15 June 2009


Sir David Veness, who resigned as head of the newly-created Security Department, will be leaving within the next few weeks. His proposed replacement, an American citizen, was being interviewed by senior Secretariat officials. Until recently, Security used to be a Section within the Building Management Division. After the bombing of the U.N. office in Iraq, politically correct proposals were made to display special interest in security and avert further blame for potential risks. Some member states welcomed the addition of an Under-Secretary General post, which always means one more chance to accommodate. Anyway, Sir David has behaved honourably and worked well with his team of security staff. We wish him well in his new endeavours.


Say it isn't true. We gathered that Michele Montas, an award-winning journalist, former head of U.N. Radio and currently Spokesperson for the Secretary General, will be leaving soon. Whether sincerely looking serious or laughing heartily, Michele is one of the few valuable assets around Secretary Ban Ki-moon. She had kept her composure, with confidence and ease, through many difficult situations, providing as much information to the accredited media as she received from the 38th floor. Wherever she is, Michele Montas is a truly dedicated professional who accomplishes her assignments with natural grace and admirable courage.


To each his own weapon. A British photographer for the Sundays was stalking Grace Mugabe while she was staying -- and shopping -- in Hong Kong. The young wife of the eternal President of Zimbabwe was staying at the Shangri-La, one of the most expensive hotels overlooking the harbour. The journalist most likely wanted to display a contrast between a shopaholic first lady and the status of her poverty-stricken country. Grace was so upset that she attacked him with a heavy diamond-encrusted ring.


Congratulations to Ban Woo-hyun on his recent very discreet wedding. As the son of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he had to do with an almost secret event -- several explanations were given for the blackout: it was a private affair; the Secretary General did not wish to have an ostentatious celebration when conflicts he oversees arround the world are producing hundreds of thousands of victims. One observer even claimed that the wedding plans were known to Sri Lanka officials who timed an offensive, realizing he will not be ready for urgent travel at the time. Quite frankly, all these explanations fade away with the sunny prospects of a loving human bond and the rays of a happy wedding. Our best wishes.


"So that's your plan, huh? A world full of beautiful women and all men shorter than yourself."
-- Casino Royale


"No dinosaurs were harmed in the making of this picture."


That oxygen blond who was brought by Annan's team and maintained by Mr. Ban's seems to have overstayed her welcome. The Chef de Tandoori, despite his decreasing role, was tasked with sharing a Beriani with a kind and helpful colleague to find a way out. It was done in the name of Democracy.


Ban Ki-moon is obviously betting on the Clinton Track to help him in Washington. After exploring varied tracks, he "accompanied" the former U.S. President to Haiti, ostensibly to review the grave humanitarian crisis. As U.N. Secretary General, he actually has a full Peacekeeping mission which needs closer oversight by its official boss. But there is no real supervision or accountability forthcoming and the Haitians call it "TOURISTAH." Mr. Ban then flew straight to the U.S. capital "in the company of" Mr. Clinton to meet Mrs. Clinton. That link started immediately after a visit by Secretary Clinton to Korea. Now, the former U.S. President will be designated as a Special U.N. Envoy to Haiti. No doubt Mr. Ban hopes that such a move will be greatly appreciated by some very influential in Foggy Bottom as a prelude to a positive and hopefully fruitful future collaboration. Who's conning whom, we'll find out.


If it were not for a visit by a Security Council team, we would not have learned that Olusegun Obasanjo was still the Secretary General's "Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region". Last we heard of him was three - four months ago when he was having a futile childish argument with Colonel Nkunda of Rwanda-Congo fame about who promised what to whom. We still don't know what precisely he is doing? Where in particular he is based? Whom is he talking with? Is he sending any reports to anyone? Are his expenses (like travel and per diem) charged to the U.N.? And what does "Great Lakes Region" really entail? But then, the same questions would arise regarding so many Special Envoys these days.


Open to outside applicants, the post of Director UNIC Cairo attracted an impressive number of professionally qualified candidates. A short list has been drawn. Videoconference interviews were conducted to allow for a closer personal assessment. The Cairo post will be the most crucial in the Arab region; hence the need for a very careful choice. Several interested parties are pushing for their own candidates. However, we will hold our opinion in order to allow dedicated staff within the Department of Public Information to draw their objective evaluation and recommend the most suitable applicant for the job.


