- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

Our U.N. bureau
Mid-September is always a busy time of year for our United Nations bureau because of the General Assembly debate, which every year attracts dozens of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers to New York.
Recent Septembers have been especially busy, with more than 100 world leaders descending on the landmark complex, first for the 50th anniversary of the institution and then for a special Millennium session.
This year, of course, the building has been buzzing with President Bush's highly anticipated speech on Iraq and the subsequent maneuvering over a new resolution to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein.
All this is part but only part of the reason the foreign desk has its only full-time bureau outside of Washington at the United Nations. There are also elements of office politics and chance.
We first started thinking about the potential of the United Nations as a news bureau when, about seven years ago, U.N.-based free-lancer Stewart Stogel began offering us a series of interesting stories.
At about that time, a correspondent who was on monthly retainer in South Korea decided to give up journalism for more lucrative pursuits, and we had the idea of shifting the funding from Seoul to the United Nations.
If we could not have bureaus all around the world, we reasoned, here was a place where, with a single bureau, we could find diplomats from every country and credibly report on almost any international issue.
The original idea was to find someone already working in the building for another news organization who would be willing to file for us once or twice a week.
But just at that time I was approached by Cate Toups, an excellent former Washington Times metro reporter who had resigned to go and work in Croatia with Catholic Relief Services for a year. She had returned to the United States looking for work and was eager to take a crack at the U.N. job.
We agreed with some misgivings, knowing the retainer didn't come close to covering the cost of living in New York but promised to do what we could to find Miss Toups some other free-lance outlets.

Space problem
There were other problems, too. There was no office space available we were told the typical waiting period was 10 years and the U.S. mission, run at that time by the Clinton administration, was so distrustful of our intentions that Miss Toups was left out of briefings for the American press.
Those problems faded with persistence and professionalism. Over time, the U.S. mission came to realize that we were not there to "get" them but to provide solid coverage of the issues.
And the office problem was resolved when then-deputy foreign editor Richard Gross who has a talent for being quietly but stubbornly persistent visited New York and pestered the U.N. press office until, on the spot, they gave us half the office space being used by the Polish news agency.
The final piece fell into place a couple of years later when Miss Toups moved on and was replaced by Betsy Pisik, a talented feature writer who had been working on our business desk and was looking for new challenges. Miss Pisik was able, in effect, to take her staff position with her and so we finally had the full-time staff bureau that we had long wanted.
Covering the United Nations well calls not only for developing sources at the U.S. mission who will tell us what the Americans are up to, but also developing sources who are familiar with the thinking of the other major Security Council powers the British, French, Russians and Chinese.
It was just this kind of effort that allowed Miss Pisik to report almost a week before Mr. Bush's speech that the United States had decided to pursue a council resolution demanding the return of inspectors to Iraq.
On Monday afternoon, she was ready to report exclusively that the Russians and French had agreed to go along with a tough resolution authorizing punitive action if the Iraqis refused to cooperate with the inspectors.
That all changed, of course, when Iraq announced late in the day that it would permit the inspectors to return without conditions. That shattered the emerging consensus, with consequences still to be seen.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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