15 October 2009


There was once a Korean named Koo
Who didn't know quite what to do
Despite Goldstar and Park
He could not make a mark
Now he's creeping through
Choi, Fan and Soo.


Men around the Secretary General telling him he need not listen to advice because he's the greatest if only the rest of the world knew the facts were scrambling recently to collect any favourable article anywhere about Mr. Ban Ki-moon in the midst of a number of critical reports in mainstream media, international press, and websites. Apparently, they wanted to show him that their efforts were yielding visible fruit. We were told that through this month, they successfully located TWO -- written by the same author. Take it easy, Ian.


Save the World, Save the Children, and Save the Poor have become less ambitious. Even our inspired leader has now focused on saving the penguins and "seal" the deal. As if that downhill trend was not enough, it was reported that the main effort of a museum in the Philippines during the latest tsunami was to save 800 shoes donated by former first lady, Imelda Marcos. The "curator" was quoted as bragging that when the tide approached, the staff quickly lifted the shoes to higher shelves. Only 100 pairs of shoes got wet. The number of drowned -- or saved -- humans was not reported.


A chronic incense burner persuaded someone on the 38th floor that one way of spreading our beleaguered Secretary General's photo around the world would be in seizing the opportunity of heads of state visiting New York for the General Debate and having a "tete a tete" image of joint decision making. Very good suggestion -- only it proved not feasible. The obvious leader with worldwide recognition, the President of the host country, very politely but firmly was not interested. By the time other prominent guests made up their minds, it was time to leave for Pittsburgh.


It started during the U.N. General Debate as a good will gesture among two friendly rulers of two friendly countries. U.S. President Obama and his wife were available for a photo with Spain's Prime Minister Joe Luis Zapatero and his wife, plus the two daughters of the Spanish couple. The photo was dutifully placed on a special media White House site but was swiftly pulled out. While the purpose was to show close links between the U.S. and Spain, it transpired that the photo shoot created an undesirable image problem for the Zapateros. Their beloved Lavia and Alba were dressed in the very gloomy "Goth" attire from head to toe, that is from a dark spread of Kohl eyeliner to black combat boots. Although circulated widely on the Internet channels, it was noted that the official Spanish news agency did not publish the historic photo.


The Financial Times printed a letter from our college Mian Qadrud-Din, former Director for Public Affairs, Division, DPI, and former Additional Foreign Secretary, Pakistan, on the recent developments in Afghanistan. He wrote:
"Any serious observer of the situation would agree that the current Northern Alliance-based government in Kabul is dominated by Panjshiri Tajiks (President Hamid Karzai's Pashtun origin notwithstanding) who control all its security hierarchy, be it the intelligence agencies, the army of the police. Unrelenting opposition to such a set-up in Kabul by the vast majority of Pashtuns should come as no surprise. Moreover, the recent presidential elections, even if they had been free from suspicion of fraud, could not make any difference. The alternative to Mr. Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, is perceived as the Tajik candidate by the Pashtun population, most of whom feel effectively excluded from the process. The fact that the elections coincided with a major upsurge in western military operations in the Pashtun areas only served to aggravate those feelings. The Obama administration is in the midst of a review of its strategy. So far, one proposal appears to have broad support; i.e., a substantial expansion of the Afghan armed forces. While this could be a necessary and useful step in the context of political initiatives, including talks with Taliban leaders, continued domination of the expanded forces by Tajiks, and the absence of proportionate representation of Pashtuns, could put at risk all that is achieved through a political process, and could well lead to a resumption of the civil war of the past two decades."


If Presidents Ahmadinejad or George W. Bush have their direct conversations with the Almighty, Colonel Gaddafi had the occasional earphone to prove it. In his repetitive long hand-written 90 minute speech while telling everyone what they should do, particularly his own staffer G.A. President Triki to whom he made 23 references, the Libyan leader often stopped for a few seconds, placed in an earphone after asking his own rhetorical questions, then repeated what he was told as the uncontested truth. In one case he used an Arab analogy: "Zad Atteen Ballah" by declaring it -- after the unusual consultation -- to mean adding insult to injury. In fact, it literally means making mud murkier.


Even if it was only for one or two weeks, it must have sounded like music to her ears. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a U.S. Presidential candidate with over 18 million votes to her name, presided over a Security Council meeting about the role of women in world development. It was an issue right down her alley and she performed, as usual, admirably. With over 50 speakers on the issue, Secretary Clinton quipped that she didn't mind the lengthy meeting. In fact, they could go on and on as long as they kept addressing her as President!


