15 December 2010


Cheer up. Cheer up. Listen to the good great exquisite news. The U.N. Secretariat glass facade is about to be renovated and invigorated, according to a recent announcement. The no-glaze glass will be replaced by triple glaze glass, no "see-through." That will be evident to "the peoples of the United Nations" -- as the Charter would say -- by 2012. Question is whether you or any of your colleagues will have a chance to get INSIDE and RECLAIM any of these offices. No "right of return" here. Only those with NO INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY will be welcome.


One of the directives by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed in WikiLeaks was a usual request to explore positions of other governments in varied issues. Of special note is "placing high priority" on obtaining information about the positions of the four other permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, and Russia -- and views of other member states "on the next Secretary General race, to include preferred candidates and candidates lacking U.N. member support." Intrigued observers saw in that request an indication that the U.S. is not yet assured to support a second term to Ban Ki-moon when it expires next year. At least, not at the time of sending the directives. Interesting. Interested?!


During the G-20 gathering in Seoul, media reports indicated a gap between the U.S. and South Korean positions. By the first week of December, happier news was revealed. U.S. President Obama, who desperately needs some positive news, was able to announce that a $10 billion deal will provide 70,000 jobs for U.S. labourers. At a time when unemployment was reported to be a serious problem for the President's record, an improvement around the holiday season, when "bread on the table" is primary on everyone's mind, could be welcome. What happened in the meanwhile could be analyzed at great length by interested financial experts. The basic point however, is that it entailed a deal. Like the United States, South Korea is not in the business of being amenable merely to look good in American eyes. Of course, they would aim to please. But for $10 billion entailing 70,000 jobs, there must be something practical in return. Business deals, of course. But could it be that as the South Koreans would help U.S. President Obama look better at a crucial period, the "Change is You" U.S. President would be more amenable to consider favourably a renewed term for a Korean favourite son at the U.N.? Just asking.


Outgoing Permanent Representative of Japan to the U.N., Yukio Takasu, was designated Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Human Security. A former UN Controller, one of the most knowledgeable about the UN system, Ambassador Takasu will devote special attention to consultation with member states and a number of other interested parties to refine a clear definition of the target and how best to accomplish visible results. As a member of the Security Council who distinguished himself with an enlightened approach and profound dedication to peaceful settlement of conflicts, he has a fair chance to move ahead, if any diplomat can in the current setup. Good Luck.


Anything to do with the Secretary General's position on issues of direct interest to any of the five (veto) Permanent Members of the Security Council is being closely scrutinized these days, when it is assumed that Mr. Ban is seeking a renewal of his mandate. Much attention has focused on a Chinese dissident, Liv Xiaobo, receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace. To what extent did the U.N. Secretary General congratulate him? Was it a statement, a letter, a phone call, or just a general comment? Spokesman's Office tried its best to cope with media curiosity and Asian nuances. One main question was on who will represent the U.N. at the Nobel awards ceremony on Friday 10 December? Well? The U.N. was not formally invited. What about U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who had actually turned down an extended invitation? She had to attend a Human Rights day event in Geneva, responded her spokesman.


Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not to mix it in a fruit salad.


"Pais Petrolero, el pueblo sin dinero" - a slogan carried by Mexican protesters in Cancun.


Sometimes the country makes the Permanent Representative. Other times the Representative makes the country. It just happens that in the case of Bahrain, both the country and its current diplomat seem to blend together in an eloquent glowing presentation. The national day of Bahrain was an annual venue of friends and fellow diplomats to drop by at the conveniently relocated "Delegates Dining Room" on top of the Library on 42nd and First. It was also a pleasure to see Ambassador Tawfeeq Ahmed Khalil Almansoor genuinely and joyously welcoming everyone with enthusiastic pleasure. More heartwarming was seeing him surrounded by his vivacious loving family. Perhaps he is one of the few delegates, certainly the only one in the Gulf region, to print his wife's maiden name: "Mrs. Awatif Al-Khaja" on the invitation. With due regard to her country's traditions, she graciously joined her husband in receiving delegates and their spouses. Their intelligent and beautiful daughters are the most positive representative of a new generation of young Arab women. Tawfeeq Almansoor and his wonderful family are a glowing representation of Bahrain, a country that was the first to introduce co-education in the Arab world.


