15 January 2010

CANCELLED VISIT:

An advance announcement caused the cancellation of a visit by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura. The President, who had known UNIFIL Force Commander Gaziani from his days of commanding the Lebanese army, wanted to make a farewell visit to the Italian General before he leaves Naqoura next month. The trip would have started with a first stop at the headquarters of the Spanish contingent in the village of Blat; a helicopter would have then carried the President, UNIFIL Commander, Lebanese army commander, and Defense Minister on a tour of the Blue Line along the borders, concluding in Naqoura for an official standing down ceremony. However, UNIFIL press office started contacting the press the day before hoping to get widespread publicity, without realizing the sensitive security situation of unduly alerting everyone in a deadly neighbourhood to the expected arrival of the highest official in the country. Early morning the following day, the unannounced trip was quietly cancelled.

BACKCHANNELS:

A veteran observer noted that an Iranian heavyweight politician, current Parliament Speaker, former nuclear negotiator, permanent whisperer to real authority holders, appeared suddenly in Cairo. His announced meeting with President Mubarak drew attention because Egypt and Iran have no diplomatic relations. They were cut off since Teheran named one of its main streets after the assassin of President Sadat. What was Larijani doing in Cairo, meeting not just the President but the very secretive and active Chief of Intelligence General Suleiman. Adding to the puzzle was a decision by President Mubarak, who rarely traveled recently, to leave Cairo unexpectedly for an unscheduled tour to some Gulf capitals? Perhaps unrelated, but maybe relevant, the Iranian official currently handling nuclear negotiations Said Jalili appeared in Tokyo. unforum had mentioned earlier the potential wider role by the new Japanese head of the International Atomic Energy Agency as a discreet backchannel between Iran, the West (of which Japan is an integrated ally), and the Gulf. There is increased talk about a deal that would entail placing an agreed amount of enriched uranium "temporarily" in an agreed location; the resort Iranian island of "Kich" was mentioned. Many whispers, but nothing apparently surfacing as a headline. What's going on?

TOYODA TOYOTA:

A new chief for the Japanese automobile company carries an almost identical name as the company. The boss of Toyota is now Mr. Toyoda. That's not to say that the Japanese industry is continuing to copy -- with better results -- American companies, like Ford being run by a Mr. Ford. They have already outlived it. Now Japanese cars like Lexus or Toyota are more inclined to copy German cars like Mercedes.

ABDALLAH ABDALLAH:

The name was repeated almost daily in newspaper stories covering Afghanistan Presidential elections. He was the stand-in or stand-by candidate to challenge, irritate, or replace Karzai, as the bargaining process may require. A Taqik intellectual and former Mujahid, Abdallah has served for a while as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and attended several sessions of the General Assembly dressed in fashionable western clothing. This summer he had to resort to traditional garb including the obligatory round hat. Most Afghans call him merely Abdallah. Foreigners mention his name as Abdallah Abdallah. Officially, he is Abdallah Abdallah Abdallah.

FOGHE LOKKE:

While the Copenhagen summit on Climate Change preoccupied the world throughout December, no one seemed to recognize the name of the official host, Denmark's Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. With over 100 heads of states and governments, he was amongst the least noted by the rest of the world. Except for opening and closing statements, he was rarely mentioned in the heated bargaining sessions to reach a consensus. Before his name is totally forgotten for good, it should be mentioned that part of the confusion relates to his last name. His predecessor, who actually extended the initial invitation, is Andes "Fogh" Rasmussen, and the one before him who had reviewed the initial idea, was Poul "Nyrop" Rasmussen. Too many Rasmussens and not even one agreed FCCC.

HONDA/FONDA:

Jane Fonda, actress, former political activist, exercise instructor, former Ted Turner wife, has her name in a rap song widely used by rappers in parties during the holiday season. If you're into it, one line goes: "More junk in her trunk than a Honda. I know you wanna do Jane Fonda." Nothing our distinguished leader -- part-time rapper -- would do!

