1 February 2013


Upon his election as Secretary General as of 2007, Ban Ki-moon faced two practical handicaps: his residence was being refurbished, and his office was been reconstructed. He had to live in temporary quarters in a new cosmopolitan city like New York, and he had to work from an interim pre-fab on the North Lawn. It took more than his first term to take-over his actual office. He was clearly thrilled. The day he moved in Monday, 17 December, he relayed to his visitors how the Compound was updated in terms of space, security and health conditions. Stressing eco-friendly modern systems, he said that the renovation has reduced at least 50% of the energy required and 40% of carbon production. Let's hope that staff production will increase considerably when they attain their right to return.


"On Friday evening, 5th November (1993), Aime came to my office (we always went to him) and informed me that the Secretary General had decided to replace me with the Lebanese Samir Sanbar, who was a director of DPI before going to represent the U.N. in Eritrea. Sanbar had recently returned to New York, had reinstalled himself in his former office at the other end of the tenth floor, and we saw each other frequently. He was a typical seasoned U.N. official and therefore prudent and scheming, but also intelligent and, when, he wanted, nice (and we had a cordial relationship). It was fine and I promised the greatest cooperation, confirming that I would put my resignation in writing so that I could officially prepare my successor for his new position; but I would leave only in January, after I had done what was left to do, so that something at least remained of my work. Aime agreed. At nine o'clock in the morning of Monday 8th November I wrote my resignation, with effect from 17th January, 1994 and assured the Secretary General that I would do everything possible to cooperate with my successor in a friendly and effective transition. At 12, Joe Sills announced at his daily press conference that I had resigned with effect from 17th January, that the Secretary General had accepted my resignation, confirming me in the title and rank of Assistant-Secretary General for Public Information until that day, that Samir Sanbar had been appointed to replace me, always with effect from 17th January -- and that Samir Sanbar had been appointed Officer in Charge from the next day. With the "stealth and sudden violence," he had earlier proclaimed, Boutros-Ghali had saved the forms and also thrown me out with immediate effect."
-- Marco Vianello-Chiodo in Under-Soldier


Turkey's shrewd Prime Minister is very popular with his Islamist public. He plays up to them. Keeps them at bay, while making international deals. Some theatrics are always in order, but to a degree. Most recently, he unusually went for a cross between Santa Claus and Lawrence of Arabia during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp inside Turkey. The Arab "Abaya" overcoat was somehow passable. It was the headdress that looked almost comic. Certainly it was not a headdress fit for a Sultan -- as he seems to be referring to historic Turkish and Seljuk emperors in his national rhetoric. No Arab Sheikh would be caught wearing it. Whoever advised him to wear it must have been joking -- or plotting!


"Grant me wings so I can get quickly to the point."
-- Chuck Hagel, designated U.S. Secretary of Defense


Could the fate of Syria be decided -- however partially -- by three Bs. Geneva II, which is repeatedly mentioned as a basis for a political settlement, the three main negotiators are: Lakhdar Brahimi, Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, and William Burns, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State. Three experienced reasonable and capable individuals reflecting varied tendencies yet a mutual target: finding a way out of a continued costly bloody strife that hit one of the most strategic countries in one of the most strategic regimes. If they manage to find a political outcome -- inch by squeezing inch -- they would deserve to turn into the "A Team." It's a big "If."


It was long overdue. Dan Williams, the irrepressible Scot, who was the real force behind starting the U.N. Correspondents dinner (and helped open the U.N. Secretariat to reporters), finally received an award during a recent event. It reminded a drinking pal of a story about a jolly Scotsman wearing his kilts who got totally drunk at a dinner party and passed out. Two curious females walked by to check what's underneath; one of them pulled a ribbon from her hair and tied it around down under. When the Scotsman woke up and saw the ribbon he applauded his kilt: "I don't know where you've been or what you've done but am sure glad you won first prize!" Enjoy your prize, Dan. The rest will follow.


