1 MAY 2015

NOVEMBER CHANGE:

A change in the Geneva top post, which we had reported several months ago and was postponed, is now expected to take place after the closure of the General Assembly debate, most likely in November. Chef de Cabinet Susana Malcorra would take over as head of the U.N. European Office from the extended Acting Interim Greener. Perhaps that may inject some life in the operations there.

JOLIE'S PRESENTATION:

A presentation to the Security Council by Angelina Jolie on the desperate status of Syrian refugee deserves attention and admiration. The activist actress actually spent valuable time with refugee children in destitute unmanageable camps along unprotected borders. She rightly pointed out the frustration and anger at the international community, particularly powerful and rich countries, for promising rhetoric and delivering disappointing action. Supporting her presentation, U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, Antonio Guterres made a similarly impressive presentation posing a growing challenge to Security Council members. It was a positive change from some actors and actresses who appeared mainly to boost their own egos rather than highlight real issues. A recent example was former actress Geena Davis, of "Thelma and Louise," of the declared "Geena Davis Institute," posing for varied photos while lecturing on "gender equality" to an already persuaded audience.

"U.N. 7O":

An excellent presentation at the U.N. website, un.org, about the Organization entering its 70th year. Quick historic images blend with precise informative facts to give a pervasive picture of why the establishment of the U.N. was an inevitable positive decision to save future generations as well as liberating current ones. Despite occasional "internal server error" clips, the updated portal is helpful, particularly for younger generations that are new to international relations. The U.N. website was launched and consolidated in 1993 by the head of the Department of Public Information, Samir Sanbar, despite opposition by influential diplomats and certain senior U.N. Secretariat officials who eventually came round to welcome it when they realized its growing impact. The new format on that site are most welcome.

TIBAIJUKA:

Former U.N. HABITAT senior official Anna Tibaijuka is trying to seek immunity from trial in her country after being suspected of receiving $1 million from a shareholder in a business while she was Minister of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development. Influential members of her party are determined to take away her parliamentary seat in Parliament which would avert any proceedings. In 2000, Ms. Tibaijuka had been appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Executive Director of the Centre for Human Settlements, generally known as HABITAT. After taking over, she pushed for "reforms" which entailed upgrading her own post first and foremost from Assistant-Secretary-General to Under-Secretary-General. Mr. Annan appointed her again in 2005 as his Special Envoy "to study the impact" of measures taken by the government of Zimbabwe to evict traders and squatters in certain areas. It was a political issue and Ms. Tibaijuka contributed to it -- as designated -- by reporting that Mr. Mugabe's government acted in "an indiscriminate and unjustified manner." She was sacked by her own President in December 2014.

PARTNERSHIPS:

Amir Dossal, head of Global Partnerships Forum, is initiating a special event on public-private partnerships at the United Nations on Tuesday 5 May 2015 from 6:00 - 8:00pm, in the Delegates Dining Room. The event will highlight philanthropic opportunities for addressing healthcare gaps, including quality of care issues, in developing countries, through innovative financing and partnerships. It will be bringing together leaders from the diplomatic community, private sector, civil society, and the UN system, to share perspectives on the role of the private sector and the importance of innovative public-private partnerships, in ensuring healthy lives. It was mentioned to certain invited guests that a leading philanthropist from the UAE will be announcing a major donation of heart surgeries.

"DIPLOMAT?":

A feature film at New York's Tribeca Film Festival entitled "Diplomat" was based on privately-recorded notes by Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Representative to the U.N. on his latest assignment by U.S. President Obama to handle Afghanistan issues -- which he had linked to neighbouring countries in what was generally described as "AFPAK." The film, directed by his son, David, shows Mr. Holbrooke obviously frustrated in his dealings with the White House. He felt the President's team had no "strategy" while they thought similarly of his work. "Too slow; the President is dissatisfied," were uttered directly to the distraught diplomat who, for a while during the Clinton Presidency, felt he was a master of the universe. He clearly felt he knew much better than the incoming U.S. President, who, in the end, had the final say. Those who dealt with Mr. Holbrooke during his heyday could imagine how he would have felt being on the other side of the table.

