15 December 2006

A EUROPEAN WOMAN:

Anyone claiming to know the names of the forthcoming team of Ban Kee Moon is either misinformed or misinforming. The new leader is playing it very close to his chest. While word last month was about a search for a North African woman, U.N. Headquarters was buzzing with the name of a European woman, not necessarily as Deputy but possibly as Chef de Cabinet. The rumour (and it is just that; hence our reservation in giving away the name) intensified after Mr. Ban's meeting in Germany with its Chancellor Ms. Angela Merkel. Some Ying-Yang fortune tellers would claim that it will be a very good omen if your name was Angela, especially if you had a reputation for efficiency, solid experience in key posts and the discretion to remain in the sidelines until your time has come. It's about time.

AN ARAB WOMAN:

Reports about a female Deputy Secretary General continue, although the focus has shifted from North Africa to the Arab world. It is not clear whether the leakage is deliberate to sound out reactions, or inspired by people pushing favoured names in the hope it would be picked up. Anyway, we mention them as we heard them. One is Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation Ms.Fayza Aboulnaga, a most impressive Renaissance women whose experience in international affairs, including her U.N. work, is way beyond admirable. She would be a most valuable asset. Another is UNFPA's Ms. Thoraya Obaid, a former Deputy Executive Secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, a Saudi citizen who competitively and competently rose through staff ranks. She now has the influential support of her government. A third name mentioned is that of Rima Khalaf-Honeidi, former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and chief of UNDP's Arab Bureaux who had launched the Arab Development Report; she chairs the Advisory Council on the Democracy Fund. Speculation on her name intensified mid-December because of her presence in New York for the Fund's meeting.

DISCREET OUTREACH:

While preparing to take over, Secretary General-designate Ban Kee Moon has made a discreet and significant attempt of outreach. During a visit to Paris, he held very cordial meetings with former Secretaries General Boutros-Ghali and Perez de Cuellar. While no one would talk about any details, the fact of the outreach by itself reflects a welcome determination to find out more about what is at stake than what has been provided by the transition team -- particularly since quality face time between outgoing and incoming Secretary General has been very limited indeed -- 1/2 an hour only throughout the period from 15 November to 7 December, give or take one social function or another.

HIGH-LEVEL ADVICE:

Ask not what you can do for the U.N. Ask what's for lunch!

SWISS RESIDENCE:

Speculation about a retirement residence for outgoing Secretary General Annan is shifting more towards Switzerland, particularly the area between Geneva and Lauzanne known as Canton de Vaud. This is familiar territory for the Annan family, particularly for Mr. Annan personally whose early U.N. career included a stint at the Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees -- from which he later drew many of his aides. He has nurtured a number of influential friends in the diplomatic community, Federal Swiss government, and private banking circles. While his special interest will be on Africa, his personal residence will most likely be in the Swiss region. Obviously, he will have lots of international functions to attend, the least of which in nearby Davos and beyond. But he is likely to remain within the proximity of Rue du Rhone.

CLINTON CONFIRMATION:

Take their secret from talkative friends. During the whirlwind attendance of President Clinton at the UNCA annual dinner, he mentioned his understanding of transition of power. The former U.S. President whose decision was crucial in appointing Kofi Annan as U.N. Secretary General then casually said: "Kofi and Nane will be living in Geneva, sending aspirin to Ban Kee Moon in New York."

TIMES CHANGE:

Funny -- or pathetic -- how some people shift with changing times. The once arrogant self-important opportunists who hardly bothered to feel other people's pain are now hustling to stay on even if they have to beg others to help them. One of those characters who had instigated media representatives against candidate Ban Kee Moon -- even making remarks about his looks and "bland" personality (compared to his own, of course) -- is now appealing to the "big heart" of the new Secretary General. Shameless indeed.

YEAR OF THE DOLPHIN:

2007 was just declared the "Year of the Dolphin." The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has teamed up with TUI, one of Europe’s leading travel groups, to launch a major public awareness campaign on various threats to the marine mammal’s survival such as entanglement in fishing nets and the degradation of their habitats.

"The United Nations often lacks sufficient resources to undertake global public awareness projects; thus the need to join forces with others," said Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, an intergovernmental treaty concluded under UNEP’s aegis that seeks to conserve wildlife and habitats on a global scale. Activities promoted though this partnership include the publication of information on dolphins in brochures and travel catalogues, in-flight magazines, a dedicated website (www.YoD2007.org) and the development of a ‘dolphin diploma’ for children. Multilingual dolphin manuals will also be developed and distributed to young travelers and their families in TUI destinations and passed onto local schools.

