15 April 2009

I AM!:

"I am an international leader, the dean of Arab rulers, the King of Kings of Africa, and the iman of the muslims. My status does not allow me to descend to a lower level."
-- Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in a speech during the Arab Summit in Doha, Qatar


Why would the Ambassador of Qatar subsidize a party in honour of Queen Noor of Jordan? Relations between the two countries are not particularly close. In fact, there have been times of tension and threats to withdraw ambassadors. Furthermore, Queen Noor, who is officially given full due respect, has a complex situation; she was known to have actively favoured her own son to take over as King, instead of Kind Abdullah II. Any dabbling with social international events will reveal that now is the time for actual Queen Rania to shine. As Ambassador Al-Nasr of Qatar is not generally known for creative initiatives, some observers wondered what was behind that enthusiastic generous support?


When a former senior official tried to join a meeting at U.N. headquarters, a young Security officer stopped him because his ground pass had expired the day before. The young Security officer explained the security risks involved in allowing a long-time civil servant to enter, while allowing a number of student interns to float by. The retiree quickly went to Accreditation where he was immediately recognized and swiftly given a renewed pass. He purposely returned through the same entrance point to see the same officer and -- before passing through -- asked how long had that young man worked for the U.N. The answer was "two months"! Now, how could an obviously untrained two month employee be more loyal to the U.N. than a thirty-three year veteran?! Perhaps that's the new "culture" to which we are expected to adapt.


Former Secretary General Kofi Annan has signed a book deal to publish his memoirs, according to Penguin Press, which quoted him as saying that a lot has been said and written about his ten year tenure and he felt it was his turn to tell his own story. We also understand that his Spokesman Fred Eckhart is preparing his own book on the same period -- from a varied perspective. Obviously, there is no competition.


We were informed that the long forgotten self-promoter Shashi Tharoor is now running for election to represent the state of Kerala in the Indian Parliament. While wishing him well, we were puzzled by what we were told about a claim he is making now that his quest for U.N. Secretary General was blocked by "the Americans." Everyone at U.N. headquarters at the time of Tharoor's leapfrogging knew how hard he tried to gain U.S. support. Upon hearing that President George W. Bush was fond of Winston Churchill, he displayed similar admiration with vocal zeal. When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld spoke of "Old Europe," Tharoor was quick to close down valuable U.N. Information Centres in Paris, Madrid, London, Athens, Lisbon and Rome. He openly explained in a Town Hall-type meeting that he was responding to what he perceived was an American desire. He proudly, though fleetingly, displayed a photo of former President Bush (the father) in his office. Now that the Bush regime is over and Kerala state residents are suspicious of his sudden appearance on the scene, Tharoor is reportedly claiming a totally opposite tune. By the way, Kerala is home to many outstanding Indians serving on the international field and they deserve the best representation.


Ann Veneman rides again. From Gucci in New York to Mont Blanc in Hollywood to Mannequin Pis in Brussels. Unlike all her predecessors, the current director of UNICEF does not seem to have a sense of what mobilizes or turns off the public; she does not seem to bother whether her actions look awkwardly embarrassing to UNICEF or even herself. Her latest "initiative" for World Water Day is to sponsor a prominent competition on who forms the longest line waiting to enter a public toilet! For your information, if interested, it was in Brussels, behind the famous statue of the "pissing kid" after dressing it up with a UNICEF cap and a t-shirt proclaiming "every drop counts." Indeed.


Failure on water is not limited to UNICEF's Ann Veneman; it extends to the international water community that met in a conference in Istanbul mid-March. Instead of coming out with an agreement on the right to water for everyone as requested by participants of civil society groups, a lackluster declaration only mentioned "the need to improve the conditions for access to water and better sanitary facilities." Perhaps the drafters should be made to stand in that long line to the toilet.


Outgoing U.S./U.N. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made a recent visit to his former stomping ground in Iraq where he met with President Jabal Talabani on Persian New Years Day, Neirouz, which is especially celebrated by Kurds like Mr. Talabani, Afghans like Mr. Khalilzad, and Iranians to whom U.S. President Obama had just addressed a special message. Could the man who played a key role in new Iraq be on a special mission on the coincidental occasion of a jointly celebrated holiday? Or could he be exploring a new private venture after so many years in successful public service? Incidentally, in an interview with the editor of daily Al-Hayat, Ahmad Chalabi said that after he pushed for a provisional Iraqi government to run the country after U.S. takeover, Ambassador Khalilzad told him that the proposal seemed predominant and will pursue it after he returned from a 10-day visit to Washington. However, 10 days later Paul Bremmer arrived instead and, when reminded of the initial accord on provisional government, Bremmer responded: "Khalilzad and his policy on Iraq are gone, I am fully in charge." Chalabi claimed that later he was informed that the drastic internal U.S. change of position happened in the second week of May 2003. After President Bush told Ambassador Khalilzad that he will return as the Political Representative while Bremmer would be mainly in charge of reconstruction, "suddenly it was declared that Bremmer was everything."