CRANS:

After facing difficulties with a number of African countries over the issue of Western Sahara, the Moroccan government may have been persuaded that all will be well after a gathering in the Swiss Alps resort of Crans-Montana. A number of influential parties were invited to the secluded valley for a few days of warmth away from cosmopolitan life. Whether that would change positions at the next voting at the African Union remains to be seen.

MEMO:

"A memorandum is written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer."
-- Dean Acheson, Former U.S. Secretary of State

GULF:

Oil-rich Arab countries in the Gulf are very careful in handling their own differences. Arab media, mainly directed by Saudi or Qatar owners, carefully avoid any reports on any "Gulf in the Gulf." Particularly over Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council took a public position, with discreet distance by Oman. Yet although United Arab Emirates aircraft reportedly participated in hitting "Houthi" targets, there are whispers about differences between Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. Former Yemen long-time ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh had such a close link with the Emirate that he sent his own son as Yemen Ambassador there (some say he kept billions there, too). A recent visit by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed to the Saudi capital to mediate about the fate of Saleh was not only turned down but, as a sign of displeasure, he was not received by King Salman. Some veteran observers indicate that the gulf goes deeper. King Salman's close team, particularly his strong-man son, Prince Mohammed, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayaf suspected their Emirate namesake of having built a personal link with the son of former Saudi King Abdullah, Prince Mutaib, to prepare to take over the reign during his father's ailing time. Now it's payback time. Apparently, the new Qatar ruler, Sheikh Tamim, seems to be doing fairly well with the new Saudi team, despite habitual sensitivities between the two Gulf families. He was one of the first to be received by King Salman, whose photo holding his hand was widely circulated. Incidentally, Emirate Defense Minister Sheikh Mohammed continued his travel to meet U.S. President Obama in Washington, D.C., where most likely he expressed concern about the negotiated arrangement with Iran yet also may have put in a word about his Yemeni friend in case of a negotiated deal. Sheikh Mohammed is one of the U.S. military industry's most prominent cash-paying customers -- after Saudi Arabia. Perhaps it was an unrelated development that after that U.S.-Emirates meeting, plus discreet contact via Oman, Saudi Arabia declared an end to "Decisive Storm" and a start of "Hope" movement. It may also be unrelated that Iranian officials were the first to announce a start of a political negotiation over Yemen. However, like most other interim deals in that volatile region, nothing is definite until it actually happens. What was started by governments may be carried out by local tribes.

C:

Traditionally, the Chief of MI6, British Intelligence Service, was known only by a vague reference to "C," reportedly the first letter of the first Chief's family. Only recently the name was first leaked then cautiously revealed. The designation of former U.K./U.N. Permanent Representative in New York Ambassador John Sawers to that post about four years ago was openly noted at his farewell parties. Now that he left the C post, he is chairing Macro Advisors Partners along the line of certain other former key officials in key countries. Most likely several aspiring countries, particularly those able to afford it, will be lining up for practical deeply informed advice. He is also opening up to the media, including a recent article in The Financial Times on leadership changes introduced by King Salman under a headline: "The house of Saud's embryonic embrace of meritocracy."

ATHEISTS:

Commenting on superpower politics over the widening conflict in the Arab region with unprecedented sectarian tension, thousands dead and dispersal of varied groups into refugee camps or exile,Lebanese play writer artist Ziad Rahbani, who happens to be the son of legendary singer Fairouz said: "The Sunnis have America, the Shiites have Russia while the Atheists have ...God!"

FEODOR:

Visitors to New York recently included our former U.N. colleague Feodor Starcevic who had returned to U.N. Headquarters a few years ago as Serbia Permanent Reporesetative. He is now back home overseeing a number of diplomatic and intellectual ventures but always in touch with his long-standing friendships at the Big Apple. He managed a few visits to the re-constructed Headquarters including the Delegates Dining Room and a awkwardly furnished Delegate"s Lounge which used to be a center of intense activities but now looks like a cross between a classroom and an Internet café.

