- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

The Picasso cover-up
A tapestry of Pablo Picasso's powerful anti-war tableau "Guernica" has hung outside the U.N. Security Council since 1985, and it would be difficult to imagine a more fitting example of site-specific art.
The original 1937 painting depicts the terrorized and dying civilians at Guernica, a small Basque village in northern Spain that Generalissimo Francisco Franco's Nationalist regime, battling the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War, allowed the German air force to use for target practice. About 1,600 civilians were killed or wounded in three hours of bombardment.
The estate of Nelson Rockefeller, who gave the money to buy what is now the U.N. compound, donated the tapestry expressly for that famous wall as a show of faith in the U.N. mandate.
Television cameras routinely pan the tapestry as diplomats enter and leave the council chambers, and its muted browns and taupes lend a poignant backdrop to the talking heads.
So it was a surprise for many of the envoys to arrive at U.N. headquarters last Monday for a Security Council briefing by chief weapons inspectors, only to find the searing work covered with a baby-blue banner and the U.N. logo.
"It is, we think, we hope, only temporary," said Faustino Diaz Fortuny, a Spanish envoy whose government owns the original painting.
U.N. officials said last week that it is more appropriate for dignitaries to be photographed in front of the blue backdrop and some flags than the impressionist image of shattered villagers and livestock.
"It's only temporary. We're only doing this until the cameras leave," said Abdellatif Kabbaj, the organization's media liaison. He noted that the diplomats' microphone, which usually stands in front of a Security Council sign, had to be moved to accommodate the crowd of camera crews and reporters. With the Picasso as a backdrop, Mr. Kabbaj said, no one would know they were looking at the United Nations.
The drapes were installed last Monday and Wednesday the days the council discussed Iraq and came down Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, when the subjects included Afghanistan and peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Western Sahara.
So when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell enters the council Wednesday to present evidence of Iraq's acquisition of mobile biological weapons labs and terrorism ties, he will walk in front of flags that wouldn't look out of place in the auditorium of a high school gymnasium.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who keeps a Matisse tapestry and a Rauschenberg collage in his private 38th-floor conference room, denies he had anything to do with the "Guernica" cover-up.
"If you heard all the things done in my name, you'd think I was everywhere," he joked Friday. "I heard it was artistic."
Mr. Kabbaj amplified thus: "We had a problem with, you know, the horse."
It was, of course, a camera crew that noticed that anyone who stood at the U.N. microphone would be photographed next to the backside of a rearing horse.
Picasso: Social critic, Cubist and a little too opinionated for many in this organization.
Lee chosen as WHO head
The governing board of the World Health Organization has selected a South Korean public health specialist and tuberculosis expert as its next leader.
Dr. Jong Wook Lee will succeed Gro Harlem Brundtland, who did not seek a second five-year term, as the director-general of the Geneva-based organization.
Dr. Lee has worked at the WHO for two decades, most recently as chief technical and administration officer, guiding much of the WHO's policy on international health issues. He also has experience with its child-vaccination outreach efforts.
He was the only WHO insider among the five candidates, although he edged out Dr. Peter Piot, director of the related UNAIDS program, for the position. Dr. Piot said afterward that he would remain with UNAIDS and work closely with the new leadership.
Dr. Lee said in interviews last week that he would focus on Africa's health crisis, as well as the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He also said he hopes to decentralize the organization, relocating three-quarters of its 3,500 employees and resources to the field.
"Communities, particularly poor ones, lack access to the most basic services and drugs. Clearly, political commitment must translate into effective action," he said last week.
Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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