Shoe throwing as a political protest has moved from Baghdad to Istanbul and from military presence to economic hegemony. Ironically, the Turkish shoe thrower who turned out to be a socialist did not know that his adversary, IMF Director General Dominque Strauss-Kahn was also a fellow "leftist," a member of France's Socialist Party. And while the Baghdadi, who used a locally produced shoe, almost hit his target, the agitated Turk lost his momentum by erroneously hitting an innocent bystander before feebly dropping near DS-K. Although he used an internationally advertised pair of sneakers, he just couldn't do it.


Leave it to the discreet Swiss. Feedback from Geneva about the talks of Western and Iranian diplomats indicate that the atmosphere was fairly pleasant, even jovial. While the official communique limited the gathering to a "significant but interim measure," a colleague residing near Villa le Saugy, in a Geneva suburb, mentioned that there was a lot of mingling; outdoor lunch conversation was not limited to nuclear proliferation.. Iranian officials, like Javier Solana, particularly enjoyed the Lac's "trout amandine," finished off with creme brulee.


As U.K. Ambassador Sir John Sawers prepares to take over as Chief of his country's Secret Intelligence Service, he is facing a debate at home on whether his one posting as a young man -- after which he left that Service -- would qualify him to return as its chief, code-named "C" -- after its first chief Captain Mansfield Smith-Cummings. One of his staunchest supporters for the new posting is Foreign Secretary David Milliband. One of his adversaries operating, as usual, in the shadows, had leaked to London weeklies a YouTube set of family photos taken during a Caribbean holiday last Christmas. The purpose was to embarrass him and his wife, Shelley, as careless and not discreet enough to head a Secret Service. One of the most used photos was of Sir John in Speedo swimming trunks. Apparently the feedback was not as bad as the leakers had hoped. Several wrote back expressing admiration that a 50ish old man could look in such active shape. In fact, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met him recently, she congratulated him on his new assignment, then added with a mischievous smile: "By the way, nice legs."


While a visit to Washington by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad (a former Permanent Rep in New York) went very well, after five years of boycott, we gather that the meeting between Secretary General Ban and Syria's Foreign Minister Muallem was very tense. The Syrian bluntly accused Mr. Ban of rushing to judgment against Syria during a recent dispute with Iraq and of evading his official responsibility when he refused to deal with an official Syrian request to question the first U.N. Investigator in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri Detlev Mehlis on attempts to fabricate evidence against Syria. Mr. Ban's only response was that he will look into these matters, as he did not give any explanations for statements made on his behalf.


Reporting on a festive gathering of powerful women (mainly wives of heads of state and governments) during the General Assembly debate, the New Yorker mentioned that former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell (currently Mrs. David Beckham), had visited Nepal and met the Prime Minister: "You know guys -- you have to nurture them a bit," she said, adding that she had given Mr. Kumar a "maternal" pinch on the cheek. "He appreciated it," she confided, "and he told me he was scared." To make her point she showed on her cell phone a photo of herself in a turquoise sari with her arm around the very appreciative head of state. Her concluding remarks: "With collective energy we can mother men into doing the right thing."


Any senior U.N. official seeking to meet his favorite actress, supermodel or sports diva, will only have to designate her or him as special envoy. Like Georgio Armani on poverty in Afghanistan. Now the nostalgic -- and most likely very lonely -- Achim Steiner, German Executive Director of UNEP in faraway Nairobi, has designated supermodel Gisele Bundchen, a Brazilian of German origin as "Goodwill Ambassador" for the Environmental Programme. Her duties? A helpful explanation said Gisele "will help inspire action" to protect the environment. The gorgeous Ms. Bundchen, long time New York resident, does indeed "inspire action." As to protecting the environment, it is a totally different matter. Incidentally, Gisele, now Mrs. Tom Brady, a football quarterback, is pregnant, expecting to deliver soon. Clearly, she will not have time for Achim Steiner.


