Clinton's UN job: Tsunami chief, peacemaker or secretary general?
NEW YORK - Bill Clinton as the new peacemaker in Sri Lanka? Whatever happened to the Norwegians?
When the UN announced last week that the former US president had been selected as Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for countries affected by the tsunami disaster, Clinton was expected to bring "energy, dynamism and focus" on post-tsunami reconstruction efforts in south and south-east Asia.

But his role as a new-found peacemaker -- apparently with no prior consultation with Sri Lanka -- came as a surprise.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard was quoted as saying that Clinton would most likely be called on to "facilitate peace negotiations" in the longstanding political disputes between governments and rebel forces -- specifically in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Clinton was expected "to make political advances with the rebel movements in those two countries" and "capitalise" on the willingness of the rebel groups to cooperate with their respective governments to rebuild their devastated regions.

Sounds great, but was the UN really trying to "capitalise" on Clinton in order to seek a mediator role for itself in the separatist disputes in both countries?
Clinton's political reach, however, was not intended to extend to two other tsunami-affected countries: India and Thailand. Perhaps because the disputed territories of both those countries had no direct impact on current post-tsunami recovery efforts.

Neither Indonesia nor Sri Lanka has sought any UN assistance to resolve their domestic disputes. Nor has India or Thailand.
India is so sensitive to any UN role in Kashmir that, on more than one occasion, the government has politely turned down Annan's request even for routine visits to New Delhi on the grounds that the "time is not appropriate" for such visits by the secretary-general. Even on his recent tour of tsunami-affected countries last month, Annan was forced to skip India.

Less than 24 hours after its announcement of Clinton's appointment and his possible role as a peacemaker, the UN retracted its statement.
Asked why the UN changed its mind on Clinton's original mandate, Eckhard said: "That was just my mistake and I apologize for that." To a follow-up question whether the UN was pressured to make the change, he said: "No. That was just my misunderstanding of the mandate."

But this may not be the final chapter in the continuing saga. When the government advised Annan against visiting LTTE-controlled Mullaitivu last month, it was obviously not being honest in its justification for blocking his trip. The government told the secretary-general that it could not guarantee his safety, among other things.

But no one in the government made a public statement on the real reason for keeping him out of Mullaitivu: if the secretary-general visited Mullaitivu he would have provided legitimacy to LTTE-controlled territory in violation of the country's national sovereignty.
The government may have advised Annan in private but it was not forthright with the public.

Clinton, who takes over his new assignment in March, is expected to visit all of the tsunami-affected countries. What would be the government's reaction if he decides to visit Mullaitivu? That would be a great photo-op for the LTTE leader. But will the government and the foreign ministry be forthright this time?
Meanwhile, Clinton's appointment has also revived speculation that he may be a candidate for secretary-general when Annan completes his second five-year term in December 2006, thereby undermining Asia's chances of fielding a candidate for the job.

When Clinton appeared before the UN General Assembly on the eve of a growing sex scandal in the Oval Office of the White House, the 191 member states gave him a standing ovation -- thereby delivering a slap in the face of his political opponents who were trying to denigrate him.
By all accounts, Clinton has been one of the most popular US presidents within the precincts of the UN, as much as the current president, George Bush, is one of the most reviled.

But Clinton's popularity does not make him a candidate for the job of secretary-general. According to a longstanding tradition, the post of secretary-general would NOT go to a national of a country which is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council -- the US, Britain, France, China and Russia.
At a political level, the secretary-general is a servant of the 191-member states and only the chief administrative officer of the world body. He is at the political mercy of member states -- and UN ambassadors.

A former Nigerian ambassador once told reporters that he was at a conference in Africa when one of his friends told him: "I was in New York recently, and I met your boss."
"My boss?" retorted the Nigerian ambassador. "Yes," said his friend, "I met Secretary-General Kofi Annan."

"The secretary-general is NOT my boss," the Nigerian envoy shot back. "I AM his boss." And that was a statement of fact not known to many outside the perimeters of the UN. If, in the unlikely event, ex-president Bill Clinton becomes secretary-general, would he be willing to take that political insult from his own ambassador at the UN?

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