15 May 2007
SHASHI & CHRISTA:
We don't know whether congratulations are in order. We've known it for years but did not mention it.
Now the not so secret affair is at last officially no secret anymore. Shashi Tharoor and Christa Giles, we were
reliably informed, just married. When Shashi was leapfrogged by Kofi Annan to head the Department of Public
Information and while still officially married, he moved Christa with him to that Department, installing her (with a
promotion?) on the same tenth floor -- just off the elevator (for ease of movement?). It was supposed to be
hush-hush, but everyone in the Department was talking. No rules had been broken because technically they were not
married, but it smacked of nepotism -- although nobody was certain who had more influence: Christa or Christo. With
a series of negative press reports on senior officials (Riza's son; Nair's week-end appointment of a female staffer
from P-4 to D-2; Lubber's sexual harassment case; Oil-for-Food, etc.), Tharoor's own divorce proceedings and some
staff speaking out, a transfer was arranged to the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. She was
given an assignment as Secretary of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean! Ms. Giles is a Canadian citizen and
thus after the marriage her spouse can now stay in the USA legally. But he may have to think twice before attending the
Renaissance Club in Hilton Head. With all other options exhausted, Dubai may be the most convenient exit. Actually,
he may do very well as a hedge fund manager, provided he realizes that others also will have to make some profit.
The farcical "Alliance of Civilization" has now been officially recognized with an appointment of
the first "High Representative." It is none other than that Special Representative to stop Tuberculosis, former
Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio. We assume he will not let go of his TB title before making sure he sinks his
teeth in the new one, whatever that entails. No "civilization" anywhere around the globe seemed to take notice
except someone in the Secretary General's Spokesman's Office and the two ambassadors of Spain and Turkey in Lisbon
who dutifully signaled their support in "Publico." In a consigned article, they assured the totally uninterested
public that: "with his moral, intellectual and political qualities, Jorge Sampaio is the best man to guide this ship to
a safe harbor." How higher can you get?
CONTINUITY WITH FARCE:
Marvel Comics Spiderman, the Hulk and Fantastic Four joined the ranks of "U.N. Ambassador" in the
spring of 2007. They are to prepare for the 60th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in 2008. That
Declaration was made following a totally destructive World War II and a Holocaust. Whoever made this appointment
may want to say that history moves erratically, once as tragedy and once again as a farce.
LOST IN TRANSLATION:
Ryan Crocker, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, was the official who met Iranian Foreign Minister
Mottaki in Sharm El Sheikh. Having served in Beirut and Damascus, he is knowledgeable about the region. He is also known
to go beyond stiff diplomatic parlance, trying to lighten the atmosphere to facilitate a smooth exchange. That was
probably why, when asked, he responded that the meeting was useful -- that he exchanged with the Foreign Minister
phone numbers saying "I would say it was not a date." A reporter of Saudi-financed Al-Arabiya TV translated
date into "atifiyyah," Arabic for "an emotional" or "romantic" meeting. That's some news to the cautious Iranian.
"There are a lot of lies in this world and the worst of it is that half of it is true."
-- Winston Churchill
"History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other."
-- Phillipe Guedella
"Scooby do be doo..."
-- Frank Sinatra
Much speculation about U.S.-Iranian contacts during the International Compact for Iraq gathering
in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. With little else to do beyond listening to written and circulating
speeches, reporters were constantly on the watch for moves by the Americans, Iranians and Syrians. That's why it was
noted that when Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki entered the dinner hall he saluted everyone by saying in Arabic
"Salam Alaikom." Dr. Rice responded with the Arabic: "Marhaba," meaning "Welcome." Then she added: "Your English
is better than my Arabic." How did she know?
Michael Meyer, a veteran Newsweek editor has been named Director of Communications and Speech Writing for
the Secretary General. Meyer, 55, "has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist with Newsweek
Magazine," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said as she made the announcement. Meyer, an American, was European editor
for Newsweek International after returning to the magazine in early 2001 following an assignment by the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to work with the U.N. Mission in Kosovo. He previously served
as Newsweek's Bonn / Berlin bureau chief covering the collapse of the Berlin Wall and German reunification,
and was also Newsweek's lead reporter throughout the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the war in Yugoslavia.
QUESTIONS ON THE RECTOR:
A number of questions were raised by seasoned observers about the newly designated Rector of the
U.N. University in Tokyo. That University is the only part of the U.N. system to have its global HQ anywhere in Asia.