Secretariat staff are getting ready to move out of their current offices. While an interim structure for Assembly meeting guts the centre of the U.N. gardens and doors which used to be open over the years are being closed (for "fire" protection!), several divisions had already left the building (with Elvis!) to prepare for the promised renovation. By July, most offices, ten floors each, will be finding their way across First Avenue. Even the same departments will disperse in different directions. Some claim a certain favouritism as luckier ones just cross the street while others are exiled to Lexington or even Madison Avenues. Well, you never know who will eventually move farthest. Just give it time.


A new book co-authored by Dennis Ross, who is officially in charge of the U.S. policy towards Iran, ridicules the concept of linkage. He writes, under "The Mother of all Myths" (an allusion to Saddam Hussein as the mother of all battles), that of all the "myths" that prevented real progress from being achieved, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that "if only the Palestinian conflict was solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away." It just happens that the declared policy of President Obama in the Middle East IS the concept of linkage. No wonder adversaries are asking questions on who really calls the shots.


"Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries -- superb girls."
-- Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi


  • Desk with no paperwork is good for travel.
  • Small wolf has small teeth.
  • New rules need new tricks.


Vijay Nambiar, nominal Chef de Cabinet of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was sent to Sri Lanka to handle humanitarian issues raised by the Security Council on military conflict with the Tamil Tiger movement. The role of Sri Lanka's army is central to that question. Vijay Nambiar, who stopped in his home country, India, on the way back to New York, "whispered," but refused to say anything about the outcome of his visit. It was claimed -- wrongly as it turned out -- that he obtained several assurances from the Sri Lanka government. No one in the U.N. Secretariat in New York would elaborate further on the visit. Interestingly, Vijay's brother Satish, a General in the Indian army who headed at least one main U.N. Peacekeeping mission (Namibia), happens to be a consultant to the Sri Lanka government. A Sri Lankan army website quoted Satish praising that army's conduct of war in the north and, of course, the role of its generals who sought his advice. Then, you have the Secretary General's office, nominally headed by brother Vijay, issuing statements and reports about accountability and zero tolerance for conflicts of interest.


In a headline story on Tamil casualties in Sri Lanka, the (London) Times of 1 June said: "Some raised questions about Vijay Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat, who is Chief of Staff to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary General. The Times revealed last week that "Mr. Nambiar knew about but chose not to make public the U.N.'s estimate that 20,000 civilians had been killed, mostly by army shelling." What the Times did not mention was the fact that Vijay Nambiar's brother, a retired Indian army general, was a military adviser to Sri Lanka's armed forces during the recent campaign. The real question is why did Ban Ki-moon send him to Sri Lanka and what actually and precisely was his mission?!


The national day of Cameroon was celebrated on 26 May with full fledged attendance by the diplomatic community and Secretariat staff. It was the first celebration under its new ambassador, Michel Tommo Monthe, whose experience has been weaved with the widespread workings of the U.N. from the leadership of the Advisory Committee on Administration and Budgetary Questions, to membership of the Security Council to Public Information issues. Very few diplomats have the internal connections within the Secretariat mechanism as Ambassador Tommo, especially as he is complemented by the enlightened support of his dedicated wife Therese, who has proven her value for years as a pillar of the U.N. Information Centre in Yaounde.


It is only fair to single out the outstanding work of Ambassador Palihakkara of Sri Lanka during the recent trials and agonies of his country. An emotionally delicate political crisis coupled with a potential humanitarian catastrophe were in the making as the Security Council took up the issue -- for the first time -- last month. His 38 years of civil and diplomatic experience have prepared him to deal with Security Council members, with the Secretary General's office, with the Departments of Political and Humanitarian Affairs, as well as careful contacts with an increasingly curious and demanding press. Perhaps one helpful element was the credible perception of Ambassador Palihakkara as a sensitive representative of his country, with all its different political and ethnic factions -- keeping a tradition of a number of Sri Lankan citizens who projected with dignity and pride the authentic image of their unique culture.


The Wall Street Journal's ace reporter Steve Stecklow has produced a number of memorable reports on the U.N. These included one of the earliest alerts on sexual harassment at UNHCR, Oil-for-Food, and budgetary shortcomings. He triple-checks his facts, nails down his topic with laser beam focus, and generally produces a solid credible informative work. His most recent report, "Sexual Harassment Cases Plague U.N." (May 21) reflected the same approach. Three cases were mentioned: a French male and female UNRWA staffer; a Syrian and Jordanian working for UNDP in Kuwait; and a widely known case within UNICEF in India.


