Riot Act Or Plan Of Attack?
The New York Times is reporting that supporters of Kofi Annan held a private meeting recently with Sec.General in an attempt to “to save Kofi and rescue the U.N.” (registration required)
At the gathering, Secretary General Kofi Annan listened quietly to three and a half hours of bluntly worded counsel from a group united in its personal regard for him and support for the United Nations. The group’s concern was that lapses in his leadership during the past two years had eclipsed the accomplishments of his first four-year term in office and were threatening to undermine the two years remaining in his final term.
Their larger argument, according to participants, addressed two broad needs. First, they said, Mr. Annan had to repair relations with Washington, where the Bush administration and many in Congress thought he and the United Nations had worked against President Bush’s re-election. Second, he had to restore his relationship with his own bureaucracy, where many workers said privately that his office protected high- level officials accused of misconduct.
The apartment gathering on Dec. 5 came at the end of a year that Mr. Annan has described as the organization’s “annus horribilis.” The United Nations faced charges of corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq, evidence that blue- helmeted peacekeepers in Congo had run prostitution rings and raped women and teenage girls, and formal motions of no confidence in the organization’s senior management from staff unions.
Just days before the gathering, Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of a subcommittee investigating the oil-for-food program, had brought criticism of the United Nations to a boil by calling for Mr. Annan’s resignation.
The meeting was held in the apartment of Richard C. Holbrooke, a United States ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton.
Others in attendance were John G. Ruggie, assistant secretary general for strategic planning from 1997 to 2001 and now a professor of international relations at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Timothy E. Wirth, the president of the United Nations Foundation, based in Washington; Kathy Bushkin, the foundation’s executive vice president; Nader Mousavizadeh, a former special assistant to Mr. Annan who left in 2003 to work at Goldman Sachs; and Robert C. Orr, the assistant secretary general for strategic planning. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, was invited but could not attend.
“The intention was to keep it confidential,” Mr. Holbrooke said. “No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders, all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary general.”
The meeting occured nearly a month ago. That details this extensive have been released suggests the organizers aren’t convinced that Annan is taking them seriously.
In a telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Annan said he felt the session had been “supportive and helpful,” but said it was just one of many such meetings he had been holding. “I’ve been talking to lots of people here and abroad and within my own organization planning ahead for the next two years,” he said. “It was part of that process. We did discuss how to improve relations with Washington.”
Then again, I’m not sure some in the group takes them seriously, either. This quote near the end of the article is revealing;
The speakers also faulted the United Nations for the state of its public communications. “Throughout the building there is fairly low morale, which stems from the lackluster way in which the institution and the secretary general’s office have responded to the oil-for-food charges,” Mr. Ruggie said.
He continued, “The attackers of the U.N. for too long have had a free ride in exaggerating the magnitude of the problem [emphasis mine – ed], sometimes deliberately distorting the facts, escalating their accusations and demands for his resignation, and frankly the response on the part of the U.N. has been inept.”