15 May 2013


Although former speechwriter for the Secretary General, Michael Meyer, left more than a year ago, we understand he continued to be paid as a member of the U.N. Mission to Darfur, although he was not physically there. We were told he was not granted a visa. Yet, he was seen around New York while others paid much less were actually risking their lives by being on the ground. Is he still being paid? By whom?


Barcelona football star Fabregas was having an evening out in a London Japanese restaurant three years ago when he spotted a somewhat interested beautiful woman. After an exchange of sushi tastings (and telephone numbers), he invited her to join him in Spain. She dropped her very rich husband, a real estate mogul, and joined Shakira, who also lives with a Barcelona star. It also happens that the woman, Daniela Semaan, is also Lebanese. During this April's championship match with Paris' St. Germaine, the player was informed that his girlfriend just delivered a baby. He swiftly arranged for a replacement and flew straight to the hospital to see his newest score.


"Let the beauty of what you have be what you do."
-- Rumi


Very interesting nuances in Egypt's political scene. A special meeting was arranged between President Morsi and the full membership of the High Command in the Egyptian armed forces. For several weeks, certain Moslem Brotherhood personalities have been criticizing the army, and British daily The Guardian recently published a leaked "report" that the army had participated in torturing and killing protesters. Egyptian and Arab media showed President Morsi standing at "attention" in the midst of a full house of uniforms. The Commander of the Armed Forces, Marshall Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, was heard making an unusual speech. With obvious emotion, he said that the President "listened attentively" to all issues of concern to the armed forces and "fully understood these issues." He went on, as broadcasted, in a clear loud voice "to those listening to me" and "I swear to God Almighty the armed forces did not kill nor order to kill; did not backstab nor order to backstab; did not betray nor order betray." The Marshall concluded with an obvious understated cautioning signal in Egyptian local slang: I hope that all those listening will keep clearly in mind not to undercut his own army. The Armed Forces are honest and nationalists; they are seriously affected -- its soldiers, officers and senior commanders -- by any insult directed at them." Hear thee well. Morsi at home and those behind him "abroad."


"Have you ever undressed in front of a dog?"
-- Comedian Jonathan Winters, who passed away in April


The "material girl" has been having a hard time highlighting her spiritual side. Her display of interest in Kabbalah was overtaken by her "bare minimum" concerts with her glaringly younger male partner from North Africa. Apropos Africa, she tried to show interest in teaching young students by contributing to schools in Malawi. Her recent visit there, however, was interrupted by a Presidential decree withdrawing her VIP status. Apparently, she had not informed the authorities in advance of her arrival and when there, she sent a hand-written note to the President addressing "Dear Josephine" or something similar -- instead of the usual "Madam President" or "Excellency" -- suggesting they meet at a mutually convenient time. However, Madonna may not be seeking to visit that area soon. She will need to check her other investments as the "material girl" has become the first artist to reach the rank of billionaire.


Traditionally, France's intelligence services are usually referred to as "Research" or Analysis Offices. Anyway, new President Hollande has reportedly changed his mind about cutting the cost of the intelligence services, indicating an interest in strengthening them, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. His appointment of Bernard Bajolet as the new chief of external security continued that inclination. The 65 year old former diplomat had served in Algeria, Iraq and Jordan, passing often through Syria and Lebanon. He had coordinated security and intelligence services in the Elysee Palace between 2008 and 2011 when former President Sarkozy sent him as France's Ambassador to Afghanistan. He was popular in Algeria for being the first French diplomat there to have the Algerian National Anthem played together with "Le Marseillaise" at the French National Day celebration. In Damascus, he was known to have played golf with Basel Assad, brother of Bashar, who was being groomed for success when he was killed in a traffic accident.


The world's most admired soccer football player was apparently ready to give the new Pope his own shirt. The formidable Lionel Messi, Argentinean popular player with Spain's Barcelona offered his compatriot Pope Francis his Argentinean team shirt number 10. The number used to belong to another legendary Argentinean Diego Armando Maradona, who shot to international fame when using "the hand of God" to score a goal against a threatening British team. Pope Francis, a soccer fan, was so happy to receive Messi's shirt that he showed it to the crowd assembled on Sunday near the Vatican.


When Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted Climate Change as his main priority when taking over, there were enthusiastic mottos such as "Seal the Deal" and "Hopenhagen." There was also a special effort to publicize a visit to the Antarctic, although the outcome was mainly limited to: "Hug a Penguin." Now that all efforts on climate change have been shelved, an American big business firm has picked it up -- although mainly for commercial reasons. Blackstone, the company that bought "SeaWorld" is preparing to turn the playground of Seals, Whales, and Dolphins into a Wall Street public company. To draw attention, it brought a couple of Penguins to parade through its New York Park Avenue manicured, spotlessly clean headquarters. Not so after they left!


Karen Albert, a retired U.N. staff member, after being footloose and fancy free, suddenly found herself a cat owner, not of just one but two cats. The first arrival, a UN cat, who arrived on a Tuesday, has been renamed "A Persian of Interest" or "Meow Tse Tung" depending on her behavior on any given day. The second arrival of the following Sunday is still afraid to emerge from behind the sofa or under the bed.

