15 November 2007


The overwhelming success of France's President Sarkozy's trip to Washington was clearly due first and foremost to the two Presidents. Yet one cannot help but feel that the return of warmth to U.S. - French relations had been a long-time target for the persistent and talented current Presidential Adviser Jean David Levitte since he served as French ambassador to Washington. During the most trying period of tense suspicion, the workaholic Ambassador who had also served in New York, never gave up -- not only in his approach to Congressmen and officials, but also to a challenging media. The new accomplishment could be considered a feather in his cap and he deserves to be personally congratulated.


  • "Why do you keep attacking my brother Albert in the paper when he did not kill anyone of your family...yet."
    -- A Mafioso to a reporter.

  • "If you stop telling lies about me I'll stop telling the truth about you."
    -- From one blogger to another.

  • "You can change my mind but not my vote."
    -- One diplomat to another.


Although a visit by Senior Algerian diplomat Abdallah Baali to New York was to follow up the debate on Western Sahara, it was an opportunity for newly-elected rotating members of the Security Council to seek his experienced briefings. Having served on the Council with distinction, Baali has been invited to various interested capitals. He also had a "tete a tete" with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that aroused the interest -- particularly of Morocco -- although, reliably, the question of the Sahara was not on the agenda. The visit was also a joyful occasion for the Ambassador's many friends in New York to enjoy his witty sense of humour.


Security Council members will soon meet a new face for its Arab member, Qatar. Its Permanent Representative, Naser Al Nasr will be moving to Washington as his country's new ambassador there. Reportedly he is more used to New York and would have preferred to stay. However, he will find good former New York company in the U.S. capital, for example, Ambassadors of Jordan, Kuwait and Lichtenstein.


The timing of Hezbollah's recent announcement of "silent maneuvers" along the Lebanese-Israeli border puzzled many Beirut-based diplomats. It was unusual for the secretive group to indicate its movements even when it came to running telephone lines. A message must have been intended, particularly since the announcement was made at the highest level. Some interpreted it as a message to Israel -- that the party was still potentially active. But both sides know the facts on the ground regardless of each other's declaration. Some thought it was to let certain Lebanese adversaries realize its military readiness in case the political situation regarding the election of a new President late November reaches a clash point. Most local observers however noted the timing to indicate that there was a message intended for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who issued two reports during the same period that Hezbollah considered biased against it. It was as if to respond that whatever is mentioned in his envoy's report, their striking force could not be curtailed and that they are a power to be dealt with substantively -- first in the South where UNIFIL is stationed, but also politically in Beirut.


It was not the first participation by Korean artists at U.N. Day. Twice before, a talented young pianist and a noted cellist played in the mid-nineties upon the invitation of then head of the Department of Public Information. But 24 October 2007 was the first overwhelming Korean presence; over 50% of attendance almost similarly dressed. Obviously they were proud of their compatriot as he was, naturally, proud of his country. Lights were dimmed at a certain point to hear an address from the Mayor of Seoul. As Ban Ki-moon pointed out in his statement, there is no better way than music to commemorate that Day as we all come together as a family, not only of nations but of "human beings united in our quest for a better world." It was the first celebration under Mr. Ban and the performance by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra was not a coincidence. His remarks, therefore, had to include a special welcome:

"I am proud that the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and Maestro Chung Myung-hwun have come to help us celebrate this evening. My gratitude also goes to the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea, as well as the Metropolitan Government of Seoul, for helping to make this concert possible. And I welcome the visiting delegation of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Korean National Assembly" he said, adding:

"As I am sure all my Korean compatriots will agree, this concert is a chance to mark the special relationship between the Republic of Korea and the United Nations. Korea is a vivid example of a UN success story, as we can see in the country’s journey from the ashes of war to a prosperous and democratic nation. Indeed, the Korean people used to celebrate United Nations Day as one of their own national holidays. By the same token, tonight’s concert is a way for the Korean people to express their appreciation to the United Nations, for supporting the country’s coming of age on the international stage."

However, looking around the world raises grave concerns. From climate change to extreme poverty, from Darfur to the Middle East, the challenges are complex and profound. "Let us use this Day to pray for strength in confronting them." He also sent a special message to our colleagues who serve in field missions. "Let them know that we remember them. They deserve our respect and our gratitude and support." He concluded with an upbeat call: "Let us show the world we are equal to the task. On this United Nations Day, let us renew our commitment to achieving results. May the music we hear tonight inspire us in that mission."


  • The only problem with (...) is that when he is not drunk he is sober.
    -- W.B. Yeats
  • If you have two economists in the room you get two opinions unless one of them is Keynes, in which case you get a third opinion.
    -- Winston Churchill
  • Meetings are very important because they demonstrate how many people a firm can function without their presence.
  • If you do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, look at any office at quitting time.
    -- Robert Townsend


Speaking at the UNCA/Hammarskjold Scholarship Fund, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon could not help but mention again his earlier quip on James Bond. After all, 007 himself, Sir Roger Moore (right eyebrow lifted, left eyebrow lifted) was there to receive an inspirational award. The Secretary General, who seems to be very good on such occasions, pointed out that if the Secret Agent has a license to kill, the media had license to grill. Pointing out to a difference in drinks -- shaken not stirred -- Mr. Ban said while 007 used Gin, he used Ginseng.