Only months after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that Gabon was making great strides in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, a French court allowed a petition by Transparency International to investigate widespread corruption involving Gabon's President and government. A list compiled by the French police indicated that President Ali Bongo, son of Omar Bongo, who ruled uncontested for 40 years, owns at least 39 real estate locations in France alone, including a home bought two years ago in Paris for Euro 18.9 million, in addition to 70 bank accounts, 2 Ferrari cars, 6 Mercedes, Bugati and Maybach bought since 2004 for Euro 390,795! Keep on trucking. The Goals are in hand!


If some of the statements attributed to certain visiting officials at G-20 Seoul summit sounded slightly off-key, it may have been because of jetlag. Both government officials and journalist who flew thousands of miles to get there had little time to sleep and lots of intricate issues to handle. Korean hosts did their utmost to maintain a smooth flow of traffic, comfortable accommodations, and very disciplined security measures; they did everything within their control to ensure success. Geography, however, is another question. Those who thought they could leap out of an airplane after a few hours flight and promptly re-negotiate the world's financial meltdown found out that their worst adversary was sleep deprivation. The main divide was not between overvalued and devalued currencies, but between those who had time to sleep and others who didn't.


Back to the future. Remember the Bougie Bougie. The newest dance thing in New York is the Dougie. Its main song is "Teach me how to dance, teach how to Dougie." It's closer to rap. There's lots of acrobatics. Young men and women swirl around themselves, twisting and turning: "Everybody done it." There is even room for a "Soufi" robed fellow moving in a trance. When CNN's Wolf Blitzer co-hosted the "Soul Train Awards," he had to display some moves before introducing the winners. He tried. He really tried hard. But the soul train seemed to have left the station.


There was a time, long ago perhaps, when Gina Lollobrigida was described as the most beautiful woman in the world. She was in Hollywood, Cinecita, everywhere, breaking down strong men and inspiring young ones. She was recently in New York as a photographer. Hanging around an Italian restaurant on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, she was talking about the difference between the Old and the New World. While in the Big Apple, hardly anyone would notice her, while in Italy even young doctors compete to treat her so that they could brag they saw Gina Lollobrigida totally naked. She is new 83. Time tells. But she is still going strong, unfettered and affectionate. Age is a state of mind and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when Gina feels good, she is certainly "la piu bella del mondo."


Gambia's pro-government Daily Observer recently reported several awards given by the outside world to President Yahya Jammeh. In addition to a fictitious "Platinum Award 2009 by President Barrack (sic) Obama," there was an award for "Admiral of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska." As anyone who would have to look at a U.S. map will find out, Nebraska is land-locked. It has no sea and no admiral. The title, however, has been used as a local joke amongst the residents; but it was taken seriously by "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh," sole ruler and undisputed President of the State of Gambia.


Now that the annual general conferences of Non-Governmental Organizations accredited to the U.N. were being held outside headquarters, the next conference will be held in Bonn, Germany, from 3 - 5 September 2011. This year it was held in Australia, the year before in Mexico -- while the first one in 2008 was held in Paris. While we have several comments to make on the preparation and substance and impact of these flying conferences, we will withhold comment for the time being to see which way the forthcoming one is going.


In addition to Cypriot Turks, German Turks, British Turks and, of course, U.S. Turks, it was discovered recently that there are also Lebanese Turks. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an official visit to Beirut on 24 November, he made a special effort to travel to the town of "Kwathra" in the northern region of Akkar where people speak Turkish, dress Turkish, welcome their guests with Turkish music, and raises the Turkish flag at its official school. Erdogan's portrait was carried by thousands along those of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with a focus on his middle name, Tayeb, which in Arabic means "a very good man."


To celebrate its National Day, 18 November, the Sultanate of Oman found the appropriate place away from the pathetic space at the interim prefab compound. Its Ambassador, the aristocratic intellectual Fuad Al-Hinai, selected Cipriani on 42nd Street to hold an elegant reception worthy of his country and its Sultan. Not overdone nor frugal. Just the right balance with a delicious selection of food and refreshment in a spacey hall. His talented wife, Hunaina Al-Mughairy, who by the way is Oman's Ambassador in Washington, D.C., stood with him to graciously receive well wishers. After a brief speech marking the occasion, both went round chatting with their guests who varied from senior diplomats representing major member states to civil society leaders. A welcome presence was that of hard-working U.N. Secretariat staff who do their best to support accredited missions, like those working in Protocol or General Assembly, Political Affairs and interpretation. It was also a pleasure to see our former colleague Lyutha Al-Mughairy, now Director of the Minister's Office with the rank of Ambassador. She was on her way back home from a U.S. visit. All staff of that mission -- senior and junior -- did their best. For example, in addition to the Ambassador, his wife and Deputy, an Assistant, Zeina, who looked simply beautiful in an Arab dress, never stopped moving about to ensure, with a cheerful smile, that all was well.


