Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Under Obama, UN's Pascoe May Stay, UNICEF's Veneman Not, Consultant Hired

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, January 20 -- As Democrat Barack Obama takes over in Washington, one of the questions at the UN in New York concerns the future of officials nominated for their UN posts by George Bush Administration.  The head of UNICEF, Republican Ann Veneman, is the subject of much speculation. 

  She was Bush's Secretary of Agriculture, and a visible Republican before that. Ms. Veneman has avoided the press for extended periods of her tenure at UNICEF, not only during the scandal surrounding her giving the UN's North Lawn for a Madonna fundraising event that benefited, among others, the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, but even during a recent AIDS conference in Mexico. 

  Her office was nearly silent while children were killed in China by poisoned milk. She's isolated, surrounded by American advisers, a well-placed staffer says. He adds that UNICEF staff worldwide are dissatisfied with her leadership, for example in India where she sent an all-male panel to investigate and excuse alleged sexual abuse by the UNICEF country chief, who has been recycled to the UN Development Group.

    Now, however, Ms. Veneman had reportedly hired a consultant to extol her good works and ubiquity, all with an eye to convincing the Obama administration that she should remain, including after her term expires.

Ann Veneman at the mic mid-Madonna scandal, answers still not shown

  The argument is that Obama does not want to be seen as partisan, as taking out all Republic appointees. On finance, he has brought in Republican Paul Volcker, for example.

   But some compare the energetic tenure at the World Food Program of Republican Josette Sheeran with the less dynamic management of UNICEF by Ann Veneman. While Sheeran began by being defensive about her Moonie past, she proceeded to get to know WFP from top to bottom, as demonstrated at an hour-long press conference at which she took all questions. Veneman, a UNICEF source scoffs, could never do that. Another added, of Veneman, that "she never took off the American flag pin and got to know the UN system." 

  If someone has to go, these people say, it's clear who it should be. Obama is a proponent of effectiveness as well.

  Tipping the balance against Ann Veneman, the sources say, is that incoming U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice served on the board of the US Fund for UNICEF, and was said to not be a fan of Ms. Veneman's performance. Few are. But Rice will be part of Obama's cabinet. If she allows Veneman to stay on, the commitment she stated during last week's confirmation hearings to the reform and improvement of the UN will ring hollow.

   On another American, Inner City Press last week asked outgoing US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad whether to his knowledge Lynn Pascoe will stay on under Obama as the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs. "I have no reason to believe that he won't," Khalilzad said,  a comment his spokespeople later confirmed could be used on the record, unlike his answers on Somalia and UN Reform. 

 So Pascoe dodges the bullet, but Veneman despite her belated media push is in the line of fire? We'll see.

Footnote: At a UN Development Program reception high above Manhattan on Martin Luther King night, the talk turned from Veneman to whether the US will regain the top job at UNDP, now with Kemal Dervis leaving the agency on March 1. (Dervis also left the reception he was hosting, muttering affably about a situation at home.) Now the talk turns Nordic. In the crowd, angling and perhaps offering posts, was Jan Mattsson the Swede

   Norway's stock is up, both in contributions and its Ad-Hoc role in Gaza. But before Mark Malloch Brown and Dervis, one diplomat pointed out, Americans ran UNDP. Could they both name Veneman's replacement and get UNDP? Or might they pull, in National League and pastime baseball parlance, a crafty double-switch? Watch this site.

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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