9 September 2005


Hello Benon my old friend
I've got to talk with you again
For the version that you were keeping
Lost its meaning while you were sleeping
And the vision that is planted in our brains
Still remains
Echoes a sound of silence


* Hello.
- Hello. Can I help you?
* Yes. May I please speak to Kocky?
- Kocky?! Kocky who?
* Kocky Ambush.
- Are you sure you have the right number?
* Am sure it's the right name. Come to think of it, try Koockie. Some of his new friends prefer that twist.
- Am afraid we don't have that name here.
* Why are you afraid...?
- It's just an expression sir. I think I should transfer you to the Chef...
* You mean Ali Baba?
- No, he's no longer on this floor.
* Of course I forgot; it's Shakespeare now.
- Am sorry sir, I don't understand.
* You'll find out in due course as they say.
- Anything else, sir?
* Yes. Would you find out when it's time for MacBeth.


While some dedicated staff died for the U.N. flag, one hurried opportunist, Shashi Tharoor is determined to exploit it. And instead of mobilizing all resources to ensure better understanding by the public, he is using the U.N. name and devoting time and energy to promoting himself. A most recent communication from him to permanent representatives of member states was to ensure their attendance at some appearance to introduce a book by him entitled "Paperless in Baghdad." What comes initially to mind is that the only virtual knowledge the shameless sherpa would have of Iraq is a visit in 1998 when he was still special assistant to newly-elected Secretary General Kofi Annan. Just before that famous -- now infamous -- trip, an advance team was sent to double-check whether Saddam Hussein's Presidential palaces would be open to inspection. Who else could have been entrusted with such a cover-up task? "Inspector Clouzeau" Tharoor together with "Inspector Photo" Demistura joined forces to clear the deck and prepare ground for a clean bill of health before a chummy exchange of freshly imported Cohibas. Both were duly and swiftly rewarded by promotions. However, poetic justice eventually brought back Monsieur Photo to serve in an obscure post as Deputy Special Representative to the new Iraq regime that replaced his former host. And -- with no justice at all -- his partner chose a "marketable" topic to issue a book which could have been more appropriately titled "Clueless on Baghdad."


While Jan Eliasson is preparing himself to take over the next General Assembly session, he is offering selected reporters a glimpse into his Swedish diplomatic approach. As Ambassador to Washington, former U.N. envoy during Iran-Iraq war and Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, he has been trying to present the positive side of U.N. work. Trying to relate development work to daily life, he usually points to a glass of water and says: "This glass of fresh clean water is a common sight for us; but to two billion people in the world it is a luxury." Defending the U.N. is not easy these days. Eliasson, according to an interview in The New York Times, is a true fan of the Organization, but not an unquestioning one. His wife and Nane Lagergren, the Secretary General's wife, had gone to the same school in Stockholm. He would like to help Mr. Annan in leaving a legacy. Good luck.


Good tidings for Indonesia and regional peace in Asia since our former senior colleague Martti Ahtisaari let go of the Horn of Africa and focused his talents where he could achieve practical results. Using his considerable clout in Finland, its ex-President and former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Management managed to get the long-standing military conflict in Aceh to a standstill. An agreement signed in Helsinki signals at least a beginning of the end to killing fields in one of the most populous Asian countries. Aceh had been hit most by the Tsunami and the Indonesian government wisely lent a hand to share incoming international aid. Ahtisaari saw the opportunity for peacemaking and seized it. Unlike current senior U.N. officials preoccupied with press encounters on the impact of the Tsunami, he actually did something about it. For that, he deserves special credit.


Hassan Fodha, who served four Secretaries General in Paris and Brussels with distinction, has retired. The Tunisian-born international civil servant performed with such distinction that heads of state in his host country recognized his talent for discreet contacts with the Secretary General's Office in New York while media representatives appreciated him as a valuable open and transparent source of information. A family man in every sense, in his personal life and with U.N. colleagues, Hassan Fodha rarely needed guidance as to the proper thing to do at every delicate occasion. He took charge, thoughtfully, kindly and firmly. Many senior visitors witnessed his great capacity to help, particularly when he was no more around in Paris to provide it. Any reference to him would not be complete without a tender thought of his departed wife, a loyal and hospitable lady of the highest character. Even when terminally ill, she hid her great pain to support her husband and extend courtesy to his U.N. colleagues. During one evening when the Secretary General and his wife were visiting Paris, she remained with them until the last minute only to be urgently hospitalized after their departure. May her soul rest in peace. Hassan Fodha, who will reside in Paris, will continue to be active in international affairs. He has already lined up some seminars and media activities. Before leaving Brussels, the Belgian Prime Minister personally wanted to attend his farewell party and applaud his role as head of the newly established office. "Your personal qualifications in leading this new office were crucial to establishing valuable relations between the U.N. and the European community," the Prime Minister said, adding a reference to published work by that office.


The decision was taken to appoint Afsane Basir-Pour as the new Director of the U.N. Regional Office in Brussels. Afsane had served as the French Daily Le Monde for several years before moving to Geneva. She has a big challenge ahead of her especially at these daunting times.


