15 May 2009


There is a three month difference between the contractual time we had indicated for senior officials on the 38th floor. Mr. Kim told an inquisitive visitor that the real dates for the Deputy Secretary General, Chef de Cabinet, and himself was end December, not September. That would give the Secretary General time to evaluate the situation in light of his talks with VIP visitors during the Assembly's General Debate. Still, there are indications that our Tanzanian sister and the Chef (who stopped in Delhi again recently on his way from a mission to Sri Lanka), are looking for other options. Mr. Kim, of course, is more confident, whatever the decision he will remain indispensable to Mr. Ban.


Despite soldiering on dutifully, one of the most talented Under-Secretaries General, Sir John Holmes, seems unhappy where he is. Originally, he had left the U.K. embassy in Paris to take over as head of Political Affairs Department, with the new Secretary General. Instead, Ban Ki-moon gave that post to his U.S. colleague; he was handed a consolation prize in Humanitarian Affairs. As we reported earlier, the British government asked that the post of Chef de Cabinet be given to Sir John, after V.J. Nambiar's expected departure by end of this year. If no solid arrangement is forthcoming, Sir John may leave as early as June. Diplomatic social circles indicate that the one most unhappy about the current posting is Mr. Holmes' wife who at least had a charmed life in the French capital.


Finally, Secretary General Ban placed a visit to Bahrain on his agenda for mid-May. Scheduling must have been fairly difficult with so much pressure on the Secretary General's travel plans. But it may be well worth it. Bahrain was one of the earliest countries in the Gulf to introduce co-education. Well before oil, it had an active civil society and a long history of human civilization. Perhaps the government of Manama will offer a combined glimpse of past, present and future. Its distinguished visitor will no doubt receive a warm welcome. It is recalled that he took his oath of office in front of a distinguished Bahraini woman, Sheikha Haya. The role of Bahrain's dynamic U.N. Permanent Representative in New York, Ambassador Tawfeeq Almansoor was instrumental in finalizing the visit.


Vladimir:"Say something"
Estragon:"I'm trying"
(long silence)
Vladimir:"Say something at all"
Estragon:"what de we do now?"
Vladimir:"Waiting for Godot"


The appointment of Ahmed Davutoglu as Turkey's new Foreign Minister was no surprise except for traditional Turkish diplomats at the Foreign Ministry. The ambitious intellectual who had parachuted as Adviser to Prime Minister Erdugan five years ago had become part of the decision-making process. The "Khoja," Turkish for teacher, who came to politics from lecturing at the American University from Istanbul, was very unpopular with neo-conservatives of the U.S. Bush Administration, who thought he was too presumptuous in expecting a wider role for his country in regional politics. His book "Strategic Depth" foresaw a spread of influence from the Balkans to Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. He was often described as the "new ottoman," in reference to the historical Ottoman Empire. His star rose recently when U.S. President Obama selected Turkey as the first predominately Moslem country to visit in recognition of its international role. When new French President Sarkozy named Professor Davutoglu as one of the persons he wanted to meet during a visit to Damascus, the impressed Syrians quickly accommodated. It is now a matter of time to see if "Khoja" will succeed as actual Foreign Minister -- he was a Special Adviser to the Prime Minister.


A welcome new layout was noted on the official U.N. website www.un.org. Under a heading "United Nations: We the people...a stronger U.N. for a better world," reflects a new dynamic with clear organization guidance. The site had been launched substantially in 1994 by the then head of the Department of Public Information, Samir Sanbar. The director of Library at the time, current Under-Secretary General for Administration, Angela Kane played a pivotal role in implementation. So did Mahbub Ahmad on the technical side. Mahbub is still around, devoted and enlightened as always. It is a much bigger staffing now, a whole section in the Media Division. Initially, it was only three to five individuals taken from various divisions since no budgetary allocations were available. In fact, the Administrative Department tried to take over the site until its Chief Joseph Connors discovered it was not feasible. Anyway, the new design is a positive step forward.


The longer the conflicts, the stranger the names. A new fringe group in Iraq is calling itself "Heaven's Soldiers," although it is not clear how many they are and for whom -- or against whom -- they operate, if at all. All they needed was an Internet communique stating they will be taking action in due course. An "intelligence" officer of the local police was quick to respond that the group was outdated; it had a few members a year or so ago but became extinct with the passing away of their self-styled "inspired" leader. Reportedly, the group is only available near one of the oldest cradles of confusion in history: Babylon.


