15 November 2010


A new French Government formed by President Sarkozy on Sunday 14 November indicated a new Minister of Foreign Affairs. As reported in last issue's "Insider", Bernard Kouchner had been told at a private chat just before coming to the U.N. General Debate session that he could designate for himself another suitable assignment outside the Cabinet, as the Foreign Ministry would be given to someone else. In the new setup, headed by the same Prime Minister, Ms. Michelle Alliot-Marie will take over. An experienced politician and a charming lady, she had served as Interior Minister as well as Minister of Defense. This most recent appointment would place her in the running to succeed Mr.Sarkozy (in time, of course!), facing all those potential female Socialist Party candidates.


Oh, the noble Duke of York
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up
to the top of the hill
And marched them down again
- - -
And when they were up, then they were up
And when they were down, they were down
But when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down!


Bassam Sami, on gunmen who killed 58 people at a church in Baghdad


We have been reporting on it earlier. Now, Taliban is sending trial balloons. Backchannels in Kandahar, Dubai, Riyadh, Islamabad, and Geneva. Attempts continue to spot a genuine "interlocateur valable." Taliban, whispers go, would like international recognition: negotiate with U.S. and Europe first, then with Karzai; lift their name from "terrorists list," publicly recognize them as a political movement; release all imprisoned Taliban fighters. Other demands seem more like face-saving for everyone. Their "demand" to release all detainees in Guantanamo is almost identical to U.S. President Obama's campaign promise. Another "demand" for the U.S. to announce a withdrawal date actually corresponds to a U.S. officially announced date for drawing down its troops. A main difference is Taliban is asking for a 2-month period for complete implementation, though recognizing that more time will be needed. The last of seven demands floated by one of their main outlets, Afghanistan Islamic Press, is to apply Islamic law in the country. Even Hamid Karzai would insist that Islamic law, "shariah," is the law of the land. Will everyone declare victory by the end of next year and move on? Everyone, that is, except the U.N. representative who, according to "Foreign Policy" magazine, has been busy lobbying to extend the work of armed foreign contractor gangs! Is he doing so on instructions from the Secretary General? Anybody home?!


"Big breasts are the new small breasts."
The Guardian


Kokohana has brought someone to hang around his residence who has his hair shampooed and curled in the back by a rubber band. He somehow acts like the "mistress" of the house while the so-called "master" is absent. Together, they look like an Asian version of Coco Chanel. Apparently, the increasingly insecure diplomat is getting even more nervous with the arrival at the mission of a new number two who is influential at the home capital, and who may do to him what he has done to others. In that situation, Coco may not be of much help to Koko.


"The moralist has become a millionaire." That's only one attribute in an article on Peter Galbraith, who is making between $25 - $75 million on an oil deal in the Kurdish region of Iraq -- a U.N. member state which he had advocated partitioning into mini-states. He apparently sees such ventures as "humanitarianism by other means." You see, "Galbraith has long believed that the most difficult problems in American foreign policy can be solved by embracing moral principles rather than shirking them," as Benjamin Wallace Wells tells us in phony fawning. After all, Galbraith is an "aristocrat"; photos with Nehru, daddy Ken, President Carter, and helicopter hopping in former Yugoslavia would prove it. He also has powerful friends in the American foreign policy establishment: V.P. Biden, Senator Kerry, and, "sous tout" Richard Holbrooke who "urged Ban Ki-moon to appoint Galbraith in Kabul." Our fearless leader, of course, agreed. "The U.N. couldn't really say no to Holbrooke -- the State Department usually gets what it wants" -- as the "humanitarian by other means" is exploring more means to enhance his bank account.


One new boss brings another. Both ignoramus. They think they are revving up the place when they're killing it. They think they are their country's gift to the international community when actually they have been dumped on it. Instead of putting people together they are splitting them. Instead of playing a positive role they are losing it. And yet they insist that they are the ones to take the stage on behalf of everyone else. Bossy Nova.



An email received on 4 November from Arab and international media vedette Ragheda Dergham's address urged for contributions as she was reportedly stranded in London after a loss of her purse with passport, credit cards, and cash reserves. A telephone number in London was provided for urgent contributions. It turned out not to be true. An ever-vigilant Ragheda (she's a journalist after all) spotted the fraud and notified all her listed friends that she was not stranded, but doing very well (and kicking, of course!). Some professional hackers had broken into her website. She had to temporarily change her email address while looking into the story behind the story.


