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UN Budget End Game Turns on Roed Larsen's Conflicts, Playing Poker with Arms Trade

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 23 -- As the clock ticked toward Christmas Eve, the UN's basement was full of talk of Lebanon, weapons and jobs, Chinese food and pizza, missing flights and cigarettes. It was the annual budget ritual. Even without the threat of a vote-down or a shut-down, deadline after deadline was missed. The chatter grew louder and the ashtrays overflowed.

  The sign outside Conference Room 3 had said the first voting would start at 3 pm then 4:30. It changed to 6, to 8, to 10 and then passed that. Delegates approached Inner City Press offered drafts and spin. Secretariat officials were nowhere to be seen. Each change in language required new calculation. Ban's adviser Kim Won-soo disappeared with his cell phone. Asha Rose Migiro never did come down.

  The UN's embattled investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius, directly under attack in a draft resolution, was nowhere to be seen. The outlines of agreement didn't change: 92 new posts for development, the end of the permanent contract. At issue was the mandate of UN envoy to Lebanon Terje Roed Larsen -- not on the conflict of interest of Roed Larsen receiving substantial salary from funds from Gulf States to take (their) position in Lebanon, but rather on how the effectiveness of his mission is to be measured. A draft thrust on Inner City Press said:

"OP. Requests the S-G to revise the narrative and the logical framework of the budget of the Special Envoy of the S-G for the implementation of SC resolution 1559 (2004) taking into account recent developments and the concerns raised by member states, and to submit a report thereon to the GA before the fist [sic] part of its resumed 63rd session"

  There are certain issues and regions on which the UN will always trip up. 

UN's Ban introduces last budget, conflicts of interest and delays not shown

 The Durban II conference, the basis of the US no vote on last year's budget, threatened to arise on this one too. Whenever the UN "Interim" Force in Lebanon is considered, votes are called for on specific paragraphs. This time, an arms trade treaty conference was analyzed for cost -- $1.2 million, for the record -- but a vote was threatened, for the politics.

   Most delegates were past the point of caring. They wanted a vote, and to go home, wherever that might be, after two nights without sleep.

Update of 10:56 pm -- still not move toward voting; there's talk of documents processing.

Update of 11:15 pm -- delegates now milling around in Conference Room 3. Earlier, the voting panel was open. Now it's covered by curtains. People assume this means agreement has been reached. Despite or perhaps because of Inner City Press being the only media present, one UN staffer gestures that the Press should be even further from the action, in a locked-in space on the other side of a barrier. It's too late for that. Better to assume that he is joking, or a joker.

Update of 11:50 pm -- still the chatting and the scrum. But the curtains have been drawn back for voting. Consensus? Catherine Pollard of the Office of Human Resources Management has taken a seat on the podium, glad-handing delegates. Donna Maxfield is not visible. The Moldovan master of ceremonies of the GA is getting ready. Soon it will begin.

Update of 12:30 a.m., Dec. 24 -- Or maybe not. Still the crowd mills around, to the smell now of McDonald's French fries. The press secretary of Burkina Faso comes in, bright eyed past midnight. Another UN functionary tries to move Inner City Press out. The lobbyists for a relatively small UN office -- nameless for now -- is watching to make sure her Office doesn't get cut, or merged with the Special Advisor on Africa. Where are the senior UN officials? Egypt's Permanent Representative has arrived. And still not sign of voting, or even of speech-giving. We are on UN time now. The cigarette smoke is thick.

Update of 12:43 a.m. -- but wait, there's more! Inner City Press is informed that not only will the U.S. be calling for recorded votes on Durban II and the Arms Trade Treaty, but also on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A vote on a paragraph about Roed Larsen / Resolution 1559 is also expected. A press officer says the GA hall has been booked for 2 am, but adds "that seems optimistic." The President of the General Assemlby has gone home, but will be called back for the plenary. Because at that time, there are Third Committee resolutions to be voted on -- and debated! -- too. Could it go until dawn? Again?

Update of 1:29 am -- and finally the Fifth Committee session is called to order, to begin. Delegates applaud, sarcastically perhaps, and quickly a Board of Auditors' report is approved. There -- that wasn't hard, was it?

Update of 1:45 a.m. -- the Russian Federation's representative, speakin on the OIOS resolution, says his country understands that the staff of the Procurement Task Force will not be incorporated into the staff of OIOS. But why then has Alhenius kept seven posts empty? The chairman says, "Even Movses doesn't object... We have thus concluded our consideration" of the item. And genocide is next.

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.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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