The Swine Flu epidemic led governments worldwide to take preventive measures and issue safety instructions. One of the most interesting was in Lebanon where the Health Ministry publicly demanded a stop to the compulsive Lebanese habit of three kisses. Whenever anybody meets anyone, male or female, they immediately hug and kiss (on the check!) three times; right, left, then right again. Only one kiss would express absolute rejection, two would indicate a reluctant friendship. To confirm real affection, only three times will do.


Why did the Secretary General hurriedly withdraw a statement about the death of a U.N. Peacekeeper from Togo? Did it have anything to do with the fact that his killer belonged to a (European) permanent member of the Security Council, a country Mr. Ban does not wish to antagonize at this time?


For one day only, a U.N. (soccer) football team was formed in New York's Chelsea Piers. The purpose was to help children in areas of conflict. Ban Ki-moon and his close aide Kim Won-soo were there together with Special Representative Coomaraswamy. Diplomats from Latin American countries seemed to be the most enthusiastic, although our Mr. Kim put up a fairly credible show. However, London's professional Chelsea Club need not worry about serious competition.


With the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council, participants in the 11 May meeting on the Middle East had a welcome opportunity to observe the profeesional, experienced and capable manner in which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presided with confident ease. No offense, of course, to Ambasador Vitaly Churkin who will be the first to attest to his compatriot's sterling qualifications. Actually, Lavrov who served for years as his country's Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York had often presided over the Council's deliberations. A veteran observer who made a special effort to attend that meeting noted a unanimous admiration for President Lavrov's ability to create a collegiate atmosphere despite the delicate issue being discussed and that the friendly senior diplomat has sharpened further his magic touch.


"Nothing is as silly as the expression of a man being complimented."
-- Andre Gide


"I ate a whole chocolate bar."
-- Claudia Schiffer, Davos Lecturer, Model


"Skooby Doobi Dooo"
-- Frank Sinatra


During a swift surprise visit by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to Beirut, she carefully focused on meeting only the President, avoiding a special meeting with both the Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, both candidates in the election taking place 7 June. Mrs. Clinton displayed a cool sense of humour while responding to curious journalists at the Presidential Palace. When asked about the U.S. role in the complex Middle East conflict, she referred to a forthcoming visit of U.S. Mid-East Envoy, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. She added cheerfully that as he had managed to solve the intricate issue of Ireland, his father's home country, it was hoped he will be able to equally help in solving the problems on his mother's side in Lebanon.


After two years of outstanding performance in New York, Ireland's Permanent Representative to the U.N., Paul Kavanagh will be moving to Paris. Ambassador Kavanagh knows the U.N. system as well as he knows Europe, of course. His earlier career as an international civil servant started with Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar; then he served as Director of several key U.N. Information Centres. After leaving the U.N. in 1998, he rejoined the Irish Foreign Service and was appointed Ambassador to the European Community. Throughout, he was a dedicated and effective team member and team leader, always affectionately complemented by his beautiful and brilliant wife Rosemary. No doubt, the couple will be welcome with open arms in Paris, where -- by the way -- our beloved Don Javier resides.


Here they were. Distinguished Permanent Representatives, Minister's Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, darting around the Security Council Chambers on a Friday afternoon, looking for a reporter -- or at least a microphone -- to address after a meeting on Sri Lanka. Accredited correspondents were otherwise preoccupied or already out of the building, though the polite yet barely informed Marie Okabe said they were watching from their offices. The Council's April President Ambassador Heller of Mexico and U.K's John Sewers found their way to the nearby pressroom (Rm 226). Regrettably, their message was not clear to the handful of thinly spread reporters who tried to find out what precisely were the points made. Atypical for usually fiercely independent Mexican delegates, Ambassador Heller seemed very keen to accommodate but did not seem to know what to do. The U.K. Ambassador stood quietly in the wings. Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, who had said he gained something from the Sri Lankan government, disappeared out of sight, leaving it to Secretariat officials to hint of a backtrack. It was not even explained whether Mr. Heller's media demarche was a Presidential statement, which would have been officially announced in a communique, or a press briefing (which did not seem to be the case as he sped out after speaking briefly). Someone said it was a "list of remarks to the press." Who's listening?!


Portuguese-speaking African countries were happy to be covered for an initial while from Lisbon, where there was a full-time Information Centre. To encourage them, a Director there was appointed from one of those countries. An agreement to co-ordinate national news agencies of all the members help spread the news effectively. Every side was satisfied. With the abrupt closure of Lisbon, and the dislocation of its outstanding National Officer, the ensuing vacuum was clearly felt. Now Angola is insisting on opening a full-fledged U.N. Information Centre to cover similarly interested countries in that same language in the same African continent. A Luanda office is likely to open within a year, particularly that this new chairman of the Committee on Information is from Cape Verde.


