15 MAY 2014


To Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's credit, he just appointed Norwegian Major General Kristin Lund as commander of U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). As she takes over next August, she will be the FIRST female Force Commander in U.N. Peacekeeping history.


A headline in the last issue of unforum "Brahimi Proxy Resignation" was confirmed by his actual resignation on 13 May. Before that, interviews conducted by senior officials at U.N. Headquarters in New York were deliberately vague about the actual post; whether it was for the Deputy or the Field Representative on the ground. Kamel Morjane, an experienced Tunisian who worked in the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and was a Special Envoy to Africa, was invited to New York the last week of April for a possible appointment in Syria. It was not clear whether he would be taking over from Mokhtar Lamani, the field representative whose resignation was confirmed -- and is now spending de-briefing time in New York -- or perhaps to replace Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Let's wait for the announcement.


The annual dinner by White House Correspondents in Washington, D.C., seems to be losing its comic edge over the last few years as local politics takes a predominant role. Still, Presidents persist in putting on a smiling face, although it would look odd to those around the world facing catastrophic conflicts. Anyway, one quip by President Obama brought some laughter as he referenced the increasing criticism he was getting from the media, especially Fox News, by commenting that they will miss him soon with the approach of the next Presidential elections as they couldn't produce any document claiming that Hillary Clinton was born in Kenya.


With the many trials and tribulations of Nabil El-Araby, Secretary General of an almost-ineffectual Arab League, former Judge at the International Court of Justice, and Permanent Representative of Egypt to the U.N. in New York, he always managed to look cool, calm and collected except for some occasional discreet humorous asides. He was brought to tears during an interview on Egyptian television when a reporter asked about his teammates who negotiated the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai instead of Taba. They did an outstanding job for their country, Egypt, he responded, some of them died by now, but never recognized for it by senior government officials nor by the public. At a ceremony where they were present, he added tearfully, President Mubarak shook hands with a couple of actors and, disregarding them, left.


By the time the staff of the Department of Public Information managed to correctly and fully pronounce the name of their newly appointed chief, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, he is preparing to leave. His two-year contract is not likely to be extended, particularly that the basic Viennese connection has by now moved back there. Mr. "PL-T" has been very enthusiastic about participating in public meetings, almost waltzing his way from one meeting to another. His Protocol experience propelled him to meet, greet and welcome guests and audiences with special fervor. With his departure, and the appointment of DPI Director Stéphane Dujarric as the Secretary General's Spokesman, there will be not just two crucial vacancies to fill but also more vacuum to manage as the two remaining directors either have no previous communications experience like Maher (Herr...) or no previous U.N. experience, like the only female director who had an open opportunity to prove her work but chose to remain in the shadows. Let's hope Secretary General Ban Ki-moon follows his own instincts and interests by finding effective replacements.


The forthcoming General Assembly Session will be presided over by an African. That much is certain. Certain names were dropped, then dropped. One of the most likely was Cameroon's experienced and highly-regarded Permanent Representative Michel Tommo Monthe, who would have been effectively helped by his talented wife Therese, a former Reference Officer at UNIC, Yaoundé. However, there was a neighbourly approach from Kenya, which is very keen on getting U.N. stature recognition, not least because its new President and his deputy faced accusations from the Prosecutor of the U.N. International Criminal Court. The name of the candidate will certainly matter. Wait for June.


Now here's a plum assignment initiated by Kofi Annan and maintained by Ban Ki-moon. "Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, Personal Envoy of the Secretary General," invited the envoy of Greece and former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia to meet him at U.N. Headquarters in New York on 6 May. He would meet them first separately, then jointly. The purpose of the meeting, according to an official communique, was to continue U.N.-sponsored talk "aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution for the 'name' issue"?! It was announced that both sides, as usual, agreed to attend! Ambassador Nimetz, former U.S. diplomat, has been holding that title, and working on that "issue" for over a decade. We should be grateful, of course, to note that he has agreed to attend!


