15 March 2009


Despite outgoing President George W. Bush's enthusiastic interest in Darfur, it was a diplomatic puzzle that he did not push clearly and swiftly for a full confrontation with Sudan's President Bashir. It transpired that he was listening to cautioning advice by a close friend, the leader of a Christian NGO, Samaritan Purse, the son of world famous preacher Billy Graham. The point was that any irreversible clash will give Bashir an excuse to throw out all missionaries and humanitarian assistance groups, depriving the destitute population of any aid, however limited. While making the rightful denunciations, Mr. Graham has met a few times with the Sudanese President, who obviously considered him a valuable backchannel to Washington. Now, it's a new set up.


Readers of The Wall Street Journal are more used to posturing by writers like Professor Fouad Ajami about Arab "despots" and undemocratic regimes or elaborate proposals to reduce the country's dependence on Middle East oil, with Saudi Arabia as the usual suspect. It was therefore noted with interest that a highly regarded journalist made a special effort to say that a recent Cabinet reshuffle by King Abdullah was an authentic real indication of serious democratic reform which, it was stressed, was finding its way in Ryadh slowly but surely. Puzzled readers were equally intrigued a few days later when the WSJ devoted 8 full pages in its main section as a supplement on various accomplishments in Saudi Arabia, of course under the inspired guidance of His Majesty the Guardian of Holy Places. Understandably, these are hard times, and every paper in print needs a few page supplement every now and then. But 8 pages is a political editorial decision, perhaps indicating that solid cash and intricate Middle East politics make strange bedfellows.


When a seasoned diplomat read in a weekend issue of The Wall Street Journal an article on how President Reagan sought to turn Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbechev into a religious man, he recounted a quip circulated at the time in European circles. When he took over, Gorbachev, according to the story, went to see his mother to show her his accomplishments. He told her proudly that he now had his own car with driver, a large home with gardens, and a large sum of money to use at his own decision. Very impressed, the mother of the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party applauded him profusely, then whispered: "Don't tell the government; otherwise they'll take it all away."


After fading away into the sunset four years ago under a somewhat awkward cloud, former Deputy Secretary General Louise Freschette suddenly reappeared through an article in a Canadian daily to ask whether newly-elected U.S. President Obama will "put the U.N. back on the rails." Well, we have always tried to be very nice to her, but would just wonder perhaps if she herself was part of derailing the U.N. "George Bush was not a great fan of the U.N., to put it mildly," she wrote. Rightly so. But, again, it is very unfair for Ms. Freschette in particular to bite the Bush hand that gave her special support. "The U.N. badly needs inspiration and direction of the kind President Obama seems ready to provide," she added. Again, was she not part of the direction that went astray and the careless dealings that had no inspiration but merely demoralized the staff. Furthermore, a former Deputy Secretary General should recognize at least that with all due respect to heads of state -- particularly that of the host country whose substantive role is crucial -- the main direction and inspiration should come from the Secretary General. She also seems to confuse "legitimacy" with "credibility;" but that may have been lost in translation. Incidentally, Ms. Freschette is now parked in a Canadian "strategic" Institute making nowhere plans to no one in particular.


During an hour interview with Egyptian Television, Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gaith stressed his belief in credible open dealings with the media and his personal care that his statements, and those of Ministry Officials, should accurately reflect rather than embarrass the interests of the country. While Egypt was at the centre of intensive diplomatic and security activities following the Gaza war, Foreign Ministry statements remained factual and to the point -- except when the Minister had to respond sharply to a perceived criticism. His spokesman is Ambassador Husam Zaki, who had worked with him at the New York's Mission of Egypt to the U.N.


As indicated in an earlier unforum, the U.K. government officially announced on 5 March that it will be conducting open contacts with Hezbollah in Lebanon. A New York Times story from London the following day confirmed the ongoing contacts. To handle opposition amongst some allies to that move, a U.K. Foreign Minister announced later that the purpose of the contacts will be to persuade Hezbollah to abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. Of course! Of course!


During her impressive Geneva leg of her first tour as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton found out -- in a jovial way -- that when it comes to Russian gifts you need not take advice from Vice President Biden. As she offered a symbolic gift to her outstanding Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the Russian translation of "Reset," their two countries relationship read "peregruzka," which she learned on the spot actually meant "overcharged." The actual word, as helpfully corrected by her counterpart was "perezagrazka." Mrs. Clinton would have done better -- and saved herself, at least this time -- if she had relied on advice from the Director General of the U.N. Geneva office, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, a former Deputy to Mr. Lavrov when they both served in New York.


