15 December 2009


During the Holiday Season, we miss those friends and colleagues who left us prematurely at a young age. We cherish particularly those outstanding U.N. Civil Servants who blended their exemplary performance of challenging tasks with a winning sense of humour. We wish their families solace and their souls a restful peace. Sergio, Nadia, Mitch, and all of you out there, we miss you -- wherever you are.


Those around Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have discovered that one quick tack to his favour is to find out and announce a "First" by him. While it has been quite a challenge, it was possible to make some headway -- like he was the "First" to attend a meeting of the G-20 Group (which had just been established) last year; he was the "First" to visit Antarctica; the "First" to ride in a battery operated car (which had to be recharged en route). A new one was proudly added during a recent seminar on "new media and the news media," where the audience was gleefully told that our distinguished leader is the "First" Secretary General to Twitter. Since he is also the first to sing jingles, we hope he would avoid: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Twitter Twitter Who You Are!


We were thoughtfully informed through a Spokesman's bulletin mini-headline of Wednesday 9 December, that our esteemed Secretary General "Abhors bombing." We fully appreciate that novel information. Thank you very much!


According to official count, there are 477 officials from the U.N. Secretariat attending the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, plus 309 from 19 U.N. Specialized Agencies and "related organizations." That's a total of 786. Obviously, that is the largest delegation, not counting those operating regularly from offices on the harbour of the Danish capital. They are all personally taking active part in attempting to seal the deal to accomplish a solid UN/FCCC.


While joint military liaison officers of UNIFIL, Israel and Lebanon are debating a possible Israeli army withdrawal from the "Lebanese" part of the "An-Nahar" village occupied in 2006, Lebanese authorities, that is, the President, Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister made clear through the Mission to the U.N. in New York, that it strongly opposed a suggestion by the Secretary General's Envoy Terje Roed "Herring" Larsen to delay the withdrawal until a wider agreement is reached between Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, over the other occupied Lebanese territory of Chebaa. The envoy, who has not visited Beirut in over two years, is officially handling the implementation of at least one Security Council Resolution. As of January 2010, Lebanon will become a member of the Security Council. Larsen's suggestion was disregarded also by senior U.N. Secretariat officials and by the Secretary General who overturned him. Beirut daily "An-Nehar" which generally supports Larsen, highlighted the snub.


Days before the worldwide exposure of Dubai's financial crisis, it was reported in the main local newspaper that Sheikh Majed Bin Mohammad Bin Rasheed Al-Maktoum has been awarded a Master's degree from Dubai Policy Academy on his elaborate thesis entitled: "The Genius of Crisis Management in the Vision of Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rasheed Al-Maktoum."


Rebecca Grynspan of Costa Rica was appointed as Associate Administrator of UNDP at the level of Under-Secretary General. She replaces Ad Melkert, who was eased out to a prominent yet irrelevant post as Special Representative of Iraq. Since 2006, Ms. Grynspan served as UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of its Latin American and Caribbean Regional Bureau. She had also served in the Economic and Social Commission for Latin America. She had held several ministerial positions with her government, including Vice President of Costa Rica. With her appointment, UNDP's leadership will have the welcome designation of a fully female leadership duo -- Helen Clark and Rebecca Grynspan.


Dubai, Mumbai, Shanghai -- were often pronounced in one breath by financial observers together with an expectation of "Goodbye" to your investment. Loose supervision, secretive management, and unlimited borrowing accompanied most of their financials transactions. Although Shanghai was most discreet in comparison to the other two, it is very much ostentatious by Chinese standards. Now that Dubai has been shaken, will the other two trees yield a similar fate? Some expect it. Others, however, dismiss any serious shake-up in Mumbai and Shanghai. What is then after Dubai? Most indications point to Athens; though it doesn't rhyme.


In the golden evenings of U.N. Correspondents' Association dinners, Ian Williams used to arrange for some Scottish flavour, including ample supply of those two famous twins, Haig and Haig, plus an occasional bagpipe display by then Under-Secretary General, Swedish legal eagle Hans Corell. Alas, these are more serious days. Indeed we gather that even the Scots in Glasgow are losing out in their most illustrious piping to Canadians from British Columbia. The headmaster of the College of Piping was compelled to admit that it's a hellish state of affairs. Even the Sultan of Oman, a Sandhurst graduate, has a better team that escorts him on his morning inspection of Palace guards. What's going on? "Will Ye Noo Come Back Again?"


