1 JULY 2014


In Nairobi, on January 27th, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the following in opening U.N. Environment Assembly:

"Mr. President Kenyatta, I thank you for your support from the beginning of the process. Your leadership made a lot of difference to help make our environment more sustainable. I thank the people and Government of Kenya for their support to the work of the United Nations in Kenya. We are proud to work with you. In the past few days, I have travelled the length and breadth of Africa. It has been a long journey, but nothing compared with yours."

Very flowery remarks indeed. The only question relates to an International Court Prosecutor claim accusing Mr. Kenyatta of specific violations. Certainly, an opening statement at a public gathering would tend to be on the flowery side. But would the actual presence of the Secretary General and his naming of Mr. Kenyatta be interpreted as a hint of granting practical immunity? If so, in return for what? Or was it merely dashing in where ponderous Nafissatou fears to tread?


Newly creative SAMAR MEDIA started producing its film features initially on Middle East issues for reference use by media websites and television stations. The most recent one was a fresh look on Palestinian creative artists, a series of seven video displays as perceived by painter Suleiman Mansour, comedian Maysous Zayed, poet Ferah Shamma, rapper Shadia Mansour, and others. The next series in August will be on "Turkey in the realm of the Arab world." SAMAR, managed by a young team headed by Ziyad Clot, operates in English, Arabic, and French.


Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received a Cocaine cake on his 70th birthday from President Yvo Morales while visiting Bolivia to attend a meeting of the Group of 77 in Santa Cruz. President Morales, a former Cocaine planter, regularly defended the use of the plant on a selective way as "a tradition by our forbearers" to take with tea, desserts, and medicine. Bolivia is the third largest "Coco" producer in the world after Peru and Colombia. By the way, Mr. Ban did not touch the coke. With his wife by his side, he appreciatively blew off the seventy candles and said "Muchos Gracias."


What greater honour could a Swede have better than being the main speaker at Sweden's National Day. U.N. Deputy Secretary Jan Elliason, a veteran U.N. Swedish diplomat and former Foreign Minister, was this year's 6 June vedette. His country, a fine U.N. country, deserves the special standing it gained through dedicated service by its citizens, particularly those who gave the ultimate sacrifice like Count Folke Bernadotte and Secretary General Dag Hjalmar Hammarskjold. If and when Jan Eliasson or other current compatriots are criticized, it may be mainly because the bar has been held so high that we expect so much from every Swede.


Weeks before the football soccer Mondial opened in Brazil, several delegations were exchanging predictions on main winners and the final champion. The U.K. delegation started a survey by placing a box at the entrance of the Delegates Lounge welcoming suggestions. Just before the opening on 12 June, the Secretary General, together with a team of enthusiastic diplomats, had a celebratory opening dressed in field outfits and carrying varied colours of footballs. Those with hopeful teams, like Ambassadors of Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and, of course, Brazil zoomed in with their country's shirts for commemorative photos.


Queen Sofia of Spain was in New York when King Juan Carlos announced his abdication to his son -- and hers -- Prince, now King, Phillipe. She was welcomed on her U.N. visit by the Secretary General who thoughtfully declared that Her Majestry will continue her varied humanitarian efforts on behalf of varied U.N. ventures. Queen Sofia (which in Greek means Wisdom) is of Greek origin, the daughter and sister of Kings. She was consistently supportive of U.N. human development activities, from UNICEF to WHO and FHO and, of course, UNESCO, which was once headed by a citizen of Spain.


Nothing for average level staff to look forward to; but some senior officials may get a chance of an upgrade. One airline, Emirates, has ordered 14 enclosed bedrooms for those travelling First Class on their Airbus. When news spread around Dubai, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi, particularly on flights to London, Paris and New York, there was additional demand for more closed bedrooms. Even in a financial crisis and widespread conflicts, money is no object. Let's wait and see who arrives on what at the next General Debate Assembly Session. Perhaps it will be an opportunity for its forthcoming President, a controversial Kenya businessman, to explore his options.


Ambassador Tommo Monthe and his ever vivacious wife Therese gave a rhythmic happy reception on Cameroon's National Day 20 May at the U.N. Delegates Dining Room. There were colorful robes, different shades of hats, a wide spread of diplomats from all continents, and enough food for all to enjoy an early dinner. Under the country's flag and motto: "Paix, Travail, Patrie" (Peace, Work and Country), the newly opened Dining Room was, once again, buzzing with guests introducing themselves and exchanging toasts while others circled around a band playing danceable music. The popular diplomatic couple also followed up by having a popular social party for the Cameroon community on 24 May at their residence in New Rochelle.