Why then appoint a European to succeed a European Rector? Other points mentioned were that the new appointee:
- has no U.N. knowledge or experience;
- no developing country or Asia experience;
- his academic background and experience is also very narrow.
- Finally, he is already 65 years old when he begins his term, and will be 70 when he completes his first term.
This for an institution where he will have to implement a compulsory retirement age plan at 62.
In a rare appearance, Kofi Annan addressed both houses of the British Parliament on the
Commemoration of Ghana's 50th Anniversary of Independence and 200 years since that country outlawed the slave trade.
The outgoing Secretary General has always had a special place amongst British officials, not only because Ghana
was part of the British Crown (as Gold Coast) but since his father was a special friend of Britain. Mr. Annan
continued that family tradition. A British colleague commented once that if Mr. Annan had entered politics he would
have certainly become amongst the leaders of the Labour party.
SIR MARK'S NEW ROLE:
As predicted in an earlier UNforum issue, outgoing Deputy Secretary General Sir Mark
Malloch-Brown will be working with billionaire philanthropist George Soros. He will be devoting his full-time as
Vice-Chairman of the Open Society Institute. A letter from Mr. Soros indicated that his longtime friend and neighbour
"will help create opportunities around the world through his wide network of contacts." It added that Sir Mark "will
explore the development of innovative methods to use in the international capital markets to address the needs of
developing countries, while creating unique investment opportunities for the fund." Since he left the U.N. in
January, Sir Mark has been in Yale working on a book.
U.S. President George W. Bush took time out of his very very busy schedule to join the Kan Kouran West
Africa Dance Company to draw awareness to the Malaria disease. Noting that the group was repeating the same rhythmic
movement for a while, a jovial President took his own initiative in hand, that is by lifting his arms sideways right and
left while shaking his body along with the music. The Company kept to their own moves until alerted by the
Commander-in-Chief to follow suit. They did.
A new lawyer to help IBRD beleaguered chief Paul Wolfowitz (now they need lawyers!) who happens to
be a former lawyer for former President Bill Clinton (Special U.N. Envoy for Tsunami!) during a sexual harassment
case, must have extraordinary talent not only in the practice of law but in the usage of the English language. He
told Washington newspapers that certain information was "exculpatory." Well. We Googled it and discovered that
it meant "clearing of guilt or blame," "clean-handed," the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. For
example, in Thomas Hardy's "A Pure Woman," Tess's voice throughout had risen higher than its opening tone: "There had
been no exculpatory phrase of any kind, and she had not wept." Or in Charles Dickens "The Mystery of Edwin Drood: "If
they had been less plausible than they were, the good Minor Canon's mind would have been in a state of preparation to
receive them, as exculpatory of his unfortunate pupil." With some Latin background, we would assume that the basic term
is "culpa," like "mea culpa" -- and Dr. Wolfowitz is not yet ready for it. How unfortunate.
DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL:
"Stories from the Field;" the Third Annual United Nations Documentary Film Festival, took
place on Saturday, 21 April, and Sunday, 22 April, at Tishman Auditorium, The New School, 66 West 12th Street
in New York. It featured film screenings, panel discussions, workshops and award presentations. This year, the
Festival more than doubled its previous entry records, receiving over 200 films, and featuring 30 countries on five
continents. Launched in 2005, the Festival was originally conceived as a showcase for films produced by United
Nations offices and agencies around the world. However, so many non-United Nations filmmakers expressed interest
in joining the competition that it was expanded in 2006 to include works from outside filmmakers. The Festivalís
theme, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, remains the same. To compete, films must reflect one or
more of the eight goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote
gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and
other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. The Festival
is a way to highlight some of the people and cultures in areas with a United Nations presence throughout the world,
and discover what these groups are doing to overcome challenges such as poverty, hunger, disease, civil unrest,
human trafficking and injustice. It also serves to show how United Nations programmes and services are helping
communities to develop civil society, participation and a better quality of life for their people; and to afford
those in the field -- United Nations workers, community leaders and the people they serve -- the opportunity to
share their stories.