A medal was awarded to Arno, its "expert" dog that guards the gate to the Spanish Battalion of UNIFIL in South Lebanon. While a number of soldiers were also awarded, Arno was photographed by Lebanese local reporters while standing with a trainer, proud and ready to check approaching cars for potential explosives. Eight years old Arno comes from a Belgian Malinoi pedigree.


Tareq Salahi, White House gate crasher who got his 15 minutes of fame, probably had one additional reason for his daring walk. In September he had launched a Polo fundraising festival in the Indian embassy with an enthusiastic participation of the ambassador and senior members of the influential Indian community. For some third world wannabees, Polo is as close as you can get to an "upper class." With his bragging posturing about his influence around D.C., how could he admit that he was not invited to the White House party for the Indian Prime Minister? What would the Indian partners think? Well, soon after the gate crashing reports, the Indian embassy issued a statement that it has severed its relations with him. Apparently, even the Polo posturing turned out to be fake.


Obviously, it was a typographical error. Unfortunately with high level correspondence, it quickly gets noticed and circulated surreptitiously. In a recommendation of a certain approach which needs to be taken, "final" was somehow misspelled. "fi" was simply replaced by an "a". It must have been a Freudian slip.


It must be a black joke. A briefing for NGOs on 10 December was entitled "Speak Up, Say No: End Corruption Now"! As is obvious to any observer, anyone who speaks up within the current Secretariat is not just discouraged but cautioned to watch out. More to the point, the issue of corruption is in the hands of the U.N. Drugs and Crime Office, whose Chief himself had been investigated for corruption (for accepting a gun as a gift, as indicated by his former Security Officer). A famed wheeler-dealer, Antonio Maria-Costa had predicted upon taking over in 2002 that he will oversee the end of the infamous Golden Triangle within a few years, as well as an end to the opium trade in Afghanistan. He later shifted his public predictions, according to political requirements of powerful member states. An extension of his renewal contract by Kofi Annan three years beyond his own term had raised eyebrows and widespread corridor talk. A former staffer of the U.N. Economic and Social Affairs Department in New York, he left to join OECD in Paris where, as a "sherpa" mountain climber -- to the G-8 Summit meetings, he managed to move to another European enterprise in London created by creative French politician and Mitterand protege, Jacques Atali. Although he could easily stand on his professional credentials (graduate of Turin, Moscow State University and Berkeley), the Italian sherpa seemed to go more for the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" approach. Antonio Maria-Costa heading an anti-corruption campaign is as credible as a signature by Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Honduras, or Hamid Karzai on the anti-corruption pact.


Finally the right action was taken. Kai Eide, the U.N.Secretary General's Special Envoy to Afghanistan whose public duel with his former Deputy and friend Peter Galbraith has embarrassed the U.N. and its Secretary General is leaving. As if to pay for their sins against the U.N., both of them now are exposed as ruthless egos who will stop at nothing to inflict disgrace at one another, even if it meant obvious damage to the assignment they were appointed to undertake, and on the Organisation they were expected to positively serve. Each of them could have left graciously to argue their viewpoints .They would have earned appreciation for bringing enlightened opinions to the process. Instead, their arrogant public battle through world media led most observers to find in their exit good riddance. What a pity thattwo brilliant and experienced individuals of special calibre ended up exiting in such a way.


An article in the New Yorker magazine by Justin Davidson analyzed the new building of the U.S. Mission to the U.N. on 45th Street and First Avenue. The structure reflects the latest in security doctrine and technology, but it has a stark medieval look "as if it was meant to defend against catapults." Made for a lethal world, it "broadcasts a primitive mixture of toughness and fear," the writer perceptively goes on: "Its air of armored secrecy hints at unspeakable things going on in soundproof rooms, even if in reality all that gets pushed there is papers." Let's hope its future occupants are less foreboding.


As Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar passed through New York early December on his way from Paris to Lima, he -- and his wife Donna Marcela -- was invited to dinner by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his wife. The initiative by Mr. Ban offered an opportunity for a closer personal acquaintance and to profit from the experienced advice of a successful predecessor. It is hoped that such advice will be pursued with the same clarity with which it was delivered.


