The United Nations maintains an office in Washington to coordinate with the place variously known as the host country, the organization"s most generous contributor or "That Superpower."
And yet, signals must have been crossed — or knotted — because on Friday, President Bush announced that he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would host a global conference on climate change — three days after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosts his own summit in New York and smack in the middle of the organization"s biggest annual event, the General Assembly debate.
The White House sent invitations to Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and South Africa, as well as to the United Nations.
The timing is a clear attempt to piggyback the U.S. conference onto the United Nations" annual 10-day schmooze-fest, at which most nations are represented by their foreign minister, president or prime minister.
U.N. officials were, officially, mild and encouraged in their responses: Spokesman Farhan Haq said on Friday that the organization "hoped" member states would use the opportunity to advance the work being done at the U.N. event.
Unofficially, there was considerable irritation that Washington would openly poach U.N. party guests for a rival event.
The Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, is getting creative in its quest for U.N. membership.
President Chen Shui-bian last week sent identical letters to the U.N. secretary-general and the president of the Security Council — which was held by China — to request discussions on the island"s fitness for membership. He petitioned them under the name of Taiwan, instead of the more formal ROC — a change that has alarmed both Washington and Beijing, where it is seen as an unwelcome step toward independence.
Both China and the secretary-general officially "returned" the letters, unopened, saying they could not accept them under the "one China" policy of the General Assembly.
The timing is what makes the note interesting: China held the presidency of the council for the month of July. If Taipei had waited three days until Aug. 1, the office would have rolled alphabetically to the Republic of Congo.
David Lee, a spokesman for Mr. Chen, told reporters in Taipei last week that the letter to Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya was not meant to be inflammatory.
"We did not deliberately pick July to pursue the matter and we ... consider the fact that Ban Ki-moon has overstepped his authority by personally rejecting Taiwan"s application."
With 23 million people, a recognizable democracy and a bustling economy, Taiwan says it is fit for membership. In an increasingly globalized world, it says, Taiwan needs access to international strategies on avian flu, climate change and other transborder issues.
Three armed young men robbed South African U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo last week, just as he arrived in Johannesburg for a few weeks" vacation.
The thieves took the ambassador"s briefcase and baggage, as well as the wallets and cell phones of others with him. A man was shot during the holdup and was taken to a hospital.
Mr. Kumalo, a plain-spoken and approachable diplomat who was attending his grandson"s birthday party, described the holdup to local reporters as "a terrifying experience" and lamented its likely impact on tourism.
"These things also happen in New York, but they have thousands of tourists and can possibly afford to lose a few," he told News24 in Johannesburg. "We can"t."
A crime ring seems to have targeted diplomats in the past few weeks, with armed robbers targeting three African embassies during office hours.
Betsy Pisik may be reached via e-mail at BPisik@WashingtonTimes. com.