15 October 2004


Several candidates are jockeying for the top post of Secretary General of the U.N. Conference and Trade and Development (UNCTAD). As it is supposedly the turn of an Asian, the inevitable Indian and Pakistani operators are ready and available, each hoping his many compatriots within could help. Current Pakistan ambassador in New York Munir Akram is keen on going back to Geneva. A rising star in his country's civil service, Akram had a slight social handicap which he was able to overcome temporarily with a little help from his friends. He may be disappointed. However, the grapevine has it that he was being considered for the post of Foreign Secretary of Pakistan -- the top national diplomatic achievement. If he was acceptable, he could have been already recommended. Additionally, Pakistani sources say he will be returning to Islamabad soon, after a lucky stint in Geneva and New York. Most likely the U.N. Secretary General, who makes the nomination, will be taking his time after two of his initial preferences were not readily available. He may be better casting a wider net, maybe to a region which is not represented in his higher staff, like an Asian from the newly Independent states. Some even mention an African candidate.


Has anyone seen Ashraf Qazi, supposedly Special Representative of the Secretary General on (or in!) Iraq? He seems to have vanished into thin air. Heads of states and governments, other senior officials visiting U.N. Headquarters for the General debates held numerous side meetings, many covered the U.N. role in Iraq. Nothing was heard of Qazi. Even if one looked closely in the pictures or searched in the corridors, there was no trace of him. He may be still pondering the situation, or collecting his stuff from a previous assignment, or finding excuses not to be around nor proceed to Baghdad. Let's hope he surfaces somewhere -- in due course as they say in hopeful English. N.B.: Someone mentioned he was "on his way" to Baghdad. Take your time. And hold on to that travel stamp.


It must have been an editorial mistake. Al-Jazeera interview with U.N. outgoing mid East envoy Terje Roed Larsen on Friday 17 September was billed on the screen as "underwater encounter." The network's Palestinian chief correspondent Nabil Omari wondered how could Larsen be effective when the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Prime Minister don't trust him anymore. The Norwegian negotiator assured everyone that as a friend of Israel and a "really truthful" friend of the Palestinians he was in touch with Israeli and Palestinian "leadership people." It is known that Prime Minister Sharon does not deal with him and that Arafat was taken aback by statements in the Security Council that preceded an attempt to start a Palestinian civil war. Apparently, Larsen has made up with the Ramallah crowd upon return from a summer holiday. He mentioned a recent telephone conversation with Arafat. On the Road Map, he admitted it was clinically dead but stressed that the Quartet agreed to keep on meeting. As long as meetings were being envisaged, Larsen was hopeful. Whether any progress would be achieved, "time will tell" was his confused answer. In every other sentence, he repeated his title as Special Representative of the Secretary General to the Middle East Peace Process. Why doesn't he say something or do anything to stop the current carnage for both people? The Special Representative puts the blame on the Security Council. He assures listeners that there will be more meetings in New York. As to the situation in his area of operations, however, he indicated matters are outside his domain.


A new board of governors of the UN nuclear agency in Vienna drew up procedures for electing a new director general, with current chief Mohammed El-Baradei seeking a third term. U.S. officials have said the United States, the largest contributor, supports the position of the Geneva group of top 10 contributors that heads of international organizations should not serve more than two terms.

But El-Baradei is counting on support by IAEA board member China as well as the G-77 group of developing nations, which includes many non-aligned states on the board. Japan, which is a member of the Geneva group of 10 and a board member, was not closing the door on a third term for the 61-year-old Egyptian. "Of course, we can make an exception to the rule" of only two terms, Japanese IAEA ambassador Yukio Takasu explained. Applications for candidacies will close by December 31 and the board will seek to have the new director general named by a meeting in June 2005, in order to be formally elected at the next IAEA general conference in September 2005.

The director general's new term would begin on December 1, 2005.


Finally, the courageous leadership has taken a firm stand: change the toilets. While preparing for the hectic days of the General Debate when visitors outnumber the staff, a decision was taken that women's toilets should be labeled for men and the other way round. Thus hurried and confused Security Council men members rushing from a meeting had to stop in their tracks before storming what became a Women spot. More discreet but equally confused ladies had to search for their new location. The experiment on several public floors seemed to fail miserably. So things returned to normal within a few weeks while nobody knows why the decision was taken, why it was reversed and who took the decision.


