- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

Food for thought

There have been many comings and goings at the United Nations in a week dominated by the issuance of the report from oil-for-food investigators.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan indicated last week that he would not appoint his chief political adviser to lead U.N. peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.

Kieran Prendergast, a sometimes prickly Briton who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the assault on Fallujah in November, ran into opposition from Washington.

After backstage negotiating, American officials refused to sign off on the appointment.

“He would have been perfect,” Mr. Annan told reporters Wednesday, “but we don’t work in a vacuum.” Mr. Prendergast, whose interests include pocket watches, history and political complexity, has served as Mr. Annan’s undersecretary-general for political affairs since 1998.

Mr. Prendergast’s name was floated as a likely successor to Terje Roed-Larsen as Middle East envoy more than a month ago. But since then, silence.

Asked about the posting at a press conference two weeks ago, Mr. Prendergast snapped: “I’m not campaigning for anything.”

Mr. Annan said he intends to name an envoy soon. “Whether it is Sir Kieran or somebody else, I will have a competent person on the ground,” he said.

With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s trying to pull Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip and newly elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas scheduled to meet him tomorrow, observers say it is imperative to get a trusted and seasoned U.N. negotiator for the Middle East as quickly as possible.

In other changes, spokesman Fred Eckhard, an American who has been the public face of the United Nations for six years, submitted his resignation last week. It’s not clear yet who might replace him.

In other goings, longtime Annan aide Elizabeth Lindenmayer also submitted her resignation last week. She will be succeeded as special assistant by Michael Moller, whose portfolio has included peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs.

New neighbor

Staffers working on the 21st floor of the office tower housing the U.N. Development Program were warned last week not to expect to use the restroom when Bill Clinton is around.

The former president, named two weeks ago as the special envoy for tsunami relief, has been assigned an office with sweeping East River views, directly across the street from the U.N. Secretariat.

“We were told that security will be very tight, and we would not be able to walk up and down the hallway, or use the bathrooms on that floor,” said one staffer, who seemed more enthusiastic than concerned. “I don’t know how often he will be there, but I think they are worried about people coming there who don’t belong.”

In the U.N. context, those would be autograph seekers, not assassins.

Iraq wants refund

And speaking of oil-for-food (because everyone still is), the Iraqi representatives to the United Nations want an expanded inquiry into the finances of the seven-year program, and they want their money back.

Iraqi Ambassador Sami Sumaidaie told reporters last week that Baghdad wants an accounting of all money diverted or misspent by the program, which fed more than 20 million Iraqis until the U.S.-led bombing halted the program in March 2003.

Baghdad also seeks a refund of the $30 million cost of the investigation, which was financed by oil proceeds set aside to pay for the program’s administration.

The cash-starved government also seeks an immediate refund of any money left in the so-called “2 percent account,” which was cash held back to administer the $64 billion program.

“It is outrageous that Iraqi funds were mismanaged and then we have to pay for finding out about the mismanagement,” Mr. Sumaidaie told reporters Friday.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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