In the interest of equal time -

The same staff member went to the movies to see "Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf", a documentary about the very posh and expensive 5th Avenue icon department store. She was stunned to see a woman actually brought her dog to the movies. Obviously a Bergdorf shopper's sense of entitlement. A Macy shopper for example wouldn't dare!


"Winding up its session in Istanbul, Turkey, the U.N. Forum on Forests took groundbreaking steps to improve sustainable forest management and honour activists. Shown, rubber trees in Brazil."
-- A U.N. press bulletin


Sheikh Abdullatif Al-El-Sheikh, the General President of the Committee to Instruct Good Deeds and Prevent Wickedness (actually meaning a self-styled government authorized religious police in Saudi Arabia) denied that three men were prevented from attending the Janadriyah festival because "they were so attractive that they may tempt women." According to Middle East Online, Al-El Sheikh explained that members of his group were "contacted by visitors who complained that someone was moving as if dancing in the wings" and was moved to the "area where there are men rather than families." Local Gulf press reports had mentioned that an actor from Dubai, Omar Burkan, and three others had been deported from the Saudi literary artistic festival "because they were too obviously handsome."


"Put yourself in Hamlet's shoes. Suppose you were a prince, and you came back from college to discover that your uncle had murdered your father and married your mother, and you fell in love with a beautiful girl and mistakenly murdered her father, and then she went crazy and drowned herself. What would you do? Go back for a Masters?"
-- Art Buchwald


Libya's Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz seems to be in trouble. His Ministry has been surrounded several times by angry armed militia from the Zenten district. Zenten is not only the anti-Ghaddafi rebellious stronghold that keeps Seif El-Islam out of reach of the International court; but more significant, it is the base of Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who is either sending signals to his Minister or being pressured by his own hometown. WIth no central command, a scapegoat will be required every season. Question is who will it be this time: the Prime Minister or his Foreign Affairs colleague.


Someone once described relations as Algebra. Have you ever looked at X and wondered Y?



Since her designation as Prosecutor General of the International Court of Justice, Fatou Bensouda kept such a low key that she was almost forgotten until spotted early May at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Perhaps we had gotten used to her predecessor who is cooling his heels in Buenos Aires after going after Sudan's President Bashir who apparently knew with whom and on what to make a deal. Fatou, a citizen of The Gambia, is supposed to look for culprits outside Africa which has had its share. Nothing much forthcoming, perhaps because Asian tigers have been quicker and more adept at making deals ahead of the curve. Like Myanmar, for instance. Or elsewhere. Fatou Matou, liberally interpreted from Arabic, means water under the bridge.


With the escalating Syrian crisis, neighbouring Lebanon is facing several known problems, but a seriously unnoticed brewing situation is where Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet at the mountainous area of Shabea. That area was already a sensitive political issue which involved the U.N since UNIFIL started in 1978. But a new and very worrying angle is the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees with very little hope to return home and very scarce food and water. UNIFIL Command has already been alerted. Some of its offices have already inspected the area. Let's hope some action is taken before the situation gets out of everyone's hand.


Former Lebanese President Emil Lahoud has been quiet for four years. Having decided to speak out, he gave an interview to Jean Aziz, a perceptive columnist, who has a special weekly program entitled "Without Immunity" on Orange TV, directed by former army command Michel Oaun. While he delved into local politics, one piece of information came out. When former Prime Minister Hariri (later assassinated) was out of power, U.N. Envoy Terje Roed Larsen visited to request him to form a new government. The President, who had received Hariri, said that the billionaire politician did not want to return to officialdom for a while until he built a popular constituency preparing for a forthcoming election. Upon Larsen's insistence, the President agreed. A week later, Lahoud added, Larsen called him from Paris on behalf of French President Chirac, thanking him for his agreement. The former Lebanese President said he was puzzled because he had thought that Larsen's request was on behalf of the U.N.


"It is an unprecedented situation, but will take care of it as we did in the past."


Or just a passing saucer?!
-- Photo by Mohamad Machnouk


If you were awake contemplating the state of the world or your own state of affairs in New York between 21 and 26 April, you would have witnessed a meteor shower. The skies were shining with an average of 10 - 20 meteors an hour -- at least that's what AccuWeather told puzzled observers, explaining that they are "bits of comet's tail" usually no bigger than grains of sand that strike the atmosphere then disintegrate as streaks of light. Apparently, pre-dawn hours offer the best view. In the evenings, the shower sits closer to the horizon, blocking many of them from view. A shining moon until after midnight dims the sightings, but as it sets before dawn, the meteor shower "moves into its peak positional hours." The clearest view was in the dawn of 22 April -- unless you were out of town visiting the Rocky Mountains or the Great Lakes -- where clouds got in the way.


Yes, The New Yorker.