In his pursuit of anything that will bring him closer to U.S. President Obama, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated the First U.S. Couple's favourite singer as an U.N. Messenger for Peace. While marking that appointment in a ceremonial "introduction," a fire alarm went off in the conference room. A perplexed commotion ensued as Mr. Wonder obviously wondered what the heck was going on. The gathering was hurriedly dispersed as participants were called up to join in a different room for a "press briefing." A Spokeswoman later said that the alarm was "generated" by construction workers on the second basement level.


Nigerian diplomat Ibrahim Gambari who most recently served as the Secretary General's Special Envoy to Myanmar will head the joint U.N.-African Union joint peacekeeping mission in Darfur. His appointment will be effective 1 January, 2010. A former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, Professor Gambari has also served as Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Special Advisor on Africa, Head of U.N. Mission to Angola, as well as Nigeria's Ambassador to the U.N. The new mission he will be heading -- known as UNAMID -- is expected to have over 26,000 troops, the largest in U.N. peacekeeping operations. The appointment of someone with the experience and stature of Mr. Gambari may indicate a real determination -- at last -- to seriously and effectively deal with the issue of Darfur.


A building on 46th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, just next to Albano, was just bought by the United Arab Emirates for $44 million. Presumably, it will be the new site of the Emirates Mission to the U.N. No one yet is clear on specific future plans. Yet, next door neighbours are worried that a new building will mean not just more construction noise and scaffolding for some time to come, but also that some windows and balconies may face a wall. The Emirates' Permanent Representative will do well to take some time from his diplomatic schedule to listen to his future neighbours and try to arrest any problems before they become public.


"Too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't need, to impress people they don't like."
-- Will Rogers


"We don't sell religious greetings. Only Christmas Cards."
-- A New York Shop Salesman


Albert Camus, Nobel Prize winner who highlights absurdity is, 59 years after his death, the subject of an absurd attempt by French President Nicholas Sarkozy to move his remains. The French Algerian writer who rose to fame with "L'Etranger," had selected the town of Lourmarin of the Provence region "in gratitude to this land, its solitude, its beauty." There is a lot of speculation why Mr. Sarkozy is seeking the move to the Pantheon in Paris. He would wish to raise his sagging popularity; enhance his intellectual credentials; use Camus' identity in a new campaign of identity -- particularly confronting a wide Algerian North African community; move to the right by using personalities of the left. The sharpest criticism came from Camus' son Jean who accused the President of attempting to hijack his father for his own political purposes. The most effective opposition came from the town of Camus' residence. His daughter Catherine still lives in that town on (what else?) Albert Camus Street. Why do these politicians think it is easy simply to manipulate the remains of creative individuals who illuminated the name of their country. A while ago, in Spain, some obscure official sought to dig up the body of one of that country's most famous modern poets -- Frederico Garcia Lorca. As we have urged on similar occasions, leave them alone.


Some heads of state who saw in Copenhagen a photo opportunity with U.S. President Obama tried to find out his exact schedule, not only in the Danish capital but also in Oslo where he was receiving the Nobel Prize. One particular African president, who had been refused a persistently demanded encounter in New York during the General Debate, tried with similar insistence to get anything that could be shown at home where his sinking popularity would receive a boost from a meeting with the first African American President. The chase was not limited to Copenhagen Bella Centre. It extended to Oslo.


While the White House gate-crashing couple received the most attention covering the dinner given in honour of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whispers in Washington power gazing circles were about those noted for not being invited. While U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. looked glowingly elegant, the most senior Indian in New York, U.N. Chef de Cabinet and former Ambassador Vijay Nambiar, was not on the list. More interesting in American political gazing was the absence of Richard Holbrooke, the President's main Envoy to Asia, with a special focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. India, which would be of natural geopolitical interest, had specifically requested not to be included in his assignment. But that would not extend to dinner invitations -- at the White House. Some observers read the oversight as an increasingly dwindling influence of one of the largest egos in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. We were told Mr. Holbrooke chose the occasion to go skiing.


