- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009


Ivonne A-Baki speaks four languages fluently and is conversant in two others. But the word “impossible” is not in her vocabulary.

Born in Ecuador of Lebanese parents, she raised a family in war-torn Beirut. As a diplomat, she helped negotiate an end to a 170-year border conflict between Ecuador and Peru and later served as ambassador to the United States, where she charmed Washington society with her beauty, optimism and art. She is an accomplished painter, whose work evokes surreal images reminiscent of the 19th century Art Nouveau artist Gustav Klimt.

Now she is pursuing another “mission possible” as one of nine candidates for director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“I am a woman, and they have never had a woman before,” she told our correspondent Claude Salhani, editor of the Middle East Times. She added that this is the “moment of time” for a woman to lead UNESCO.

Quoting the organization’s constitution, she said, ” ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed.’ ”

She has made that point before in her own words when she addressed a women’s peace conference as ambassador to the United States.

“We need to imagine peace because, unfortunately, we do not have it yet,” she said. “Maybe womankind will succeed where mankind has failed.”

In her interview with Mr. Salhani, she insisted that her multicultural background and her longtime pursuit of peace are among her best qualifications for the UNESCO position.

“I am a representative of different cultures,” she said.

She is the daughter of a Druse father and Christian mother. Her father, whose religion is considered by some to be an offshoot of Islam, and her mother converted to Catholicism after moving to Ecuador.

Mrs. A-Baki is fluent in Arabic, English, French and Spanish and also speaks German and some Russian. She is currently president of the Andean Parliament and earlier served as Ecuador’s commerce minister, after her diplomatic tour in Washington from 1998 to 2002.

She and her husband, Sammi A-Baki, have three grown children, who were raised never to use the word “impossible.”

“I believe in giving people hope. A person who is without hope is a dead person,” she said.

Mrs. A-Baki’s educational background would also be an asset to the Paris-based organization. She graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where she specialized in conflict resolution.

“You would have to listen to what the member countries, 193 of them, say and to listen carefully to what they need,” she added. “I don’t think they were ever listened to. When you listen to their needs you can implement the things that are important to them.”

The UNESCO election process begins Sept. 7 when the Executive Board meets and selects a director-general in a secret ballot. In October, the General Conference will meet to formalize the election. The conference always has endorsed the board’s decision.

The other candidates are Mohammed Bedjaoui, a former Algerian foreign minister; Irina Bokova, Bulgaria’s ambassador to France; Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s commissioner for foreign affairs; Farouk Hosni, Egypt’s culture minister; Ina Marciulionyte, Lithuania’s ambassador to UNESCO; Sospeter Mwijarubi Muhongo of Tanzania, a regional director of the International Council for Science; Noureini Tidjani-Serpos, a former UNESCO ambassador from Benin; and Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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