15 October 2010


German Chancellor Angela Merkel walking briskly from the German Mission on 49th Street and 1st Avenue to the General Assembly entrance on 46th Street on Monday, 20 September, to participate in the debate on the Millennium Development Goals. She looked more cheerful than her predominately male entourage...Former Chile President and designated new head of U.N. Women Agency, Dr. Michelle Bachelet, quietly joining the audience at Madison Square Gardens on Tuesday, 21 September, enjoying herself while watching Shakira perform...Both women are extraordinary in their own ways. Bachelet is a proven champion of human dignity, particularly for women and Shakira raised millions to help children not only in Latin America, but around the world...Prime Minister of Spain Zapatero appearing at a 6:15pm press briefing and left at 6:20pm. Some thought he had gone to the mensroom, but he never returned...Chief Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria and Special U.N. Envoy to somewhere stopped by a young security officer at 46th Street and 1st Avenue, because "he had no UN-issued I.D." and "no organizers were there to meet him;" visibly irritated, the former General was eventually escorted to the North Lawn of the new prefab building...NATO Secretary General, former Danish Prime Minister Anders "Fogh" Rasmussen, strolling in and out of the guarded U.N. compound surrounded by a large entourage of frowning important-looking men...Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Prize winner 2005, former President of Finland, former U.N. Under-Secretary General, former U.N. High Commissioner for Namibia, seated alone modestly and quietly taking notes in a backseat at visitors row in the General Assembly Hall...a Sudanese delegate falling on the street just outside his hotel on 42nd Street near Second Avenue; claimed he was pushed -- by whom?!


Demonstrators against various issues, carrying placards, shouting slogans, or closed-eyes in silence were mainly gathered in one area on the corner of 47th Street and First Avenue. However, a large group of Sri Lankan protestors -- bussed from Canada and U.S. cities -- found a spot on 2nd Avenue, where some of them carried slogans against the current rule and others rested on a rare bench nearby. They did not notice a representative of their protested government pass hotfoot through to his obligatory destination. An observer was tempted to point him out but decided otherwise in favour of good neighbourly spirit.


"Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm!"
-- Winston Churchill


Our highly-regarded retired colleague, who served in varied capacities with dedication and distinction, Jean-Pierre Halbachs, sent us his own evaluation of the performance of Jean-Marie Guehenno in the peacekeeping field. As a thoughtful reader of unforum, he felt that a negative reference in a headline on Francophonie in the last issue was not fair to the former Under-Secretary General. He said: "As Controller, I worked closely with both Bernard Miyet and Jean-Marie Guehenno. Mr. Guehenno did an outstanding job to professionalize DPKO. The "Capstone" doctrine, spelling out and clarifying the doctrinal foundations of United Nations peacekeeping operations; the institutionalisation of best practices; policies for gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping operations; the development of norms of conduct -- these are a few of the accomplishments of Mr. Guehenno who transformed DPKO and left behind a solid legacy. He was not just a good administrator but was also a visionary. The DPKO he left behind was far far better than the one he took over."


A Korean policeman displayed an impressive way of using his head. He demonstrated that he could break stone plates with it. "Use your head" now has an extended meaning as Seoul prepares to host G-20 Summit 11-12 November. Let's hope heads of states and governments participating in the meeting will use their heads otherwise.


During a summit gathering in New York during the Assembly debate, on Sudan, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa made an impressive statement from his assigned seat. As his neighbour, a woman from the European Union, started to speak like an eager beaver, a young aspiring aide behind Moussa kept whispering to him while vainly smiling (very happy to be here!), then prodded him to salute someone behind him. While Moussa turned around to chat, a cameraman zoomed on his sizable behind for about three minutes -- a very long time in television coverage, but adequate enough for an ample behind.


In an atmosphere of consensus about a referendum in Sudan, Uganda's President Museveni sounded irritated, not that he disagreed with the circulated draft, but because he suspected that those who claimed support for it did not really mean it. A very suspicious man, President Museveni. That's, of course, one tool of survival in a rough neighbourhood. He rambled about Arab Africans, African Arabs, Moslems, Christians, whatever came to mind without a prepared text like all the others. He obviously wanted to raise questions in a backhanded way. However, someone could have asked him a straightforward question: What did he know about the death of Sudanese Southern leader and Sudan's Vice President at the time, John Garang?!


There was once a musical on Broadway with a hit song entitled: "Where are the Clowns?" The answer this time came from Brazil, creative land of music, joy of life and down-to-earth politicians. During the most recent elections, a famous clown, Tiririra, was popularly elected for a parliament seat. His electoral platform consisted of one sentence: "It can't get worse." When the question is raised again at these deteriorating times, the answer to the initial question may lie in the conclusion of that same song: "Don't bother, they're here."!


