15 July 2008


A public opinion survey in Lebanon found out that the majority of the population believes their leader is Nobody. Trailing by more than half came Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, General Michel Aoun, (Parliamentary "majority leader") Saad Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and last in the poll, but not least of course, was Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. That shows that politicians everywhere share the same reputation; not very complimentary.


Spain could take the rest of the year off. The two most famous and desired championships in today's sports world, the Euro Soccer and Wimbledon tennis, were earned by Spaniards in the hardest way. The best team won the European Soccer championship on Sunday June 29. It was Spain, considered earlier as a hopeless competitor. Its players put everything into their game while Germany's seemed to move around correctly and properly but not very effectively. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia were there. So was Chancellor Merkel, who graciously congratulated the winning team. Almost every television news report carried a headline unforeseen and unlikely only one week before: Viva Espana. The hail to Spain was repeated, though more discreetly but with greater impact, when Rafael Nadal won the tennis competition on 6 July in the longest duel by two determined outstanding players. A tearful joyous young Nadal, who comes from the island of Majorca, jumped into his family's arms, plunging into the audience who handed him his country's flag. He discreetly placed it on his shoulders while rightfully heaping praise on his capable competitor, Swiss ace Roger Federer. A class act by both proved that tennis still has a future. A successful result by Spaniards in Europe showed that one of the oldest countries in the world continues to rejuvenate itself. Once more: Viva Espana.


The recent summit of African heads of state was in fact held in Asia. Although Egypt is an African country -- and a leading one at that -- the area of Sharm el-Sheikh lies in the Asian part of the Sinai Peninsula across the Suez Canal. It was an area made famous during 1967, after the withdrawal of UNEF, occupation by Israel, and eventually regained through negotiation and arbitration following the Camp David accord between President Sadat and Prime Minster Begin under the auspices of President Carter. It is now mainly a tourism resort area where President Mubarak spends much of his time and holds most of his international meetings.


"What distinguishes the mere grim from the grimmest is the length of the tunnel through which they are seeing light. The grimmest are waiting for more bad news. The merely grim believe most of the bad news has already been revealed.
-- Irwin Stelzer in the London Times


Very few in New York know that a Korean Comedy entitled "Nanta" is one of the longest playing theatricals seen by over 4 million viewers, adapted in several countries like Egypt, Japan and England. Of course, the play requires a special sense of humour and an understanding of pots and pans used in cooking. "Nanta" is mainly about the ever-changing relationship between a professional cooking team composed of a capricious chef, a young athletic male sous-chef, and a capable, sexy, female "sous." A new owner or director obsessed by his ego imposes his own nephew who is clueless in the kitchen to decide how to cook required dishes. Commotion reigns as the assorted cooks are required to serve 10 weddings all at once. Knives, large and small, compete in cutting vegetables that fly on stage -- some reaching the public while sticks and brooms bang a rhythmic sound of clueless confusion. An exhibitionist confrontation between the chef and the manager's relative provides a comic relief.


Part-time "U.N. Envoy" Terje Roed (Herring) Larsen was firmly excluded from a meeting held in Paris 13 July between Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Syrian President Bashar Assad. After pushing to be included in the delegation, most likely in the hope of gaining re-entry into Beirut, Damascus and the Palestinian Authority, he managed partial acceptance during a meeting with new Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who barely noticed him. But Syrian officials made a point of announcing to the media that he was intentionally excluded. In response to questions, Ban Ki-moon graciously explained that the meeting was "limited," and there was no need for a full delegation.


Lee's parents emigrated from China. They have five children. The first four are named La, Le, Li and Lo. What did they name the fifth?!


Do they celebrate the Fourth of July in England?!


After our report about a discreet "soccer corner" at the U.N. Delegates Lounge to watch the "Euro" championship, a hurried and belated attempt was made to give it diplomatic cover by placing a few items on a separation. In addition to a smiling Ban Ki-moon, there was a photo of a sombre looking, almost distraught, older man who was described as the Special Representative of the Secretary General for YOUTH (!) and Sports. A square printed page announced in bold letters: "Development and Peace through Sports" or something to that effect. Very unprofessional indeed. So what if delegates watched a soccer championship in their DELEGATES LOUNGE, for God's sake. It was only for a couple of weeks and a limited number of respectful enthusiasts trying to cope with doing their job while following up a European -- indeed, worldwide -- passion. It does not require looking for a pathetic cover. Either you produce a good worthwhile exhibit on the occasion, or leave young delegates alone.


Why would "Gerhard," the former Stasi informer, be one of the best drivers in Berlin? Because you only have to give him your name. He will immediately know where you live.


Iraqi observers wondered about the special interest expressed by U.N. representative Mr. Demistura in the oil rich district of Kirkuk. First he volunteered a proposal about a federal Iraq, raising suspicion that the U.N. was sanctioning a fragmentation of a unified country. And just when elections were scheduled by the government to be held in all provinces of Iraq, he went round suggesting a postponement of elections in the province of Kirkuk. That gave rise to further suspicions by its sensitive minorities, which include Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs in an oil-rich area at a time when an oil deal of interest to several oil giants is under review. Is that "U.N. policy" sanctioned by U.N. headquarters or is Demistura pushing the envelope?