In his newly-issued book, "Decision Time," former U.S. President George W. Bush, mentions a visit to his ranch by then Saudi Crown Prince, now King Abdullah, who was furious because the U.S. President had not taken forceful action with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to lift an encirclement of Palestinian leader Arafat. After a brief exchange, he was told by the interpreter that the Prince was preparing to leave. The President tried to persuade him by talking about sharing a deep religious faith and, having gotten nowhere, about his attachment to the ranch, two issues which he had been told were close to his guest's heart. As a final try, the President suggested a drive through the ranch. In an isolated spot, they found a female turkey in the middle of the road; she refused to budge and the President wouldn't, of course, run over her. During that stalemate, the Prince patted on the President's hand. It may have been a signal from Heaven. They returned to continue their talk.


You know that De Mistura has something to do with it when even an official of the reportedly corrupt Afghan government expresses doubt about a U.N. statement. Since his move to Kabul, "Abu Chatterjee" as he was known in Iraq (guess why?), has generally kept low key, except for trying to carry favour with the Agha Khan. Now, he issued a statement endorsing the results of elections which were generally described as rigged. The Afghan Attorney General issued a formal terse statement indicating that the U.N. announcement was "premature," adding that such posturing was "a huge tragedy for the Afghan nation." The outcome reportedly ensured that the new Parliament will be dominated by warlords and other power brokers -- just the type of people who apparently fascinate "De Mess."


"Arab Women and Future" Society in its fourth recent meeting in Beirut honoured our star woman colleague in New York, Raghida Dergham, Director of Al-Hayat office at U.N. Headquarters. Under a theme "Pioneering in Social Responsibility," the group also honoured former Lebanese Minister Leila Solh Hamade, Chairperson of Al-Walid Foundation, daughter of Lebanon's Independence leader and Suheir Al Ali, member of Jordan's House of Dignitaries. A gala was held at Beirut Intercontinental Hotel, chaired by the group's President, Lebanese member of Parliament Ms. Bahia Hariri.


Lebanon's Consul General in New York, Antoine Azzam, and his gracious wife welcomed an impressive number of Lebanese and expatriates 22 November at their residence near Fifth Avenue. During the last few years since he took over, Consul General Azzam has reached out to potential friends, strengthened links with other consular colleagues, and -- together with his wife -- projected a cultured positive image of his country. One helpful initiative was starting a website to inform about events by the Lebanese community and possible suggestion by interested civilians. A confident diplomat with a smile makes all the difference.


In a leaked report by investigators of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, it is mentioned that one of the purported perpetrators who was charged with collecting and destroying cell phones used in the operation, discovered that one of them had ample time still available. He thought of exploiting it to telephone his girlfriend; thus exposing himself and the network. Criminal, idiot, and horny too!


In his days as a talented football (soccer) player, David Beckham had a warm-hearted film drawn on his name, "Playing Like Beckham." Now that he's a spoiled brat making millions on exhibit games in Los Angeles and elsewhere, he still thinks he can pronounce himself on serious World Cup questions. His designation to present the British claim for hosting the Cup was a strategic mistake, blinded by P.R. rather than realistic calculations. Certainly, some socialites in London would have to rub elbows with him and his wife Victoria (both famous now merely for being famous), but no one takes him seriously anymore. The country that once prided itself on the most football-dedicated people deserved better representation. Beckham should not have failed his own country.


Modern technology
Owes ecology
An apology
-- Alan M. Eddison


Nothing you can't spell will ever work.
-- Will Rogers (1924)


Richard Wagner is a composer whose music is better than it sounds.


What does Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, Mexican gorgeous actress Selma Hayek, and Columbian exquisite singer Shakira have in common? Their fathers come from the same town in the plateau of Mount Lebanon, the scenic lush green bountiful "Zahleh," midway between Beirut and Damascus. It is known for its tasty food, especially fresh cheese, soft bread wraps, and the best "Arak" in the world.