The self-appointed "Emperor of Nowheristan" Michel Elefteriades was at it again in full regalia being interviewed on satellite by a Lebanese station. Adept at tongue-in-cheek, the creative artist of many colours and varied background kept his sense of humour as he responded to questions on nationality, nationals and nations. The real "Nowhere Man" was not there, of course. But "Nowheristan" seems appropriate these days even when taken with a grain of salt. It was recounted that during a meeting with outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Ms. Michelle Sisson did not fathom the "anthem" he sung before her: "Sissan...Sissan," a take off of her name which in local parlance, especially in the North, means "little chicks."


A procedural debacle almost reversed a consensus on the last day of the preparatory week of the General Debate. The European Union sought to find an "appropriate" spot for its Foreign Policy High Commissioner to speak. Other groupings felt sidelined. Why should one regional representative be allowed to speak at the same time as heads of states and governments? A newly-elected European President of the General Assembly was caught in an awkward moment, a Friday evening race for the last word on the list of words. Finally, a compromise was reached. A special meeting for about 2 hours on the morning of Thursday, 23 September, was devoted for development issues of small states. Speakers highlighted agreements in Mauritius, Seychelles, and others with no serious follow-up. Ms. Ashton eventually spoke pledging an amount of 1 billion euros as she concluded her desired speech. That pledge will certainly receive serious follow-up.


After 20 years of international solitude, Spanish was once again recognized in the award of Nobel Prize for Literature to Mario Vargas Llosa. As some saw in an earlier award to Gabriel Garcia Marquez ("100 Years of Solitude") a twist to the Left, others would note in the new Laureate a turn to the Right. Both, however, reflect the creative artistic imagination of the Spanish language. The Colombian and Peruvian could disagree and, indeed, fist fight over politics, literature and women. Yet, both have adequate admirers to go around because they mastered the expression in a masterful language of an inspiring culture. Another Latin Laureate, Octovio Paz of Mexico, stood in between, especially when they clashed in his home city on his own turf. While several book titles come to mind when thinking of Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez, a line in a work by Paz comes to mind, particularly when observing some pompous characters masquerading as decision-makers. It was when an experienced observer responds to a postulating parrot by exclaiming: "Excuse me, Your Excellency. I thought you were a bird."


While U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama gave lunch in Westchester, NY, to 32 wives of spouses accompanying their husbands to the U.N. General Assembly, it was Chantal Biya, the First Lady of Cameroon, who drew most attention. Her huge hair wig in blood orange colour drove gossip website gawker.com to single her out -- with two large photos. One question asked was whether the "rug" on Ms. Biya's head matched the carpet on the floor at the restaurant.


A mother visiting her daughter, a female colleague in New York, lifted a ringing phone's receiver to hear a man's voice ardently telling how sexy she was, how many ways he would wish to love her together with assurances of utmost pleasure when they meet -- very soon. She hung up, pleasantly surprised. What a great spot that Big Apple. All that macho excitement from just saying "Hello"!


France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner sent a letter to President Sarkozy on 25 August, thanking him for an offer of another post dealing with "protection of civil rights" during a tete-a-tete meeting on 3 August. That letter, most likely leaked by Kouchner himself, sounded like a resignation. While in the post for the last three years, the hyperactive internationalist with an ego as huge as his enormous talent, complained that major issues were being handled by designated "members" of the President's office. Relations with the U.S., China, Germany, in addition to regional contacts like with Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, were kept away from him. A possible replacement in case of a likely cabinet reshuffle could be Christine Lagarde, the highly-regarded Finance Minister. The main question in such a case would be whether Mr. Kouchner will be interested in a U.N. assignment.


"AFPAK" region is loaded with whispers about backchannel contacts between President Karzai, other Afghan leaders, Pakistani's Intelligence Service, and Arab Gulf venues and Iranian overtures. That's normal business in that neighbourhood. This period, however, there is more serious talk about a potential arrangement where Taliban traditional leaders would agree to U.S. conditions of curtailing outside activities. A main backchannel is through Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former U.S. ally turned adversary turned mediator; especially his son Sirajuddin, who has been travelling widely in the region in recent weeks. Results may not be visible immediately, but in time for every party -- including the U.S. -- to declare victory and move on.