A versatile and dedicated international civil servant with a proven record in management and finance, Warren Sach, will be leaving. His post at Assistant-Secretary General level is being advertised. Many hopefuls are expected to apply, mainly from the administrative and budgetary side of the diplomatic missions. Although such posts require inside knowledge and insider contacts, the trend reportedly is to go for an outsider. Perhaps because Warren is a U.K. citizen, some mention Richard Moon, the U.K. member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) who has substantial knowledge of the Secretariat mechanisms. There are several others fairly qualified and influential competitors, but none have the institutional memory. The main point is that the retirement of Warren Sach is a loss to the U.N. Secretariat.


Creative artist in her free time and a hard-working U.N. staffer, Marlene Tremblay returned to New York after some years in Montreal. She first worked at DPI, her former Department, where she was assistant to her compatriot, Under-Secretary General Therese Paquet-Sevigny. She is now helping at the Spokesman's Office, handling press queries and preparing feedback notes to the Secretary General's Office. As usual, despite pressing work Marlene remains as pleasant and reassuring as ever. She also maintains her artistic talent: photography, painting with an irrepressible smile.


Carlos Ruiz Massieu is not a U.N. household name. But as of January 2013, he will have special influence on the U.N. Secretariat. A member of the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the U.N., he is the new Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions -- known internally as ACABQ. No budget is available without its recommendations. Habitually, its Presidents who establish themselves, become very well known -- sometimes feared -- by heads of Departments and directors who have to appear before it. Conrad Mselle is a prominent example. He "instilled the fear of God" as they would say amongst officials preparing their survival kits. Carlos' Vice President is U.K. delegate Richard Moon, an expert in the field. So is Peter Maddens of Belgium, a real pillar of budgetary negotiations. One of its new members is Tesfa Seyoum of Eritrea, an indication that the proud hard-working self-reliant country is moving ahead, despite many challenges. The sixteen-member committee is elected by the General Assembly.


We received the following from a colleague:

Salary of retired US Presidents .............$180,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of House/Senate .......................$174,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of Speaker of the House .............$223,500 FOR LIFE

Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders ....... $193,400 FOR LIFE

Average Salary of a Teacher ............... $40,065

Average Salary of Soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN ....... $38,000


Gilberto Schlittler, former Assistant Secretary General visited New York for a while and left at the beginning of the New Year. Once a pillar of the Security Council affairs, Gilberto was in touch with many former colleagues and closely following political developments. As he returns to his native Sao Paulo, we look forward to remaining his insight on the affairs of the Organization for which he dedicated his considerable talent.


"Once you've got a man seated, you've got him at your mercy."
-- W.C. Fields in Mississippi


In Spanish it means war. In Arabic interpretation it's Harb. That's how the name of Jose Guerra, the Minister of Environment in the new Mexican government is derived from Hanna Youssef Harb. His parents come from Lebanon. So are the families of four other new Mexican government Ministers. First is Mexico's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Meade Khoury, then Pedro Hakim, Minister of Energy, and Emilio Chuayffet Chemor, Minister of Public Education.


While former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush was hospitalized during the Holiday season, many former U.N. staff with institutional memory prayed for his speedy recovery. The 41st U.S. President was one of the most understanding of the U.N. role and of the U.S. role as its Host Country. He had served as Permanent Representative in New York during the Seventies and, together with his outstanding wife Barbara, made so many friends. As President, even when determined to overcome an invasion of Kuwait, he worked with all other members of the Security Council and formed an international coalition to liberate Kuwait. Although a German newspaper rushed to claim his passing away, we hear that President 41 is back home, surrounded by his affectionate large family. We wish him a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.


Former Joint U.N./African Union Envoy Professor Ibrahim Gambari is coping with several other assignments after resigning his post in Darfar. He will soon be off to Singapore to take up a Distinguished Fellowship Award at a leading School of International Studies there. This will give him an opportunity to teach, reflect and write about conflict resolution and mediation experiences at the U.N. for almost three decades. The Fellowship is for a six-month period. Concurrently, the African Union has requested him to Chair a group to review AMISOM with a view to re-configuring it along the lines of a possible hybrid mission. In between, he will be visiting New York from time to time. His friends at U.N. Headquarters would hope to see him between hurried assignments.