SELMA'S PROPHET:

Mexican actress Salma Hayek made a first visit to her family's ancestral home in Lebanon accompanied by her father, Mexican-Lebanese businessman Sami Hayek. After spending a day visiting a camp of Syrian refugees, she spent her first days receiving friends and family at her hotel and attending dinners in her honour. In a television interview, she explained the reason for producing a cartoon feature of "The Prophet," the former title of Lebanese-American author Gibran Khalil Gibran. She explained that her grandfather, who emigrated to Mexico, held that book in hand while reading its passages every evening and she would like to dedicate the film to the memory of her grandfather. She also visited Gibran's hometown of Bsharri near the Cedars in the North. Ms. Hayek is married to Francois-Henri Pinault, President of Louis Vuitton designer and one of the world's wealthiest businessmen.

"SILVER BAG" MAY; OR MAY NOT:

This year's month of May has 5 Fridays 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. The Chinese call this phenomena the "Silver Bag." Circulating through the Internet is a message that supposedly if you follow through and make every effort to pass along this message to 5 others you may receive happy news in 5 days. Otherwise, those who disregard the message may have financial difficulties all year. This May or May Not happen. Choose your own Five. Further follow-up indicated that there will be 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays again in January and July of 2016, but not again in May until 2026. Should they put it all together in one Bag?

CUBAN ACCESS:

Passersby the Cuban Mission to the U.N. on New York's 38th Street and Lexington Avenue are noticing slight changes in the outside appearances. There are less steel barriers, cleaner walls and less constant security measures. There was even one lit open door leading to a reception area. But that's it, for now. A visit to Havana by New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo to initiate contact may lead to further steps in Manhattan. Some may watch for the changes around the Cuban Mission to reflect progress or delay in the long-negotiated restoration of basic relations between the two neighbouring countries.

INDIGENOUS ISSUES:

"The Permanent Forum" which was established by the U.N. in response to demands from groups representing indigenous peoples for a high-level permanent body held its 14th session beginning 20 April in New York under the theme: "Indigenous People Post 2015 Development Agenda," with particular focus on hunger and disease. The outcome was the same as the previous 13 sessions: more hunger, more disease.

DJ RONY:

New York Snowbirds seeking sunshine during the cold winter snowstorms found the emerging capital of Latin American sunflowers busy celebrating its 100th anniversary. Popular concerts in open air beaches by Andrea Bocelli, Stevie Wonder, Enrique Iglesias, Gloria Estefan and Miami's own Pitbull popped up in varied locations, like 8th Street and Ocean Drive near the New Cafe and former Versace Mansion, and before in downtown Miami and almost all novel or renovated fashionable hotels. Several socialites changed professions for the occasion. Former Miami Heat basketball star Rony Seikaly, a Lebanese mistaken for being Greek, turned into a full-time disc-jockey at a popular discothèque. Ralph Lauren's daughter Dylan opened a new candy store on pedestrian Lincoln Road and Cafe Segafredo, once popular with Western Europeans has turned into a permanent hangout for bored emigres from the Balkans.

ISIS:

A brief note was circulating on behalf of Ancient Egypt's Isis, the eternal patroness of nature, magic, the children and the dead -- protesting the use of the name mainly to refer to the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria. It said: "Hi there. My name is Isis. You have probably been hearing my name a lot lately in the news. That is because it has been hijacked by a group that is actually named Daesh. Please stop using my name when you are referring to Daesh. Please Daesh by their name, not mine. Many blessings upon you."

CAIRO OPENING:

Now that the Director of UN Information Centre in Cairo has been confirmed as full-time spokesperson for the UN Mission over Syria, the post in Cairo is open for interested candidates. Despite wide interest, the competition is likely to be closely observed by the Egyptians, most of whose officials have a very close and long positive relations with the U.N. and expect very serious consideration.