"I am perhaps the most unfortunate Secretary General" sighed Ban Ki-moon as he explained how he had to deal with one catastrophe after another -- from an earthquake in Haiti to floods in Pakistan to extensive displacement of people from conflicts in Somalia, Congo, Sudan, to negative climate issues to a world financial meltdown. What's important, he pointed out, was to realize the linkage between these challenges. Handling refugee issues will improve security problems. That's why it was important to deal with one in order to help manage others. Our distinguished leader is certainly right about the increasingly challenging problems and linkage in facing them. Whether he is more or less fortunate than his predecessors, he may wish to count his blessings. He has no Food-for-Oil around his neck and no Permanent Member clamouring to block a second term.


An ABC reporter, whom we were told is in the running for a D-2 post in DPI, mentioned while introducing the Secretary General at a dinner that while he was covering him during a visit to Myanmar, "where Ban Ki-moon was exercising intricate diplomacy," he waited for an appropriate photo opportunity. While in the plane, the reporter thought it would display a leader with vision if he photographed him pensively looking out the window into the horizon. As he started to do so, all of a sudden, the Secretary General unexpectedly grabbed the camera and photographed the reporter.


Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South America were just elected to the Security Council for a two-year term. The full composition of the Council during 2011 that will decide on the re-election or otherwise of the Secretary General will be composed of those new members plus, of course, the Five Permanent Members with veto power: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the U.S., together with current members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon.


While all other regional groupings have agreed on their nominees for the Security Council, the only competition was between three "Western Europe and Others." Three countries, Canada, Germany, and Portugal battled for the two seats. Traditionally, Canada has been a very popular candidate for various bodies; but apparently the calibre of its proposed senior U.N. officials and bland role of its recent diplomats have eroded much of its former formidable U.N. credentials. After all, Canada's Prime Minister Lester Pearson was one of the greatest forces behind the early Peacekeeping ventures, Pierre Trudeau...well, never mind. Oh, Canada.


Never underestimate Portugal. It won the contested Security Council seat this time as it did over a decade ago in a similar battle of three members for two seats. At the time, the real battle was with Australia, whose Ambassador Richard Butler was so confident of winning that he reserved conference room 226 for a victory press conference. He didn't bother to cancel. Another irony was that the Portuguese ambassador who tirelessly and effectively led the battle for his country was soon replaced; he was sent as ambassador to China.


"It has cost me a great deal to become myself. I don't want to be another person."
Baiku, a Spanish singer


With a bankrupted Non-Governmental Organization in Geneva on Greening Africa, the only remaining Green, as some have been repeatedly pointing out, is in someone's bank account. Whose? No one will openly tell. Another NGO remains focused, however, mainly on how to build links for forgotten chiefs who once thought they were the centre of the universe.


Apropos claims about determination for Greening Africa, an old story is recounted of someone who thought he was winning over a tribe by making all sorts of promises. He was pleased to hear the crowd interrupt him by shouts of "Huzenga...Huzenga." When he felt he had impressed the crowd enough, he asked to be taken around in a tour of the neighbourhood. The chief who escorted him suggested that he should be careful, however, not to step into Huzenga!


India's statement at the Assembly's Information Committee review was made by a visiting representative: Shashi Tharoor, former head of the U.N. Department of Public Information. It was a pleasant surprise indeed to note that he spoke very highly of the positive role of the Information Centres in the field. He was the one who actually closed the key centres in Europe -- a decision that Kofi Annan, Tharoor's boss who condoned it at the time, eventually described as one of his biggest mistakes. Whatever the recent motive, supporting the Information Centres has always been a constant policy of the successive government of India, particularly that there is a major one in New Delhi.


During a debate of Information questions at the General Assembly's Political Committee, a Libyan delegate denounced the burning of a U.N. car in Haiti. U.N. Under-Secretary General Akasaka somehow understood it to be the burning of a Koran. So, he went through an intervention decrying any burning of Islam's holy book. The puzzled Libyan, of course, took the opportunity to go into another statement continuing against challenging religious beliefs, leading other concerned delegates to weigh in to make an issue out of an unlikely event which was merely caused by accidental confusion.