When we needed to obtain an email or phone number for former U.N. Legal Counsel, Hans Corell, the Office of Legal Affairs swiftly and effectively responded. When we recently needed the same about an executive head of a U.N. field office we naturally phoned the office of the Assistant Secretary General for Policy Co-ordination and Inter-Agency Affairs. His name is Thomas Stelzer, an Austrian diplomat. Our habitual admiration for Austrian diplomats was punctured, however, when his office did not bother to respond. After being briefly told that they had no idea about the newly-appointed executive, we were abruptly -- and strangely -- transferred to an Italian reporter. Perhaps it was by force of habit as Stelzer's predecessor was Italian. When we called again, his secretary swiftly sent us to the U.N. operator. Forget about Policy Co-ordinators these days; but we thought at least that looking at an updated Inter-Agency directory would not interfere with anyone's "Gemutlichkeit."


As projected in the last issue, Ms. Rima Khalaf was officially appointed as Executive Secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), based in Beirut. An outstanding public official who earned her way in male-dominated Jordanian politics, Ms. Khalaf made history when she headed the regional bureau of Arab States at UNDP by issuing an Arab Human Development Report -- which pinpointed urgent issues, supported ways of handling them, and shamed civic society groups into taking pending action. A former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, she held several international positions, including the Presidency of the U.N. Fund for Democracy. Her assignment to ESCWA is expected to raise staff morale and boost a regional commission habitually neglected by U.N. Headquarters. We wish her the same success in this assignment as in all her previous challenging positions.


A former U.N. Special Envoy to Lebanon, and former Director in the U.N. Secretariat Political Affairs, Geir Pedersen appeared in Beirut as Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway. He was welcomed by the President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament, and many others who recalled his competent performance of a very difficult assignment during a particularly tough period. He was a good example of a Norwegian diplomat -- and U.N. representative -- who help give the U.N. and Norway a good name.


One of our outstanding colleagues, Amir Dossal, has just "graduated" -- that is, retired -- from his role as Director of the U.N. Fund for Partnerships, established after a contribution by Ted Turner. A serious manager with a casual sense of humour, Amir made his good reputation on his way up at the administrative area of Peacekeeping, though he managed a variety of other matters, including staying on the very good side of internally conflicting parties. An Indian by citizenship and internationalist by character and approach, he extended a helpful hand to so many colleagues on so many projects. His passion for Tandoori did not preclude his enjoyment of other gourmet dishes. Good luck.


A change from Nigerian emails offering a future in return for the number of your bank account, we are now receiving emails with U.N. references. The latest, received the first week of October, comes from "U.N. Cash Grant" and assures us that we have been "selected by the U.N. for a cash grant 650,000 USD." Well, we hereby endorse it to the cash-strapped U.N. Budget Division.


The U.S. Mission celebrated its return to the original location on 45th Street and 1st Avenue. Only the building across the street from the U.N. General Assembly Hall looks much more like a fortress than a mission of the U.N. host country. A thick metal doorway, almost windowless offices facing the Avenue, and other very tight security measures are not conducive even to those who absolutely need to visit. Gone are the days when dropping by for a chat was a pleasure. Now, it's only for those who really need to go in. Perhaps it is a sign of the times; entering the U.N. itself, with searches and trained dogs in waiting, is not fun either, particularly that very few seem to know the location of their designated meeting rooms.


Questions about the qualifications that allowed for a swift appointment of Valerie Amos to replace her compatriot John Holmes were answered in British satirical magazine Private Eye. The press release mainly highlighted her posting as U.K. High Commissioner to Australia; it was generally assumed that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is earnestly seeking a second-term, wished to accommodate a Security Council Permanent Member by immediately responding positively to any nominated candidate. There is apparently an added dimension which could make Baroness Amos doubly interesting. According to a discreetly reported item, Amos "famously trotted out what was to become a standard FCO line that 'there is no truth to any of the allegations' that the United States was holding suspected terrorists on Diego Garcia, or that it had been engaged in 'extraordinary rendition.' In 2008, of course, the then foreign secretary David Miliband was obliged to admit that this was precisely what had been happening. The reward for Amos, who has never been elected to any position, for such stout denials that human rights were being abused? She has been appointed the new UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs!"


"Ed has a theory. Dave just wants to fix the roof."
-- Headline in the Times of London


"His music is better than it sounds. "
-- Mark Twain
"His Excellency doesn't say much; and when he does, he doesn't say much."
-- Will Rogers
"Carter is the best President the Soviet Union ever had."
-- William Safire


You know you are no more Secretary of State when the car driving you is painted yellow and your driver speaks Urdu.


A story in the Turtle Bay blog detailed how those around the Secretary General are fond of mentioning "firsts" even if it was opening or closing a door in a conference room. However, for good news let's mention a revived "first" by Ban Ki-moon. He graciously hosted a reception on 1 October to show appreciation to staff who helped in the Millennium Development Goals Summit and the General Debate. An excellent initiative. Let's look forward to more of the same.


