MOST EXPENSIVE RESIDENCE:
Ambassador Haraguchi of Japan will soon leave his Park Avenue residence to a new mansion closer
to Fifth Avenue on 62nd Street. It took about three years to prepare the new residence for which
his government reportedly paid $21.5 million, the highest price ever paid for a Manhattan
townhouse. That, in addition to renovation costs, will make it the most expensive residence for
any U.N. permanent representative in U.N. history.
NO MORE CONCORD:
With increasing costs and decreasing passengers, the Concord will stop flying across the Atlantic
as of next October. Despite obvious financial reasons, some saw in that interruption a symbolic
sign of the times. The supersonic plane was named as a symbolic reference to closer ties between
England and France. It served as the swiftest possible connection between London and Paris with
Washington and New York. The only consolation to senior traveling officials is that it will
still be available to accommodate them when they come to New York for the General Assembly sessions
New York policemen were puzzled when they found a group of individuals assemble quietly and
peacefully on 67th Street carrying placards written in a foreign language. They had no permission
to assemble, nor did they seem interested in making any specific demand nor protest against
anything in particular. There was no specific occasion. March 25 did not ring any bell to anyone
in the neighbourhood, including the missions of Russia and Belarus to the U.N. After shuffling
around for about half an hour, the three gentlemen in the forward line consulted in hushed,
somewhat puzzled tone after which the group of demonstrators quietly left without uttering a word.
WHOM TO BLAME:
A self-absorbed official who managed to get an invitation as a speaker at a very prestigious
American institution apparently prolonged his presentation to the point of boring most of his
audience. He must have felt that his goal was not fully achieved. So he approached one of the
distinguished members of the audience during the usual cocktails afterwards and said, somewhat
testing the waters: "I am actually concerned that I may have wasted your time." The man responded
politely: "Don't worry young man. Nobody will blame you. They will blame those that invited
A REPRINTED CARTOON:
In an indicative yet silent commentary, pan-Arab "Asharq Al-Awsat" reproduced the same
cartoon by its departing lead cartoonist Kahil twice in one month. As illustrated, it
depicted the Secretary-General in the current crisis over Iraq.
WOULD THE ARAB LEAGUE SECRETARY-GENERAL BE NEXT?
Two Gulf countries initiated a campaign against Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa.
Kuwait Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad who met
with Egyptian President Muberak on the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh publicly ridiculed
Moussa as a pompous clerk who was offended for being called an employee while the fact was
he was one; "he gets paid for his work and all of us, regardless of rank, are employees
when we get paid by others." Members of Kuwait parliament had accused Moussa of siding with
Saddam Hussein. Kuwaiti's contribution to the League's budget is not expected in the near
future. Another influential and rich country, United Arab Emirates, announced that it is
withholding its payment to the League's budget as a sign of its pique at the Secretary-General's
attitude during the crisis over Iraq. Gulf countries accused Moussa of siding with Baghdad during
a crucial meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers just before the war. The Emirates in particular
accused him of railroading a proposal by its ruler Sheik Zayed that an Arab delegation should
visit Baghdad to propose to Saddam Hussein to save the region from war and "show the spirit
of sacrifice he was demanding of others" by stepping down. When Moussa tried to visit Abu Dhabi
mid-April for an economic conference, he was discouraged to do so by its authorities. A third
country, Libya, had already announced it was withdrawing from the League. The new government
in Iraq is not likely to side with Mr. Moussa, former Foreign Minister of Egypt who fleetingly
threatened to resign, then laid low.
STAFF INCREASINGLY FRUSTRATED:
An extraordinary meeting called by the U.N. Staff Union reflected increasing frustrated with
their status. A paper circulated before gathering in Conference Room 1 asked questions like:
These unprecedented sharp questions seemed to be aimed at mobilizing the staff to try and
"turn the work conditions of staff around before it is too late for all of us." This is serious
stuff. It raises serious concern about the morale of those expected to carry on crucial tasks
at a crucial time. Let's hope that someone is paying attention.
- Are you tired of hearing promises...that are never honoured?
- Are you tired of working hard only to get a low rating on your personal evaluation?