A symbol of U.N. social life for decades, the Delegates Dining Room was officially closed on 30 October. One more place for diplomats and colleagues to meet vanishes. It has been struggling over the past year, shuttled from spot to spot, after being pushed out of its vintage 4th floor space with its spacey terrace overlooking the East River. It was first moved behind the staff cafeteria with a curtain separation. A feeble attempt to make it work on the second floor of the new prefab, not far from a newly named cafeteria, did not work either. Anyway, delegates rarely stay anywhere in the harsh nearby surroundings and the staff are dispersed all over Manhattan. An additional painful thought relates to the waiters and staff who cared for all of us over the years and now will be out of a job -- much older than they were when the first joined. Incidentally, the "last supper" was for a Korean-sponsored Asia Society party. Champagne tables were placed all over the first floor. Toasts were exchanged as one more U.N. pillar was being demolished!


Her former colleagues in the Department of Public Information long ago remember Loraine Sievers as a dedicated friend, a concerned colleague, and a very capable international civil servant. She is still the same; only she has advanced gradually and effectively through the ranks. After moving to Political Affairs, she performed some outstanding research work, selflessly devoting her time and energy to prepare concise practical briefings. Earlier this year she took over as the D-1 in charge of Security Council Affairs. Quietly, very politely yet firmly, she handles all matters relating to the Council's business in close collaboration with her colleagues and -- of course -- with the interim Director of the division. She gained more friends among Council members for herself and respect for the work of dedicated civil servants like her. The only regret is that she may not stay long. By next summer, she may retire to go to another favourite task: teaching. She's sure to give her best, whatever she does.


Why is our distinguished part-time rapper fond only of Jay Z? He hosted him at U.N. Headquarters (months before disbanding the place) and waxed (below average) lyrics about how working with the defunct Merrill Lynch was "just a cinch." Then came Haitian Presidential hopeful, former Fugees crooner, Wyclef Jean, who was also treated with special deference when Haiti's misery was perceived as a photo op, particularly by that aspiring young Asian behind our fearless leader photographing himself by his own camera at a distressing press conference in Port-au-Prince. Now, Puff "Diddy" is pissed off. Why not him? He makes more money than both rappers put together, and produces most of their music and has a clothing line of his own. He even promotes his own Vodka line. So, one recent night in South Beach, Miami, while a paid artist wearing a signature track suit was performing, unpaid "Diddy" took over. He joined in, dark suit, dark glasses and white Vodka in hand, to express himself. The point to be made was: Diddy is your Daddy!


"I know I am internationally known. But you can't get me on the phone."



As befits a New York Princess, Karen Albert selected in her retirement to change her email from un.org to "QueenKaren2001@yahoo.com". The building in Queens where she lives is called "Windsor Castle." Actually, this is her second retirement, though in the same area of Political Affairs. One of her former supervisors was our colleague Mitch Werner, who sadly left us at a very young age. She worked with several senior colleagues, often under great pressure, but she kept her smile and sense of humour. One problem she may face is that she is not used to staying idle. Let's hope she is offered another job to keep her productively busy. Good luck, Karen.


When visiting Europe, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon graciously made a call from Brussels to his predecessor Javier Perez de Cuellar, who happened not to be at his Parisian home at the time. Early November, as our former chief arrived in New York, Mr. Ban graciously again arranged for an official U.N. car to pick him up and return him to the airport. We understand that a private dinner was hosted by our current Secretary General, who seems to act best when following his own personal instincts.


Diego Armando Maradona, for years the number one player with a number 10 shirt has turned 50 on October 30. He may not feel well these days, as he has said, because of Argentina's loss at the soccer World Cup. Yet he should feel better that, despite his many demons he had to fight, he remains an idol for millions, old enough to remember his "hand of God" in the British goal and young enough to watch his emotional and engaging coaching of his country's team last summer in South Africa. Incidentally, the Argentinean sports legend once symbolically offered a football with his signature to the U.N. Secretariat. Upon receiving it near the Information booth of the Assembly Hall entrance, then DPI head Samir Sanbar, despite his great fondness for the player, felt that the children of a Latin American colleague would be thrilled to have it. So he passed it on. After so many years, we would perhaps speak on behalf of millions thrilled by Maradona's outstanding performance during crucial years of their lives by saying Thank You. Muchos Gracias, Campion.


