1 November 2003

"AL-JAZEERA" CHANGE:

The influential Qatar-based TV station may start providing more news and less rhetoric. A new director has been appointed to run popular Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera. When its long- time director resigned immediately after the fall of Baghdad, an interim officer in charge held the influential post for about five months. Now it was decided to regularly appoint Waddah Khanfar, a Palestinian Jordanian, who served last year as correspondent in Iraq. Khanfar is a solid professional who attempted to provide wide coverage for various groups of Iraq civil society, airing their grievances, hopes and fears. He was the first Arab television reporter to interview U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremmer.

AGAIN, POWELL FOR WORLD BANK?

More reports hint that Secretary of State Colin Powell is in line to take over from James Wolfensohn when he leaves his post next year. By that time, Secretary Powell would have served loyally and effectively, brought around the United Nations (or at least its Secretary General) to support the U.S. proposed resolution and to help raise substantial funds for the reconstruction of Iraq. Incidentally, after a argument on transparency and oversight, a shift in the supervisory mechanism at the Madrid Donor Conference gave more authority, among others, to the World Bank.

GIVE ME A SIGN:

Before going to Baghdad, via Protocol and the World Health Organization, our beloved Nadia Younes was Director of Media Division in the Department of Public Information. The head of that Department at the time fought hard for that appointment, bringing her back from the Rome Centre and making women Directors a majority -- two women to one man. While in the Iraqi capital, she was informed that she had been selected as Assistant Secretary General for General Assembly affairs and telephoned New York regularly to speed up her return. There was no specific role for the UN there, although they were trying to find one. So she might as well come back to prepare for the forthcoming General Debate. Besides, it was over one hundred twenty degrees heat -- no air conditioners, hardly any electricity and very little to do for intellectual exercise. Someone at Headquarters kept telling her the process was being processed, these things take time you know, and the "Chef Dic" had to find time to get round to it. That's fate. She was killed in Baghdad waiting for some papers to be signed in New York. Now a new Director of Media Division took over in mid-September. Outside the office was just the number of the room on the eighth floor. He tried to get his name a new title "Media and News" Director placed there to no avail. One morning, he angrily pulled down the sign holding the room number. Under it appeared another sign clinging to the wall: "Nadia Younes. Director. Media Division. DPI."

CANCEL INDIA BUT PAMPER YOUR INDIANS:

For the third time, Secretary General Kofi Annan canceled an official visit to India. It was part of a scheduled tour essentially to attend the Summit of Islamic heads of state in Malaysia. Obliged to stay in New York during a vote on an American resolution over Iraq, Annan was ably represented at the Summit by his envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi. As to India, it would be unlikely to leave the matter of explaining a third time cancellation to his Pakistani Chef de Cabinet. He would certainly rather count on one of his senior Indians, including three holding the rank of Under Secretary General.

SRI LANKA SPOILER:

It is a pity that Sri Lanka, which produced so many noted internationalists, could only find an unknown quantity named Tyronne Fernandez to propose for the post of U.N. Secretary General. A brief reality check would have made it clear to those currently making decisions in that Asian island that it is not enough to be a minister of foreign affairs to qualify for the world's number one top post. It's a pity to bring down the level for a country which fielded outstanding U.N. stalwarts like Shirley Amerasinghe, Andrew Joseph and Jayantha Dhanapala. Come to think of it, what about Dhanapala? The highly regarded former Under-Secretary General for Disarmament will certainly present a better case. As a decent and loyal compatriot, however, he is unlikely to make a move. The upshot of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister's fantasy will be mainly to block the chances of other potential candidates from his intellectually rich country. It is noted that he made his announcement immediately after visiting U.N. Headquarters to attend the General Assembly debate. Whoever encouraged him in New York either has no clue what is really going on at the U.N. or intended to inject him as a spoiler.

U.N. FLAGS IN ORBIT:

Two United Nations flags were aboard China's first manned space flight, orbiting the planet 14 times, as a symbol of that country's "firm commitment to use outer space for peaceful purposes and for the betterment of all humankind." The Chinese Government had put the flags aboard the Shen Zhou V and showed televised pictures of Mr. Yang holding one. According to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), Beijing formally requested the banners -- one small, hand-sized flag, and a second measuring 120 by 180 centimetres -- earlier this year and took delivery of them in September at OOSA headquarters in Vienna. The flags will be returned to the U.N. at a future ceremony.