The year 2006 was "the most savage and brutal" year on record for journalists with 100 media professionals
across the world killed, according to a statement by the International Press Institute. This year, 2007, may not bring
better news. By Spring, 22 journalists had been killed, 14 in Iraq and one in each of Mexico, Peru, Turkey,
Afghanistan, China (?), Eritrea, Somalia and Haiti. In 2006, Iraq again topped the list with 46 journalists killed
followed by 10 in the Philippines, 7 in Mexico, 5 in Sri Lanka, 4 in Pakistan and 3 in Afghanistan. There were four
killings of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa. Restrictive laws suffocated the media in Zimbabwe; while the prosecution
of journalists in Ethiopia has almost silenced independent journalism. Severe media problems exist in the Gambia
and the Democratic Republic of Congo where one journalist was killed; there were also police raids on media outlets
in Kenya and Nigeria. In the Australasian and Oceanic region, the coup in Fiji highlighted the fragility of press
freedom. In the Americas, 17 journalists were killed, including two in the Caribbean. Mexico, with seven journalists
killed, remains the region's most dangerous country and Cuba, with 25 journalists imprisoned, is the biggest jailer.
There were two deaths in Venezuela, where the government is undermining private media, particularly broadcasting. In
the United States, a series of criminal cases involving protection of journalists' sources reinforced calls for a
federal shield law. In Colombia, three journalists were killed for reporting on various issues.
It is generally known in the Middle East that the Syrian government considers Terje Roed Larsen
non grata. Similarly, the self-obsessed Norwegian is suspect in the Arab world as a proxy for Israeli Deputy Prime
Minister Sharon Peres. Former Secretary General Annan was unfairly booed during his November visit to Beirut when
people discovered Larsen among his entourage. A decision of new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to keep the man is
a matter of speculation by most Arab diplomats. Anyway, there was a question of whether he will take him to
Damascus. He did. How comfortable Mr. Larsen felt while being closely watched is his business. How useful he was
during that visit is up to his nominal and actual boss. But it was noted that while he was granted a visa like the rest
of the U.N. team, when it came to the nitty gritty stuff, all was handled in a tete-a-tete ninety minute
meeting between the Secretary General and President Assad. Larsen was practically shut out.
ED'S HOT AIR:
Edward "No Stone Unturned" Mortimer wrote the following in the 19 April issue of Bitter Lemons, an Internet
forum for varied perspectives on the Middle East: "The quartet was an anomalous arrangement. It resulted from an
unusual initiative by Secretary General Kofi Annan who during his first term (1997-2001) had gradually and
skillfully accustomed member states to a considerable exercise of discretion on his past -- making himself, more than
any of his recent predecessors a diplomatic actor separate and to a certain degree independent from the other
principal organs of the world body. Thus the U.N. as personified by him within the U.N. was not identical with
"the U.N." to which all states including the other quartet members belonged."
CITY OF ORANGES:
One more book by London Times correspondent Adam Lebor. "City of Oranges: An Intimate History
of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa" published by W.W. Norton in New York offers a timely reminder that the story of the Middle
East is not just about peoples with clashing claims but people -- individuals and families -- struggling to make the
best out of a difficult situation, their opportunities and allegiances restricted by the march of history and the
hand of fate. It is the story of Jaffa, famed for its oranges -- the conquest and partition of a flourishing
cosmopolitan city port where Jews, Arabs, Christians and Moslems once coexisted in peace and traded freely. Lebor
studied in Jerusalem, reported from Israel and Palestine, and covered the Yugoslav war for London's Times and
Independent. In his new book, he offers a view of Middle East history not from the top-down but from the
bottom up. From the end of World War I in 1921 up through the present day Lebor follows the shifting fortunes of six
families in Jaffa, the millennia old port once known as "City of Oranges," now absorbed in Tel Aviv, and those
others encountered along the way. Walking the streets of Jaffa today where barbed wire fence once separated Jew
and Arab, Lebor finds not reason to mourn but reason to hope.
KAWARI FOR ESCWA?:
The name of Abdel Aziz Kawari was mentioned for the post of Executive Secretary for the U.N.
Economic and Social Commission for Eastern Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut. The former Minister of Information of Qatar
and its one time Ambassador to the United Nations in New York would replace Ms. Mirvet Tellawy who has made her
farewell rounds. Kawari combines diplomatic experience and academic credentials with practical knowledge of the
region. For a while, he was a regular columnist in several Arab newspapers. If confirmed in that post, he will
be a valuable asset to the leadership team of Secretary General Ban. His fresh, confident and pragmatic approach
would also be welcomed by ESCWA staff.