- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

Leave the light on

While U.N. ambassadors and senior U.N. officials have been playing schedule games, trying to figure out how to squeeze in a second holiday reception before the nightly dinner invitation, their hard-working financial and management experts are stuck in basement conference rooms, trying to hammer out a new U.N. budget and slog through a remaining half-dozen agenda items before shutting down for the holidays.

“It’s going slowly,” said Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, the U.N. controller. Counselors and ministers from dozens of nations have been smoking up a fog and leaving half-drunk cups of espresso in the lounge, where they recover from meetings behind closed doors. They met daily this weekend, staying until 10 p.m.

Judging from the detritus in the lounge, the delegates are getting weary.

Among their tasks: grappling with the vulnerability of U.N. staffers and aid workers in dangerous field missions. Paying to harden and secure duty stations, and train and protect employees, is proving to be surprisingly divisive, frustrated diplomats say.

With a final deadline tonight, envoys say they might have to postpone the security question until meetings resume in February.

Meanwhile, the rest of the General Assembly has pretty much done its work and dispersed, either to the diplomatic party scene, or back to their own countries.

The First Committee, specializing in disarmament, completed its work nearly three weeks ago, with 52 nonbinding resolutions to limit or illuminate various aspects of nuclear and conventional weapons.

The Second Committee has just finished its work and will present recommendations on economic, social and cultural issues to the plenary session this afternoon.

The Third Committee also has wrapped up its agenda on human rights, and is expected to bring its recommendations on scores of resolutions to the General Assembly this afternoon or tomorrow.

The Fourth Committee adopted 24 resolutions on decolonization.

And the Sixth Committee (legal), which enjoyed a brief burst of prominence this year for its inability to reach a resolution outlawing reproductive cloning of human beings, managed to find agreement on 20 other issues.

The Fifth Committee, which oversees all matters budgetary and managerial, is almost always the last to switch off the lights in the grand assembly chambers.

The counselors, ministers and occasional ambassador who do the heavy lifting on the Fifth Committee are accustomed to postponing their holiday shopping.

But Jean Ping of Gabon, the president of the General Assembly, also must stick around to formally convene the full world body to accept the recommendations of the budget committee.

“If it ends on the 20th of December, I will be on a plane home on the night of the 20th,” he said gloomily. “If it ends on the 24th of December, I will have my Christmas in the air.”

One head, two hats

After 12 years of often acrimonious attempts at peace-building between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Terje Roed-Larsen is to move to New York this month to lead the prestigious International Peace Academy. But he won’t be able to leave the Middle East behind.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Mr. Roed-Larsen to be his special envoy to oversee the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Syrian troops leave Lebanon.

The job — which is paid at the undersecretary-general rate, but only for days worked — could have the Norwegian diplomat shuttling again between the capitals in the region he knows so well.

Beirut says the Syrian troops are invited guests and that the council has no business telling them to leave. Damascus says there’s no reason to withdraw more soldiers, especially when Israeli troops still are occupying Lebanese soil. The Israelis and the United Nations say the Shebaa Farms area, where Israel does have troops, is part of Syria.

As U.N. special representative, Mr. Roed-Larsen, 57, has been vilified and forgiven by both sides more often than anyone can count. His successor has not yet been named.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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