15 October 2007


We need not mention the country, but the delegate to the Climate Change gathering on 24 September sounded skeptical about the outcome. Whatever the debate, no serious action would follow, he thought. It was during a social event on that evening he explained why he went along without raising obstacles only because the whole gathering was an attempt to look "poriticary collect."


For the first time in U.N. history, you have an Envoy who is non-grata in the area he covers. It was noted that the latest report prepared by Special Envoy Terje Larsen on Lebanon was submitted without having visited that country first. "In absentia" reports are very unusual and erode the credibility of the Secretary General. Most likely, Larsen is unable to visit Beirut for any length of time which, once again, takes away from his presumed partiality. That envoy is already Persona Non-Grata in Syria and in the Palestinian authority territory, after having served as Special Representative there (although his wife -- a Norwegian diplomat is known to still have welcoming friends there, including its President Mahmoud Abbas).


You do not need to be a computer specialist to make millions -- actually billions -- on electronic communications technology. Lebanese Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu who superceded Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world by making $19 billion in one year (about $50 million a day!) was giving a briefing to a group of journalists when a bright young female reporter posed a prolonged argumentative question on different types of computers. After listening patiently, Slim responded very politely: "Senorita, I have no idea whatsoever what you're talking about."


During the Security Council Heads of State meeting of 25 September on Africa and Human Rights, President Sarkozy, who chaired on behalf of France, seemed in an elated mood. Though shifting (energetically?!) he was at ease with both English and French, looking speakers in the eye while listening intently. He must have had a very good briefing. After all, his diplomatic advisor Ambassador Levitte was for years a Council habitue -- who kept in touch as he moved to the embassy in Washington. Out of courtesy, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon started his statement in French. To help U.S. President Bush refer properly to the name of his new ally in France, his speechwriter wrote the actual pronunciation of Mr. Sarkozy's name in parentheses.


A handwritten note passed by President George W. Bush to his Secretary of State during the Security Council meeting in Africa drew attention of nearby diplomats. Fixed cameras overlooking the Council belong to the U.N. which offers a "menu" of services to media translators around the world. One photographer who works for Reuters thought of zooming in on it. It transpired that the U.S. President was asking Dr. Rice: "Is the man - (illegible) the man who has been highly critical of the U.S.?" Was he, per chance, wondering whether the U.K. representative at that high level table was none other than Lord Mark Malloch Brown?


At the opening day of the General Debate a breakfast was announced for heads of delegations arriving to start the session at about 9:00am. That meant that most delegations will be arriving from 8am onwards to make their way in time to the nearby Assembly Hall. All preparations were on time and in place except for one crucial presence: the host. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not around to personally welcome and rub elbows with his presumed guests. He had to be on hand to receive the President of the host country, George W. Bush, who was slated to be the first speaker at the morning meeting. No other senior Secretariat official was seen to act as a credible replacement of the original host.


Those who attended a New York meeting by the Secretary General on Iraq noted the correct yet cool distance between Iraq Prime Minister Maliki and U.S. Secretary of State Rice. Except for a brief exchange of pleasantries, they did not have a "one on one." At the official conference table presided over by the Secretary General, Maliki was on his right; on his left were his senior aides Lynn Pascoe and Ibrahim Gambari. Dr. Rice was appropriately seated first at the left edge. Not much warmth seemed to pass between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. Would that explain the Blackwater under the Baghdad Bridge?


A long investigative report in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Francis Montil, a former deputy director of OROS, as saying that former High Commissioner for Refugees Lubbers -- who was accused of sexual harassment -- had also groped movie star (and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador) Angelina Jolie. Staff who witnessed the incident told investigators that minutes before coming down in the lift to be introduced to staff in the building's Geneva headquarters, Lubbers had grabbed Jolie from behind. The incident was followed up by Jolie's U.N. minder who contacted her about whether she wished to make a statement to investigators. They were informed, through her minder, that she did not. Jolie's agent did not reply to the Herald's email seeking verification of the incident. As is well known, in July 2004, Annan publicly buried the report of the internal investigation, claiming there was insufficient evidence. "We are wondering, 'Why the heck is he trying to protect Lubbers?'" Montil asks. He says a senior official told him: "Kofi Annan owes Lubbers for the Srebrenica massacre." Now, what does that mean?


