15 July 2009


Are the U.S. and Iran inclined to use the Japanese channel on finding an outcome to the nuclear issue? During the election of Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to succeed Mohammed ElBaradai, Iran enthusiastically supported the winning Japanese candidate who was equally supported by the U.S. While Europe countries like Britain and France may still have an impact, their mediating capacity has been diminished because of tension related to recent events. The role of the European Union will gradually be weakened with the exit of its experienced perennial negotiator and regular Teheran visitor, Javier Solana, next October. Japan is a solid U.S. ally with a very special interest in the question of atomic energy. It also has a reputation of handling sensitive issues among countries with utmost discretion.


Lebanon considers itself a U.N. partner. Not once since 1945 did any Lebanese government take any critical position of the U.N. Secretariat. Full support was extended to any action taken by any Secretary General anywhere -- not only in the Middle East but on any other issue. For the first time in 64 years, the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut issued an official note criticizing Ban Ki-moon's report on the follow-up to implementation of Resolution 1701. Not only is the current Secretary General questioned on the substance of his report but also on his selective choice of questions raised. It is not certain that the critical official remarks were passed on officially to the Secretary General's office by the Permanent Mission of New York. But they were circulated throughout the Lebanese media. Already, the Secretary General's "Special Envoy" is a "burnt-out case" in Lebanon -- like in Syria and Ramallah and Gaza (he's huge in Saudi Arabia, though). It has become normal media practice to brand Terje Larsen as an "Israeli agent." The Norwegian diplomat has a thick skin and can take it; especially that he has other doors open. But it is the first time that the Secretary General personally gets attacks. Ban Ki-moon may wish to pay better attention, particularly as Lebanon is expected to take a seat at the Security Council during the next two crucial years.


In a clumsy attempt to get attention during the G-8 meeting in Italy, WFP's Josette Sheeran, a political appointee of the outgoing U.S. administration, tried to put on a "simulated food distribution display." She instructed staff not to come to work 10 July, spent scarce funds, and "imported" kids from Ghana for a fake show. Sheeran's attempt was an expensive failure. U.N. first lady, Yoo Soon-Taek, the U.S. first lady, Michelle Obama, and France's first lady Carla Bruni (an Italian) ignored it. So did the media. Word is that Ms. Sheeran is on her way out soon -- so soon that perpetual job seeker Demistura has dumped his Iraq assignment to position himself in Rome for the succession. Although a U.S. citizen is usually assigned for the post, the Italian/Swede Swede/Italian will certainly try to persuade the Obama administration that he is "almost" American. (Editor note: please see further news on this item below)


When the irrepressibly diligent Matt Russell Lee of Inner City Press asked questions on WFP's failed "distribution display," the Spokeswoman responded that "WFP is an agency; it is independent of the Secretariat, autonomous from the Secretariat and they have their own policy -- so I think you should ask them..." With all due affection to Ms. Montas, as its name indicates, the World Food Programme is NOT an Agency but a Programme. Its Executive Director is appointed jointly by the U.N. Secretary General and the Director General of FAO, who evaluate and supervise his/her performance.


Tough articles criticizing Ban Ki-moon's performance as U.N. Secretary General have been appearing in influential media. While only in his second year, judgments have been blunt and direct. Regrettably, instead of seeking to redress some of the obvious shortcomings and address specific misconceptions, the response has been subdued and confused, constituting mainly of disregarding the articles while trying ineffectively to seek reporters who could produce complimentary stories instead. It really hurts those who believe in the U.N. to see how such attacks are mishandled by clueless people. One main article described the current Secretary General as the "Nowhere Man." It is a take off from a Beatles song about "making nowhere plans for nobody." In fact, it is some of those around him who are "Nowhere men"..."Do not have a point of view; know not where they're going to"!


New times may call for new names. We normally have known that the people of Pakistan and anything related to it are called Pakistanis. However, a new term has been popping up recently in some statements: "Pakistanese." Let's hope it's a slip of a tongue and not a reflection of a clueless view of that crucial Asian country.