With so many world leaders claiming they are talking directly to God, it was inevitable that eventually religious terminology would become part of the military confrontation. A report that some U.S. Defense Department briefings under Secretary Rumsfield had Biblical connotations was an example. A less noted one, despite keen observation by self-proclaimed media experts, was the Iranian missiles tested most recently. Their name was "Sijjil." It is a reference to a passage in the Quran, "Surat Al-Fil," about an assault by Ethiopian troops using elephants ("Fil" in Arabic) when the Almighty pushed them back, sending flocks of birds hitting them with stones of "Sijjil."


In an obituary of Susanne Agnelli, an outstanding former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs who came from one of the most influential families (owners of Fiat in Turin), the New York Times described her as "a striking woman who let her hair go gray"!


Fred Eckhart, former Spokesman for Secretary General Annan, has reportedly produced a book which he presented in a press briefing arranged by the U.N. Information Service in Geneva, where Mr. Annan resides. A news agency reported his saying that his boss had something of a nervous breakdown, which is a fact known at the time by many insiders but kept out of print out of deference to the man and his position. Fred's spin however is the claim that the reason was due to his strong feelings against the illegality of the war on Iraq. In fact, the "illegal" question only came up a year later on the verge of U.S. elections when it was assumed that he favoured candidate Kerry over candidate Bush. The so-called breakdown happened immediately after the fall of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein, with whom Mr. Annan has had a deal (and a cigar smoke!) since 1998. Anyway, we hear that Fred, with the help of a special friend, has by now found a publisher in London. Feedback from Geneva indicates that the book is exclusively in praise of Kofi Annan who reportedly was destined to become U.N. Secretary General from the moment he was born. While Mr.Annan deserves due fair praise on specific issues, he would also need a professional evaluation. Fred, an intelligent and experienced aide could have provided a more informative work. Good luck.


Meanwhile, another member of the dispersed team, Ed Mortimer, is still somewhere in the Austrian Alps near Salzburg plodding his way (while hopefully yodeling) at some institute for international studies. Perhaps they -- the studies -- are also "strategic" as some former diplomats like to claim when huddled near a mountaintop. Good luck too.


Well, he's of a different calibre. Higher up. Like Kingmaker and above. Only comes to the aid of a pleading friend in need. Only evaluates heads of state as conveyed by Ed. Does not yodel for anyone; though consents to occasional brief speechwriting just to boost the ego of a promising high-flyer. Again, good luck.


After ping-pong diplomacy between U.S. and China during President Nixon's presidency, will there be a football (soccer) diplomacy with Iran? Teheran's sports daily, with limited reading abroad, quoted an Iranian sports official that they had agreed to a request for a friendly match by the United States Soccer League. Certain details will have to be clarified, including the U.S. proposed dates in October or November which may conflict with preparatory games for the 2010 Mondial in South Africa. The U.S. and Iran had met in the field in the 1998 Mondial in France, when the Iranian team won 2-1. What is being proposed now is a friendly country to country game -- an indirect (and welcome) opening between grassroots popular groups. There are no official relations between the two countries -- yet.


They describe it in Catalan as more than a club. Barcelona (soccer) football team represents a wide and proud cultural tradition. During a historic game in Rome 27 May, witnessed by King Juan Carlos of Spain and Prime Minister Zapatero, as well as Prince William of the U.K., the Catalan Conquerors defeated Manchester United 2-0 for the European Championship. In an indication of international character, its victory was scored by Samuel Eto of Cameroon and Lionel Messy of Argentina. In a unique class act they stood guard of honour for their defeated colleagues when receiving their silver medals. This is the third win for Barcelona in the European cup. Manchester United had hoped to hang on to last year's cup but its players were no match this year for Barca.


A cleansing step forward. Controversial Major General Emmanuel Karenzi of Rwanda who was accused of committing massacres by a Spanish court has finally left the U.N. Mission in Darfur. It is recalled that a report by Washington Post's outstanding U.N. correspondent Colum Lynch had raised the issue last year as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and consequently Secretary General Ban and amateur Peacekeeper Guehenno decided to keep him. On 1 June he was replaced by Major General Duma Dumisani of South Africa. Perhaps some credit should go to the new Peacekeeping Chief Ambassador Alain LeRoy and possibly to new U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice.