ROGER/RAJA:

Roger Moore, James Bond actor and UNICEF envoy, lives most of the year in the town of St. Paul du Vence in Southern France. His neighbour is a Lebanese/Syrian intellectual and enlightened businessman Raja Sidowi. A couple of years ago, Moore's son married Sidawi's daughter. Over Christmas, a newborn child lit the hearts of the two families. The parents decided to name the boy after his male grandparents: Roger Raja.

WOK ON-BY:

It may be a Korean habit, or possibly Chinese, but it was noted that a number of individuals with certain Asian features would walk by the Copenhagen Conference rooms or gatherings of delegates merely to gaze at one thing or another then move on. Every one of them held a camera with different shapes but one purpose -- to click as many quick lights as possible of anyone and anything in sight. When they were out of foreign groups, they hurriedly clicked on one another.

LOUIS DENOMINATOR:

Or lowest, depending on how you pronounce it. Most delegates moved energetically to negotiate with the highest ambition in mind, or at least to get solid agreement in time before the expiration of Kyoto. There were a limited few, however, who mainly thought of Copenhagen as a Gabfest, a talking festival where someone could keep talking inside and outside conference rooms, in the cafeterias, on the shrubs as long as no serious commitment was reached. Some of those fond of using impressive expressions like "paradigm" and "conceptual framework" seemed mainly interested in displaying their intellectual prowess not sharing in a joint effort to accomplish results. It was like Luis or Louis (whatever his name) was our lowest denominator.

TOUR DE FARCE:

The Secretary's General's Special Envoy to Cyprus, Alexander Downer, has been repeatedly questioned about conflict of interest with his consultancy firm "Bespoke," which supposedly sells "advice" to governments and business firms on international relations. With nothing to show since his designation a year ago, it was announced through a U.N. official bulletin that he made a tour to the divided island and met with differing leaders to explore varied and various options -- again with no visible results. A tour de farce, indeed.

DUMPED?:

Is it actress Susan Sarandon or Tim Robbins who was ceremoniously designated as a U.N. envoy for something? Both have been seen running around some U.N. corridor or another on the way to an appointment. Anyway, the story around town is that the 63 year old Susan has just dumped her 50 year old "husband." In a recent TV interview, she promoted a ping-pong night club, where membership entry is $100. A Manhattan website, Gawker, raised the question whether the formidable actress had dumped her younger partner in exchange for an even younger ping-pong "entrepreneur." It seems, for a while at least, Darfur will have to wait.

EMIRATES RULE:

You could bet that before the end of 2010 Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be visiting Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, and if it so desires, a citizen of the Emirates would be given a distinguished U.N. post, however symbolic. A $20 billion deal has just been announced with a Korean-led consortium to make the first nuclear power reactor in the Middle East. There was intense lobbying by French President Sarkozy who had visited the country to gain the deal for Electricite de France and Aera; also by a General Electric-Hitachi Japanese team. Korean President Lee Myung-bak who also made an urgent visit proudly announced: "We can now stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S., Japan, France and Russian in our advance into the international market." $20 billion is worth a persuasive phone call to Mr. Kim -- especially if it is local.

PAUSE:

  • Growing old is inevitable.
    Growing up is optional.
  • The man didn't say much;
    and when he did, he didn't say much.
  • The Danish national drink is beer.
    The Danish national weakness is another beer.

SHARIF ALI:

As world media reported the death of Jordanian army offer Captain Ali Zeid in a suicide bomber attack on a CIA outpost near the Afghan town of Khost, Jordanian authorities issued a statement that he had been martyred while serving on a humanitarian mission with U.N. forces in Afghanistan. Clearly, there are no U.N. "forces" -- at least not yet -- in Afghanistan. His body was received in Amman with full honours as the Royal family led by King Abdullah II and his wife Rania mourned him. Captain Ali is actually "Sharif" Ali Ben Zeid, a title that normally precedes the name of a very limited group of descendants of the Hashemite dynasty, which first ruled Mecca under Sharif Hassan, father of King Abdullah, first King of Jordan. His lineage is traced to Prophet Mohammad. Sharif Zeid was for a long while Chief of Staff of the Jordanian army, Prime Minister, and a close associate of King Hussein who passed away ten years ago. Sharif Ali Ben Zeid was killed in Afghanistan the day he was supposed to fly back home.