"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
-- Nelson Mandela, "A Long Walk to Freedom"


As indicated in an earlier issue, adding a "Fogh" to the name of Denmark Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen could add to his popular support. His admirers apparently have spread to Europe and NATO where he is now being mentioned for the post of its Secretary General. Reportedly, Turkey expressed the lone opposition due to the infamous cartoon issue which provoked anger in Muslim countries. But it would be difficult for our country to block the chances of a popular "fogh," especially if he's Danish, not Finish.


After several years of freelancing with no serious supervision, Tunis National Officer is to be overseen by a new UNDP Resident Coordinator who will act as Director of the Information Centre. There had been several complaints that the National Officer has been confusing the amenities of the Centre for his private domain, including unchecked use of the official car. Let's hope that the newly-appointed Res Rep Mohammed Belhocine takes real charge.


Her Majesty, Queen of England, was obviously not amused during a photo opp for the G-20 leaders meeting in London beginning April when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi not only injected himself cheerfully between U.S. President Obama and Russian President Medvedev, but starting calling after the U.S. President as he walked away. "Mr. Obama, Mr. Obama," yelled Senor Berlesconi. Her Majesty, who took centre stage was heard asking: "Why does he have to shout?"


During a dinner in Paris by French President Sarkozy for Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman, it was noted that France's outgoing Justice Minister Rachide Dati was a welcome guest. After a few months in political Siberia due to a frigid attitude by new First Lady Carla, all seemed to be forgiven as the two strong-willed women chatted amiably before mixing with the curious crowd.


A diplomat in London for the G-20 summit took a quick side trip to Harrods to buy, as usual, a special "organic" type of biscuit that presumably helps digestion. When he could not locate it, he asked a young salesman who curtly responded that it will no longer be available at the store. Why? After a quick follow-up, it transpired that the demanded cookie is part of an organic earth project favoured by Crown Prince Charles, widowed husband of the late Princess Diana, who had died tragically in the company of Dodi Fayed. What does that have to do with the availability of biscuits? Ask Harrods sole owner, Dodi's father, Mohammed Fayed.


Remember the worried hunt for those who leaked Alvaro de Soto's report on U.N. inaction in the Arab-Israeli peace process? The report had raised specific obstacles imposed on a U.N. envoy to the embarrassment of both the outgoing and incoming Secretaries General. For a while, nervous aides on the 38th floor, working for newly-appointed Mr. Ban, were running in circles. Not about the real issues raised, but on who helped spread the word. Some of us expected that the Peruvian talented writer will turn a new phrase or two, so we stayed tuned. Now, we understand that Mr. de Soto is back with some U.N. assignment. It just happened after former Secretary General Javier Perez de Ceullar had stopped in New York and met with his current successor at a tete-a-tete family dinner. Perhaps it was just a coincidence . Anyway, Alvaro de Soto is a valuable asset, wherever he is.


Alas, the hotel is no more. The Paris Hilton in Rue Suffren has just been taken over by the Accord Group and renamed Pullman. No more UNESCO jokes about spending the night in the bed of Paris Hilton. No more macho claims of meeting Paris in Paris. Obviously, the Hilton woman is still going strong, adding a TV program to her earlier thrilling video appearance. She just takes things in stride. Meanwhile, let's hope the new Pullman will pull-through the financial crisis.


A joyous celebration at the Bristol Hotel in Paris as the Michellin Star was added to its gourmet restaurant. Pierre Ferchault, its President-Director General gave a "tous-paris" party where he introduced Chef Cuisinier Eric Frechon and Patisserie's chef Laurent Janice. Particularly at these picky times, restaurants live and die by a star given or taken. A few years ago, a French chef shot himself when he lost one star. Hence, the champagne and exquisite appetizers at the French hotel on the tip of the elegant Foubourg Saint-Honore, which received an award early this year from a business magazine as one of the best hotels in the world.


Egyptian officials have been making discreet contact with Darfur rebel leaders and with the Sudan government to explore the possibility of a wider gathering in search of an agreed statement. Another Arab country -- in coordination with Cairo -- is working to get neighbouring Chad committed to a positive outcome. Most of these meetings have been unannounced. If and when a framework is agreed, invitations will be sent to regional governments, Security Council permanent members and the Secretary General to participate in witnessing and guaranteeing an agreement.