LARSEN LEAVING U.N. MID EAST POST:

According to Norwegian daily "Aftenpost," U.N. Mid East envoy Terje Larsen will be leaving his post to join the Peace Academy in New York. Although it said he had "received an offer he could not refuse" -- a wordplay on Mafia lingo -- it was becoming increasingly obvious that the self-absorbed though well intentioned diplomat has outlived his usefulness for the current U.N. leadership. With the "Road Map" in limbo, the Oslo Accord almost forgotten, and the situation in the occupied territories deteriorating, Larsen's own credibility with various governments of the region had suffered to a point where he could hardly make any significant impact. Reportedly Israeli Prime Minister refused to receive him, the Syrian President relented only after an intervention by the Secretary General, while a polite reception by Lebanon officials did not entail more than a photo opportunity and some general evaluation of the tense situation. It may be best by now for him to join the Peace Academy -- he will most likely feel at home.

IT TAKES A WOMAN:

While American and international media evaluated and analyzed at length the decision by the White House to give Ms. Condoleezza Rice direct supervision over the deteriorating situation in Iraq, one cartoonist gave a simple straightforward comment: "As usual, it takes a woman to clean up after a man."

GROWING TENSION:

It may be the novelty of the job on one hand or the habit of running things regardless of who held the title on the other. A fly on the wall whispered that there was growing tension between the office of the General Assembly President and the Secretariat Staff dedicated to service him. It does not help matters that the outgoing Assistant Secretary General for General Assembly affairs, Miles Stoby of Guyana, has joined the Carribean team around the President while his former staff, some promoted to take wider responsibilities, may feel him breathing down their neck. Also, as the limited budget available to the President is spent on advisors, there may be little money left for him to perform other tasks throughout the year, including costly travel. It happens sometimes that an Assembly President who assumes a glorified forum and rubs shoulders with earth shakers and decision makers, may be carried away into believing that such attention will remain forever, not only for the duration of the Assembly session. It would be worthwhile to avert any such tension and encourage these dedicated staff whose sole aim is to provide to the President the best service possible.

HIS EXCELLENCY IS A BIRD:

Brazilian Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil is also one of his country's internationally known artists. As he came with his president to New York for the General Assembly, he participated in the commemoration for U.N. staff killed in Baghdad. He dedicated some songs to peace and others to his compatriot Sergio Vieira de Mello. Gilberto must have enjoyed the warm welcome he received daily by U.N. staff for he seemed to be hanging around the corridors, lobbies, and hallways with his newly braided hair, curious gaze and ready smile. Those who listened to him intensively, noted that he frequently imitated the sound of an Amazon bird. The high pitched "ou-ou" regularly injected as he sung in the main concert was playfully repeated in conversations with admirers.

NEW SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERS:

Ten non-permanent members serving two years rotate in two installments: five every other year. New members of the highly coveted exclusive world body club will be: Algeria (replacing Syria on behalf of the Arab group), Benin representing Africa, the Philippines representing Asia, and Romania, replacing Bulgaria on behalf of Eastern Europe. The new members will take over on 1 January 2004.

HILLARY AT VIA QUADRONNO:

The New York Congresswoman and former U.S. First Lady did the politically right thing while enjoying the actually right espresso during Columbus Day Parade. Just off Fifth Avenue where marchers were proudly displaying their Italian connection, Mrs. Clinton spent time, however brief, at Via Quadronno. One of the best kept Italian secrets on 73rd Street, the casually elegant hotspot for cappuccino and panini was already written up twice in The New York Times. It is a cross between a neighbourhood coffeehouse and a gourmet bistro where staff blend with customers; while managers Paula and K.C. oversee the business and welcome familiar and unfamiliar faces ("bongiorno," "apronto"), other staff like Lorezo (the "Dynamo"), Anna Lisa (who just delivered a baby named Sara), Nancy (with a smiling face), Mario (of Kosovo and Rome) and everyone else makes sure that everybody feels at home. So did Mrs. Clinton who felt genuinely pleased by the cheery welcome.

URGENT BUSINESS:

Even the men's room of the Delegate's Lounge is not a hindrance to a delegate keen on keeping in touch. Hurried visitors to the second floor facility of the General Assembly building could not help but hear a flow of Asiatic sounding utterances. It was unclear to the untrained ear whether it reflected a dedicated attempt to conduct uninterrupted work whatever the circumstances or merely an enthusiastic response to the call of nature.

