1 NOVEMBER 2013

SEATING LOTTERY:

Every year before the opening of a General Assembly Session, the Secretary General would draw from a lottery box the name of a member state that will occupy the first seat in the hall, followed by all others in English alphabetical order. In early September, Ban Ki-moon happened to draw the name of Croatia.

TUNA TARTARE:

An official lunch by the U.N. Secretary General for heads of state is always an opportunity to watch who shakes hands with whom, what backchannels are opened while seated at the same table, and who is treated more decoratively than whom. In some instances, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who usually brought along fresh lobsters as presents (plus valuable cigars), chatted with several of his pronounced adversaries. This year, speculation about a hand-shake between U.S. President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani did not happen. There were no thrilling occurrences. Yet where else could you get over one hundred heads of state in the same dining room? There was nothing special about the menu either: Tuna Tartare as appetizer, veal osso buco as entree, and chocolate mousse for dessert.

REACHING OUT:

The opening day of the General Debate when traffic in Manhattan's East Mid-town was grinding to an almost halt, U.N. Under-Secretary General Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal gave an interview to New York Channel 1. He told its mainly local viewers how important the gathering was to the world and to New York and in a pleasantly controlled language appealed to New Yorkers to kindly bear with us the next couple of days, nearly a week. Incidentally, he appeared very elegantly dressed in the right colours -- not too dark to repulse the casuals, and not too light to offend the diplomat. A very timely move.

TRUST MAGRITTE:

SCORPION:

It's an old tale, always renewed and renewable. A scorpion asked a frog to carry it across the stream. The frog responds carefully: "You sting." The scorpion explains logically that it would be suicidal to sting the frog: "If you died, I would drown." Persuaded, the frog takes the scorpion along. Yet, at mid-stream, the scorpion bites. "Why did you do that; you that you also will die?" "I know," reported the scorpion. "But I could not help it. It's in my nature."

BATEAUX:

The Association of Former International Civil Servants (AFICS) in New York is getting more active in arranging for social gatherings. The latest is an enjoyable dinner at "Bateaux," a floating restaurant at Pier 61 of Chelsea Piers (23rd Street) on 23 October. Fine food, wine and music is offered with a view of New York's magnificent skyline. AFICS committee has also arranged for a Workshop on "Essential Skills for Living Fully at Every Age" on 12 November in U.N. Secretariat Building, Room 2727.

BEN WHO?!:

NORWEGIANS:

It's actually a comedy. And its not about actual Norwegians. Actually, if you ever met a Norwegian, she or he will tell you right away who they are. It is a play about unintentionally funny, puzzled Scandinavians in Minnesota -- yes, in the U.S. Midwest -- who were paid by a woman to "hit" an adversary. Nothing serious really happens. Just a few accented twists of fate playing on an off-Broadway Theatre on West 78th Street.

HERE TODAY:

A monthly lunch by the rotating President of the Security Council for the busy month of September looked more a farewell than a "hello." Elections in Australia brought a new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who most likely would wish to send his new Permanent Rep to New York. True, current Ambassador Gerry Quinn, who heads the Council, is a professional diplomat who displayed impressive skill. Indeed, he handled his country's interest during the General Debate in the presence of over 100 heads of state and governments impressively well. But you know how politicians think. Anyway, it would be only fair if Ambassador Quinn, who made many friends for his beloved Australia -- which successfully won a member seat in the Council -- could still serve the full two-year term of that membership.

NORWAY TOO:

Apropos change, recent elections in Norway also produced a new government. Ambassador Geir Pedersen is also a professional diplomat (an outstanding one, by the way), who grew up the political ladder at the U.N. Secretariat when he moved from D-1 to D-2 to Assistant-Secretary General as Special Representative in Lebanon, where he was very popular with all sides. Would the new Norwegian government replace him? It may depend on the period of time spent in New York -- and on other factors. Another Norwegian who still clings to his Secretariat host is Terje Roed Larsen, who has been imposed on the U.N. for years, not by Norway obviously, but by other influential powers. Would a change in Oslo offer an excuse for sending the Roed (Herring) to his Box Home Office? Apparently, he may not be too enthusiastic to return to Oslo where he may face a number of questions.

"ARAB SPRING"

From Al-Hayat

QATAR LOUNGE:

It may have lost its predominant role in Egypt, Syria, and the rest, but Qatar has always maintained a favourite spot with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. No need to dwell on the reasons, but our distinguished Rapper in Residence never missed an opportunity to sing the praises of the dynamic oil, gas (and cash) exporter. The newest occasion was a well-deserved tribute for Qatar's contribution to a new lounge within the U.N. Headquarters that has a scenic view of the East River. Mr. Ban waxed poetic as he described the location, the view, and its many splendid uses.