The Iraqi medical doctor for Saddam Hussein told daily Asharq Al Awsat that the former Iraqi dictator had a dark spot on his face which had been getting darker, causing speculation that surgery will be needed to remove it. He added that with war drums approaching Saddam told him the operation could be done "after we get that war out of the way." Interestingly, the doctor noted that when the captured Iraqi former leader appeared before a magistrate on TV the dark spot had disappeared. It was Saddam for sure, he thought, but where did the dark spot go? Could it be part of an American clean-up?


Columnist Kevin Meyers wrote in the Irish Times: The truth is that the U.N. is corrupt, as are many of its officials. It is not quite a useless instrument, but it is a deeply flawed one as is evident by the scandal over Iraqi oil sanctions. Saddam controlled issuing of oil vouchers. Not merely did he enrich himself enormously by the manipulation of the vouchers but there are credible allegations that he debauched senior U.N. officials with them." Laure Maurawiec, Director of the Hudson Institute wrote in Figaro: "To speak of international law when senior U.N. bureaucrats and Kofi Annan were complicit in helping Saddam Hussein skim $10 billion from Oil for Food programme smacks of unbelievable cynicism." Every devoted U.N. active or retired civil servant feels angered and embarrassed by such accusations -- except those directly involved. A few shameless rotten apples are tainting a reputation won over years of hard honest dedicated work.


Those who knew Benita Ferrero-Waldner as U.N. Chief of Protocol in the mid-nineties will be glad to know of her recent appointment as European External Relations Commissioner. Benita who returned home to politics served for years as Austria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, gaining a growing number of friends for her country even during an initial period of isolation. Her presence in Brussels will be a valuable asset for the U.N. particularly on delicate issues requiring concerted action.


Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri had openly and persistently opposed an extension in the term of Lebanese President Emil Lahoud. However, Security Council Resolution 1559 nowithstanding, Hariri -- who has vast financial interests in the country -- was the one who proposed the extension. He had publicly stated that he would rather cut his right hand than sign that request. It was noted that when he arrived at the Parliament to vote -- with his whole bloc -- for the extension, he had his hand bandaged to his shoulder. It was the left hand. The right one had signed.


Jack, a smart businessman, talks to his son.

Jack: "I want you to marry a girl of my choice."

Son: "I will choose my own bride."

Jack: "But the girl is Bill Gates's daughter."

Son: "Well, in that case..."

Next, Jack approaches Bill Gates.

Jack: "I have a husband for your daughter."

Bill Gates: "But my daughter is too young to marry."

Jack: "But this young man is a vice-president of the World Bank."

Bill Gates: "Ah, in that case..."

Finally, Jack goes to see the president of the World Bank.

Jack: "I have a young man to be recommended as a vice-president."

President: "But I already have more vice-presidents than I need."

Jack: "But this young man is Bill Gates' son-in-law."

President: "Ah, in that case..."

Is that how business is done!

Sent by Marian Awwad.


The competition is coming. A new movie showing the "yes men" in their sharp suits being mischievous to others while pretending it is all for a good cause, may carry an uncanny resemblance to some of those who exploited the United Nations Secretariat for the last few years. One wouldn't know who would have learned from whom: the film makers or the wily characters on the east river. Only time will tell, as one of them could wisely advise.


Garage space on U.N. premises was always a prize to anyone working there. Those getting parking rights had to fulfill a myriad of conditions to be listed. Only diplomats and officials at Assistant Secretary General and Under Secretary General could aspire to have easy access. Its administration was under an official department. Now the garage is going private. A private enterprise is taking over -- with its own non-U.N. employees. Considering that the garage runs under the whole U.N. compound, did anyone give any consideration for SECURITY. With increased overall threat levels, cars undergo special scrutiny measures to be allowed in. Would employees from a private outside firm be more trustworthy than trained U.N. security officers?