DEDICATED COLLEAGUES:

By year's end, an official count indicated that during 2009, 28 U.N. civilian staff and seven peacekeepers lost their lives during the course of their duties. Nine civilians were killed in Pakistan, seven in Afghanistan, five in the Gaza strip, and two in Somalia. More than two-thirds were national staff. In 2008, at least 34 staff lost their lives; 42 in 2007. For us, these are not just figures; they are friends and colleagues who dedicated their lives to accomplish the tasks entrusted to them by the Secretary General. Their painful loss is reminder that the real U.N. culture is that of decent, honest, enlightened and effective performance to the ultimate sacrifice. A reminder for all of us.

CLOSING SHOP:

In the U.N. General Assembly basement, by the U.N. Gift and Coffee Shops, there has been another ceiling collapse. This led to the closure of the U.N. Coffee Shop, leaving the only coffee available in international territory in the new North Lawn building. The scene there on December 28 was one of chaos. Workmen whitewashed the ceilings, wires stuck out of walls, U.N. Protocol staffers worked the phones as they moved in. Already there is delay. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had publicized a Town Hall meeting for staff on January 11, but staff told Inner City Press it had been slated for January 4. The space was not ready. Mr. Ban is said to have shouted about delay, including in staff mobility plans. Those who have ventured to Mr. Ban's new office on the building's third floor call it the Ban Cave, complete with enormous marble walled bathroom with stand up shower. It is set back from First Avenue, said to be a safety measure. If it is the Ban Cave, who is the Joker? One wag asks, who is Robin -- Ms. Migiro? Mr. Nambiar? The Dark Knight Mr. Kim? Forlorn on the first floor are two open areas with the brown chairs from the now closed Delegates Lounge. The areas are labeled, "Delegates Lounge." One wonders if, at night, drinks will be available. Where will the enormous tapestry of the Great Wall of China go? Already the new building is being analogized to a "high school or a Wal-Mart." Will diplomatic intrigue breathe life into it? Journalistic footnote: returning from the new building via the loading dock, one passes through Publishing. While last week it seemed that under Franz Baumann, the U.N. Journal would cease hard copy publication on January 1, from Vienna Mr. Baumann wrote in that it will continue to be printed for delegations. (A report by Matthew Russell Lee in Inner City Press.)

HOW BIASED?:

The New York Times reported the following from Copenhagen: "If the U.N. climate talks here are entering their final two days in virtual deadlock, it is in large measure because of delays and diversions created by a group of poor and emerging nations intent on making their dissatisfaction clear"!?

GAMBARI TO DARFUR:

With Myanmar now off the radar, its U.N. Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, has been designated as the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative in Darfur. Clearly, it is an excellent appointment of an experienced diplomat highly regarded in Africa and U.N. circles. We wish him success, although the delicate issue of Darfur may be facing very complex development with the upcoming Sudanese referendum on the potential split of the South. Sudan will be facing very trying days in the coming year; Professor Gambari will have his hands full. A substantive question is whether Secretary General Ban could have used the capable Gambari closer to his office. He has a vulnerable image on Africa, having accomplished very little on that front. Someone like the former Foreign Minister of Nigeria would have been much more useful for him in New York than in Darfur, where many forces at play could try to frustrate his mission. Anyway, although we suspect a very difficult time, let's hope for the best.