QATAR PHILHARMONIC:

It was by coincidence that we learned that the state of Qatar has a Philharmonic orchestra. Did you know that there was a report in a Beirut daily about the activities of artist, composer and singer Marcel Khalife when it was mentioned that he played a "concerto" in Doha's Opera House. The music director of the Qatar Philharmonic, we were told, is South Korean artist Ms. Han-Na Chang. When pursuing the report further, we saw through its website that Loren Maazel, the renown conductor considered it "among the major orchestras of the world!" It advertised, among forthcoming events, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. There would also be a "Brass Fanfare" and a "Qatar Philharmonic Family Concert: Dance with the Orchestra." A note to potential participants indicates that children 6 and over are welcome at the concerts. Everyone must buy a ticket. The Orchestra, founded in 2009, is composed of 101 players. There was no reference to the number of Doha listeners.

QATAR:

A slight oversight occurred recently despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special attention to Qatar. On the opening day of the Debate when the newly appointed Amir of Qatar was listed to speak, the list of appointments of the Secretary General erroneously -- perhaps by habit -- listed 11:30am of 24 October as "H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar." Actually, it was for his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thain, the new Amir of Qatar.

"DROP DEAD":

That sounded like the least aggressive two words in what was considered the most popular song at an "i-heart" music festival held early October in Las Vegas. Its touted "world premiere" starred Britney Spears in a desert surrounding slave-driving half a dozen women while flashing images of sex, broken dolls and whips compete with her fantasizing erotic moves in varied poses. If you really want to know, the song's title is "Bitch" -- and Ms. Spears is proud of it. By the way, those with institutional memories in the Middle East world recall a British Imperial Colonial Office diplomat also named Spears. With some of the current fantasy, we could have been up there, perhaps as Britney's begotten son!

NEIL TO MOSCOW:

Recent reports on the U.N. by the New York Times had several bylines; but not the regular one to which diplomats have been familiar during the last five years. Neil MacFarquhar, an experienced reporter who grew up as a child in Libya and covered the Middle East extensively was stationed at U.N. Headquarters since 2008. During the last two years, he was sent to cover what was initially described as The Arab Spring, particularly in Cairo -- where he had been posted for years. He also made several visits to Syria, although there seemed to be an inclination by the Grey Lady's foreign editors to go for those without previous experience or any knowledge of the Arabic language. We now understand that Neil has been posted to Moscow. His sold experience elsewhere will certainly help him there, especially during the growing role of Russia in U.N.-related crises like Syria, Iraq, and U.S./Iran relations. We wish him well, knowing that if he did not speak Russian, he will try to learn it. But noting the type of reporting from the Arab world by almost total novices, we wonder whether for some reason it is now the New York Times preference to intentionally select correspondents who do not speak the local language. A call to bid Neil farewell received a registered message by Riok Gladstone that the office is between assignments.

CLOSEDOWN:

DEEP THOUGHT!:

I have eaten
The plums
that were in the icebox
And which
You were probably
Saving for
Breakfast

By William Carlos Williams

WAI TAK:

When over a hundred heads of states and governments converge for the U.N. General Debate in mid-September, they expect logistics, preparations, and all related arrangements to be in order upon arrival. Not only are their views of the U.N. at stake, but their own deliberations with counter-parts and with the leader of the host team, the Secretary General. Within that patient persistent process, hundreds of dedicated hard-working staff spend literally days and nights preparing to make sure that even very little details are on track. With the media covers senior leaders and visitors see mainly those on the podium, the majority of unheralded "soldiers" are hardly noted. That's why we express appreciation to all the staff in Conference Services, Security, Protocol, Public Information, Political Affairs and Management. Protocol in particular is one of the most delicate operations to visiting dignitaries. A tribute to all our efficient staff there, led by its Chief Yoon Yeocheol, his Deputy Chief Nicole Bression-Ondieki, and the very efficient, cool, calm and collected Ms. Wai Tak Chua.

UNCB:

Options for expanding U.N. compound will have to be submitted to the General Assembly at its current session. Building a tunnel between the Secretariat building and new construction on "Robert Moses Playground" across the street on 42nd was the most mentioned over the last few years. New York is a real estate city and, obviously, real estate groups are competing to keep their hands on a new major project on the East River. While other additions like those hosting UNDP, UNICEF and extra offices are called DC 1 and DC 2, the new one by the U.N. Development Corporation is initially entitled U.N. Consolidation Building. Expect a tough, drawn-out competition.