MEETING?:

ILLUSIONS:

  • "Don't shoot. They're in Switzerland."
    -- From French film "Grand Illusion"
  • "You're not really a heel. You just give that impression.
    -- Bette Davis
  • "I may be full of butter but I'm on your side of the bread."
    -- From "Inherit the Wind"

SOUTHERN COMFORT:

A new young diplomat was somewhat disappointed when she rushed enthusiastically to attend a meeting within the Secretariat on help for South to South agendas. It turned out to be a two-hour meeting mainly focused on where a larger meeting should be held. Apparently, some members were already bored with the resort in Bali and may be yearning for a different experience like the Southern breeze in the Seychelles or the Mauritius. They need the same inspiration as experts on Climate Change or those exploring the "poverty index" with Dr. Mo!

INTERIM ACTING:

Former Media Director Ahmad Fawzi, who retired at the D-2 level a few years ago, has just been assigned "Interim Director, UN Information Service in Geneva." He will be working under Michael Moller, who is "Acting Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva" at a rank of Under-Secretary-General. When Mr. Fawzi joined the UN in 1992 as Deputy Spokesman to the Secretary-General Dr. Boutros-Ghali, replacing Nadia Younes at D-1 level, Mr. Moller was at the P-5 level.

AUC:

It seems the American University in Cairo is preparing to conduct a course on how to thoroughly exploit Memorial Lectures.

THE ARROW:

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sign so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

BOCELLI:

Popular Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will be appearing in Madison Square New York next December, a couple of weeks before Christmas, and -- incidentally -- while the General Assembly is still in session. In case some delegates could find the time to attend during that habitually slow period -- just before the heated debate on the budget -- they will need to persuade their finance office to allow for tickets ranging up to $803 near the stage. To be accurate, there are a few tickets for about $136 on the top floor.

OJALA:

It has become almost habitual for prominent Latin performer to appear at Madison Square Garden during the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September. Several senior delegates, including heads of state, have been attending regularly. For example, when Shakira performed a couple of years ago, current and former Colombian Presidents were there in addition to Presidents of Chile, Ecuador, and Foreign Ministers from several Latin countries. This coming September, Bachata's most popular artist, Juan Luis Guerra will perform there on 18 September. The President of his country, the Dominican Republic, is certain to attend together with a number of Central American delegates to hear him perform "La llave de mi corazon," "Bachata Rosa," and, of course, "Ojala Que Llueva Cafe." Ojala!

MANAMA POST:

Two candidates selected to fill the post of interim Director, UN Information Centre in Manama, Bahrain, turned it down for a specific reason: it was "interim;" that is, temporary filling-in while not knowing whether the absent incumbent would return any time after six months. That office, which is almost without staff (the original staff had resigned when the new head took over), was mainly "blowing wind" as an Arab expression would describe it, at a time when that country was -- and is -- facing serious developments requiring full-time work. The absentee officer apparently decided to return in due course. When? In due course. What a pity!

DERGHAM LECTURE:

The Lebanese American University and the American University of Beirut hosted a lecture by Ms. Rashida Dergham on "The Arab American Experience," at the Lebanese American University New York Headquarters & Academic Center on Thursday, April 23rd at 211 East 46th Street (Between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), New York. Ms Dergham is columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat daily. She writes on international political affairs and has conducted prominent interviews with government leaders and heads of state. Ms. Dergham is also the founder and executive chairman of Beirut Institute, an independent think tank for the Arab region.

MAMMA MIA:

When Colin Powell was interviewed while being U.S. Secretary of State about his moments of relief during periods of intense pressure, he mentioned "Mamma Mia," a musical based on songs by Swedish group Abba. He was even prodded on television to hum "Dancing Queen." After 14 years on Broadway, the musical will be closing down around the same day the General Assembly Session opens next September. Delegates arriving early may have an opportunity to see the last few shows.