Former UNIFIL Spokesman Timor Goksal reminisced at the Cultural Club of the American University of Beirut, about his relations with the population of Southern Lebanon, where he spent over two decades. One anecdote was about the confident strength of Lebanese women of the area. When the Israeli troops invaded the town of Maarakeh, "the women came out of their homes and attacked the Israeli tanks with pots and pans," he said, adding: "Now, imagine you are a young Israeli soldier, because after all they are young too; he's not trained for this -- there's a woman climbing on his tank." Goksal then commented: "I said if I ever think of marrying a woman from Maarekeh, stop me."


Finally, the post of Director, U.N. Information Centre in Beirut has been filled. Although a candidate had been selected by the U.N. it took time for the Lebanese authorities to give its agreement. The delay had nothing to do with the proposed candidate, Bahaa El-Koussy, an agreeable international civil servant from Egypt.


"Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada mas;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atras
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar."
-- Antonio Machado


Now you see them. Now you see them again. Ban Ki-moon's "specials" don't disappear or fade away. They just turn a corner and reappear.

You would think for example that former "Under-Secretary General" Jean Marie Guehenno is gone and replaced by the highly-regarded Alain Le Roy. However, the pretentious Peacekeeping bungler is still around, and around he returns as Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Climate Change! The outgoing official managed to hang on to a diplomatic license on his BMW with the special U.N. Secretariat "A" classification. A couple of months ago, while dressed in casual Hamptons fatigues, he parked under a diplomatic space kept specifically for the Mission of Cameroon on 73rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue during a General Assembly Session when the President and senior officials of Cameroon were in town. What will he be accomplishing in his new assignment is still unclear; the assignment itself has not yet been officially announced. What is certain, however, is that until very recently he was keeping his diplomatic license plate. Perhaps that is what it is really about!


"Quod elixum est ne asato." That is Latin for: Don't roast what is already cooked. Get it...Asato?!


So many good exhibits, so little talk about them. A month ago there was an excellent DPA exhibit on endangered species, including disarming photos of dolphins that captured almost every viewer's heart. More recently, there was an exhibit on "Flight," very creative, very inspiring. Before that there was an exhibit on indigenes people that highlighted the comprehensive ? of the U.N. Organization. However, very little was known about it, beyond those hard-working staff who put it up and those invited to a ceremonial opening.


A red house is built with red bricks; a grey house with grey bricks; a black house with black bricks. What is a green house made of?


While U.N. leadership remains clueless about the tale of its belatedly announced "envoy" to Niger, the kidnapping has turned into a tool in North African security politics. Authorities in Niger point to Tuoreq rebels in the North, although he was picked up in the South. Togolese points to certain forces within Niger. Free lancers refer to a French-Canadian competition for minerals. More recently, Algerian sources, who are usually well-informed on Africa, leaked that the Canadians were being held by "Qaeda Maghrab," a rarely heard of group, along the borders of Niger-Algeria; some think its just a banner for a security service. The purpose must be to request funds in return for their release. That group had claimed responsibility for kidnapping a group of tourists for which it requested money. But no photos of Fowler or his companion were shown. The danger is that the more time passes, the higher the risk.


Those visiting the Delegates Dining Room during February were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food offered by Malaysia. Every now and then, a country volunteers to introduce its culinary culture to delegates and staff. Some missions make a special effort to acquaint regular customers with their country's food; others take it lightly. This year, Malaysia did a wonderful job.


How such an ignorant man could have been a U.S. Senator could not be explained by anyone beyond his state of Pennsylvania, that eventually rejected him. Yet Rick Santorum swaggers on, pretending to give a lecture on Islam. He told an audience at the University of Nebraska that because of Islamic religious views, Middle Easterners rejected democratic ideas. "A democracy could not exist," he opined, because "Mohammad already made the perfect law." Ignoramus Santorum does not even know that the Quran was written in Arabic and that there is no language called Islamic. He then exposed his glaring ignorance further when concluding that "The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that's why it is only written in Islamic!"


We'll offer free publicity for a freedom-related advertisement. The Italian Fiat Company devised a clever -- and popular -- way of promoting its new Lancia Delta:
Four winners of the Nobel Peace Prize appear in the TV spot, which was shot in Paris last month at the Ninth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. It shows former Polish leader Lech Walesa, South Africa's Frederik Willem de Klerk, Northern Ireland peace activist Betty Williams, plus former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who isn't a Nobel recipient, all arriving at the summit in black Lancia Deltas. They are watched by Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader. "There are people who have been fighting forever," a voiceover says, to the sound of violins. "We would hug them all for a day, but there is one hug we miss." A final Lancia pulls up. The door opens to reveal an empty seat, symbolizing Ms. Su Kyi's imprisonment. A photo of her follows, with the text: "Lancia supports Aung San Suu Kyi. Free now." We can't afford a Lancia. But we will join in any appeal anywhere to free the Burmese leader.