-- Title of a Time magazine cover story on April 5 1996 by John T. Elston

* "John T. Elston is Dead on September 7"
-- An obituary in The New York Times on September 20, 2009


An attractive motto was splashed over some of the walls of the U.N. Secretariat in preparation for the Climate Change Summit. "All countries must do more - now" was the appeal by the Secretary General. The target was to get a "deal" during the one day New York meeting in September to guide the framework for an agreement in Copenhagen in December. But, appealing to the staff within U.N. walls would not help much because the obstacles lie with governments, and expecting a deal within a day was very unrealistic, to say the least. But the motto was good. Seals should be very grateful. As were the Penguins whom Mr. Ban visited in Antarctica.


"No where man," as dubbed by the prestigious Economist, has made a nowhere assignment. Ban Ki-moon has just designated Princess Maxima of the Netherlands as "his Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development." As explained by a brief press release, the Princess "will work to highlight and promote inclusive finance for development to governments and internationally institutions." In case that vague generality was not persuasive enough, it was added that "she will also contribute to raising awareness -- among inter-governmental organizations, governments, parliaments, civil society, the private sector and the media -- on the importance of developing inclusive to reduce poverty, equalize opportunity and achieve development goals, particularly the Millennium Development Goals." AWESOME!


As the government of Sri Lanka is getting wide international scrutiny for its treatment of a serious humanitarian situation, it would be assumed that when given a chance, by CNN, its main spokesman, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, will be lucidly presenting its view point. Alas, it was not to be. Rohitha Bogollagama mumbled along with amazing nonchalance. We could not get one clear sentence. Nor could we figure out what he was talking about. We all have accents. We are familiar with Sri Lankan / English which, by the way, is far clearer than many other Asian accents. But Rohitha was something else. He spoke very quickly, with very heavily swallowed terms, often smiling needlessly when he ought to show some seriousness about a very grim situation. Apparently, he did not think there was anything grave in his neighbourhood. There were no detainees in Sri Lanka and he was working "hand in glove" (a colonially inherited expression) with someone somewhere to take care of pending matters. What a pity. The reputation of Sri Lanka is at stake. When we joined the U.N. one of the best communicators was a Sri Lankan. There are many outstanding individuals whom we volunteered to praise when warranted. Couldn't the government find anyone other than Rohitha Bogollagama to present its case? Will it be downhill from now on?!


Margaret Kelly, who rose from the ranks to become Assistant Secretary General for General Assembly affairs will be retiring soon. The current session is her operation's last. A jovial pleasant Irish woman married to a Lebanese Development expert, Tarek Shuman, Margaret will be traveling with her husband to Beirut where they hope to spend ample time. She will certainly maintain a link with New York. Her replacement has been practically selected: a German colleague from Vienna.


Distinguished visitors during the General Assembly Debate obviously devote most of their time to speech-making and "tete a tete" gatherings with their counterparts. Yet, several of them, particularly those who know New York in previous capacities or from previous visits find time to have a meal or two in some of their favourite restaurants. Especially when the sun in shining, as it did most of that week, a Saturday afternoon would most likely be spent in Soho or Tribeca. Yet weekday lunches are mainly between Madison and Fifth. A favourite diplomatic hangout, La Goulue, had just closed a month earlier. The owners had lost their lease. President Sarkozy found another spot three blocks away, but it didn't have the same Tarte Tatin. Some discovered the new one in a renovated Pierre Hotel. Gulf leaders who made their way to Harry Cipriani discovered that their favorite Maitre d', Hassan, has left to take over as co-owner of Orsay. What's a hungry Sheikh to do?


A Director's post in the Department of Public Information (DPI) will be vacated early next year. Its incumbent, Ahmad Fawzi, is expected to retire by then, unless he gets an Assistant Secretary General post. He's trying very hard, apparently with the sympathetic support of the Department's head. It is a "political" decision by the Secretary General and to a certain degree Egypt and the U.K., whose dual citizenship Ahmad holds. That is, a "geographical balance" would be normally maintained, although in cases of certain countries the balance has shifted way beyond any other. Anyway, the post has been advertised. With the prevailing negative publicity, let's hope that a selection of a replacement will be based on professional competence, proven experience, and the ability to work as an effective member of a team.