It turns out that the recently used cover photo showing U.S. President Obama in a shuttle flight with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon only displayed a photographic moment. As is well known, it was not shown at all until Mr. Obama became a certain choice. We were told by a reliable source that at the time of the photo in 2007, Mr. Ban, who had taken over under President Bush' tenure, hardly recognized candidate Obama, who was then way behind Hillary Clinton and almost snubbed him as they happened to meet on the same row on a flight from Washington to New York. Now, of course, the snub is being depicted as a hug. Some are astonished, yet others see it as "politics as usual" when aspiring foreign diplomats who feigned total admiration for George W. Bush have turned their back on the outgoing President in an eye blink, feigning similar admiration for his successor.


Several sources informed us over the last few months that Imran Iqbal Riza is working with UNHCR in Amman over Iraq. Good for him. A case we had raised -- together with the U.N. staff -- several years ago was because his father, then Chef de Cabinet, supposedly supervising the application of staff rules, had averted them by arranging his son's appointment in a P-5 post -- in collaboration with another "senior" officer whom he had assisted in getting a promoted appointment. That other official, by the way, Staffan Demistura, is the same person who, with a new U.N. power structure, got an appointment in Iraq while arranging for an assignment there for the son-in-law of the new Secretary General, who was a UNHCR staffer. While we would not bother to comment on the nowhere machinations of the Italian/Swede Meeter/Greeter, we could clearly indicate that Imran's appointment (with any help from friends) is fully within the rules now that his once pompous father has left the Organization. Hasn't he?


It is with profound sadness that we report the passing away of our lifelong colleague Khaled Yaseer, a formidable international civil servant who performed admirably and loyally at Headquarters and in the field. One of his most impressive roles was as UNDP Resident in Damascus where he gained the respect of his hosts during a very delicate period in Middle East politics, while maintaining unflinching support by his superiors in New York. Back at UNDP, his role as chief of Budget Division was a landmark of creative financial policy. A Palestinian by birth, he was officially "stateless" throughout his U.N. career. Khaled fell sick over the last year and spent some time in a New York hospital. Meanwhile, he, at least, got a U.S. citizenship. We share the sorrow of his many friends around the world and convey our most sincere condolences to his bereaved family.


Two close friends passed away the same day. Khaled Yaseer in the U.S. and his colleague Hikmat Nabulsi in Switzerland. Hikmat had retired in Geneva after heading a UNDP's Volunteers program for year. Forever smiling, he moved easily amongst world capitals. He spoke Arabic with a Syrian accent, though his name is clearly Palestinian, and never missed an opportunity to make new friends. Keep smiling, Hikmat, wherever you are.


Feedback on our brief item that Alvaro de Soto had been assigned a new function within the U.N. Secretariat -- we were reliably informed that whatever the role, if any, it is not related to a recent visit by former Secretary General Perez de Cuellar to New York. Don Javier's personal meeting with his current successor did not deal with such issues and was mainly of a cordial, though not necessarily substantive, nature.


After three months in captivity, Robert Fowler, Canada's former Ambassador to the U.N., was released. Thanks to varied efforts particularly by officials in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, Fowler and his compatriot Francis Gaye, who had been kidnapped in Niger mid-December, were finally able to return home to their families. Talks about deals abound, but that's normal in such abnormal situations. A colleague had described Ambassador Fowler by saying he could talk his way out of any situation. Obviously it needed much more than talking to get him out. Apparently the U.N. Secretariat was not aware of developments. When asked about the release, the Spokeswoman said that "the U.N. is aware of the media reports but has no further comment at this time." Whatever helped and whoever helped out, Thank God. And welcome home.


As an indication of progress accomplished, members of the renewed Iraqi army have been shown taking charge of everyone's safety and security. Apparently, officers were also told that they should stress their role in strengthening Democracy within their own perception of course. In mid-April, Iraq Security services broke through the home of a cartoonist in Karbala and confiscated his work, boasting that they did not beat him up nor detained him for prolonged questioning. The cartoonist, Salman Abed, had produced a fairly docile print of Prime Minister Maliki trying, without much success, to fix a broken car. When the army was asked about the repression of free speech, the General responded that he is all for it but "criticism should not be outside the framework of Democracy"!