A special tribute to staff of Protocol during the General Debate. This year was especially hectic as several locations were unfamiliar to delegates and Secretariat staff were dispersed across Manhattan. While speeches were made at the old Assembly Hall, routes leading to it were varied, press briefings were held elsewhere, and missions demanded more than passes -- they wanted directions, clarifications, and last minute schedule shifts. However, the dedicated and helpful staff at Protocol performed their functions admirably, rushing between their office on the 2nd floor of the interim compound, the General Assembly Hall in the original building, the newly structured Security Council chambre in the basement, slow elevators in the new buildings, limited elevators in the old one, security concerns, logistical arrangements, a new venue for the usual luncheon on opening day, and so many other pressing demands. Working beyond midnight and through weekends during preparatory days and Assembly times, experienced staff like Wai Tak Chua, who had worked earlier at the 38th floor, Najla Shawki, Anna, and others headed by new Protocol Chief Desmond Parker, did their best to handle daunting tasks while maintaining their warm personal smiles. A task well done.


While in New York for the Assembly, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman received Ms. USA, Rima Fakih, who happens to be from a family that emigrated from Southern Lebanon. He awarded her the "Shield of the Republic" for advancing the name of her country of origin. A few months ago, when Ms. Lebanon was elected, she also happened to be from the same area of the South, and a Shiite too. The most popular and sensually famous female singer in the Arab world these days is also a Shiite woman from the same neighbourhood: South Lebanon. About everyone in the region knows her song: "Kiss the WaWa." It must be something in the water, earth, or air. Perhaps its about time to travel South and explore.


Originally it was called Helmsley Palace where Leona, the late Queen of Mean as described by fellow New Yorkers, ruled uncontested. When sold, the former seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York across from St. Patrick's Cathedral was renamed The Palace. Several heads of state use it during their stay for the U.N. General Assembly debate, including Lebanon, Egypt, Caribbean, and Latin leaders. At the first days of the debate, the main hotel lobby was almost overrun by a number of Asian-looking, elegantly dressed women wearing headscarves and hurried Asian men with dark suits and a small headdress which is a cross between the Ottoman Tarboush and Indonesian cap. The very polite, cheerful, enthusiastic crowd turned out to be from Brunei Darussalam, one of the richest small states in the world. It turned out that its "Sultan" is the actual owner of the hotel.


We received the following urgent email: "I am a trained external auditor working for MayBank Malaysia. I have contacted you to assist in distributing the money left behind by one of our investors who shares the same last name as yours before it is confiscated or declared unserviceable by Maybank where this deposit valued at $10 Million is lodged." Surely, that's money in the bank. Only this time it's not Nigerian but Malay.


During a speech by Iran's President Ahmadinejad on the Millennium Development Goals, he looked puzzled at various instances, then openly wondered what happened to simultaneous interpretation. It was found out that interpreters were using an English outdated text, not realizing that there was an updated Persian version. Few other delegates noticed.


We hear that members of the Security Council had a taste of their own medicine, particularly the Permanent Five, when they had to pass through elaborate metal detector checks in Sudan airports. None of them complained, except U.S. Ambassador Rice, who raised the matter with Sudanese officials. Incidentally, in Khartoum they are more inclined to accommodate U.S. Presidential Envoy General Scott Gration while they consider Ambassador Rice a supporter of Southern separatists. Or, as the Washington Post recently mentioned, there is an ongoing influence tug between the General and the Ambassador.


"We regret that we have to regret a regrettable incident which is clearly of obvious concern. As was indicated in an earlier statement, such regrettable occurrences should be avoided. We call on all parties to co-operate in order to avoid similar action and reaction in the future. We sincerely hope..."


The Huffington Post website had an urgent concern at the opening of the U.N. General Debate. It reported that "Hillary Clinton worked a new do on Sunday at the United Nations -- using a jaw clip to keep her locks off her face. The Secretary of State is no stranger to hair accessories, breaking out an occasional headband here and there, but what do you think of the latest coif? Take a look and let us know." The headline was followed by a quick poll: "Is Hillary's hair clip too casual for the U.N.?" We were given the option of Yes, No, or Who Cares What She Wears. To make the point, a photo was shown of the Great Hill with Norway's Foreign Minister Gahr Store (that's his name, not his business address). Another photo showed her with State Department officials and an anxiously smiling Richard Holbrooke, recently described by Vice President Biden in a new book by Bob Woodward as "the most egotistical b... I have met." No doubt, Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the most brilliant individuals in today's political world. No doubt also, the Huffington Post is one of the most widely circulating political websites in the U.S. Why would another brilliant woman in her own right like Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington spend so much time on a hair clip is a real puzzle; except if there's something we didn't get. Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.


"Removing Toilet Seats From Intercity Trains Will Have Consequences, and Not Nice Ones"
-- Times of London