Overexposure by media often persuades otherwise unqualified characters to promote themselves on every aspect of human thinking. Basketball star Lebron James, an outstanding player who turned around the fortunes of the Miami Heat, tried to pronounce himself on history while commuting on regular ball competition. He kept repeating with a pause for impact: "History was made to be broken." Perhaps he meant "historic records." Anyway, he certainly is a historic player.


Since the final week of June, Mexico's flag was raised all over homes in a mountainous region in North Lebanon. Curious visitors discovered the reason. One of the players in Mexico's Mondial team competing in Brazil hails from the Layun family and had the name printed on the back of his shirt when playing in the opening game against Cameroon. By the way, there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, including four Cabinet Ministers in the current Mexican government.


A secret deal negotiated by the Lebanese Director of National Security entailed an exchange of the pilot and co-pilot of Turkish Airlines with a number of Shiite pilgrims who were visiting Syria. The intricate deal includes governments of Syria, Turkey, Qatar, in addition to several groups on the ground. After all were eventually released and sent home, the Turkish co-pilot sent word that he needed to get his watch back. It had special sentimental value, he indicated, and would not be able to sleep contently without it. Further intricate secret negotiations secured the watch back, in return for a few more hostages -- at exactly the same time.


Exchanging five senior Taliban leaders in return for an American Sergeant received wide media coverage and political reactions. We would not rush to add to it. The only remark has to do with the interim station where the reportedly extremely important and dangerous Talibanis will have to stay for a year without travelling or phoning home. Would staying in Doha, Qatar, with its shopping malls, jewelry shops, restaurants, and luxury hotels be considered restriction, or -- compared to, say, Kandahar -- offer a paradise lost. A promise by the government to keep them there would mean that they would be welcome to a generous host. Plus, the U.S. has the biggest base in the region nearby. Almost every square mile would offer a casual back-channel. While practical rhetorical exchanges may impress mainstream media, cynical observers in the conflict-torn region feel they know better.


A French tourist walking through Times Square found a destitute-looking man with very shabby torn clothes seated on a worn out chair looking around for assistance. She instinctively produced a sandwich from her plastic bag she had just bought for lunch and offered it to him. It turned out the appreciative man was actor Richard Gere acting in a photographed film there. The pleasantly surprised woman got a warm welcome as the filming continued. Casual passersby commented: "That's New York." We'd add: and that's authentic French.


Finally, the postponed meeting between Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and newly-elected de Blasio took place at City Hall. There were smiles and handshakes all round. It was an occasion for Mr. Ban to indicate that he resided in New York three times. The first, 14 years ago, as a Korean diplomat; the second as an advisor to a General Assembly President, and the third time as head of the U.N.


The other internationally known Korean, performer PSY, is introducing a new song to follow-up his first one that got hundreds of millions of YouTube followers. The newly-introduced appearance, in Korean as usual -- has, also as usual -- a repeated English word. As the artist flip flops, takes off other people's seats or hats or pants, he keeps saying: "Gentleman."


The U.S. Secretary of State seemed to be laying low these days, allowing ample time to his colleague and former war veteran Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He found his way to Beirut where wily politicians were puzzled about its purpose. Some said it was just to make a point when Syrian President Bashar Assad was re-elected with demonstrated appearance of Syrian voters. Others mentioned that he was in Cyprus and had some time to take a 30-minute flight to say hello. Perhaps as briefed by his ambassador, he met the Prime Minister (who is Moslem Sunni), the Speaker of Parliament (who is Shiite), and in the absence of the Christian President, met the pleasantly surprised Maronite Patriarch. There was, however, a slight wrinkle. His Lebanese counterpart, Gibran Basil, was upset because he was offered a meeting at the airport VIP Lounge "due to time restrictions." Feeling slighted, the Minister insisted to receive him in his office. Otherwise, no airport welcome.


There are reports from Damascus that Syria's U.N. Permanent Representative Bashar Jaafari would be promoted in the new government to be formed since the re-election of President Bashar Assad. He may be offered the Ministry of Information or a newly created post. Feedback in Arab media show that Ambassador Jaafari, who loyally defended his government's position, is respectfully regarded even by his adversaries. During the negotiations in Geneva, where he headed his side during the only face-to-face meeting with the opposition, he kept his position to main points and did not get entangled in personal polemics. If there is a tendency to arrive at a political arrangement, he may be designated as a widely-acceptable negotiator.