At the opening of the Woodstock Festival in 1969, young African American singer Richie Havens was singing for "Freedom." All the other joined in: artists, protesters, hippies had found their way to Upstate New York where the legendary gathering became the first globalized protest concert. Legend has it that Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Jimmy Hendrix were all caught through "crowd traffic" as they tried to make it to the site. Richie was already there. So he kept playing "Freedom, Freedom -- sometimes I feel like a motherless child," keeping the crowds busy until the others managed to appear. He reproduced some of Bob Dylan's signature songs like "Tombstone Blues" and "Just Like a Woman." He appeared at the U.N. on occasion against Apartheid. Richie, who was from New Jersey, passed away in April.


Adam LeBor, reporter and novelist, who moves around international capitals investigating stories of special interest, has just produced a new book, Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World . The book is about bankers, an intriguing subject and a fashionable target these days.

His new focus is on a target known for avoiding the limelight. He reports that five times a year members of a powerful and exclusive club, comprised of central bankers, including the heads of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bundersbank of Germany and the Bank of England. They meet in an office building in Basel, Switzerland to attend the "global economy meetings" at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). Most people have never heard of that bank, but according to LeBor, the group exercises direct influence on monetary policies in the developed world affecting how much money individuals have in their pockets or bank accounts, how much it is worth and how safe it will be. He describes a long and complicated history in which that bank played a significant role behind the scenes in many of the major events of the 20th Century.

For example, during WW II the Bank was a channel for secret contacts between the allies and the axis. From 1940 to 1990 the Bank was the central location for the creation and launch of the Euro currency. It provided the technical and administrative support for currency harmonization and then helped create the European Central Bank. By now, about 5,000 central bankers travel to Basel for its closed meetings where they set up or review new global financial and regulatory architecture. They are public servants managing national reserves of public money, yet no details of these discussions are released. The Bank is protected by international treaties and has only 140 customers, albeit important ones, as they are the Central Banks.

The book is based on access to numerous former and current central bankers - the BIS former manager and former Economic advisor Paul Volcker, and Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. The book tries to shed the light on a publicly unknown area. U.N. observers may recall his book on the International Court of Justice, where he advised on the proposal that those to be tried should not have only been local leaders directly involved in atrocities, but also international leaders who did nothing to stop them.

Adam LeBor writes for The Economist, The London Times, and numerous other publications. As an experienced reporter who had covered the conflicts in Yugoslavia for The London Times, he is author of seven non-fiction books and two novels. He is based in Budapest.


Anyone who has ever worked at the U.N. knows that truth can be stranger than fiction (see above), so it's apt that Adam LeBor has started a new series of thrillers set in and around the U.N. You may remember that LeBor's non-fiction work, Complicity with Evil, which investigated the U.N.'s failures in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, caused something of a stir.

His new thriller heroine, Yael Azoulay, is an Israeli woman who works behind the scenes as the SG's negotiator, doing the secret deals that keep the wheels of superpower diplomacy and big business turning.

The first full length book, The Geneva Option, is published by HarperCollins U.S. at the end of the month, but meanwhile, The Istanbul Exchange, a novella, about secret rendition and other murky business is out now, free in all e-book formats, from HarperCollins.

Link to view the book at Harper Collins and at Amazon .

Eight years after The Interpreter, it's time surely for Hollywood to return to Turtle Bay?


Nine hopefuls lobbied for nine months to succeed Pascal Lamy at the leadership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Geneva-based framework that carries a unique weight in influencing global trade and ensuring the flow of goods and services around the world. WTO replaced GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which was established in 1948 to supervise commercial rules and roles. By mid-April candidates narrowed down to two from Latin America. Roberto Ozevedo Brazil's Ambassador and Herminio Blanco, Mexico's former Trade Minister. It came down to a vote. The Brazilian won. It was perceived as a victory for a substantive review with an open approach to newly emerging economic powers like Brazil, India, South Africa, and China. A major test will come up at the next Ministerial level meeting in December, particularly as the much-touted Doha Round collapsed after ten years of talks. The toughness of the issues may be slightly eased by the calming balmy surroundings of its venue in the island of Bali.


Feodor Starcevic, whose latest incarnation was as Serbia's Permanent Representative to U.N. Headquarters, will be returning home after four years in New York. The "Great Feodor" - as known by friends across the U.N. system - had accomplished varied assignments, first as a Yugoslav rising diplomat, then as a U.N. staffer in the Economic and Social Information Division, then again as a Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Conference in Belgrade, from where he went to London as Ambassador only to be tapped by the U.N. to open its first office in the newly formed independent state of Georgia and eventually to head the U.N. Information Centre in New Delhi. After retirement, he went back to Belgrade before making his way again to New York. A solid professional with sterling human qualities, particularly unfettered loyalty to principles and friends, Feodor took the most complicated issues in stride winning friends and influencing issues along the way. His enlightened advice and wide contacts helped elect former Serbia's Foreign Minister as President of the U.N. General Assembly current session. Perhaps as he completes his official assignment, Feodor Starcevic would participate in wider U.N.-related political and intellectual activities. More important, he will have more time to share with his many friends around the world and enjoy life beyond official missions. All the best, Great Feodor.