One of the most accomplished Arab diplomats, Prince Zeid Bin Ra'ad Al-Hussein, is scheduled to leave in the summer. By coincidence -- and rotation -- he presided over the Security Council deliberation in January as his country, Jordan, joined the Council as a non-permanent member when it was voted to replace Saudi Arabia. No particular reason was given. He had certain health problems a couple of years ago, but seemed full of energy in fact as he took over his New York post after some years in the U.S. capital. Prince Zeid, who carries an uncanny resemblance to his great great-uncle King Faisal I of Iraq, earned a reputation for straightforward talk and considerate positions, not to mention versatile independent thinking. It is not yet clear whether the change in the midst of a Security Council term was at his own request, on suggestion from Annan, or influence from other powers in the region. What is certain is that his departure will be a crippling loss for Jordan. He -- and his brilliant charming wife -- will certainly be missed in New York.


An impression that the forthcoming Secretary General for the Association of Francophone Countries would be the current President of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman, may require updating. Although a general conference will be held in Beirut this summer, there are already three officially declared candidates to replace the former Senegalese President. One is a long-time resident in Paris, Ambassador Lopez of Congo-Brazzaville, another from the Mauritius, and the third from Gaba -- all Africans. Despite political gossip in Beirut that France's President Hollande had hinted of France's support for President Suleiman, a frequent visitor to Paris recently, it would take a special effort to overturn an African trend, even with a protective helmet!


"Elsewhere, too far from here; too late -- never perhaps.
For I know not where you fled, you know not where I go.
O you whom I would have loved; O you who knew it."

A Une Passante

Ailleurs, bien loin d'ci; trop tard -- jamais peut-etre.
Car j'ignore ou tu fuis, tu ne sais ou je vais.
O toi que j'eusse aimee; O toi qui le savais.

Charles Baudelaire


A re-shuffle in diplomats and diplomatic approach to the U.N. is in preparation by Morocco. King Mohammed VI is reportedly unhappy with the Secretary General reports to the Security Council on MINURSO and spoke "clearly and firmly" with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon mid-April, hinting at an option of terminating that mission. Apparently, Morocco's Permanent Representative Mohammed Loulichki was not able to make the point at U.N. Headquarters. He will be replaced soon by one of the most "aggressive" diplomats, Omar Hilal, who is currently in Geneva. A signal of that change was that "Moulay" the King received him at his holiday palace in Tehran, to underline the point.


We'll get to that issue at great length in another spot. But it is regrettable to note once again how shabbily the World Press Freedom Day has been commemorated by the U.N. Secretariat in New York. Was it a political decision or mere incompetence?!


"Hikers Spread Democracy in India."
-- N.Y. Times headline 13 May 2014


A barometer of the relations between UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon and the local population is usually the public attitude of Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who comes from the village of Tebnine. Berri has been consistently cordial to UNIFIL and its offices, often sending members of Parliament from his own party to attend celebrations in various towns. Recently, however, after positions taken by UNIFIL relating to the area around Wazzani River, Speaker Barri leaked to the local press that he snubbed UNIFIL Commander General Paolo Sierra who had asked to meet him but was referred to the Speaker's press attache. It may be a signal of approaching difficulties.


Syrian's Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem was taken in an emergency stretcher to the American University hospital in Beirut in March. By early April, he was still undergoing intensified heart valve treatment in a secluded area. Dr. Muallem's role -- like his health -- is critical to future negotiations -- if any -- for an agreed settlement. Despite political rhetoric, he is very highly-regarded by senior officials in both Washington, D.C., where he once served as Ambassador with excellent connections, and Moscow. He also attended potential talks in many countries including a very cash-rich one that reportedly tried to tempt him with a $5 million offer. Before the current crisis, Dr. Muallem was generally known for being one of the most friendly Arab diplomats. Regardless of politics, we wish him speedy recovery.


Ambassador Paulo Fulci, who visited New York in April, was for a stretch of time a pillar of U.N. diplomatic work when he ably represented his country. He was known for mobilizing support from all quarters for any event of his choice and for his proverbial mentorship of a once influential "Coffee Group" that had obvious impact on delegates and Secretariat staff alike. He presided over the Security Council during the historic couple of weeks when Dr. Boutros-Ghali was being prevented from a second term and Kofi Annan elected to replace him. He was also known for his satirical sense of humour. When told that Japan and Germany were getting closer to their quest of becoming Permanent Members of the Security Council, he insisted that Italy have the same right and chance, quipping: "We also lost the war." A reception in his honour by the new Representative of Italy, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, was an occasion for legions of his friends and advisers to grant him.