SMS:

U.N. Under-Secretary General Jeffrey Feltman, who served for years as U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, continues to exchange SMS messages with key politicians there. The latest came from Parliament speaker, leader of "Amal" Shiite group Nabih Berri, saying: "We now know why you left U.S. government service and joined the U.N. With the financial shutdown, you are assured to receive your salary. Well done." Feltman responded in similar jest that he left "when our management started to look like yours."

DIRECTORS:

"There are two kinds of directors. Those who think they are God and those who are so certain of it!"
Rhetta Hughes

LIMERICK:

"I sat next to a Duchess at tea
Distressed as a person could be
Her rumblings abdominal
Were simply phenomenal
And everyone thought it was me."

OSAMA EL BAZ:

Some knowledgeable observers would claim that Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak started his exit from power the day he stopped listening to his long-time foreign policy advisor Obama El Baz. The soft-spoken courteous and experienced diplomat, who passed away mid-September, practically ran Egypt's foreign policy for decades. Very few senior officials who dealt with that country's diplomats in New York, Paris, London, Moscow, Beijing or Ougadougan may not have known who he was. But anyone with an interest to influence Cairo's policy should have known who he was. Working people in Egypt's capital know now for a different reason. He was the only senior official who took the subway home. Asked about his safety once by a surprised reporter, he responded incredulously: "Afraid? Of my own people?"

NUMBERS:

The number of foreign fighters in Syria was estimated by a well-informed Algerian site at about 65,000, mainly from the following countries: Libyans (15,000), Lebanese (10,000), Turks (1,000), Jordanians (4,000), Iraqis (5,000), Chechens (1,000), Egyptians (1,500), Africans -- mainly from Mali and Senegal (1,000), Great Britain (500), French (100), Australians (100), Saudis (3,500), Yemenis (1,500), Kuwaitis (300), Afghans reunited in Gulf states (700), Pakistani Taliban (1,500). These are round figures, not exact as crossing the borders from Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon fluctuates. They are mainly paid by two oil-rich states.

AMBASSADOR CALDI:

Italian diplomat Sebastian Caldi, who presented his credentials in September as the new Permanent Representative to the U.N., is very familiar with both U.N. machinery and Italian Foreign Service. Coming from the Eternal City, he joined his country's service as a trainee in the Diplomatic Institute, served as First Secretary in its embassies in Beijing and Paris, returned home for higher positions before arriving in New York as Counselor to the Permanent Mission in New York in 1994 working closely with the legendary Ambassador Paolo Fulci. He went back to head the Press and Information Service, then sent abroad again as Minister at the Embassy in Washington, D.C., returning home again as Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He took over his new post in New York in time for the General Debate. Welcome back!

DEJA VUE:

"The Deputy Secretary General met with the Second Vice President of the Republic of Burundi, S.E. Dr. Gervais Rufyikiri. They discussed the follow-up to Burundi Partner's Conference held in Geneva in October 2012, Burundi's request to the U.N. for electoral support and the political and security situation in Burundi, including the adoption of a new press law. The Deputy Secretary General underscored the linkages between peace, development and human rights, and stressed the need to preserve fundamental freedoms in Burundi."
-- (An official readout dated 7 June 2013 accessed on the DSG "Readouts" on 6 October 2013)

DEJA VOUS:

"When I sit and work, it's great to listen to Chopin and Mozart," Jan Eliasson told Financial Times interviewer Annie Maccoby Berglof. Only - alas - there was no piano in the rented apartment. Also, the piano player, Kirsten, his wife, is not always there as she shuttles between Stockholm and New York. Otherwise, the U.N. Deputy Secretary General seemed happy to display his living quarters and the reporters seemed only too eager to photograph the windows, doors, tables -- even a Persian rug in the living room. The reporter shifted between genuine family memories and politically correct talk about Syria. He described a portrait of Raoul Wallenberg, who was credited with saving almost 100,000 Hungarian Jews. If such a reference reminded the current Swedish diplomat of Mr. Wallenberg's niece, Nanne Annan, he did not say so. When Kofi was Secretary General, he repeatedly heard how the gracious Nanne and his own wife were close classmates in Sweden. Different times, different talk. Actually, the elegance and views of the apartment was a welcome bonus for unit owners of Dag Hammarskjold Tower on 240 East 47th street, a block away from the U.N. The Tower was constructed by R.H. Sanbar projects, where Mr. Eliasson is a welcome returning guest. He had rented there in an earlier U.N. assignment. Only a slight correction: it is not "the top-floor." That belongs to someone else. Ah -- and the toilet seats are different!

DEJA:

After reading a Financial Times thorough interview with U.N. Deputy Secretary General Eliasson when he is portrayed as having urgent appointments with so many very important officials visiting New York, we swiftly double-checked his scheduled appointments for the following day, 7 October, to discover that he actually had only ONE -- at 3pm -- with Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, Interior Minister of the Republic of Sudan!