A group of Lebanese journalists will be visiting Korea upon invitation of its troops in UNIFIL, South Lebanon. The usually shy soldiers have been very careful in dealing with the locals; but, wisely, they have started to court their host population and display genuine interest. Before the arrival of the battalion, very little was known in Lebanon about that advancing Asian country. Only a limited number of journalists knew something about the North/South Korean divide and mainly through contacts by their embassies in Beirut. The North Korean embassy mainly circulated speeches -- at the time -- by Kim II Sung while the embassy of the South offered ginseng. Now, hopefully, it is people to people. Or at least, reporters to readers.


Decisions by Egypt's Moslem Brotherhood President Morsi to claim uncontested authority under the veil of Islamic law has driven a usually jovial Egyptian public to sarcasm. A film "Let's Dance" should become "Let's Pray;" "My father over a Tree" should become "Father over a Minaret;" a sex comedy "The Danish Experience" changed to "The Turkish Experiment;" a "Vist to Amsterdam" would be diverted to "Kandahar;" a "Citizen and an Informer" would become "Citizen and Religious Guide;" the motto of Moslem Brotherhood: "We Bring Welfare to Egypt" was re-interpreted as "We Carry Lemons." Aladdin of Lamp's fame reportedly asked a Brotherhood leader for his wishes; he asks for a new bridge connecting Egypt with the U.S. It wa very difficult, Aladdin responded; anything else? Brother asked for the Egyptian people to love his party and re-elect him in the next referendum. Aladdin then responded: perhaps the bridge would be easier.


The post of National Officer in Tunis is now open, as its incumbent retired at the end of 2012. With revolutionary changes that started in Tunisia and spread throughout the Arab region, a new appointment will test the ability of those presently in charge of such issues at the Department of Public Information to navigate between competing forces. With an Islamist party running the current government, women -- and Tunisian women are a lively irrepressible force -- will be seeking to assert their rights in the face of repressive shadowy figures. The best advice is to have a very clear list of qualifications in a transparent inclusive process; and may the best man -- or let's hope WOMAN -- win.


She was appointed in the so-called European Regional Office, a dysfunctional costly U.N. venture, by Shashi Tharoor, mainly to promote his ambitions with the European community. They had lunch at Le Perigord weeks after Annan took over and Shashi was still his newly assigned "Communications Director" D-2. She first wanted to make sure that her husband in Geneva got valuable attention; then -- with her French Connections -- managed to get the Brussels post after its announcement was re-drafted to allow for her inexperience in management. In return, during the campaign to succeed Mr. Annan, a fake press report was invented by the Brussels office quoting former Secretary General Perez de Cuellar as supporting the election of a "Communicator" -- an invention quietly shelved. She has been instigating her former press colleagues in New York and disinforming government informers about international civil servants who dedicated their lives -- and risked them -- for the U.N., while she enjoyed the benefits of a post for which she was not qualified. No need to go further; until further notice.


Santa Claus called when you were away.


Santa Monica Spa called when you were out.


"We did nothing special throughout the year; but at least no one resigned."


"Asked about a Monday concert at the U.N., the Spokesperson said that the U.N. was aware that some people were offended by the encore song at the concert held in the General Assembly on Monday. He expressed sincere regret that people were offended by this song, which was not listed in the official programme. The Secretary General, he added, obviously was not aware what the song was about or the use that had been made of it in the past." End of statement issued on Thursday, 18 January. Puzzled. Not if you know that the concert was sponsored by the Serbian President of the U.N. General Assembly Vuc Jeremic, who is desperately trying to prove his credentials at home, where he is no longer Foreign Minister. The offending song: Mars na Drina (March on the Drina river) was often sung by Serbian militants in attacks during the 1990's war in Bosnia. Not to be fazed, Jeremic's Office said he was offended by those offended. It was a "highly regrettable attempt at twisting the meaning of our musical gift offered to the world." Actually, Jeremic went on, the song was associated "with the bravery of Serbian soldiers who fought in World War One." That it was associated with the massacre by certain Serbian forces of 8000 Muslim men in Srebrenica was not of concern to the U.N. General Assembly President.