I look in the mirror
And what do I see?
A strange looking person
That cannot be me.

For I am much younger
And not nearly so fat
As that face in the mirror
I am looking at.

Oh, where are the mirrors
That I used to know
Like the ones which were
Made thirty years ago?

Now all things have changed
And I'm sure you'll agree
Mirrors are not as good
As they used to be.

So never be concerned
If wrinkles appear
For one thing I've learned
Which is very clear,

Should your complexion
Be less than perfection
It is really the mirror
That needs correction!!
-- Edmund Burke, Irish Philosopher, 1729 - 1797


Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan, Ambassador Byrganym Aitimova, gave an impressive reception at her mission to celebrate the national day on 9 December. It happened to be the eve of Human Rights day with events happening elsewhere; yet diplomats from all missions found time to drop by on 47th Street to extend best wishes to her country and its government. A member since 1992, Kazakhstan has had active representation at the United Nations and a predominant role in nuclear disarmament. Just recently, the Secretary General visited Almaty to participate in a summit on Security Co-operation.


The International Human Rights Day, a commemoration of the day when The Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed was celebrated by U.N. staff and supporters around the world. With the current dispersal of staff in New York, nothing much was done except for a statement by the Secretary General. A popular event was hosted on 9 December at the Ford Foundation Auditorium under the heading: "Get up, Stand Up, Speak Up - Stop Discrimination," a twist on Bob Marley's famous song. Ky-Mani Marley participated. On 10 December in Geneva, a lecture and discussion was held with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It focused on grass root efforts. As usual, UN Information Centres around the world carried the main events in various capitals.


It was with deep sorrow that we learned of the passing away of Ambassador Edouard Ghorrah, who had served Lebanon and the International community with great distinction as Permanent Representative to the United Nations. During a very difficult period, Ambassador Ghorrah made every effort to reflect a unified presence and maintained effective contact with all parties. An intellectual with exquisite taste and a diplomat with proven experience, he gained crucial support for his country and earned the respect of his peers as well of his staff and compatriots. One of his remaining accomplishments is the establishment of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which is now based in Beirut. While in New York, he built extensive friendships with varied diplomats who later took leadership roles in their countries, including U.S./U.N. Ambassadors, later President George Herbert Walker Bush. He was an intellectual of the first degree and perhaps the owner of the best Byzantine icons in the the world. May his soul rest in Peace.


Rarely mentioned, but very much a crucial player in U.N./China relations was Huang Hua, who just passed away. Rising in revolutionary China as one of the young, brilliant strategists, he became known to the West first as he accompanied American journalist Edgar Snow in his first interview with Chairman Mao Zedong. He was the Chinese official to first meet Dr. Henry Kissinger in his secret visit to Beijing on behalf of President Nixon. Charged with following closely the "restoration of the rights of the Peoples Republic of China" at the U.N., he bided his time in Ottawa as Ambassador to Canada, then showed up at the U.N. General Assembly position after a successful vote, then Permanent Representative to the U.N. in 1971. Earlier, he played an active role in negotiating the end of the Korean War and the 1954 Geneva Conference. During a brilliant career, Huang Hua dealt with the world's most powerful personalities, maintaining Beijing policy guidelines while having a flexible -- and sometimes jovial -- approach. At the U.N. in New York, he was known for his easy accessibility to even junior Secretariat staff. He was extremely tough on instructions, particularly in public posturing, while noting the potential of a deal if he sensed an opening. No doubt, he was one of China's most charismatic foreign envoys. He died this month at age 97.


A legendary figure in New York public life, Elaine Kaufman was a larger than life presence at her famous restaurant on 88th Street and 2nd Avenue. Politicians, city officials, reporters, sports figures, anyone with a claim on a piece of the Big Apple aspired to a prominent seat in a nearby table; everyone dreaded being sent to "Siberia" in the very back. Elaine was the first to realize poorly paid waiters, when well-treated, could draw the most influential crowd. When opening her restaurant, she extended credit to then unknown, future authors and editors who spread the word. One of her most famous lines was when she responded to someone asking about the way to the toilet: "Just on your right, past Michael Cane." Elaine passed away this month at age 81.