Our UNESCO colleagues who were hoping to check the nearby Hilton to observe Paris Hilton staying at the Paris Hilton with her new husband Paris the Greek will be disappointed. Whispers in the French "haute societe" convey an air of doubt about that rhythmic and exotic union. The heir of the shipping family is seeking to control the uncontrollable oxygen blonde who in turn is easily bored by macho men going overboard.


Three cheers for James Wolfensohn. He offered $50 million of his own money to ensure a smooth Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The Special U.S. Representative and former World Bank chief intervened to break a deadlock between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and, awaiting funds from potential donor governments, showed everyone what an ace player he was. Of course, not everyone has those millions to put up for conflict resolution. Yet many have much more money that he does, but hardly offer anything for such causes. Those who do make sure that the whole world knows. James Wolfensohn gave away the money and kept the news to himself. At a time when some people are accused of exploiting the U.N. for their own personal gain, there is an unique example of someone who is putting his own personal money in support of U.N. peace objectives.


It took 26 years, but suddenly the China Wall displayed at the Delegates Lounge looks brighter and its golden shores more golden. For the first time since it was presented by the People's Republic of China, the tapestry received its first dry cleaning, possibly in preparation for the luncheon (breakfast and reception) to be given to visiting dignitaries at the opening of the Special session of 14 September. Building management staff double-checked its impact while reviewing seating arrangements. Other artistic wall showings include a Columbian offered painting by their artist Obregon, a Tunisian mosaic and a Romanian Miro style tapestry. The latest addition is a finely weaved Persian carpet offered by the Islamic Republic of Iran, put in time for the new Iranian president to show, now that his visa question was settled. Another Persian carpet has been hanging for decades in the foyer of the General Assembly second floor, just facing the entrance to the hall. A present from the Shah of Iran, it is not likely to receive an urgent polish.


An internal Vatican quip -- circulated particularly by Middle Eastern clergy -- recalled that when the late Pope John Paul II died, there were chants demanding that he should be announced a saint in the shortest possible time. The proof of a first miracle was given instantly. It was at his funeral that for the first time in history the presidents of Israel and Syria shook hands.


"Freedom is not the exclusive possession of one race. With the power and resources given us, the U.S. can bring peace where there is conflict, hope where there is suffering and liberty where there is tyranny."
U.S. President George W. Bush


"Even Cindy Crawford doesn't wake up in the morning looking like Cindy Crawford."
Cindy Crawford


Wine tasters beware. Your expensive Beaujolais may be mixed with cheaper stuff. That may not matter to you, my friend at the sandwich counter. But to any self-respecting diplomat, particularly to a Francophile, that's a glaring offense. Hence an interest by a select yet influential few in an investigation into the alleged machination by Monsieur Georges Duboeuf. Georgie the Egg, as he would be known in Little Italy, is accused by a Paris magistrate of adding somewhat low grade wine with his expensive vintages. That's not good news, especially as connoisseur heads of state and governments are coming to New York for a round of mutual applause and a possible sip of Bojo on the side.


Only weeks before a Special Summit, the sudden disappearance of a Special Representative of the Secretary General in a particular field puzzled insiders. A frequent speaker on varied occasions, the former diplomat was a regular fixture at the Delegate Dining room, particularly at receptions on national days. It was whispered that a swift measure had to be taken to avert some unpleasant revelations beyond what the already charged circuit can hold. A temporary two-month replacement was just appointed.


A previously unknown "speechwriter" appeared in Sweden during the commemoration of Secretary General Hammarskjold centennial birthday. A blonde woman who we understand is being tucked regularly on the 38th floor posed as some sort of an envoy of the U.N. Secretariat circulating presumptuous judgment on people and issues. Besides claiming to Swedish participants that she had drafted the Secretary General's message on the occasion, she expressed her dissatisfaction with the way it ended up being read (by Brian Urquhart). Pity she did not make a better effort at handing over a coherent text with rightly numbered pages. It could have been her lack of experience, or may be the curry in a hurry the evening before.


A welcome, relevant and helpful U.N. program in Iraq is a radio station openly pushing for rights of women. It played an effective role during the drafting of the constitution by repeatedly broadcasting U.N. resolutions on gender equality and calling female listeners to take active measures to advance their cause. That was particularly important because some influential "mullahs" tried to muzzle women voices. The name of the station "Al-Mahaba," means affection and its 40 staffers offer it to a widely spreading audience. UNDP, which provided $500,000 of seed money for recording broadcasting equipment and rental, will not be providing any more funds. It would be a pity if such a needed initiative is blocked for lack of funds while money is wasted on huge salaries for an Under-Secretary General, two Assistant Secretaries General, together with supporting staff, all of whom have little to show for that money. Maybe someone should take a decision to cut one redundant post in order to keep those striving Iraqi women in the business of advocating U.N. principles.


While a home grown Iraqi woman radio station is struggling to survive, after a possible cut-off in U.N. funding, U.N. Special Representative Ashraf Qazi is churning out mostly overlooked press communiques about his negligible impact. While Al-Mahaba was highlighting resolutions on gender equality in a struggle to insert it in the draft constitution, Qazi issued a release (in New York!) stressing the importance of "including all sectors" and continued discussion "in a structured, transparent and inclusive manner." He was working "almost round the clock," we are assured, in order to promote national dialogue and consensus-building." Why hasn't anyone noticed?