No more Spokeswoman? Now that it is confirmed that Michele Montas, Spokeswoman for the Secretary General, will be retiring by October, there is talk about a move to replace her deputy Spokeswoman Marie Okabe. With an increasing number of serious media attacks on the Secretary General, some on the 38th floor are inclined to the view that a whole new team will be needed. Word around the third floor is that someone from Newsweek, where the Secretary General's Director of Communications came from, is the most likely successor to Ms. Montas. That is only one option. There are others aiming at strengthening the current Secretary General's international base with the professional media. As to Ms. Okabe, it is not yet definite that she will be giving up -- Japan is backing her.


"Are you free, Mrs. Slocombe?" The obvious yet hesitant answer was: "yes, Mr. Peacock!" After all, Grace Brothers store looked almost without customers as snooty yet diligent staffers stood forever ready to accommodate anyone in sight. The inevitable question had to be repeatedly asked in every segment of "Are You Being Served," a BBC farce replayed on selective channels in the U.S. and worldwide. The meticulously coiffed "Mrs. Slocombe" oversaw the ladies department wearing a conservative uniform and exchanging very polite conversation with her other colleagues. The woman who played her, Mollie Sugden, just died at the age of 86. Free at last.


Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano received an overwhelming two third majority vote to become the next Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency based in Vienna. After the retirement of Mr. Matsura of UNESCO, he will be the main Japanese to head a key U.N. Specialized Agency. Another senior Japanese, Mr. Akasaka, is U.N. Under-Secretary General for Public Information and Communications. Mr. Amano will take over from Dr. Mohamad ElBaradei in December.


The Greeter/Meeter is also a constant job seeker. A year ago we predicted that he was angling to get out of Iraq for a diplomatic job back in Rome with the food crisis as an excuse and his connection through Chatterjee as a vehicle. Now that U.S. troops are withdrawing from Iraq cities, Steffan Demistura, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's "Special Envoy" left hotfoot to the Italian capital presumably to take a post in the World Food Programme. For the Italian/Swede Swede/Italian as the situation would require, that would allow continued diplomatic status with easy entry in and out of airports and other perky entitlements. As to Iraq, the man rarely resided there anyway, using mainly Amman as a base for continued travel, per diem and other expenditures. His occasional visits to Iraq were so irrelevant that they were of no interest except to a dutiful U.N. press officer. He no longer pursued his passionate advocacy for a special status to the complex oil town of Kirkuk; he discovered that neither the Kurds nor the other parties easily tolerate irrelevant jokes. No replacement has been named, reflecting the hurried speed with which the finger wagging photo opportunist left town. The U.N. mission was temporarily headed by the very hard-working and courageous Andrew Gilmour who was in fact doing the job anyway. Eventually, UNDP Deputy Administrator Ad Melkert, uneasy after the takeover by the formidable Ms. Clark, was nominated.


Lou Albano must have done something right. The once great wrestler who clipped his beard with a rubber band and came to the rescue of a singing young damsel in distress has his name on a building which will host U.N. Secretariat staff. The move has just started early July. The building on 46th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues will not only be rented; but the U.N. will pay to restore, reconstruct and modernize it. When the staff returns to the Secretariat premises, the Albano building will have a new life with new rentals, while having received a colossal revival gift for free. Someone's shoulders must have been pinned to the ground - in a bank.


Egypt's national day has always been an opportunity for the international community to join together in celebration of one of the world's greatest cultures, a founding member of the United Nations and a country that provided so many outstanding internationalists who served the world and their country with admirable talent. This year, Ambassador Maged A. Abdelaziz, whose proven experience both at home and U.N. Headquarters have propelled him to the forefront of the diplomatic corps in New York, will be welcoming invited guests on July 23 to the Mission of Egypt on 44th Street. Happy National Day.


  • "This must be the place where they empty all the hourglasses."

