe because Secretary General Annan was so popular in each and every country much more than its own leaders. Obviously, she never bothered to read the papers.

STARRY RESOLUTION:

Atypical of a Norwegian, especially a Norwegian diplomat, U.N. envoy Terje Roed Larsen used some poetic metaphor upon arrival at Beirut airport. Tasked with following up implementing Resolution 1559, Larsen's programme in the Lebanese capital was kept vague, presumably for security reasons. Stressing that the Secretary General instructed to encourage ongoing dialogue amongst Lebanese leaders, Larsen was asked about the somewhat controversial resolution. He referred to an accord in the Saudi summer capital, Taif, in the early nineties to indicate that Taif was the star and the Security Council resolution was its reflection. He repeated it in different ways three times. It must have been the influence of his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where starry, starry nights are abundantly shown to distinguished visitors.

LA FRANCOPHONIE:

French President Chirac made a point in withdrawing from a European meeting in Brussels with labour leaders when the president of European employees union spoke in English. His pique was compounded by the fact that the orator Ernest Antoine Sabira was a citizen of France who claimed he was only using English as the working language. Perhaps Monsieur Le President could influence his most senior representative within the U.N. Secretariat to use more French while addressing interested groups. By now, he had spoken so little of it that he seems to speak his mother tongue with an American accent.

LA MAMOUNIA:

Marrakesh's most famous hotel, La Mamounia, apparently witnessed a costly argument between a minister of Foreign Affairs of a Security Council Permanent member country and his female companion. His Excellency, who rushed out in a hurry, drove to Casablanca to take the first flight to Paris just prior to New Year's Eve. The cost claimed by the hotel -- $40,000 -- was eventually covered by the Moroccan authorities. The President and Prime Minister of the distinguished country were duly informed, though they felt slightly relieved that the incident took place in a discreet and friendly country. The recently refurbished La Mamounia was Winston Churchill's favourite hotel and Alfred Hitchcock's inspiration for "The Birds."

IT'S GREEK TO PARIS:

Readers who keep asking for more Paris Hilton news will be baffled to know that she is very upset with her proclaimed fiance, young shipping heir Stavros Niarchos. She's really trying but he isn't. It's not that he backed her precious Bentley car into a truck. That's just money; she bought a new $45,000 Sports Mercedes SLR instead. But the last straw was when Niarchos, 5 years her junior, started speaking Greek to a friend while she was handing around at a Los Angeles hotel looking clueless. Nothing would please the Hilton family that welcomed Niarchos (?). But having to speak Greek is a totally different question.

JORDANIAN COMMANDER:

Departing Indian General Rajender Singh was replaced in his post as Commander of U.N. troops between Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) by Jordanian General Mohammed Taisir Masadeh. Some weeks ago, www.unforum.com reproduced a complaint sent by military officers click here for article in that very difficult mission about what they perceived as personal use by the Commander of officially available resources, like giving priority to members of his family over requirements of unit officers, particularly since the assignment is not for a family posting. General Masadeh comes highly recommended for his discipline and leadership qualities. He has a very delicate assignment in a very tough neighbourhood. Good Luck. .