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As UN Bids Bye to Kumalo, Susan Rice Starts Behind Closed Doors, Jackfruit Diplomacy

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 24 -- There are many flavor of diplomacy at the UN, some open and some tinged with favoritism, the styles of the powerful or of underdogs of various hues. All were on display on Tuesday in the Delegates' Dining Room, at the well-attended farewell reception for South Africa's decade-long Ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo.

  While a bass-led quartet played, Kumalo thanked the crowd and danced. Sudan had hosted a more exclusive lunch for Kumalo earlier in the day, at which it emerged that he will become his country's envoy to the Great Lakes region including Burundi. (When Inner City Press asked Kumalo about the posting, he joked that the Great Lakes "will be smaller when I'm finished with them.") Others say Kumalo should be made the UN's Special Advisor on Africa, now that current Under Secretary General Diarra is renouncing that post.

   Inner City Press spoke with Diarra at Tuesday night's event, along with Ambassador Michel Kafando just returned from his native Burkina-Faso. There, he said, there are some few troubles on the horizon, the Tuareg and the disappearance of stealth UN envoy to Niger Robert Fowler.  Diarra pointed out that Canada's prime minister Harper discussed l'affaire Fowler with Ban Ki-moon this week. Ban's subsequent stakeout comment was misreported as progress toward speedy release and resolution. And so it goes at the UN.

DSG Migiro and Susan Rice, lunch in the corner, lunch behind closed doors

  Earlier on Tuesday, the Malaysian mission's two week-long food festival filled this same room. A Malaysian diplomat, amongside answering questions about Sri Lanka, told Inner City Press his mission had contracted with catering firm Aramark and brought six chefs to New York. The diplomat's wife was in the kitchen, supervising some of the cooking. The plat du jour was jackfruit curry. Chef Ismael Ahmad -- his white apron literally said "Celebrity Chef" came out and joked that the jackfruit curry made his fingers yellow.

   Lebanese diplomats dined with UNFIL's force commander; Deputy Secretary-General Migiro had the corner table, her security detail waiting by the dessert table with sticky rice with spicy coconut and, incongruously, Ricotta Salada cheese. Malaysia says that while some smaller countries balk at the price charged by Aramark, this open food festival is part of its outreach and public relations.

  Another approach to diplomacy is being exhibited by the United States. Kumalo danced with the masses, and even Sudan's Ambassador speaks on the record, for example telling Inner City Press that he denied a visa to George Clooney for Sudan, asking him why he didn't go to Gaza. New U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, meanwhile, is slated to give an off-the-record presentation to some in the American press corps on Wednesday. When her predecessor Zalmay Khalilzad left, he sat down with nearly every interested journalist who covers the UN, and Mission staff subsequently negotiated what could and could not be reported.

   Under Obama, one might have expected greater openness by the U.S. Mission. So far it does not seem to be the case. Some ascribe this to the new spokesman, Mark Kornblau, arriving from Zagat's only this week. But others speculate that Hillary Clinton wants to keep a lid on Susan Rice, both in access to Obama, and in access to the press. So who decided to make her first sit-down press availability so small, and off the record? Watch this space.

Footnote: Susan Rice's absence from Kumalo's farewell was excused, as she was in Washington to do the hand-shaking Cabinet-member walk before Obama's speech. Present for Kumalo at the UN were, among the P-5, Ambassadors Churkin, Ripert and Sawers (dancing), and China's Liu, who'd gone Malaysian earlier in the day. UN diplomacy takes time...

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

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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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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