Sir Roger Moore who turned 80 recently spoke with deep emotion as he accepted the inspirational award at the correspondent's luncheon. Recounting how he had joined UNICEF Advocacy team upon the urging of Audrey Hepburn, he lauded Dag Hammarskjold, the inspiration behind the occasion. Sir Roger then showed his necktie to stress that he was wearing Sweden's colours in honour of the Swedish Secretary General. A close observer noted a slight difference: the Swedish flag has pale yellow and light blue while the tie bright yellow and dark blue. Still everyone applauded, including the Swedish ambassador.


An excellent initiative by Raghida Dergham for her non-Arabic speaking followers. The Director of the U.N. Office of widely circulating pan-Arab weekly Al-Hayal writes a widely-read article every Friday. It is now possible to read it, not as summarized by an agency but as reproduced in English specially for those who missed the Arabic. One of the latest columns in October, for example, was on "The Damascus Conference Versus the Conference of the Fall. Grandstanding at the Expense of the Palestinians." The English article can be accessed at: www.raghidadergham.com. The Arabic is at: www.raghidadergham.com/4rdcolumnarabic.html.


We're happy when friends and schoolmates find each other through unforum. Esmat Nasr from Egypt happened to see in our December 2005 issue that our colleague Ahmad Fawzi had a baby girl. She wanted to send him and his family sincere best wishes. "I knew Dr. Fawzi when we were both 16 years old at the English Department at Cairo U." she emailed us. "I follow his success and am so proud of him. His success is no surprise." Ms. Nasr and her husband, Samir, are now looking forward to meeting their old young friend's new family.


Only if you were the ruler of Dubai, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and its Prime Minister, would your shirt be worth $4.3 million. Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid offered his shirt at an auction in the emerging Emirate after signing it. It was the same shirt he wore while "competing for endurance" in Spain during 2002. There was a "heated competition," according to local press, and the winner was an executive director of a Dubai Holding firm. A painting by the Sheikh's daughter Sheikha Manal, received one million dollars -- bought by the Executive President of Dubai Investment Group. He may consider offering it to the Picasso Museum in Antibes.


In Sudan, like elsewhere in the Third World, you are either in power or in exile. Our former UNESCO colleague Mansour Khaled who once made it as his country's Foreign Minister was forced to fade away, reappearing every now and then in Nairobi, London or Paris. He dabbled occasionally in Sudan's North-South politics, but decided on a gracious exit. Now we read somewhere that Mansour has been appointed as Minister of External Trade. We don't know how much work that appointment entails, but what's good enough for him is good enough for us.


Money and Love are like two persons who claim they do not know one another but keep on meeting secretly.


"Don't laugh," our Canadian friends caution you. There is only a 5% chance but some are hoping to host the U.N. if it continues having accommodation trouble in Manhattan. Instead of having to put up $1.9 billion, the U.N. would receive free premises in the old part of Montreal, away from tourists and potential terrorists. And the space would be nine times bigger than New York. Already, Montreal hosts the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the little known World Anti-Doping Agency! Canada has two official working languages: English and French, same as the U.N. If anyone pointed out the Quebec's French would be hardly understood by a Parisian, it would be countered that one more reason for the move would be to improve the fading quality of the French language in the North. Remember, however that the odds are only 5% -- but as they say in the New York Lotto: "you never know."


As former U.N. Assistant Secretary General Danilo Turk was running for the post of Slovenia's president last week, we received several phone calls from Brussels and Lublijana about an "insider" item in July 2005 entitled "Turk or no Turk" Insider July 2005. We were asked whether the former ambassador really got upset because he was not appointed as head of the Department of Political Affairs instead of USG Ibrahim Gambari. We made it clear that we would not get involved in Slovenian politics but expressed respect and admiration for Ambassador Turk who, like all of us, would let out a flash of anger when unhappy. But that should not take away from his professional competence and outstanding performance while in New York.


Ban Ki-moon may modestly claim that he is no James Bond but he must have a fondness for some kind of martial art like TaeKwon Do. He recently received Dr. Choi Jung Won, President of its World Federation. Nothing was reported about that impressive tete a tete, which most likely was ceremonial. But perhaps our distinguished Secretary General managed to pick up some innovative self-defense techniques. For example, as indicated in a manual, Mr. Ban could discover "the combination you need to know to win any match," "secrets to increasing your punching power," "exactly how to master the art without devoting your whole life to it," "secret self-defense strategies," and, last but not least, how to acquire "the most deadly TaeKwon Do combination in minutes."


Argentinean diplomat Fernando Petrella, who ably represented his country in New York including two years at the Security Council returned with his charming wife Angela for a brief visit. Despite their very limited time, both consummate New Yorkers made their way to some of their delicious haunts. Ambassador Petrella is now back at the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aries, obviously closely following recent U.N. developments with enlightened interest.


Ambassador Pedro Serrano, Head of the Council of the European Union Liaison Office to the U.N., is a welcome addition to a select number of diplomats returning to the source. He served admirably on the Committee of Information representing his country for several years under one of the most capable international diplomats, Spain's also returning Ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo, during a period when the current European Foreign Affairs supremo Javier Solano was his great country's equally outstanding Foreign Minister. With such an engaging and dynamic representation, the European Union will have its presence felt while pursuing its mutual interests with the United Nations. Welcome back.


Former U.N. Under-Secretary General and prominent Disarmament expert Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka has been elected as President of the prestigious Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, winner of 1995 Nobel Peace Prize. Taking office on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first conference, he follows in the footsteps of such eminent internationalist thinkers like founder Bertrand Russel. He succeeds another prominent president, India's Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, for a period of five years. While the U.N. is recently perceived as toning down its Disarmament role, it may be about time to seize the opportunity of Mr. Dhanapala's new role in order to explore mutual areas of useful cooperation.