Memoirs by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards were well-covered by world media. Even Maureen Dowd produced a complimentary comment. What was not published in his memoir relates to a very brief period when he resided on 47th Street and 2nd Avenue. While most likely on some kind of drug, he was known by neighbours to hallucinate, sometimes taking refuge in the balcony from supposedly shadowy haunting figures. It was reported by the Concierge of the building that he had to persuade Mr. Richards to go inside to have a restful sleep.


A once famous title to a book by Francois Sagan seemed to accurately describe a new portrait of former Secretary General Kofi Annan displayed on the second floor of the interim "North Lobby" compound. We haven't seen him personally since he left in 2007, so we have no way of comparing it to the original these days. If anything, in our memory, Kofi Annan was a handsome, smiling, pleasant-looking man despite whatever differences you may have with him. However, we were shocked to look at an almost cracked forehead and exaggerated bulging eyes as if he was about to burst into tears. A hint of a subdued smile reflected a painfully haunted look. Oh God. What would it take to bring us back the Kofi Annan we once knew as a beloved brother and colleague? How painful.


Many of us who thought for the last three years that U.N. "Special for the Middle East Peace Process" Robert Serry has been missing in action, were pleasantly surprised to observe him rolling up his sleeves, wearing a U.N. hat, and celebrating U.N. day by helping to pick olives with his team at the village of Turmusiyyah in occupied Palestinian Territory. Nothing could be more symbolic in that Holy Land than to participate in an olive harvest, touching olive branches from an olive tree.

That action was more than symbolic these days since some extremist settlers had deliberately destroyed hundreds of trees by poisoning or destroying them. Serry's action was in glaring contrast to that of Tony Blair, supposedly the Quartet's official representative, who seems to disappear at the first hint of difficulty, always smiling his way to any bank but the West Bank.


Legendary French/American artist Charles Aznavour at the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street. The crooner, who also sung in English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, was pleasantly startled when the man he bumped into at the door addressed him in Armenian...Legendary French/French designer Pierre Cardin walking into Cipriani Wall Street restaurant; he was attending a fashion group gala to receive -- what else? -- a Legend Award. He was pleasantly surprised when someone dressed in his signature suit to the "C" belt, addressed him in what he described as Lebanese French.


Remember Paul the Octopus, who accurately predicted the winner of eight matches during last summer's World Cup? Although some Germans were upset that Paul actually predicted their loss to Spain, "Der Spiegel" went out of its way to write an obituary after an announcement by its museum that it was devastated at the loss. In true formal fashion, a suitable memorial is planned.


Retired, yes. Refreshing, definitely. It was great to see Norma back at the Security Council and Joyce at the inner tables of the General Assembly during the General debate. Contrasting with some new careers, both looked more confident than some of the new transients. They certainly know what they are doing. Perhaps, after retirement, they fit into that old Bob Dylan song: "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now."


The famous title by the Swedish group Abba was adapted with a twist by a political party in Denmark. A right wing group, called "DPP," led by Ms. Pia Kjaersgaard, started using placards in Copenhagen drawing attention to "Mama Pia" -- "How can I resist her?"! The two male artists of the group, Bjorn and Benny, took exception, as the music company that owns the rights, Sony Music, tried to find a compromise. It may rotate around one of the group's oldest songs: "Money, Money, Money"!


"Hello. Yes? Did you actually want to speak to the Chief or to the woman who knows everything?"


What's your most memorable movie? A New York market research company, Zagat, which mainly dealt with food and wine, decided to find out about people's taste in film. Out of 1,000 mentioned through feedback, the most memorable was "The Godfather," followed by "Godfather II." "Casablanca" came in third, then "Schindler's List," "Lawrence of Arabia," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Star Wars," "The Wizard of Oz," "Lady Eve," and "Singing int he Rain." In the absence of even an acting Don Corleone, here's looking at you kid.


She was the daughter of the first U.N. Secretary General, Trygve Lie. She was an essential part of his everyday life and work since she worked with her father when he served in London during World War II as Norway's Foreign Minister in exile. More relevant to U.N. regular work, she was instrumental in developing the land offered by the Rockefeller family on which Headquarters was built. In fact, she married the son of the visionary and generous William Zeckendorf, who she had met during her effort to help in the construction. Guri Lie Zeckendorf passed away around the time of U.N. Day this year.