A good move by Secretary General Ban. Just after hobnobbing with heads of state at the opening week of the General Assembly debate, he thought of spending time at the staff cafeteria. It boosted the morale of hard-working staff to see their chief mingling around them, seated with other colleagues exchanging pleasantries, including one apparently good laugh with those around him. Good politics. Good policy.


A new book by Professor Ibrahim Gambari was an occasion for an African celebration during the opening of the Assembly's General Debate. Despite their overcharged schedule, many of them made time on Thursday 27 September to drop by the African Unity office on 47th Street off Second Avenue to join in a presentation of "Africa and the U.N. in a New World Order." The President of Nigeria who opened the discussion decided on his way out that the book should be a text study in all Nigerian colleges. Gambia's Foreign Minister ordered 5 copies on the spot. His Liberian colleague extolled the qualities of the author as an example for African youth to emulate. Guinea's Foreign Minister suggested producing a French version. U.N. Under-Secretaries General present included Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, Jean Marie Guehenno (Peacekeeping), and Lynn Pascoe (Political Affairs). Professor Gambari, who modestly acknowledged the tribute, managed to sign requested dedications of the book before rushing to the airport on his way to Myanmar as a Special Envoy of the Secretary General.


The Assembly session was an occasion to see senior Geneva colleagues who made their way to New York. The Director General of the U.N. Office at Geneva, Ambassador Sergei Ordzhonikidze, followed deliberations closely with his assistants. He knows New York well, having served at the Security Council with one of its most accomplished performers, Russia's current Foreign Minister, Sergei Larrov. Another noted visitor was ILO Director General Juan Somavia, for years a most prominent Permanent Representative of Chile in New York and a first-rate diplomatic intellectual. His term with ILO has been unanimously extended and his impact could be noted not only in Geneva but wherever international labour issues come under review.


With "Ki-moon" as U.N. Secretary General, any name with "moon" in it would look forward to some association. By coincidence, the newly-appointed Executive Secretary of U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) is Badr El-Dafa. The former Ambassador of Qatar to Washington has just taken over his new post in Beirut, making the rounds to Lebanese officials. "Badr" in Arabic means "full moon." Dafa means payment!


Feodor Starcivic, a U.N. stalwart who recently retired returned to the General Assembly as Assistant Foreign Minister of Serbia. Feodor, who was a rising star in Yugoslav diplomacy, joined the Department of Public Information, then went back home to act as Secretary of the Belgrade Non-Aligned Conference, leaving in time to avoid the rule of Milosevic as he joined the U.N. again, first as its representative in the newly-opened office in Georgia, then as Director of the Office in New Delhi. His many friends in New York, including former DPI director Mean Quadruddin, took turns welcoming him back.


We were grateful to receive an update of the directory for U.N. Information Centres and related offices in the field. The message was sent by someone who signed off as "B'lala" in distinct black lettering. An accompanying title was much longer than the name: "Assistant to Chief, Information Centres Services, Strategic Communications Division, Department of Public Information." The sender must be very new and does not realize that, usually, the longer the title, the less important the job. B'lala also wanted an acknowledgement that the message was duly received but the reply was automatically blocked. We are not sure whether B'lala is a title, a name, a password or an Afro European with occasional bleached hair. But thanks anyway.


A mysterious political killing in Syria unreported by watchful western media. Islamist advocate known as Sheikh Abul Qa'Qa' (his real name is Gol -- not Paul -- Agassi) was shot outside his mosque in Aleppo. His deputy, Abu Khashaba, said the culprit had been arrested in Iraq three years ago. The Sheikh's press officer, who apparently doubles as Security, gave chase to someone in a pick-up and announced that, during a conversation while wrestling on the ground, he understood that his adversary was a "revisionist militant." Abul Qa'Qa' who headed "Strangers from Sham" institute was accused at a certain period of sending "Jihadis" to Iraq. But two years ago, he shortened his beard, took off his traditional robe, and wore a golden watch. He was married to two women -- one in Aleppo, northern Syria, and one in the east. What does all that have to do with his violent death is anyone's guess.