A new Director of the U.N. Information Office in Cairo was selected from an impressive short list which included an experienced Lebanese reporter for Middle East Broadcasting Television, an Egyptian who worked for the Arabic Service of the BBC (he interviewed the Secretary General during a visit to Bahrain last summer), and a Bahraini woman who headed the information service of the ILO regional office for the Arab world, based in Beirut. A comprehensive transparent process resulted in favour of the ILO woman from Bahrain. The hosts in the Egyptian capital have been approached with the customary consultation. The post in Cairo is the most senior U.N. Information post in the Arab world.


When legendary photographer Richard Avedon went to Washington to portray Henry Kissinger, the legendary Secretary of State told him: "Be kind to me." Avedon wasn't sure whether Kissinger wanted to look wiser, warmer, or more sincere than he suspected he was. The New Yorker recounts that encounter in its December 7 issue as it published portraits of several heads of state taken during the General Debate last September by its staff photographer Platon. While trying his best to lure particularly controversial figures like Qaddafi, Ahmadinejad and Chavez, he had at least one Prime Minister who kept suggesting: "Make me look good." The result seemed to bring out a mixed bag of vanities. Some of those displayed looked thoughtful, perceptive, determined, and engaged, while a few -- very few -- looked like outright thugs. We found the best portrait to be that of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Actually, it is one of his best: he looked confident, relaxed and honestly sincere. Shining aside was our beloved U.N. flag.


A farewell party for Spokeswoman Michele Montas on her last official day, 30 November, could not accommodate all her friends and admirers. A prizewinner reporter and prominent broadcaster, she served Secretary General Ban Ki-moon since he took over on January 2007. She kept her professional credibility and personal dignity during very difficult circumstances. Her devotion to U.N. principles and her sense of humour helped to keep her on the right track. We wish her all the best in her new endeavours.


Therese Pacquet-Sevigny, a former Under-Secretary General who headed the Department of Public Information, made a brief visit to New York from her Montreal home. Although she kept her discreet distance from U.N. headquarters, she thoughtfully called a number of her former colleagues with whom she enjoyed a warm exchange of memories and a refreshing review of the present. Ms. Sevigny remains active in the intellectual academic and media circles in Canada, often participating in university seminars and talks at the U.N. Association. Her pioneering role in ORBICOM, a communications venture, which was substantively supported by UNESCO, drew world-wide participation -- although these days financing is not easy. It was good to see Therese Pacquet-Sevigny in her irrepressible form again.


Sharp shooting U.N. critic Claudia Rosette wrote a scathing piece "Finding the U.N. a Home Sweet Home," where she welcomed the suggestion by delegates to move the U.N. outside New York. Tongue in cheek, she proposed options like Darfur, where General Bashir would welcome additional contributors, Qaddafi's Tripoli after his outstanding international rehabilitation, Saudi Arabia where female staff would not need to worry about an expensive wardrobe, Norway, Canada, and an island in Russia's inland. New York was too expensive, delegations would be saving much-needed funds. Hence her search for varied options. How could she have overlooked Antarctica? Tis the season of climate change -- Copenhagen in December, Bali in the spring. After all, our distinguished climate changer in chief made a personal visit there, stood on (thin) ice, and earnestly looked for a penguin to hug; perhaps he was farsightedly campaigning for re-election amongst future locals.


The dispute between Italy and Spain over Christopher Columbus is well known. Though an Italian citizen, it was Queen Isabella of Spain who sponsored his uncertain voyage to the new world. Though Americans of Italian descent insist on leading Columbus Day, Spaniards make a similar claim, particularly that he just landed in a Latina Caribbean island, or at least that is what any visitor to the Dominican Republic will be told. It is also known that some Norwegians insist that the Vikings had arrived well before Columbus. A new theory may appear, however, courtesy of the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon. Ali Shami, who hails from the southern village of Jorjon told his new colleagues when taking over from his predecessor that while he was studying in France he met by chance a former French diplomat to the U.S. who wrote three volumes on his experiences. In the introduction, according to Mr. Shami, it was actually the Lebanese Phoenicians who first discovered America. If he is not advised in time, the new Minister may feel the urge to recount the claim again at the Security Council starting January, particularly that neither Spain, Italy nor Norway will be there to ask for the right of reply.