1 October 2003

A DAY OF PEACE:

There was no spin or pretension. Everyone gathered in the General Assembly Hall after an emotional day of tribute and remembrance. One or two characters tried -- as usual -- to plug their faces into the scene somewhere around the candles or next to members of bereaved families. But no one noticed. It was exactly one month after the tragedy. Everyone was completely devoted to the memory of those who lost their lives in the attack on the United Nations Compound in Baghdad. It also happened to mark the Day of Peace. Kofi Annan set the tone. Special guest, artist Gilberto Gil, who happens to be Brazil's new Minister of Culture, lifted the spirits with his music and songs. Most sang along. "Imagine all the People...," "Everything's going be alright," and even songs in Brazilian and French found graceful collective response. Towards the end, everyone leapt to their feet as Secretary General Kofi Annan joined by taking over the bongo drums, setting the beat amidst emotional applause. It was a remarkably true day of peace. I hope someday you'll join us.

POWELL TO TAKE OVER WORLD BANK?

A well-informed visitor to New York during the opening of the General Debate casually mentioned that Secretary of State Colin Powell is likely to take over the leading post in the International Bank for the Reconstruction and Development (known as the World Bank) when its internal Director James Wolfenson retires next year. The post is based in Washington and the nomination is normally the preserve of the U.S. President. Two months ago, the Washington Post reported that the Secretary of State will not be serving as such during the second term of President Bush. There was no outright denial at the time, only a personally gratifying dinner invitation.

The President praised Secretary Powell, who stated that he served at the decision of the President. A very gracious exchange and a clear indication of mutual understanding. If indeed Secretary Powell takes over the World Bank, it will be on a decision by the President whom he would no longer serve as Secretary of State but still remain as an integral part of the Washington establishment. It would also fit with Colin Powell's international credentials without the aggravation of twisting reluctant arms in the Security Council or fighting turf wars. He would be czar of his own domain.

TV CHIEF:

The post of television chief, now combined with radio, has been vacant for over two years when it was actively sought then turned down by a distinguished star of Italian Television.

It seems that the favourite for taking it is a woman from outside the Department who works with a major American network. She will certainly help in opening desperately needed doors.

FAWZI TAKES OVER:

Ahmed Fawzi, Director of the soon to be closed U.N. London office, has taken over as Director of the Media Division in the Department of Public Information. He succeeds the retiring Salim Lone, whose face and voice was seen on television screens around the world during the tragic attack on U.N. premises in Baghdad. Fawzi is familiar to television screens before and after the Afghanistan crisis. His photo accompanying the late Sergio Vieira de Mello upon arrival in Baghdad took a full page in Newsweek. An Egyptian journalist who did a terrific job in London, the former Deputy Spokesman for former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, is well known to correspondents accredited to New York. Still, there are always challenges to face, particularly in changing times. Yet he has proved himself talented enough to build a bridge over troubled waters. Good luck, Ahmed.

ANNA LINDH:

The dynamic Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who was fatally stabbed in Stockholm, was a very popular official, actively consumed with highlighting human dignity everywhere. A smiling negotiator, yet tough on the issues, she gained many friends for her causes and for her country. With her death, Sweden lost a great internationalist and the international community lost an outstanding Swede. Farewell Anna. How many farewells can we say in one month? How much sorrow can we carry in our hearts? Do we have any more time to mourn?

VISIT THE SOUTH:

Always looking for an initiative to draw attention, U.N. Representative in South Lebanon Staffan Demistura announced to the local press a campaign entitled "Visit the South." As such, Lebanese citizens and visitors to Beirut will be urged to make a point of proceeding to the territory formerly occupied by Israeli troops and now partially observed by UNIFIL. An excellent proposal indeed. And the first to implement it should be the Italian/Swede who spends most of his time in the Lebanese capital, rather than his area of designation.

"U.N. WEEK. EXPECT DELAYS:"

Frustrated New Yorkers caught in nightmarish traffic gridlocks entering or circulating in Midtown Manhattan, were not as thrilled at the opening of the General Debate at the General Assembly as participating diplomats. Usually taken as a fact of life in the Big Apple, this year they vented their ire at the U.N. more widely because a signal on the highways approaching New York announced: "U.N. Week. Expect Delays." So much for building bridges with the host city.

INDIFFERENCE OR NO DIFFERENCE:

Not a soul representing the U.N. Secretary General was in sight at the Security Council during a Security Council debate brought by the Arab Group on threats against Palestinian leader Arafat. Usually most of them are keen to be seen on TV; some compete to be there, appearing somewhat nonchalantly important. Observers noting the total absence were not sure whether it was fear from being caught between the Arab Group and the U.S. Others, however, bitterly commented that presence or absence reflected a thin line between indifference and making no difference.

REHAM FARRA MEMORIAL:

The UN decided to name its annual training program for young journalists in honour of Reham Farra, a young UN press officer killed in the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. In a letter to her mother, Shashi Tharour, Under Secretary General for Public Information, said he hoped the newly named programme would honour Reham's memory "and remind us of the inspiration she gave us all."

TO MOURN OR NOT TO MOURN:

A statement on the passing away of a noted Arab intellectual seemed to produce a counter effective result. The following was announced on 25 September: "The Secretary-General heard with great sadness of the death of Edward Said, the distinguished Palestinian-American writer and scholar who did so much to explain the Islamic world to the West, and vice versa. While not sharing all of Professor Said's opinions, the Secretary-General always enjoyed his company, savoured his wit, and admired the passion with which he pursued his vision of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Both the Middle East and the United States will be the poorer without his distinctive voice." The fact that a statement was issued reflected special attention to the status of the Columbia University Professor who died after a long battle with leukemia. However, friends paying their condolences to the family at Columbia's Faculty House heard sharp remarks about injecting the phrase: "...while not sharing all of Professor Said's opinions, etc..." That, in Arab tradition of mourning, seemed uncalled for. Either you share sorrow or you don't. Guarded condolences are worse than no condolences at all.