15 May 2006

BORING ALLIANCE:

That Alliance of Civilizations launched with fanfare in Madrid earlier this year seems to be hitting practical snags. Besides, both Prime Ministers Zapatero of Spain and Erdugan of Turkey find its Secretariat work boring, uninspiring and ineffective. Hurried attempts to inject some intellectual colour are underway. Don't hold your breath.

COSTA'S GLOCK:

We received several responses to our question on why Mr. Costa got an exceptional four year extension. In the process, we learned that the Italian head of U.N.'s Vienna office used Brussels as a regular stop on his incessant travel, ostensibly to discuss matters with the European Union but practically to spend time with his wife who works with an N.G.O. there. Word in Brussels is that Romano Prodi, who headed the European Commission, had refused Mr. Costa's requests for meetings, knowing full well the real purpose of the stopover. No wonder exceptional renewal was swiftly passed before Prodi took over as Italy's Prime Minister. Back to responses, an intriguing one came from our colleague Thierry in Brussels -- who is convinced that Mr. Costa was especially favoured "because he had the Glock"!?

SELECTING THE SECRETARY GENERAL:

A seminar by UNA/USA on selecting the next Secretary General did not receive adequate coverage, maybe because of the timing. It took place when Foreign Ministers of the Permanent Five were in New York to review the Iranian nuclear question plus a meeting of the Middle East Quartet to discuss temporary assistance to Palestinian people under Hamas government. Another reason may be that there was nothing drastically new in the "role and qualities" required of the next U.N. Chief. Seeking the most qualified man or woman, a highly capable diplomat with leadership skills and moral authority is not a new quest nor would it make headline material. One real problem may have been that, despite the distinguished presence of Ambassador Thomas Pickering -- an outstanding and uniquely experienced diplomat -- and the ever available Sir Brian Urquhart, the venture seemed to have been "fried" hurriedly as if as an afterthought -- or probably picked up from another proposal to hold such a seminar in Europe.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER LOST:

Reports about a possible link between the $500,000 Environment Award and the appointment of U.N. Environment Program Director may have diverted attention from the plight of the Environment Minister of Costa Rica who was lost in the rainforest. Apparently, in his enthusiasm to explore the jungle, His Excellency was hit on the head by a swiftly moving bird. Days of search by family, friends, and anxious assistants eventually traced him, distraught and pondering his way between the forest and the trees.

PLAYING BY THE RULES:

Several African leaders noted a dig by Secretary General Annan in the Guardian urging them to "play by the rules" and resist temptation to perpetuate their grip on power. "We should not tamper with the constitution to perpetuate our rule," Mr. Annan pointedly urged. While that sounds bold to Western ears (which may have been the real target audience), it was seen as undue interference by leaders in question. Some recounted the unfavourable media reports about scandals at the U.N. under his watch while others pointed out that he indeed did not resist the temptation to perpetuate his grip on power by seeking a second term.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN'S DEDICATION:

As James Wolfensohn finished his devoted mandate in the Middle East, Secretary General Kofi Annan reflected a widespread admiration when he expressed his deep appreciation for the efforts extended by the Quartet Special Envoy, whose mandate finished at the end of April. "Mr. Wolfensohn's experience, wisdom and dedication were instrumental in helping to ensure a peaceful Gaza disengagement and establishing a framework for the future revival of the Palestinian economy. The Secretary-General has relied extensively on Mr. Wolfensohn's expertise and advice, and his contribution to efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He extends his warm gratitude to Mr. Wolfensohn and is confident that he and other members of the Quartet will continue to seek his advice and counsel." Best wishes, Jim. Many thanks, knowing that you will always be available when there is a serious political will to move ahead.