- Do you feel betrayed by an organization to which you dedicated yourself all these years?
- Are you not being given the respect due you because of your category, grade, nationality,
UNITING AGAINST INTERNET NEWS RESTRICTIONS:
Concerned at proposals surfacing in "preparatory" meetings leading up to the U.N.'s planned
World Summit on the Information Society, groups comprising the Coordinating Committee of Press
Freedom Organizations meeting recently in Vienna adopted a statement of fundamental principles
essential to incorporate and uphold throughout Summit process.
Press freedom advocates monitoring preparatory meetings have been disappointed at the almost
total absence, in discussions and proposed resolutions, of reference to freedom of the press
as an essential element of any "information society."
They see the need for NGOs and governmental representatives from free-press countries to be
assertive in reminding delegates, journalists, observers and the public that unless press
freedom on the Internet is specifically protected, it is likely to be subject to restrictions
along with the wide range of other non-news content on the Internet.
MESSAGE TO KOFI:
Saudi Arabian daily "Okaq," not usually known for its international scoops, reported that
former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel is a "strong candidate" to succeed Kofi Annan as
Secretary-General, adding that he is backed by a "big part" of the Bush Administration,
particularly Defense Secretary Rumsfield who is a close friend. Incidentally, Gemayel had
worked closely with the Reagan Administration while president in the eighties, around the
same time as Saddam Hussein's U.S. honeymoon, particularly during the war with Iran. Current
Defense Secretary Rumsfield was at the time President Reagan's envoy to the then upcoming, now
deposed Iraqi President. Very few media noted that in the weeks preceding the war in Iraq, the
former Lebanese president made two visits to Baghdad to see Mr. Hussein, one to Washington
(to see Mr. Rumsfield), and another to Paris. One story goes that during his final visit, days
before the war, he crossed from Kuwait with an American officer who knew the
Iraqi dictator well from days of joint collaboration. Details of the ensuing encounter in
Baghdad would make an interesting fiction novel and fuel one more conspiracy theory.
FROM PARODY TO JOKE:
According to "Le Monde," the Human Rights Commission's drift away from its founding
principles has become more and more noticeable to the point that the Commission has become
"a parody of itself," giving ammunition to those who want to discredit the whole U.N. system.
That is why Kofi Annan is concerned that the voice of human rights was not being adequately
heard. The remedy? He asked
none other than High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello to look into this matter and put
forward "reform proposals."
In a possible attempt to respond to criticism in the Arab media, Secretary-General Kofi Annan
offered an interview to Al Jezeera TV. Good move. However, perhaps it was the wrong time of
the day or lack of adequate preparation. Media savvy Annan at times appeared atypically
perplexed and hesitant. "Le Monde" thought the Secretary-General appeared a "tired
man," a polite reference to an unimpressive performance by the usually complimentary Parisian
EXHIBITS LOSE A PILLAR:
Valerie Hampton-Mason is fed up and she will not take it any more. The articulate and elegant
British lady who -- despite her officially modest rank -- ran the exhibits shown at the U.N. over the
last ten years has taken an agreed termination. Successive heads of the Department of Public
Information recognized her talent and although they could not do much to help her, gave her
almost a free hand to do what she does best: draft invitations, arrange for logistics,
receive guests, contact missions and generally do whatever it takes to turn any event under
her care into a success. Now that she is leaving, immediately following another capable
colleague, Graciela Hall who ran the special events, substantive pillars used to dealing with
public events by cutting through red tape will be sorely missed. Let's hope they are replaced
by equally competent staff.
DIANE SAWYER OR BUST:
The media grapevine has it that former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz attempted from
his hideaway to have an exclusive interview with ABC diva Diane Sawyer during which he would
give himself up. With time -- and cigars -- running out, and his home ransacked by looters,
the media savvy Iraqi must have decided to forgo the limelight and approached the forces of
General Tommy Franks who found his new friend "cooperative and talkative." Aziz, who for
decades was Saddam Hussein's image-builder in the West, sounded more important to outsiders
than he really was within the inner circle of power. He was more an advocate than a policy
maker, entrusted with special tasks due to his limited prospects -- he was born under the
name of Tobias Yuhanna Michael.