A practical approach was introduced quietly by newly-appointed U.S. Permanent Representative John Bolton. As the Council's President gave him the right to speak, Ambassador Bolton said briefly that to save time and money he will be circulating his statement to Council members rather than reading it. That, he felt, was one small yet practical step in reforming the way business is done daily. It was hoped that others would follow -- that is, cut the talking time and move to decision-making.


A statement by the Secretary General's spokesman condemning a bomb in a Beirut suburb was translated to appear somewhat differently in Lebanese dailies. Using a version which was most likely produced by someone in the U.N. Beirut Information Centre, it was reported that Mr. Annan was "at a loss," "flabbergasted," "stunned" by the event. That was an unlikely condition particularly that the Secretary General was vacationing in Ghana at the time. Indeed he was receiving "an accomplishment award." That, at these times, is certainly stunning.


Ground Control to Orbit: We have a problem. An email kind of problem. Stuff like between a man and a woman -- like working together being together. That's why they are refusing full access. Could you have a word with them? Could we talk?


A member of the Secretary General's office, Michael Muller, will be heading to Cyprus as the U.N. Special Representative. Muller, who had come to New York via Geneva, was a main assistant to Sir Keiran Prendergast in the Political Affairs Department before moving to take charge of most political files on the 38th floor. A citizen of Denmark, Muller has a well-rounded personality, on the quiet side. He will have an edge in Cyprus from his days with Sir Keiran who knows the island well since before joining the U.N. That relationship may come in handy if and when negotiations did start over the future of Cyprus. For most of the U.N. recent approach is really guided by British diplomacy.


Believe it or not, some known henchmen from Saddam Hussein's regime seem to have been promoted in the new Iraqi regime. This came to light in Lebanon where the family of a prominent opponent of the Iraqi dictator was gunned down in Beirut. When Sheikh Taleb Al-Suheil was killed, the representative of Saddam Hussein's regime in its Beirut embassy was Fahkri Awad whom the victim's family accused as being directly involved in facilitating the flight of the perpetrators. At the time, Lebanon suspended its relations with Iraq in protest. Now, Fahkri is the chief of the Arab affairs section in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. His recent visit to Beirut in a new capacity in the new regime surprised those with institutional memory and drove the family of the Iraqi victim to raise the matter with Lebanese officials and with the Iraqi Foreign Minister.


In commemorating his death, Tribune de Geneve paid tribute to our beloved colleague Sergio Vieira de Mello, highlighting his distinctive qualities (maybe as compared to others!). "While serving as High Commissioner for Human Rights, he affirmed that the duty of the Organization was to protect human rights above any political considerations, the Tribune said, adding: "People First, Not Politics; that's what he had done in Kosovo, Timor Leste and all other regions demonstrating his extraordinary competence." May his soul rest in peace and may those accountable be damned in Hell.


At least three U.N. Regional Economical and Development Commissions will be awaiting senior appointments. The rank of Under-Secretary General will come with the vacant, or to be vacated, posts of Executive Secretary for Europe in Geneva, for Africa in Addis Ababa and for Western Asia in Beirut. The most immediate opening for Europe is already up for grabs. Applying "the new rules of the game," all missions in New York were invited to submit candidates by end of August. A short list will eventually be interviewed before the decision is made by the Secretary General. Reportedly, Eastern Europeans are claiming the job. Ukraine reportedly put the name of a former Foreign Minister and a permanent representative to the U.N. It may also be an occasion to nominate a distinguished official from Eurasia Newly Independent States. The African Commission, headed by a Ghanian over the last ten years, will become open soon with a number of candidates seeking the attention of the African Secretary General. The contract of the Executive Secretary from Western Asia (ESCWA) Dr. Mervat Tellawi, which expires around this time, is expected to be extended by one year leaving a new choice for the next Secretary General. The head of the Commission for Asia and Pacific based in Bangkok was just reconfirmed.


Not very cheerful news for those who touted "U.N. Friend" actress Drew Barrymore, whose subsequent interview about "Lobster Risotto" puzzled even her most ardent admirers. (For an earlier comment on that interview, please refer to headlines of last year under Site Map.) Most recently, Ms. Barrymore who, like, talks, like, in metaphors, expressed a desire to stop acting when her body gets, like, beyond shapely. Her next option, she intimated, will be to produce movies. So we'll still have that "U.N. friend," even when it is not clear where we're going together.


A cheerful group of young men and women were noted around Turtle Bay, Manhattan, during the slow hot and humid month of August. Their joy of being there together with well behaved attitude endeared them to the U.N. neighbourhood -- which is also that of the German mission. Wherever they went during the day, they spent their evenings at the shops and cafe nearby, impressing most passers by with their tendency to stand patiently in line even in front of a delicatessen. Some of them had T-shirts indicating that they are part of a German Bundestag Youth exchange program. They were most welcome.


"Lord, grant me the courage to change what I can, accept what I cannot, and the wisdom to tell the difference."