PAUSE:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a happily married man. But his wife wasn't.
-- Conductor Victor Borge

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an incoming train.
-- A train conductor

READ MY BOOK:

President Saber Murat Niazov, renamed Turkmenbashi (the father of Turkmen), appeared very upset on national television. His Minister of Culture was not behaving in an enlightening manner, he said; she divorced her husband and became the mistress of the Prosecutor General's son-in-law. Her replacement will be subjected to a six month period during which her cultural skills will be tested. The main cultural event in Turkmenistan over the last few years has been the President's own book "Roukhnama," which the author himself modestly described as the shortest way to heaven. "Anyone reading my book three times will become intelligent; will understand the laws of nature and human principles. Afterwards, that reader will go straight to heaven." Roukhnama, which means the "spiritual," was translated into 30 languages by loyal ministers who managed to print one million copies -- available to anyone seeking redemption. Special issues were dispatched to outer space. The month of September has been renamed Roukhnama and Saturday Roukhnaman. The most joyous national event in 2005 was when it was announced as the year of Roukhnama.

OFF DUTY:

On a balmy Sunday, a well dressed woman with Upper East Side determination stood outside Balducci's on 85th Street and Madison Avenue expressing support for the people of Darfur. She was offering rubber bands as an expression of commitment in return for two dollars to help the refugees. Turns out she lived one block away and her young child had initially volunteered for the cause at his school. But it was his birthday and she offered to stand in for him. A mother's heart is an infinite treasure. She was engaging everyone at the entrance and exit about both Darfur and her young son. A delegate from a Security Council member country happened to drop by. Not from a Permanent member, but auspicious enough to double park, plates shining in the glimmering sun. He skillfully evaded the woman, and even more skillfully tested every soup flavour and all smoked salmon brands before buying half a pound of ham. Pinned down while about to return to his Diplomatically licensed car, he politely but firmly explained that he was "off duty". The earnest woman turned to a bystander to explain apologetically that the U.N. was "a complicated place". He assured her he agreed. He worked there.

ANTI-TERRORISM PANEL STRESSES IMPLEMENTATION:

The Security Council committee monitoring the implementation by States of counter-terrorism measures contained in a Security Council resolution is trying to bolster its efforts to help countries put those requirements into practice, according to its Chairman. In a briefing to United Nations Member States on the work of the Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Løj of Denmark said the 15-member panel, after having gathered information from all 191 Member States about their steps to carry out resolution 1373, would be moving to emphasize "enhanced" implementation. "The goal is to become a more focused partner in States’ implementation of obligations and provisions under resolution 1373," she said. Resolution 1373 calls on countries to take a number of steps to enhance their legal and institutional capacity to be in a better position to counter terrorist activities nationally, regionally and globally.

LIBERE LA LIBERTE:

During the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) which took place at the French Senat in Paris, the distinguished professor and President of Cameroon League of Human Rights Association, Professor Kapet Bana, suggested the creation of "a universal code of conduct for press freedom". According to the Cameroon Human Rights Leader, "there are no more freedoms, there are no more United Nations within the prevailing international situation and peoples need badly to reshape a new reorganized world...the actual supposed Security Council is becoming the Insecurity Council and the UNO is turning to be the Dis-United NO...We had the U.N. with blah blah blah and peace, nowadays we have the blah blah blah with bombs...Peoples need to get back their organisation and to free the freedom...il faut liberer la liberte." The speech was very warmly applauded.

HOW TO START TROUBLE:

Jan England can easily agitate from the safety of New York or Geneva. Obsessed by media coverage, he does not even realize that he is putting poor refugees -- let alone news reporters and aid workers -- in harm's way when he brings along a media circus to a volatile spot before a settlement mechanism was put in place. The upshot of a visit to a Darfur camp was serious trouble when an aid worker was hacked to death, an interpreter was killed, and U.N. vehicles were destroyed with axes and stones. According to Reuters, Egeland "beat a hasty retreat". However, other less protected visitors were left to fend for their own way out. Some observers saw in Egeland's hurried timing of the visit an attempt to upstage Special Representative Jan Prank who was on his way to Khartoum and Darfur. Maybe another "High Level" Coordinators group is needed to regulate competing senior U.N. officials.