A crowded concert in London celebrated the birthday of the Great Madeba who personally attended, assisted by his gracious wife Graca and a group of friends introduced by actor Will Smith. The purpose was to highlight practical support for "46664," an organization inspired by the life efforts of the South African leader, aiming to fight poverty, resist AIDS epidemic, and defend human dignity everywhere. Hundreds of thousands held hands together, joining a galaxy of artists in concluding with the song famous through the Anti-Apartheid struggle: "Free Nelson Mandela."


The one chasing two rabbits at the same time will get neither.


Speculation on the High Commissioner for Human Rights continues. A BBC report early June that Timor Leste's Jose Ramos-Horta was offered the post turned to be premature, if not completely untrue. Whatever the source it was designed to push that name to the forefront of the candidates. For the time being, an Acting High Commissioner is in charge.


An indication of continued close relations between UNIFIL and the Lebanese population was highlighted in a party given in honour of UNIFIL Force Commander General Claudio Graziano by the representative of "Amal" in the South. It was attended by the area's members of Parliament and all representatives of society. The humanitarian and social role of UNIFIL was highly applauded as well as the close link strengthened over the years between members of the U.N. Force and appreciative villagers.


It would not be a violation of staff rules if a man and his wife are appointed because the posts are too senior (that is at ASG / USG level) and because the husband works presumably on a part-time $1 a year basis. That is the view expressed by those supporting the appointment of Mona Juul, wife of Terje Roed Larsen, for the post of Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, vacated by Ms. Angela Kane, who was just promoted to USG for Management. Ms. Juul, who was Norway's Ambassador to Israel would very much like to stay in New York, where her husband runs the International Peace Academy while doubling as U.N. Special Envoy on Middle East -- especially Lebanese issues. She has been in the Norwegian newspapers, like her husband, first for the investigation by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry over $100,000 from the Shimon Peres Institute, and more recently for a claim of withholding documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accord. There are those who also feel that if she took that ASG post, U.N. Middle East policy will become a family affair; others who know Ms. Juul believe that she has been unfairly perceived because of the unpopularity of her husband.


A well-informed source in Paris indicated that France's President Nicolas Sarkozy will be receiving U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday 25 July. That means that the Democratic candidate will be on a traveling tour, most likely to Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territory, as well as other countries in the region. He is also expected to visit Germany and England. That will give him a foreign policy dimension before he gets his official nomination at his party's convention and launch the last leg of the U.S. presidential campaign. Both Republican presumed candidate John McCain and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton belittle Mr. Obama's foreign policy credentials. Meeting the President of France and other "Foreign" leaders would offer him a crucial boost. President Sarkozy had received Mr. McCain last March at the Elysee Palace in Paris.


On 26 June a number of friends and U.N. officials gathered at the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing away in an airplane crash of Alioune Blondin Beye, who at the time was Special Representative of the Secretary General for the Angolan peace process. He was on one of his several trips to mobilize support for his mission to end a civil war that cost half a million lives. A former Foreign Minister of Mali and Secretary General of the African Development Bank, the tough talking and highly regarded "Maitre" Beye perished with eight U.N. officials near Abidjan, capital of the Cote d'Ivoire. He had worked closely with former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, particularly in gaining widespread support among African leaders for a second term. Upon taking over, Secretary General Annan kept him at arms length, allowing him the freedom to roam African capitals in pursuit of an elusive peace. His death shocked not only his admirers and friends, but millions of Africans in Mali, Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, the Congo and elsewhere whose lives he had somehow touched with his personal warmth and political skills. However, there is yet to be a public exposure of what really happened 10 years ago.


Caught between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the anchorwoman of Fox Business Morning Breakfast made an easy compromise "Abu Dubai." She was informing the public about a sale by one company which she had first thought was Apple. When corrected that it was a company in the Gulf, the stunning Ms. Glick glicked: "Oh. Ok. There we go." Giggle Giggle Glick. "We thought it was Apple. We got excited about it." Nothing important, then. Just a sale in a faraway country which happens to have over $50 billion in cash reserves. Ms. Glick looks gorgeous, but good luck to anyone making decisions based on the Breakfast predictions of Ms. Glick.


All U.N. accredited correspondents were on hand at a reception on the 60th anniversary of their Association. It was also an occasion to announce their new directory for the year. UNCA President J. Tuyet Nguyen, an experienced reporter who had covered most historic events in the building, was on hand to welcome dignitaries and represent his colleagues at the entrance of their Club. Well wishers included Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information Kiyotaka Akasaka, who was seen having a long conversation with his predecessor Samir Sanbar, Under-Secretary General John Holmes, who made the rounds warmly and pleasantly introducing himself to reporters. Of course, the Secretary General's Spokeswoman, Michele Montas was there with her intelligent sense of humour, which comes out only when she is not under pressure to get impossible answers to persistent questions. DPI Director Ahmad Fawzi was also there with his team, which included the impressive Hua Jiang, new Chief of the Press Service and former Deputy at the Spokesman's Office. Three hours passed quickly in a pleasant atmosphere of professional camaraderie and friendship.


