- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

Back to Tehran

Javad Zarif is leaving this month after five years as Iranian ambassador to the United Nations and nearly two decades in his country’s New York mission. He expects to return to Tehran and teach.

The ambassador is the kind of effortlessly smooth diplomat who can banter with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (a protocol no-no, as the countries have officially severed diplomatic relations) and then dismiss the implications with a wave of his hand.

“We were talking about poetry, not politics,” he said, starting a brief discussion about the Persian poet Rumi.

Mr. Zarif, 48, was educated in the United States, where he has lived for nearly 30 years. Nonetheless, as an Iranian official, he refuses to shake hands with female ambassadors and rarely eats meat prepared by other missions because it may not be sufficiently halal, or kosher.

He is tireless in explaining — and defending — Iran’s positions to confused or alarmed foreign governments. Tehran’s denial of the Holocaust? No, it was more of a defense of the Palestinian lands. Nuclear weapons? Not at all, he says, simply an enthusiasm for civilian nuclear power. The fact that the Group of 77 developing nations support Tehran against the Security Council and many openly urge Iran to go for the nukes, he says, is merely a reflection of frustration with Israel.

He will be replaced by Deputy Economic Minister Mohammad Khazai, who is well-known in international finance circles.

Startling stats

The U.N. Population Fund is co-sponsoring a global conference on maternal health and mortality this autumn, with some startling statistics for Washington and many other capitals.

Every year, about 529,000 women die of pregnancy- or birth-related trauma or illness, with the majority of cases clustered in the poorest countries and cities, officials say. Nearly half of all pregnancies sustain complications, but most are treatable with proper care, medicine or a Caesarian-section birth. Often, medicine and midwives are not available.

In Afghanistan, one in seven women die in childbirth, according to the World Health Organization. In sub-Saharan Africa, mothers have a one in 16 chance of dying. In Sweden, the figure is more approximately one death for every 30,000 deliveries.

Conference organizers say 19 million unsafe abortions are performed annually.

The United States, where 46 million people lack health insurance, has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the industrialized world, according to the WHO. Approximately 1,000 women die every year of pregnancy- or birth-related complications, mostly poor women with untreated diabetes, high blood pressure or hemorrhages.

Here and there

{bullet} Serge Brammertz, who has led the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is touted to succeed Carla Del Ponte as the prosecutor for the war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and Yugoslavia when her term expires in September.

{bullet} Actor George Clooney and the rest of the “Ocean’s Thirteen” cast and production team have contributed $1 million to the World Food Program to air-lift humanitarian aid workers into and across Sudan’s Darfur region. The Rome-based WFP expects to distribute food assistance to 5.5 million people in Sudan this year, mostly in Darfur.

{bullet} A Scottish court last week granted one of the two Libyan secret service agents a second appeal in his conviction for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 nearly 20 years ago, ruling that some of the evidence against Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi may not have met judicial standards. The U.N. legal department negotiated the transfer of the two intelligence agents and helped establish the court on Dutch soil.

{bullet} Betsy Pisik may be reached by e-mail at BPisik@WashingtonTimes.com.

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