BBG:

In an hour-long interview with Egyptian Television, former Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the only regret he has at 87 is that he is unable to work as hard as he normally did. His advice to young people is work, work, work. He highlighted the worldwide issue of minorities which is handled very well by countries like Canada and Tanzania, but not as well by other countries he chose not to mention. He did not meet his U.N. nemesis Madeleine Albright since he left, he said, adding that he should have realized better and in time that he was not equal in influence and power to a superpower like the U.S. Asked about U.S. Presidents' approach to the U.N., he thought 41st President George Herbert Walker Bush particularly qualified having served in various impressive capacities before taking over. Throughout the interview, he seemed to make a point which was the title of his U.N.-related book: "Unvanquished."

JOE'S FRENCH:

Our formidable former Spokesman for the Secretary General, Joe Sills, who is now happily residing in his beloved state of Tennessee, has drawn our attention that Fred Eckhart was not the only Spokesman who did not speak French. At the time, the Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Ghali was himself Francophone to the point of an open split. And while Joe rarely spoke the language, we got a general impression that he always had a soft spot for the right French Connection! Let's see you soon, Joe.

CRAZY:

Like most Asians, Indonesians like to sing American jazz songs in their own way and their own account. Former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos who took temporary refuge in Manhattan, delighted her neighbors with birthday parties which she almost always concluded with her own rendition of "Because of You." A few blocks further, the wife of another former Indonesian President, Mrs. Sukarno, who by the way was Japanese, was fond of remembering another romantic song "Crazy...Crazy for You." Apropos crazy Indonesians, who also happen to have their own sense of humour describe their former Presidents as follows: Sukarno was crazy about women, Suharto was crazy about money, Habibie was simply crazy and Wahid drove everyone crazy. As to the current President, it is always advisable to wait until he leaves.

SNUB:

The Queen's Honour List is the most closely watched announcement of the holiday season in England. It reflects the real status, not only of those listed but also those overlooked. This year, a veteran observer noted the absence of the name of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Usually an outgoing Premier is remembered on the list, like Lady Thatcher, in the years following their departure. It has been 2 1/2 years since Mr. Blair left. Due to the confidentiality of the process, it is not clear whether his name was not presented by his successor and former Deputy, or it had been turned down by Buckingham Palace.

GUESS WHO:

"She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said be careful his bow tie is really a camera!"
From a song by Simon & Garfunkel

WHO?:

A former chief of military intelligence in a Middle Eastern country was found dead of a heart attack in a Vienna hotel. He was 56.

CLARK'S VIOLATION:

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and former New Zealand Prime Minister, has violated U.N. Staff rules when she bragged about accepting "The Order of New Zealand" award. Internal document ST/IC/2006/31 clearly indicates: "Staff members are reminded that they may not accept any honour, decoration, favour, gift or remuneration from any government." The rule applies "whatever the reason for the award, even if the award is unrelated to the staff member's services with the Organization." The claim that she got advance clearance from the Secretary General's Chef de Cabinet, even if proved accurate, is irrelevant. So, we're sad to say, is the current Chef de Cabinet.

CLIMATE SHAME:

From Climate Change to Climate Shame. That's how some popular protesters are describing the outcome of the U.N. sponsored conference. Placards around the world are playing on the game of words. Regrettably, there is no serious change and no shame either.

SHEEP, CAMEL:

Bin Laden's 17 year old daughter, Eman, who found her way to the Saudi embassy in Teheran obviously received special attention by Saudi authorities. She was considered a Saudi citizen and granted a special Lassez-Passez to facilitate her travel. Initially the choice was between Syria where her mother Najwa Ghanim lives or Saudi Arabia in whose embassy she took refuge. Reportedly she and five others of her family had slipped into Iran after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and lived in a closely watched compound; Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said his government had no clear indication where she came from or, indeed, who she was. Her brother Omar who lives in Qatar has told Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat that upon her arrival in Saudi Arabia, he "promised God Almighty" to kill 100 sheep and "with guidance from his uncle Bakr" will kill another 100 camels. "It's a debt around my neck," Omar pledged.