When Madeleine Albright was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. representing the Clinton Administration, she drew Saddam Hussein's wrath, which was expressed through a shabbily written poem published in an Iraqi daily. "Albright, all right; you are the serpent in the night." She happened to have a lapel pin of a serpent and wore it the following day to the Security Council. It was an instant diplomatic hit. Well, she thought, why not use pins as "gentle implements of statescraft." By then, she had already drawn attention to her playful talents by demonstrating the Macarana in the Council Chambers with Lesotho's Lagwella Lagwella. So, on to pinning. There was an almost obligatory one when President Clinton, running for a second term, donned dark glasses on a TV show to blow a saxophone, it was imperative for all his female team to show a sax pin. Otherwise, the "fat lady" as Secretary General Boutros-Ghali started calling her (now, of course, she is much slimmer, so is he), developed her own line of diplomatic communication. She had the hot air balloon for long term negotiations, bananas for a slippery case, even an interceptor missile for disarmament talks. To a meeting with Syria's President Hafiz Asad, she wore a lion, reflecting his family name in Arabic. Friends and adversaries of Dr. Albright agree that she always had an admirable sense of humour, accompanied by that naughty wink. She reflects it in her new book, a take-off on the campaign motto of former Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush: "Read My Lips."


* Is this the Mission of Bulgaria?
-- Bulgaria?

* Bulgarian Mission to the U.N.?
-- Bulgaria.

* Would you have the address of the Bulgarian Mission to UNESCO?

* Yes, UNESCO, in Paris
-- This is New York. Bulgaria, New York.

* I know. I know. I am also in New York. But would like to write to Ms. Bogova at Bulgarian Mission to UNESCO in Paris
-- Paris.

Yes. Your Mission to UNESCO.
-- Wait a minute.
(After 8 minutes of piano music from the Pink Panther) -- Hello.

* Yes, hello.
-- There is a Bulgarian Embassy in Paris.

* What about the Mission to UNESCO? Mrs. Bogova? New Director General.
-- Embassy in Paris is on First Avenue Rapp.

* There is no First Avenue in Paris.
-- First Avenue Rapp.

* No UNESCO Mission.
-- No Mission. Embassy.
(After 10 minutes, following a successful Google search)

*Allo, Allo.
-- Hello, Hello.

*Bulgarian Mission to U.N.?
-- Bulgaria. Yes. Bulgaria.

* There is a Bulgarian Mission to UNESCO in Paris. It is at Rue Moilis.
-- Rapp Avenue. Rapp.



Jayanthe Dhanapala, one of the world's leading Nuclear Disarmament experts, former U.N. Under Secretary General for Disarmament, will be a Visiting Scholar for 3 months at St. John's College in Cambridge University, England. He will be spending his time between speaking engagements and updating his book on the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty in time for the May 2010 Review Conference.


Ambassador Fernando Petrella and his wife visited their many friends in New York and Washington mid-September, just before the opening of the General Assembly. The Petrella's were a very popular couple in the diplomatic community when he served as Permanent Representative of Argentina to the U.N. including two outstanding years at the Security Council. The elegant couple did not limit themselves to those listed in the protocol directory, but made friends, for themselves and their country, with the media, civic grass roots and society figures from the Big Apple to the Hamptons -- a tasteful proof that once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker; once at the U.N., always for the U.N.


Another main article on U.N. Secretary General Ban by Newsweek navigated through earlier damning comments and Ms. Juul's leaked memo to make an interesting point. Though all that was mentioned about lack of charisma, poor leadership and zero impact is true, Mr. Ban will most likely stay for a second term. The writer, Katie Paul, who drew heavily on an "insider" whom she would not name "due to the sensitivity of his relationship with the U.N. head" (guess who?), gave two main reasons for her prediction: 1)there is no visible Asian candidate, and 2)the Chinese who still support him and will block any other candidate. On that she quoted John Bolton, not entirely an authority on Chinese inner thinking nor, by the way on the view of the current U.S. administration. Though her analyses slides on thin ice, she concluded with excellent advice to our esteemed, "deeply committed U.N. leader who readily does his homework:" Get moving.


"Mercedes Sosa is synonymous with struggle, resistance and freedom," the newspaper Clarin, Argentina's leading daily, stated in an online tribute to the singer. "Traditional and modern, rural and worldly, rough and sophisticated, she was nothing more and nothing less than the most important Argentine singer in history." She was known affectionately as La Negra because of her mixed dark features. The daughter of a daily labourer and a working Quechua-speaking Indian, she grew up with blended Andian and Western music to become the most influential artist in the Latin Continent. Jailed by the military junta for her songs, she came out stronger and more popular. Every other artist sought to join her in duets, in concerts, and in social advancement of freedom. "Gracias a Lavida," which she made famous, was one of many variations on her unique talent enhanced, like her reputation, through her years in exile. Gracias, Mercedes.