Habitually, the Presidency of the U.N. General Assembly rotates by consensus. A designated regional group would agree on its candidates; other blocs would go along. Africa is slated to head the forthcoming session. There were several candidates eventually short-listed in two countries: Kenya and Uganda. For their own reasons (one whose President is facing an International Court accusation and the other in Sudan and internal social issues), both tried yet early June an agreement was reached. Yet when the Assembly voted to select Sam Kutesa, Uganda's Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was noted that at least two regional groups refrained from making the usual ceremonial congratulatory speeches. More to the point, the Host Country, the United States, remained silent, although Ugandan President Museveni was generally perceived as a staunch friend -- and occasional partner. So did the Latin Americans and Caribbean group. Reasons mentioned in the corridors related to two issues: One had to do with public controversy over a Lesbian-Gay case in Uganda and the other about reports of corruption against Mr. Kutesa, who reportedly has varied business interests, including service contracts with U.N. peacekeeping missions.


A play that opened the "Brits" off Broadway theatre festival was by -- who else -- Alan Ayckbourn. A comedy, "Arrivals and Departures," was his 77th play in his 75 years and its about the usual confusion under the guise of determined action. The "mayor" wants actors to merge together. That's not easily done, of course. Like revolving on static planets, they could move around, rotate, collide -- but merge? -- that's confusing. A really entertaining play in the 59th Street Theatre. Perhaps not as farcical as Ayckbourne's earlier ones -- but worth an enjoyable evening.


Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke on behalf of all U.N. active and retired U.N. staff in mourning the passing away 24 May in Quito of Diego Cordovey, former Foreign Minister of Equador, and -- above all, former colleague with brilliant dynamics, bursting with ideas and steadfast in his support for U.N. principles. He served as Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Council, Under-Secretary General for Special Political Affairs, Special Advisor on Cyprus, Special Advisor on Latin America. One of his most lasting accomplishments was negotiating the Afghanistan Geneva Accords, which led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. After retiring, he visited New York regularly, yet, perhaps due to deteriorating health, saw less and less of his former colleagues who always cherished his loyalty and sense of humour. He will be missed. May his soul rest in peace.


There can be confusion and questions about how to properly wear and display a national flag:

  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat.


"Our novels get longa and longa
Their language gets stronga and stronga
There's much to be said
For a life that is led
in illiterate places like Bonga."
-- H.G. Wells


Those with institutional memory will remember Viktor Sukhodrev, who visited U.N. Headquarters regularly over decades as the single interpreter for most Soviet leaders from Khrushchev to Brezhnev to Gorbachev. Not only his country's leaders trusted his professional work, but so did some U.S. Presidents like Richard Nixon and a number of senior U.N. officials who felt that he would accurately and precisely convey not just the literal translation but the thought and atmosphere around it. He was mostly seem smiling and friendly. There is one photo, reproduced by A.P. that showed even the ever-frowning USSR Foreign Minister Andrea Gromyko almost smiled in the background as U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers laughing. Sukhodrev, who was raised in London before graduating from Moscow's Military Institute of Foreign Language, passed away in May at the age of 81.


There was a time, when the U.N. was central to world affairs, when Mahdi Elmendjra of UNESCO was one of the brightest minds in the U.N. system. His chief and mentor, Reni Maheu, regularly referred to the then young Moroccan as the future. A new Director General felt so insecure that he kept him at a distance rather than profit from his willing dedicated talent.. Elmendjra, with dignity and peace, went back to Rabal where he started an institute for future studies. One of its predictions in 1996 was that the Arab world will go through political turmoil for 15 years. That's what actually happened. Our close friend and dear colleague Mahdi Elmendjra died quietly at his home in Rabat, Morocco, at the age of 78.


Maha Alami made a serious yet joyful professional change. Her first incarnation in New York was in banking. She has now totally shifted to making chocolate. Maha hails from a prominent Middle East family. Her father, a doctor at the American University Hospital in Beirut, was a noted fundraiser for worthwhile causes. Her uncle, a successful architectural contractor and another uncle headed The Arab Bank. That's why initially she went into the money business. Her focus now -- besides serving good causes -- is to hand make refined chocolate, "dark yet enlightened." We never advertise; indeed we refuse to advertise. Yet in return of a delicious box of Maha chocolate almond, and for her good intentions, we're willing to put in a welcoming word.


  • Only foolish men are upset by events they can't control.
  • A guest earns his invitation by listening.
  • The glitter of glass belies its weakness.


Don't judge a book by its movie.


"I like New York in June. How about you?" Frank Sinatra's old song seems new and renewable almost every June in New York. Perhaps it is the weather or some unknown air blowing 'round the park. Artists, dancers, singers, just anyone moves around enjoying it. The thrust of creative performances is around Lincoln Centre, indoor and outdoor. This June 25 it was an open air party for Afro-Latin music rhythm! Ricardo Lemvo and the Makina Loca drummed their way at Lincoln Centre's Damrosh Park as Africans, Latinos, and other New Yorkers joined in: young or old men and women sat around, danced with complete strangers, and generally had a good time. Open air music will go on throughout July and August.