DE SOTO TARGETED:

Newly appointed Middle East Special Envoy Alvaro de Soto seems to be a target of a well-organized internal campaign. "What is de Soto really doing?" is being casually, yet increasingly, whispered around certain influential quarters. A brilliant infighter with an understated sense of humor, the former Peruvian diplomat has always had excellent personal relations with Secretary General Kofi Annan, who gave him assignments in Western Sahara and Cyprus. He had joined as a Special Assistant to Dr. Javier Perez de Ceullar with whom he worked successfully on Latin American conflicts like San Salvador and Nicaragua. Despite describing himself as "a bird of passage," he was kept by successive Secretaries Generals. Insiders are noticing that a particularly influential "envoy" is making a special effort to undercut de Soto's role.

MASTERS IN U.N. WORK:

Our colleague Hassan Fodha, until recently Director of the Regional European Office in Brussels has launched a new career after his U.N. retirement. He is now professor at the International Centre of Diplomatic and Strategic Studies in Paris. He teaches a special group preparing for a Masters degree on the U.N. System: how it works, what are its main concepts and what reforms would be feasible. Feedback indicates that his partners -- students, teachers and staff -- are appreciative of his practical and substantive contributions. Needless to say, his commitment to U.N. objectives remains unshaken despite obvious disappointments. While Director of the U.N. office in Paris, Mr. Fodha, a Tunisian citizen and former Ambassador of Oman, has built a wide network of media, academic and intellectual personalities who closely follow U.N. issues. His unselfish work gained friends and supporters for the Organization. He continues to do so with characteristic dedication.

SCHEHERAZADE'S HAND:

It was cut off in Baghdad. The tale-teller of "One Thousand and One Nights" had a noted statue centrally placed in Abu Nuwas street. It was part of every Baghdadi's childhood. Parents took children to see it -- appointments were made by its side. Most recently, someone took off part of her statue, together with that of her fascinated husband, Shahriyar. Not only have valuable parts of Iraq's history been stolen and smuggled for illicit sale abroad, now even memories are being smashed.

DAY OF VESAK:

The Secretary General sent warm greetings to everyone on the Day of Vesak, 11 May, commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha. Mr. Annan went on to elaborate:
"The ideals celebrated on this day are close to those of the United Nations: understanding among peoples, the pursuit of harmony, the promotion of peace. This Day of Vesak falls as the United Nations continues its efforts to adapt the United Nations to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, and in particular to implement the commitments made by leaders at the 2005 World Summit last September. Our success in advancing this agenda of renewal will depend not only on Government representatives and international officials. It will rest on voters, consumers, civil society groups and concerned individuals of all ages, in rich and poor countries alike, thinking and acting as global citizens. As we mark this year's Day of Vesak, let us recognize, as Buddhism does, our essential interdependence. And let us resolve to work together towards the common good, and for the harmonious and peaceful coexistence of all the world's people. I thank all of you for your commitment to those ideals, and wish you a wonderful celebration for the Day of Vesak."

KNOCK, KNOCK. WHO'S THERE?:

Question: Does the Secretary-General intend to make public the report on Dileep Nair?

Spokesman: As I said, once I have information on when the report will be handled in and how it will be handled, I will get it off my chest and over to you as soon as possible.

Question: Is it finalized?

Spokesman: No, it has not been finalized.

Question: Steph, we know the report has been handed in. It's upstairs.

Spokesman: The report has not been finalized.

Question: But that doesn't answer the question of the fact that the U.N. has it and is not giving us any answers.

Spokesman: The final report is not completed. The report has not been finalized. As soon as I know when that report is finalized and how it will be handled, I will tell you.

Question: When you go up and ask them: "When will the report be finalized?" what do they say?

Spokesman: They tell me: "We'll tell you when it is," which is exactly what I'm telling you.

Question: Don't call us, we'll call you.

Spokesman: Exactly. Yes, Betsy?

Question: I hate to keep beating this one. But surely you have asked if the Secretary-General plans to make it public once it is completed, because we've been asking for about a year?

Spokesman: I understand. I've relayed those questions. People do listen to what goes on in this room. At least I hope so. And, as I said before, as soon as I have information on when the report is finalized and how it will be handled, I will tell you.

Question: Have you asked the (inaudible) directly what he's going to do (inaudible)?

Spokesman: Nick, at the risk of repeating the same sentence over and over again, I really have nothing to add on this report. .