- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

Summer doldrums
The Security Council calendar for the month of August embodies the summer zeitgeist four-day weekends and not a whole lot of urgent business in between.
Diplomats can thank the Americans who preside over the council for the month of August for the lazy-day schedule.
There are no grand monthly themes and, so far, only two scheduled public meetings, on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the U.N. tribunal for Rwanda. The televised meetings are the secret bane of diplomatic life, requiring custom-written speeches and forcing busy ambassadors to sit quietly for hours, doing nothing but listening.
The schedule, subject to refinement, starts today with the monthly council luncheon for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, hosted by the United States.
The month could pass quietly with consultations on Angola, Congo, the Ethiopia-Eritrea dispute, Burundi, Afghanistan, East Timor, Bougainville and Sierra Leone. Iraq and the Middle East will be addressed, briefly, later in the month.
Envoys were delighted at the unusually light schedule jokingly attributed to U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte's desire to use his summer house in the Hamptons but some worried that all those blank squares on the calendar would soon fill up with troubles.
Mr. Negroponte is departing from form in at least one other way as well: The veteran diplomat declined to give the traditional pre-presidency press conference.
"He'll brief every day" after council meetings, promised a U.S. Mission spokesman who, after reflection, acknowledged that Mr. Negroponte has not given a single press conference in his 11 months here.
"We've had a zillion press lunches, press coffees, but he's much more casual in style, so no, we've never done one," the spokesman said.

Snarled appointments
Rep. Tony P. Hall, named as the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food and agricultural agencies, finally has been approved by the Senate after an anonymous hold on his nomination was lifted last week.
Mr. Hall, the Ohio Democrat who spoke often about hunger and human rights issues, was one of several State Department nominees temporarily halted by Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, who is trying to compel State to take action on a flooded lake just south of the Canadian border.
Laurie Boeder, a spokeswoman for Mr. Conrad, acknowledged that the North Dakota Democrat had put a hold on more than a dozen "noncritical" State Department nominees.
After consultations with the State Department, she said, Mr. Hall and several others were deemed too important and were released.
Congressional sources say that Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, may have quietly renewed the anonymous hold against the popular Mr. Hall to try to leverage freedom for the other stalled nominees all of whom are awaiting approval by the full Senate.
As of last week, more than two dozen nominees including a dozen ambassadors to Africa, several disarmament envoys and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were immobilized by anonymous holds.
"The United States is in a period of intense political and military activity," fumed Lester Munson, minority spokesman with the Foreign Relations committee.
At issue is the permanently flooded Devil's Lake, which has risen 23 vertical feet, consuming homes, roads and land. The federal government has spent more than $350 million in mitigation and assistance, said Ms. Boeder, rejecting the accusation that the concern is "parochial."
The lake needs an outlet for excess water, which will be routed to Canada. Mr. Conrad wants the State Department to refer the matter to the International Joint Commission, which mediates such matters, but so far, no go.
The United States has not had an ambassador to the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization since October. World Food Program spokesman Khaled Mansour says that there are other channels of communication with Washington, but no substitute for having an ambassador.
These U.N. organizations are among the most popular in Washington, which uses them to absorb hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus grain and to distribute U.S. assistance in diplomatically isolated places like North Korea.
Betsy B Pisik may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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