We had pointed out on certain occasions the management inexperience of Shashi Tharoor and his relentless self-promotion. But we also recognize his capacity to effectively advocate the U.N. viewpoint whenever he has to focus on it. That is why we felt that his election to the Indian parliament on the list of the ruling party may bring positive advantages to the U.N.; better than having someone with no knowledge or relationship with the international community. There is now an opportunity not just for the U.N. but for Shashi to demonstrate his worth for our beloved Organization whose interest and welfare supersedes all of us. Let's hope he does.


We share our sympathy with the families of those lost on the Air France flight from Rio to Paris on 1 June. Several NGOs were on that flight. Husband and wife Dr. Pablo Dreyfus and Ana Carolina Rodrigues were among the 228 passengers. Pablo was the Manager of Research at Viva Rio and Ana coordinated its Children in Organised Armed Violence project. Also, a Swiss diplomat Dr. Ronald Dreyer was the co-ordinator of Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence. Sincere condolences to all.


We forgot all about Qazi. The totally ineffective "Special Representative" in Iraq who was moved to make way for Abu Chatterjee found his way to Sudan, again as an ineffective Special Representative. Nobody heard anything from him over the last two years until suddenly he decided to make a statement -- about recent clashes in Upper Nile and Jonglei states. He urged "regional and local actors," who certainly haven't heard of him. Then he "urged the international community to address the situation as an utmost priority." He perhaps does not realize that he IS officially the representative of the "urged" international community. The statement, by the way, was not carried by any media outlet except the U.N. Spokesman's Office. Carry on, Qazi -- Qurazi, whatever!


A controversy is building up in Spain over an attempt to dig up the grave of one of its greater poets, Federico Garcia Lorca, once a New York resident, who was shot to death in 1936 by General Franco's soldiers. One judge in his hometown of Grenada has refused to deal with the case; it is now up to a higher court to make a decision. Earlier, the controversial judge Baltazar Garzon, had suggested digging twenty mass graves, including Lorca's. The poet's family protested. In his most famous work: "Blood Wedding," Lorca wrote: "Here I will stay, peaceful and certain. I will sleep after midnight without fear of daggers, pistols or guns. Mothers would bend by the windows and balconies whipped by rainy winds awaiting the return of their sons. As for me, everything is now over. From where I lie I will form an ivory pigeon carrying fresh Camelia flowers to the grave; sheltered by the earth, covered by the sky." Leave him alone.


He ambles along like a walking pin cushion stops suddenly and curls like a chestnut burr. He may not be worried because he's so little. Nobody would think to slap him around.
-- Chinese 9th Century Poet Chu Chen Po


"Men live better where women are in charge."
-- Argentinian researcher Ricardo Coler on his two months' experiment living in a matriarchal society in a Chinese region. He is also author of "Living Godesses of Katmandu."


Lyutha Al-Mughairy, who retired five years ago after serving in several positions, including Chief, Information Centres Service, has been helping out in her own country, Oman, on several international issues. We are glad to hear that very recently Lyutha has been appointed in Oman's Foreign Ministry with the rank of Ambassador. Let's hope that will bring her over to New York on official occasions. Incidentally, Lyutha's sister, Hunaina, is her country's Ambassador in Washington. We wish her all the best.


A very informative newsletter just came out on joint projects by U.N. Office of Partnerships directed by the dynamic and experienced Amir Dossal. It reports on action taken between January - April of this year. A World Premiere of a documentary "Planet U.N." (with DPI); 2009 Global Competitiveness forum (with Saudi Arabia Investment Authority); two events on "Philanthropy and the Global Health Agenda" (with varied offices); Third Fortune Forum Summit; Into Poverty World Conference; Harmonious Cities; Capital Master Plan Photo Project; Creating Shared Value Forum; 2009 International Essay Contest (with UNESCO); reflected a partial listing of practical partnerships aiming to promote U.N. objectives.


A few years ago we criticized sending a big team to Cannes, ostensibly to participate on MIP, the annual TV market attended normally by those directly handling exchanges. We understand that this year, the Department of Public Information sent only one person who accomplished very positive results. So we thought we'll make a special mention that in certain areas of sharper focus, more could be done with less cooks in a splashy kitchen.