Between December 2012 and January 2013, the appointment of Kevin Kennedy was announced twice for two different assignments. The first was as Special Envoy to Haiti, and the second as Acting head of U.N. Security. Friends of Kevin Kennedy were wondering which was the accurate appointment -- both entailed a promotion, what confused them was that there were at least TWO Kevin Kennedys at the U.N. Secretariat. Both with a sterling record of dedication and hard work, both U.S. citizens. The one we knew well -- and encouraged much -- was the Kevin who had worked in the Department of Public Information then moved to Peacekeeping. To be more specific: the husband of the outstanding Xena and father of blossoming Alexandra. The other Kevin Kennedy, 1 or 2 on U.N. email address, is similarly pleasant and qualified. The confusion has been going on for years, even for those who knew them well. They have been exchanging invoices, complimentary notes, and seemingly odd contacts almost regularly. Anyway, upon further enquiry, we discovered the new Acting head of U.N. Security is not our former DPI colleague but his namesake, who had just accomplished a mission in Haiti. We join Kevin 1 and 2 in exchanging compliments and best wishes on a challenging assignment.


We received the following very careful advice on holiday greetings:

Before everyone goes on leave I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting, but it is difficult in today's world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyer colleagues yesterday, and on their advice I wish to say the following:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gender neutral celebration of the Winter solstice holiday practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2013, but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that the USA is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferrable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/him or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. The wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Best Regards (without prejudice)

Name withheld (Privacy Act)


(From Sic Semper Tyrannis)


If you had paid for a book on the promise that it will be signed by the author; if you had just listened for at least 45 minutes to the author responding to questions; if you were a U.N. staffer, delegate, or NGO and the author is former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; if you were told to stand in line immediately after the talk to get a signature; if you already asked for that signature when you were requested to speak into the microphone...will you just fold up and dispense when the moderator swiftly and in vague language, tells you to disappear because time was running out? As Kofi Annan's talk, officially noted as book signing, was taking additional "one more question -- maybe two," there was an exchange of paper message between the "moderator," Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson and new DPI head Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal. A woman had dashed in moments earlier -- it was just after 1pm -- to hand a hurried note. As a somewhat perplexed Eliasson read a garbled statement that the guest speaker had to keep a lunch appointment with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, none of the men and women standing in line (book in hand) seemed to budge. Neither did the general audience which turned into circles of milling crowds. Given the sensitivity between the outgoing and incumbent Secretaries-General, the newly-appointed Swede most likely had a somewhat delicate explaining to do -- perhaps in Korean!


"Nothing is so pathetic as the expression on the face of a man who is being complimented."
-- Andre Gide


Press reports on fighting in Mali mentioned a name of one of the leaders of a militant group which sounded familiar to some diplomats in the Arab region. "Ansar Ed-Dine," militant leader Iyad Ghali, was once Consul of Mali in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A member of Tuareg tribe (known as the Blue tribes for powdering their faces in blue before going to battle), he was known as a pleasant helpful diplomat who worked closely with his colleagues from other countries -- many of whom will be wondering what has happened. Most amongst those perceived would-be members of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Would they know other "former diplomats," say in Syria or Iraq now?!


There is talk among French journalistic aides that veteran investigative reporter George Malbrunot will be coming out shortly with a book indicating the countries and individuals who have been paying for the movement, training, and travel of armed fighters in Syria. Malbrunot is a veteran Middle East correspondent, was stationed in Baghdad, Beirut, Jerusalem, Cairo and other capitals for twenty years. He mainly reports to Le Figero and is known to have excellent inside sources. Since the killing of French photographer Gille Jacquier, ace reporter for France 2 Television, in Homs, Syria, Malbrunot has focused on the outside powers behind the foreign fighters and local rebels, including Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and the Prime Minister of Qatar. It should be interesting, especially coming out in Paris, where many Syrian opposition figures have been residing for years.