Having started impressively at the U.N. Information Centre in his native Rio de Janeiro, Manuel Y Silva made his way through varied assignments in the field, from Addis Ababa, to working closely at UNHCR with the formidable High Commissioner Ms. Ogatu. When he was brought to New York at the Spokesman's Office sometime during the Annan period, Manuel did his best soldiering on, but it wasn't his creative thing. He did very well, as usual. But it seemed that something in that atmosphere turned him off. He went out again and returned recently for a D-1 post in DPI. It was an accomplishment for the young Brazilian who devoted his obvious talents and energies to the United Nations. Now, however, he has decided to go back to Rio on early retirement. He was an exemplary colleague who pleasantly and effectively performed his assigned functions, however difficult. Obrigado, Manuel.


Whispers about the departure of Treasury Controller Warren Sach have been circulating for over a year. They proved to be premature. Though the capable and very professional Sach is a U.K. citizen, he hardly depended on his government's support. Instead, he had worked his way up within the Secretariat, learning, then mastering, the ropes and gaining the confidence of key players within the financial machinery composed of both staff and specialized diplomats. There is, however, renewed talk that the Japanese are pushing very hard for the post. They pay a sizable percentage of the U.N. budget and they demand a practical finger on the pulse. There is speculation that they may get their request this time. For the record, ten years ago, Japan's current Permanent Representative in New York was himself the U.N. Controller.


For several years, whenever you called the central U.N. telephone number, a baritone voice answered announcing: "This is the United Nations." Then proceeded to advise you on your options. It was the voice of Radio Officer Randolph Clyne-Thomas, a pleasant easy going professionally competent colleague from the Gambia. Always ready with a giggle and a smile, "Randy" made his way up the ladder the old-fashioned way. He worked very hard for it. But then, life is not always fair. Neither are some of those who were parachuted to take over supervisory positions. While he is still seen around the neighbourhood, adapting his way to retirement, he was proud to recently introduce his charming young daughter who just graduated from college to those of us who knew her as a baby child.


When Mahatma Ghandi was asked during a visit to England what he thought of Western civilization, he mused: "I think it would be a very good idea."


He is a very modest man -- with much to be modest about.
-- Winston Churchill


It is not giant steps alone that count. Small steps, inch by every agonizing inch, could be more difficult to accomplish. Sometimes mid-level appointments could have greater impact than publicized high-level ones. Women should not be just making occasional history. They should be allowed to make everyday decisions. That's why steps taken by Paula Refolo, since she took her new post as a Director in the Department of Public Information, are practical as well as indicative. The two new appointments for D-1 posts in her area went to Ms. Carolyn Schuler ULUC as Chief of the Information Centres Service and Margaret Novichi, who served for a long while as Director of U.N. Information Centre in ACCRA, as Chief of Communications Campaign Service. The decisions, made in open transparent process, were not based on gender, but on proven individual qualifications. While the two new chiefs deserve best wishes for successful tasks, Ms. Refolo also deserves an honourable mention.


U.N. accredited correspondents may have their complaints that Spokeswoman Michelle Montas does not always provide them with their demanded information; she may respond that she tries her best to give them whatever she's got. However, during the Secretary General's 11-14 July visit to Paris, Michelle managed to charm at least one group of reporters: those from Beirut. Whether when wearing her seriously studious glasses, or listening attentively to demanding questions, she unwittingly found a new group of fans amongst Lebanese journalists.


In her memoirs, the formidable Barbara Bush described when, along with her husband, then the Vice President, she was lunching with Emperor Hirohito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. Sitting next to the Emperor, Mrs. Bush found the conversation an uphill task. To all her efforts at verbal engagement, the Emperor would smile and say "Yes" or "No," with an occasional "Thank You" tossed in for good measure. Looking around her elegant surroundings, she complimented Hirohito on his official residence. "Thank you," he said. "Is it new?" pressed Mrs. Bush. "Yes." "Was the old palace just so old it was falling down?" asked the intrepid visitor. In his most charming, yet regal, matter, Hirohito replied, "No, I'm afraid that you bombed it."


There is no fight fiercer than competition between poets. Whether "King" as the British would describe their best, or "Emir" as the Arabs anointed Egyptian Ahmad Shawki, titles are bestowed by fans and politicians seeking to promote their favourite artist. Thus, missions of Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikstan were thrilled when Secretary General Ban paid a special tribute to Abu Abdullah Jafar ibn Mohammad Rudaki. Pronouncing the name by itself was an accomplishment by our distinguished chief who hails from a totally different cultural world. "With simplicity and elegance, Rudaki pioneered a great tradition, laying the foundation for Persian classical literature," he announced confidently to scattered applause by the very few. One of those who most likely drafted the statement, was beyond himself as Mr. Ban, in his clipped English Korean accent, declared the 1150 year old Rudaki as "truly the Sultan of poets." Mashallah!