JAYLO THE COMMISSIONER:

It started with journalistic banter and ended in an official appointment. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked at the beginning of the year who would be the woman he would really, really want and his response mirrored that of a majority of Big Apple men: Jennifer Lopez. Never to miss an opportunity, the Latino diva responded in her playful yet guarded way: "This is my city and I'll do anything for it." By end October JayLo was flaunting a happy smile as she stood by the mayor when he announced her appointment as City Commissioner on relations with the Latin community. Asked about his assessment at close range, a blushing Bloomberg said that unlike many stars, she was even more attractive in person than in photos. He mentioned the age difference as actor Ben Affleck winked to no one in particular. Before becoming mayor the N.Y. City, Mike Bloomberg received great social credit for being a millionaire who dated women his own age bracket.

SOME PREDICTION:

A year ago, the man in charge of U.N. Office on Drugs predicted that within a year the battle against illicit drugs in the Asian Golden Triangle and other notorious areas will be decreased enough to announce eradication of such drugs by the end of this decade. At the time, unforum speculated that the man must have been on his own high. This month Senor Antonio Maria Costa released a survey indicating that in Afghanistan alone, the area under opium poppy cultivation has increased by eight per cent from last year, rather than decrease. It did not require a rocket scientist to conclude that the low risk high profit opium economy is clearly undercutting President Karzai's "effort to promote democracy and the rule of law." Afghanistan today produces three quarters of the world's opium output.

SOME MEMBERSHIP DUES:

San Marino was the last member to pays its dues in full for this year -- in the amount of $27,000.

STAFF SEEKS FULL ACCOUNTABILITY:

The U.N. staff union asked for internal reports on security planning in Iraq to be made public along with all relevant documents. It said a recent report on security mismanagement by Mr. Ahtisaari's team did not go far enough. The staff union reflected a general sentiment by concluding that the investigation into the Iraq bombing must not end until all those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

WHERE IS THAT REPORT?

An updated report exposed massive illicit trade in diamonds and copper as a major reason behind continued fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; it describes how various troops perpetrating the conflict are financed through plundering of natural resources, particularly in the east and northeast region. The report was about to be made available to Security Council members, then withheld at the last minute. By whom? And why?

GUTSY MCASKIE:

Carolyn McAskie, Deputy to the Under-Secretary General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is gaining grass root admiration for her courage and tireless field visits to most restless spots. She has been several times to the Congo, to Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere she could help. Most senior officials supposedly overseeing conflict areas rarely visit and when they do, they opt for speed. She modestly says that she is mainly following the Secretary General's guidance of working with the people. One would hope that her other senior colleagues will do the same.

ON U.N. DAY: BETTER INFORMATION:

One of the best ways to celebrate U.N. Day which was held on 24 October is to inform the public better about its practical work. This year, the U.N. Foundation, a private fund donated by Ted Turner, took out space in The New York Times and other mainstream media to highlight specific facts. It told the public that:

  • 500 Million Children Vaccinated
  • 800,000 Metric Tons of Food Delivered
  • 1.3 Billion People Provided Safe Drinking Water
  • 5 Million Textbooks to Classrooms

All that didn't happen in one day, but as the saying goes, it is "all in a day's work" for the United Nations.

In the worst conditions in the most dangerous places, the people of the United Nations are risking their lives to improve the lives of others, providing food, shelter, medical care, and more -- hope for the future.

Today, on United Nations Day, let us celebrate their success and accomplishment around the world. And let us honor the memory of those who have lost their lives in service to the United Nations. The United Nations Nobel Peace Prize Memorial Fund assists the children of U.N. workers killed in the line of duty.

The commitment of the United Nations is to peace, justice and freedom. We honor that commitment today and all the brave men and women of the U.N., who are working around the world to bring out the best of humanity.

Well Done.

A SPECIAL REMEMBRANCE:

Nahed Younes, sister of Nadia and her brother Fouad, who arrived in New York to handle pending questions, held a special gathering for her remembrance attended by close personal friends. There were those who had worked closely with her over the years, particularly Francois Giuliani, Spokesman for Secretary General Javier Perez de Cueller, together with Frida, the third pillar of that professional triangle. There were those who worked with her in Protocol and Public Information and New Yorkers who never dealt with the U.N. but just loved Nadia. One of them gave a moving tribute, combining affection, sarcasm and down to earth mannerisms. At some point it felt like Nadia was just about to walk through the door laughing it all off as a "cochmare," a nightmare -- oh, if it only were so.