As supermodel Heidi Klum insured her legs for one million British pounds. Jeweler John Souglides expressed the view that "the delicate workmanship of that exquisite piece of jewelry" was indeed worth the price.


A cultural achievement by newly appointed Kuwait Ambassador and first female Arab representative Nabila Al-Mulla. A Kuwait musical group will perform in the General Assembly Hall at U.N. Day, 24 October. This will be the first Arab cultural participation at a Headquarters event. It is worth mentioning that the Minister of Information responsible for such activities is former Kuwait Permanent Representative to the U.N. Mohammed Abulhassan. Earlier information that he was resigning under parliamentary pressure turned out to be premature.


Apparently those refurnishing the offices behind the General Assembly podium have not heard that the U.N. premises were to be smoke free. Or maybe they did, but understood the ruling to apply to mortal staff with no chance to approach the slick ultramodern space where the Secretary General and the Chairman of the General Assembly share adjoining offices. While Secretariat officials concerned were double-checking the "Vienna Cafe" lounge for any trace of staff smoking, the privileged offices were conveniently equipped with cigar holding trays. One wonders who inspired the idea. Any cigar smoker we know?


Spokesperson or Spokeswoman did not seem to take hold. Whatever the gender, everyone goes along with Spokesman. Denise Cook, recently joined the professional team on the third floor. Although she was transferred from Peacekeeping, Denise started as an Information Officer for the first U.N. office in Madrid. Completely bilingual in English and Spanish, she was among the first to contact the Spanish public on the U.N.'s activities relating to every life. She continued her sterling work in various missions particularly in Central America where she received high evaluation reports from her supervisors. Denise must be enjoying her return to the communications field although it seems the assignment is temporary. She is filling in while the Deputy Spokesman -- another woman -- is on a field assignment.


The two French hostages in Iraq seemed to be caught between hostile and friendly fire while a mysterious Lebanese/Syrian expatriate from Cote d'Ivoire is reportedly offering bags of cash for their release. While French Parliamentarian Didier Julia was shuttling between nearby Arab capitals and General Phillipe Rondeau, "Intelligence Coordinator" in the French Defense Ministry, was visiting another neighbouring country, a third envoy arrived from Abidjan in a private plane of President Laurent Gbegbo whose country itself is facing guerilla threats. According to "Le Telegramme" of Brest which revealed the story, the cash man's name is Mustafa Aziz, who reportedly supplies the Ivoirian army with modern equipment. Lebanese/Syrian expatriates in Francophone Africa had played a role in attempts to release French hostages in Lebanon two decades ago.


Former Under Secretary General Jayantha Dhanapala accompanied his country's President who participated in the General Debate of the Assembly mid-September. He is now Secretary General (a good omen!) of the Secretariat for the co-ordinating of the Peace Process and Senior Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka. Additionally, he is keeping his international commitments such as membership of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission chaired by Hans Blix; the International Committee of the Red Cross Advisory Group and the U.N. University Council. During high level contacts that took place during the opening days, Dhanapala seemed to be in his natural element. Many friends wish to see him back in New York for the longer term.


Even before an anticipated report by a reform panel was completed, one of its members, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans told the press that it would contain "clear rules declaring when it is legal for a nation to use pre-emptive military force for its self-defense." Other members, including the highly regarded General Brent Scowcroft expressed surprise that the group's discreet work was discussed in public, stressing that it was premature to predict the final text. But that's what you get when you expediently include characters in constant search for the limelight. Evans had wanted to run for Secretary General. He may still try, assuming that South East Asia includes Australia. That may explain his constant reference to Australia's Asian role when he was in office.


As a reflection on his success, Juan Somavia was renewed a new term as head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) based in Geneva. The former Permanent Representative of Chile to the U.N. has made a decisive impact on every assignment he understook. A first rate intellectual and a political realist, Somavia always came across as an eloquent and lucid spokesman for human development. For years, in whatever capacity, he was generally perceived as a pillar of international co-operation to alleviate unemployment, hunger and poverty. Many did not even know his country of origin but everyone knew -- through his enlightened commitment -- where he came from. In Geneva, he built around him a team of experienced and compassionate assistants who work closely to advance ILO -- and U.N. -- objectives.