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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

Is New British Portfolio a Tribute to U.N.?

By Thalif Deen, UN Bureau Chief, Inter Press Service

United Nations, 11 July, (IPS): Mark Malloch Brown, a former U.N. deputy secretary-general, recently anointed with the newly-created portfolio of British "minister of state for Africa, Asia and the United Nations", was a devoted loyalist who stood by the beleaguered former Secretary-General Kofi Annan right to the end.

"I loved it here. But I am longing to get back to something in the area of development," Malloch Brown said in an interview with IPS last year, just before he stepped down as the U.N.'s second highest-ranking official after Annan.

"Come Dec. 31, I am done. I am carrying the boss's bag down to the car when he leaves (the U.N. building)," he said famously, as he brushed off rumors of a possible extension of his term of office as part of a deal with incoming Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

When the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown named his ministers last month, one of his key appointees was Malloch Brown, whose non-cabinet portfolio is perhaps one of the few in the world which includes the United Nations as a primary focus.

Although he is not a cabinet minister, he can be invited to attend cabinet meetings if his presence will help the discussion.

"I am not sure whether he is the world's first minister to have a U.N. portfolio, but a very positive development and very astute for Gordon Brown," says Ian Williams, who writes for the New York-based The Nation and London Guardian.

A senior U.N. official told IPS: "It is certainly a first for UK, and a tribute to the importance the British government attaches to the United Nations."

A former administrator of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), Malloch Brown also held the posts of chief of staff to Annan and was a onetime vice president of the World Bank.

Williams said the new British prime minister has made "a tentative 'technocratic' appointment since Malloch Brown was not a member of the (governing) Labour Party" in Britain.

But since Malloch Brown was a critic of the U.S. war in Iraq, his appointment also marks a boundary with "the years of pandering" by former Prime Minister Tony Blair who was a relentless supporter of the administration of President George W. Bush, he added.

"It also highlights Gordon Brown's serious commitment to development, bringing the former UNDP head in," Williams told IPS.

Of all the non Labour Party appointments possible, "this one is the least objectionable to party members, with whom Gordon Brown is trying to rebuild links that Tony Blair sundered," said Williams, who once dabbled in British politics and was also a longtime Malloch Brown watcher.

Don Kraus, executive vice president of the Washington-based Citizens for Global Solutions, said that Malloch Brown's appointment as the new minister with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the U.N. "is a clear indication of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's prioritization of development and multilateral engagement as hallmarks for his administration".

"The move is reminiscent of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's decision to elevate the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to a cabinet level position during his administration," Kraus told IPS.

James A. Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, however, expressed reservations about the new appointment.

"I am intrigued that Mark Malloch Brown is parachuting into the midst of British politics after many years as an expatriate in the United States," he said.

This is surely very unusual, particularly the fact that as a minister he does not have a seat in the House of Commons and cannot therefore participate in Commons debates.

"We should remember that Malloch Brown is, first and foremost, a master of public relations and spin rather than substance," Paul told IPS.

Gordon Brown, "may be using Malloch Brown's long connection to the United Nations (heading towards a General Election in UK) to symbolize a new impulse of his team towards multilateralism and a less 'poodlish' approach to Washington," he said, making a reference to Blair, described by the British press as Bush's "poodle."

Paul said Brown clearly needs to take his distance "from a disliked, distrusted and disgraced Tony Blair. But will this multilateral spin be the reality of policy?"

"I don't think so. I think we can expect the UK to continue to operate in very close alliance with the United States, an alliance that seems to be impervious to changes of government," he declared.

During his tenure at the United Nations, the outspoken Malloch Brown incurred the wrath of the U.N. Staff Union and antagonized the 130-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations.

After presiding over a raucous meeting overflowing with staff complaints, he was constrained to admit that the views he heard were "toxic, cancerous hatred" which was "not in any of our interests."

Asked if there was a breakdown in his relationship with the Group of 77 developing nations, Malloch Brown told IPS last year that he was particularly well received by African ambassadors at the United Nations.

"After all," he said, "they remember me, from their point of view, as the most pro-African administrator the UNDP has ever been."

"I hugely increased UNDP resources for development in Africa, particularly when they had to put up with years of UNDP getting weaker and weaker," he added.

At the end of his six years with the New York-based U.N. agency, he said, UNDP was "a huge partner in the development of Africa".

He said he had a similar depth of relationship with many of the Latin American and Asian ambassador from his UNDP days.

"So, I think it is the younger members of delegations who love to throw firebombs and personalize it around me, but for their elders and those with memories, they know how implausible it is," Malloch Brown said. "After all, from their point of view, I ran the most successful UNDP they had. I think it is politics, not personal, about things that have been said (about me)."

Malloch Brown also publicly crossed swords with then U.S. Ambassador John Bolton over the Iraq war and over U.S. threats to withhold funding to the world body.

"You will lose the U.N. one way or the other," Malloch Brown warned. He also said that "the enormously divisive issue of Iraq and the big stick of financial withholding have come to define an unhappy marriage (between the United States and the United Nations)."

Responding to Malloch Brown's remarks, Bolton told reporters at that time: "I am concerned at this point at the very wounding effect that this criticism of the United States will have in our efforts to achieve U.N. reform."

"And this isn't the first time the deputy secretary-general has done this."

Bolton said Malloch Brown "gave an interview (to IPS) that criticised the United States and the other major contributors. This is very serious. This is very serious."

- Inter Press Service -

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