E-VERSION:

Those who were interested in getting Adam LeBor's "The Geneva Option" - a U.N.-related fiction when it came out as a book (which was reviewed here) may wish to know that its publisher Harper Collins is making it available for $1.99 -- in an e-version.

WADIN' IN:

"I am stepped so far that
Should I wade no more
Returning is as tedious as go over."
-- William Shakespeare in Macbeth

IN PASSING...:

  1. "Soft power could sometimes be overcome by hard cash."
    -- An official at Asian leaders meeting in Bali
  2. "We're not really bad. We just came from a bad place.
    -- Actress in "Shame"
  3. "My father, the Ambassador, will call you."
    -- A young woman to a curious male diplomat

KOREAN CAPPUCCINO:

A new coffee spot on 45th Street between First and Second Avenues was very popular during the U.N. General Debate. With traffic restrictions and road blocks, it was right in the middle. It also managed to serve good cappuccino, though not yet known to most U.N. staff and diplomats. Location, location, location, as they say in New York. We understood that the owner is a young Korean who shows up only at closing time. Otherwise, it's Italian by day and Korean -- a very polite one -- at night!

TAKE NOTE:

"The Secretary General takes note of the Maldivian Supreme Court's decision ordering their presidential elections to be held within a new timeframe. He also acknowledges the continuing efforts by the Elections Committee of the Maldives. The Secretary General once again calls in all Maldivians to ensure a peaceful inclusive and credible process for this election."
-- Official U.N. Press Statement on 8 October

LEBANESE ARMENIANS:

Archbishop Shahe Panossian was elected senior Archbishop for Orthodox Armenians in Lebanon. Armenians are an integral part of Lebanon's mosaic structure and are allocated at least five seats in Parliament. The new Archbishop, who was born in Kessab, Syria, and graduated from the Theological Institute, was a Representative of his Church in Greece, then in Florida and Chicago in the U.S. before becoming Archbishop in Toronto, Canada -- then Paris, France. He also oversaw the main orphanage in Byblos, one of the oldest ports in history.

YOUR S.O.B.:

Now that the Yemen government is a trustworthy ally, only positive reporting appeared in mainstream media. A tragic event totally overlooked related to an EIGHT YEAR OLD GIRL WHO WAS FORCED TO MARRY and started bleeding on her wedding night. Obviously when it became publicly known, the authorities stated they were investigating the situation "to prosecute those responsible!" Imagine what type of media reporting would have occurred if that despicable crime took place elsewhere.

YOUR ENVOY.:

Actress Nicole Kidman, who was once designated U.N. Special Envoy or Ambassador (whatever the Diplomatic Rock Star of that time considered helpful to his image), suffered some injury while walking out of her hotel, The Carlyle, on New York's Madison Avenue. A paparazzi photographer hit her.

HAPPINESS:

"Asked about a report on world happiness, the Spokesperson declined specific comment. He said it is an independent report which had been written by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities. Even if some of the authors have affiliations with the U.N., any views expressed are their own and not those of the U.N., its agencies or programmes."

DR. FEELGOOD:

There was a time when it was claimed that billionaire hedge fund investor George Soros actively ran the Clinton administrative policy in Eastern Europe. The Hungarian-born contributor to liberal causes did not bother to deny it. Indeed, an invitation to Sunday evenings at his Southampton house where a political flavour of the week was noisily discussed during delicious barbeques by the ocean side became a trophy to brag about. On the other hand (there is always an other hand in talk about economists/politicians), he helped allocate millions to fight projects favoured by President George W. Bush. All that is irrelevant, except to show that George Soros is a very active kind of man who, at 83, has just married his third wife Tamika Bolton, who -- at 42 -- is half his age. Three days of festivities started with a reception at the Museum of Modern Art which opened a preview of the work of Belgian "mystery artist" Rene Magritte. After a small non-denominated ceremony, a grand reception in Katonah, upstate New York, was attended by over 500 guests, including current head of World Bank, American-Korean Jim Yong Kim, but -- alas -- not our distinguished Korean Korean Ban Ki-moon, nor his Korean Korean Korean aide "Mr. Kim." However, our former colleague, currently President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was visibly there in full African garb. While Soros made a bundle in betting against the British Pond in the early 1990s, the bride, who was raised in California and has an MBA from the University of Miami made her career in health education. Her vitamin sales company, together with a yoga platform, may have particularly stimulated the attention of the $20 billion-worth bridegroom. The wedding gown was designed by our outstanding Reem Acra, a Lebanese naturalized American who dresses up stars like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez. Guests were urged to transform their gifts to charity donations. In case of doubt, any invited guest could double-check with Dr. Feelgood.