The Oversight Investigation Office was supposedly starting to investigate close relations between a U.N. Number Two in Kosovo and an energy minister supervising a multi-million dollar project to build a power plant. One target of the investigation, Steven Schook, a retired U.S. army general made an offensive defense. He notified reporters that he had learned through others about the investigation after local media mentioned his alleged closeness to Ramush Haradinaj, an Albanian former rebel leader investigated for war crimes during 1998-1999 war. "I am guilty of loving my job; of being extremely passionate about it; not acting like a diplomat; being determined to get things done; making friends and making enemies," the General told press. There was no public indication that the Oversight Office proceeded with the investigation. Time will tell. By the way, Retired General Schook had served as NATO's Chief of Staff in the Kosovo province before assuming the U.N. post.


  • "Computers will never replace Committees because Committees BUY computers." -- A bureaucrat
  • "A diplomat is someone who owns an accordion but does not play it." -- Jazz Fan
  • "Left eyebrow raised; right eyebrow raised." -- Roger Moore, James Bond actor, on his technique


A distinguished reporter with a proven record of accomplishments, Harvey Morris has replaced Mark Turner as the Financial Times U.N. Correspondent. For the last six years, Harvey covered the Middle East for the FT from Jerusalem with some of the most perceptive, substantive and informed reports. He has done so with professional skill, human warmth and enlightened thought -- all the while maintaining the respect of all conflicting parties in that rough neighbourhood. While the U.N. world is intricate, Harvey's sterling journalistic career has prepared him well.


Those who wonder why Hassan Fattah covered Lebanon from Dubai for the New York Times will soon have their answer. Many in Beirut felt that representing the world's main daily newspaper through telephone calls from the Gulf emirate was not adequate during those controversial times. We were informed that Mr. Fattah is getting ready to edit an English language daily newspaper to be financed by the United Arab Emirates ruling family. As we wish him and his newspaper success, we hope that the Times will pay close attention to place in Beirut a full-time reporter to help repair its professional standing.


Most Foreign Ministers returning to the General Assembly, will recognize the face of their newest colleague, the Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka. Palitha Kohona was the Director in the Treaty Section of the Legal Affairs Office who diligently and effectively arranged for signature of pending treaties. Each year, a convenient site would be selected for visiting officials to drop by on their way to their Assembly seats. Now Dr. Kohona has the opportunity to change sides. Surely he will show special understanding to the colleague replacing him.


Those who got their weekly copy of French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchanal from the U.N. news kiosk on the main floor found out that its issue of 26 September was completely sold old. Apparently the French delegation headed by President Sarkozy accompanied by Foreign Minister Kouchner had beaten everyone else to that paper that lampoons -- particularly the President -- in cartoon with devilish-like ears. Apparently, all French politicians who dismiss Le Canard with a wry smile are among the first to buy it.


The Dag Hammarskjold Scholarship Fund for Journalists, chaired by Reuters Evelyn Leopold, will be held on Tuesday 25 October. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be a special guest. Former James Bond star Roger Moore, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and recipient of Dag Hammarskjold Inspiration Award will be honoured and a citation will be made by ABC News' Bob Woodruff. It promises to be an interesting, information and gourmet gathering with guest Chef Joel Benjamin of the Perigood restaurant. Diplomats, journalists, senior Secretariat officials and a number of distinguished guests will be present. Still there is more room for financial support. Any contribution will be welcome.


If Dan Quayle lost a U.S. election because he misspelled that basic vegetable to a young student, we should all be mobilized to lend our shoulders to a declaration by the General Assembly that the year 2008 will be the "Year of the Potato." That entails a communication strategy, seminars and declarations throughout the U.N. Regional Commissions in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Western Asia, Europe and other locations where experts will be brought in to highlight the cause. The campaign will be launched on Thursday 18 October at the Economic and Social Council. If you are wondering, the Year of the Rice is over.