The Permanent Representative of Korea held a press conference on 7 May on the occasion of assuming the Presidency of the Security Council. It would have been more amusing if Korea's rotation had been delayed by one month, so we could welcome Ambassador Oh Joon in June.


The name of that mission fits. The U.N. Mission in Southern Sudan has been missing in action since the mess started. And the mess started long before it was officially recognized by the Security Council. President Salva Kiir and his initial Vice President Riek Machar were at odds from the beginning. They also had fragmentation issues with Darfur (another U.N. mess) and Khartoum (don't even go there!). Despite initial elation and the raising of the flag opposite the U.N. Assembly building for a 193 member state, nothing went right since then. And whom does the U.N. assign to lead the daunting task? A political appointee who could hardly set foot on the ground. Typical of these days UN/Misses.


Actor George Clooney's fiance Amal Alamuddin, is a successful Lebanese/British human rights lawyer whose family left Beirut in 1982. A graduate of Oxford University, she worked on several known missions, including Kofi Annan's Mission to Syria, the Prosecutor's Office on the assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and defended Wikileaks' Julian Assange in the case of a requested deportation to Sweden. The brilliant and beautiful brunette, who has an understated sense of humour, is the daughter of a classmate at the American University of Beirut, Remzi Alamuddin, who ran a tourism agency in Beirut before retirement in London. The family hails from the mountain Druze village of Baaklin. Her mother, Baria, works for Arab daily Al-Hayat.


"The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round Earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy long withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And make shingles of the world.
-- Matthew Arnold


"No matter what, no one can take away the dances you already had."
-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Two years after taking over as Executive Secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva, Sven Alkalaj, former Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, suddenly left his post. A former Ambassador to Washington, D.C. and Brussels, two influential capitals in his country -- as well the U.N. -- he had replaced Jan Kubis who went to Afghanistan. An Eastern European replaces another Eastern European to focus, according to a press release at the time, "on building consensus among various actors and stakeholders at all levels" -- whatever that meant! His abrupt departure, however, was in a straightforward very brief announcement. No bull about focus or stakeholders. Just that he was gone. Most staff were sighing: "Good riddance."


An Ambassador of an important European country in Eurasia, who had served as a member at his country's Mission to the U.N., was arrested in a third country -- on charges of improper behavior. The police investigated his liaison with three young boys at a resort outside the Asian capital. Caught by surprise, his Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly excluded logistical assistance while superiors were preparing to hold their own investigation on what was the diplomat doing in a spot thousands of miles away from his official post.


"The European Table Tennis Championships were held from October 4th to 13th at Multiversum Schwechat in Austria. In the quarter-finals of the women's singles, Li Fen of Sweden defeated Spain's Shen Yanfei 4-0, while Fu Yu of Portugal beat two-time European champion Li Jiao of the Netherlands 4-1. Shan Xiaona (Germany) and Han Ying (Germany) also won their quarter-final matches. "In the first semi-final, Sweden's Li Fen beat Portugal's Fu Yu 4-2. The other semi-final was an all-German affair, with Shan Xiaona beating Han Ying 4-1. In the final Li Fen beat Shan Xiaona 4-2, thereby securing a rare Swedish victory over the Germans." (L'Equipe 13/10/13. Spotter: Jeremy Berkoff) -- from "Private Eye"


British politician Tony Benn, who passed away last month, once gave a persuasive reason for renouncing his hereditary title. "It would terrify me if I went to the dentist and as he began drilling my teeth he said 'I am not a dentist myself but my father was a very good one.'"


Con una foglia...condividi se ti piace


It's the time. Even in Manhattan's narrow streets, cherry blossom trees find their way to flower. In the midst of noise and speed and hurried steps, blossom flowers sprinkle their way onto your shoulders and into your hearts. Those better located also have birds chirping, especially closer to Central Park or the East and Hudson rivers. The Japanese have turned Cherry Blossom into a festival. They are now celebrating it in New York. Good for them. Good for us. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a moment of Spring.