A tribunal in France just started the trial of several French citizens accused in the Food-for-Oil implemented by the U.N. in the Nineties. Among those accused are former senior government officials like Charles Pasqua, French diplomats (including one Permanent Rep to the U.N. in New York), and President of French oil company Total. Some may have already forgotten the infamous scandal that engulfed the U.N. and its Secretariat a decade ago involving Secretary General Kofi Annan. Although hundreds of diplomats, government officials, and businessmen around the world were openly mentioned, no one was officially held accountable in a legal trial. The recent action by a French court is the only one dealing directly with that venture. Better late than never. Perhaps we will hear something new; or perhaps -- as the French would say -- some old wine would be placed in new bottles. Let's see.


American neo-conservative political promoter Robert Kagan whose thoughts on military interventions flourished a decade ago after describing America as Mars and Europe as Venus just came out with a "new philosophy." According to The New York Times of Sunday, 20 January, in an obviously clueless review of France's military role in light of its involvement in Mali, Professor Kagan declared: "If the French were ready to go, we should go." Apparently the distance between Mars and Venus is a short hop.


Apropos the Gray Lady, a special feature on that Sunday followed our tireless advisor on politically correct talk, Professor Jeffrey Sachs from his townhouse near Columbia University down Columbus Avenue to Columbus Circle, then back through Broadway with a special stop at Zabar's when he is observed observing the crafting of a lox salmon. His wife "Dr. Sonia" is also featured, with a cellphone, of course. So were his sister, mother, and daughters, all spread conveniently around the neighborhood to allow for a family reunion at a favored restaurant. The article would not conclude before informing us about his "last walk" (to a fruit shop), and "last talk:" "I give a speech at 10:30 or 11:00 at night for a talk in Asia. I close the door, see the family the next day." Now you can all go to sleep.


On the chest of a barmaid in Yale
Were tattooed the prices of ale;
And on her behind
For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in Braille.


The annual Nadia Younnes Memorial Lecture at the American University in Cairo will be held this year on Monday 4 February. The guest speaker, Dr. Nabil Elaraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States and Former Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, will talk about "Nadia Younnes: A Shining Start in the World of International Civil Servants." Dr. Elaraby was Permanent Representative of Egypt to the U.N. when Nadia served as a Director at the Department of Public Information and Chief of Protocol before she went to Baghdad for the ultimate sacrifice.


The (Greek) Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East elected Metropolit Youhanna Yaziji, the head of its congregation in Europe as the new Patriarch. He succeeds Patriarch Gregories Hazim, who passed away in December. The ringing of church bells at Belmand, North Lebanon, announced a swift agreement amongst the gathering Bishops on the new leader of the largest Christian denominations in the Arab world. The new Patriarch was born 1955 in the Syrian port of Latakiyyah. After studying civil engineering, he played a leading role among youth, forming a prominent group chanting Byzantine prayers. He studied in the religious school of Belmand and earned a Doctorate from the University of Salonika, Greece. In his first speech after election, the new Patriarch pointedly said, referring to persecution during the current conflict on Syria by some extremist armed group: "We are of this land; this region; this earth. We are an integral part of this land." Upon announcing the outcome of the election, all the assembled clergy and parish proclaimed together the traditional "Oxiox. Oxios." in Greek: "He is worthy. He is worthy."


U.S. Senator Chris Murphy -- sworn in alongside his wife Catherine and son, Owen, who also raised his hand!


The five new Security Council non-permanent members took over their seats by the beginning of January 2013 for a period of two years. They are: Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Korea and Rwanda. That means a difference of political handling from the outgoing five. For example, with Rwanda's membership, a discussion of the U.N. Peacekeeping in the Congo will take a different turn, particularly that U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice is fully supportive of Rwanda. Korea means closer support -- and more confidence -- for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Argentina may entail a different handling of the newly raised Falkland/Malvinas Islands conflict with Permanent Council member, the U.K. Luxembourg is usually very careful and joins the European consensus, if any. Australia usually offers lively representatives whom remain within the general framework. Interesting to watch the nuances.