  • -- Bob Hope in Road to Morocco
  • "State of Affairs? What affairs? I haven't had an affair for some time."

  • -- Marlene Dietrich
  • "You got cop eyes."

  • -- Woman to Al Pacino


For a while in New York City on Saint Patrick's Day, people wore huge buttons that demanded, "Kiss me, I'm Irish." That hadn't spread to other ethnic groups from Italian to Poles to Jewish . Anyway, now there is a proclamation of Kissing Day on July 6. It may have been a kinder gentler closure of the July 4 fireworks, or a European response to it. But several countries joyfully celebrated. Some TV stations in Lebanon, where multiple kissing is "de rigueur" along with "hello" and "good bye," devoted some time to the issue. Well, we hope you got your share, however partially, from beloved ones. As to us, we were content to follow advice of Stephen Stills' Flower Days song: "If you're not with the one you love, love the one you're with."


The U.N. gardens used to be the best spot to watch July 4th fireworks on the East River. Many staff and their families used to bring along mobile chairs or just come along as early as possible to reserve a strategic location. With renovation construction going on, the garden is out of bounds. A few people could sneak through but not with the same joyful celebratory spirit. Somehow the fun is drained out of celebrating events. Musicians, even rappers, are now appearing at the U.N. for speeches not song -- except when our distinguished Ban Ki-moon decides to rap. Anyway, as if to coincidentally make a point of irrelevance, fireworks this year were displayed on the Hudson River, that is on the opposite side of the U.N. Did anyone notice?!


Perhaps Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would have gotten better results if he had approached Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe with more psychology and less diplomacy. Having gotten nowhere in his quest to see the house arrested Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, he merely got a photo of himself published in the local English language daily together with a list of the names of his accompanying aides. Another photo of Mr. Ban wearing a baseball cap handed out by the U.N. office in Myanmar may have been his only consolation prize. However, we were informed by a local source that the Senior General and his wife Kyaing Kyaing are scared of being reincarnated into a cockroach and that both have been making continued offerings and feverish prayers to avoid that fate.


Each depressing minute deprives you of sixty happy seconds.


If there are five apples and you take away three, how many do you have?


It was somewhat sad to witness a senior U.N. female official go through elaborate security procedures at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in late June. Correctly and respectfully, she was requested to take off her shoes, belt, jewelry, etc., as she obligingly passed twice through the detector. Obviously, security and passenger safety knows no diplomatic privileges. But, if the U.N. Secretariat had maintained its Paris office, she would have been appropriately escorted; at least all such arrangements would have been done discreetly and swiftly. But then, perhaps she did not even know that a U.N. presence in France had ever existed. There is no more institutional memory. No record. And no one to offer a helping hand in Paris if any U.N. official needed it.


It's that time of the year when the announcement is made that summer attire could be worn by staff. Last year much ado was made about a "Cool U.N," where the temperature would be kept at a certain barely cool degree while no jackets or suits were expected. This year it was announced that during the June - August period, offices will be kept at 72 - 77 degrees, while conference rooms will be 2% lower. That, we were told, will save 30 million units of steam, 2000 tons of carbon dioxide. There was no indication of the extent of hot air saved.


Good news to his many friends and colleagues in both the diplomatic community and the U.N. Secretariat. Feodor Starcevic was recently appointed Permanent Representative of Serbia to the U.N. Having served twice in the Mission of Yugoslavia to the U.N. in the 70s and 80s, Feodor joined the DPI, first in 1984-86, and then from 1992-2004, when he was the U.N. Representative in Georgia and later a very successful Director of UNIC New Delhi. He came to the present job from the post of Assistant Foreign Minister of Serbia for the last two years. Those in the know say that he was instrumental in the adoption of the GA resolution seeking the advisory opinion of the ICJ on the UDI of Kosovo last year. We wish him a warm welcome back and a successful tour of duty in the city he loves. He is the kind of man his country, the troubled region, and this Organization need.