U.S. Mission reviving
The United States and the United Nations, which possibly have the most volatile neighborly relations outside the Korean Peninsula, appear close to exchanging ambassadors again.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations has been without a permanent representative since John C. Danforth returned to Kansas in January. Now that John R. Bolton seems due for a recess appointment, the depleted mission — down to one ambassador from the usual five — soon could be revitalized with new diplomats and enough manpower to deal with U.N. reform, counterterrorism and other multilateral issues.
And on Aug. 22, the United Nations finally will have a de facto ambassador in Washington when William K. Davis takes up his post as head of the U.N. Information Center (UNIC).
Mr. Davis, until this week a midlevel career State Department official, will be the chief conduit between the world body and Capitol Hill.
The office has been vacant for a year, a period that saw an outbreak of investigations into the Iraq oil-for-food program, two bills to withhold U.S. dues, congressional demands for the resignation of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and leftover distrust on both sides over the Iraq war.
U.N. officials say they couldn’t possibly appoint anyone until after the November elections, and then they discovered that none of the moderate Republicans they had in mind wanted the job.
“They approached a lot of people, a lot, and no one was interested enough to take it,” said a U.N. official monitoring the process. Another official said: “If you’re not going to get a star, get someone with a nuts-and-bolts understanding of the legislative process.”
Mr. Davis, the director for regional, global and functional affairs in the State Department’s Legislative Affairs Bureau, has been coordinating with Congress on issues such as arms control, the environment, human rights and economics.
He is said to have good relations with Hill staffers on both sides of the aisle, and has refused to disclose his political leanings. The Maryland resident was recruited by Robert Orr, one of Mr. Annan’s chief advisers and a protege of former U.S. Ambassador to U.N. Richard C. Holbrooke.
For the record, UNIC does not lobby, but dining out and shaking hands is part of the job description. So is filing detailed reports to New York about legislation, funding issues and Washington’s mood swings.
So how important is the UNIC? Hard to say.
The Washington office was one of the few to survive a U.N. austerity drive a few years back. It also is the most prominent, reporting directly to the 38th floor instead of the Department of Public Information.
The White House, which generally communicates with the United Nations through the U.S. Mission, suggested shutting down the Washington office three years ago to shave about $10 million from the U.N. budget. The move was seen as political, and met steep opposition from Congress while generating brief panic in the United Nations.
U.N. waits on AU
No action is expected in the U.N. General Assembly on Security Council expansion until after the African Union can decide whether to merge its proposal with that of the “Group of 4” — Germany, Japan, India and Brazil. The African bloc has scheduled an emergency summit meeting for Thursday to discuss its options and try to reconcile whether to give up its demand that six new permanent members get veto power.
The joint proposal would create a Security Council of 15 nations elected to two-year terms and 11 permanent members, including the five that already wield vetoes. Expansion will require the consent of two-thirds of the General Assembly, and eventual ratification by member governments.
Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.