CHOI SOUNG-AH:

If you have trouble pronouncing that name, better learn it soon. By January, for example. It's the name of a hard-working dynamic young Korean woman who is dedicated full-time to dealing with the press. A former U.S. citizen, she returned to South Korean to work for then Foreign Minister Ban Kee Moon, particularly during his successful quest for the post of U.N. Secretary General. Despite attempts by some of his competitors to undercut his personality, Choi Soung-ah seems to have done an admirable job. News from Seoul indicates that she has just resigned from the Foreign Ministry and has headed to New York. Let's give her a warm welcome.

OH CAMPO!:

Those of us who have been wondering over the last five years what Jose Antonio Ocampo has been doing for the U.N. at the U.N. in every senior U.N. post may have finally received a clue. "The Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs" -- that's his title -- actually chaired a two-day seminar on (hold your breath) "Space for Developing Countries in a Globalized World!" Oh. And he is also presiding over a U.N. group ("high-level," of course) on the intricate impact of the Internet -- a subject on which he had no clue.

AH SO?!:

Finally, after three years -- or is it four now -- we are informed by Secretary General Kofi Annan that the situation in Iraq is not good. We had heard some shy references every now and then here and there to some difficulties. Once we were almost told that war on Iraq was "illegal" but that was swiftly explained away as a response to a question obtained by a BBC reporter under duress. Still, for those who don't know, the U.N. has a Special Representative at the Under Secretary General level helped by TWO Assistant Secretaries General supported by a staff contingent, most of them not residing in Iraq but in neighboring countries like Cyprus and Jordan. With such a high-level, highly expensive, ridiculously ineffective presence, the most that the outgoing "leader of the international community" could say was that insecurity prevailed in Iraq. Tiptoe through the tulips!

HIGHLY, HIGHLY:

We highly value the views expressed by those high-level groups. As high-level people dealing with highly delicate matters, they have a high sense of responsibility. That is why they have commissioned several high-level panels which will naturally make further contacts at that same high-level with similarly highly regarded colleagues in order to achieve highly anticipated results.

U.N. UNIVERSITY:

Jayantha Dhanapala, who was Sri Lanka's candidate for Secretary General, was elected Chairman of the Board of the United Nations University, based in Tokyo. With the University's Rector scheduled to leave soon, the role of its Board, and its Chairman will be crucial in deciding not only on strategic policy, but also in overseeing effective implementation. Professor Dhanapala, a former U.N. Under Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, remains active on nuclear oversight issues, including participation in key internationalist groups. Having run a decent and gracious campaign for Secretary General, he continues to be highly regarded intellectually and politically at the regional and international levels.

AMBASSADOR REED RECUPERATES:

Anyone linked to the U.N. over the last two decades will certainly know Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, who accomplished it all at every U.N. related connection. A close associate of David Rockefeller and Ambassador to Morocco; a senior member of the U.S. Mission to the U.N.; then U.N. Under Secretary General for Political and General Assembly Affairs; Chief of Protocol at the White House with 41st President George H. W. Bush; then back at the U.N. as Special Advisor, Special Envoy and Special Representative for Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali (who called him in Arabic "Safir Youssuf") and Kofi Annan. His absence over the last year was due to his health condition, which was compounded by his relentless travel on behalf of the international community. A diplomat's diplomat, Ambassador Reed gained friends -- and accumulated medals -- along his way. No event was unimportant to him; every individual, whatever his status or means -- mattered to him. That's why we are glad to hear that he is slowly but surely recuperating at his Greenwich, Connecticut mansion. We look forward to seeing him around the U.N. compound as dynamic and cheerful as ever by the New Year.

JFK:

Despite a media-spread reputation of being solemn and too serious for frivolous talk, newly-selected Secretary General Ban Kee Moon reportedly has a witty sense of humour. When he enrolled in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the 70s, he introduced himself as JFK, explaining it meant "Just From Korea."

FAREWELL CONFERENCE:

A farewell press conference for outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan has been scheduled for 19 December. Already some contacts are being made to produce a visible demonstration of appreciation by U.N. accredited press, particularly in light of some terse moments with certain media representatives. Earlier this year, a concerted attempt to get U.N. Correspondents Association to name Mr. Annan as "Man of the Year" did not get enough votes. Giving him a standing ovation at his farewell press conference would be a consolation prize.

APPLAUSE:

After injecting "laughter" regularly in its press communiques, another innovation by the departing leadership is to add "applause." So now the world should know not only that everyone is breaking out into jolly laughter upon hearing those witty (very well prepared) quips, but everyone also has been putting their hands together after listening intently to these (very carefully selected) quotables. Let's hope the new leadership does not need such shoe-polish.