M ark Malloch Brown, former director of the U.N. Development Program, has taken over as chief of staff for Secretary General Kofi Annan at a moment of crisis.
One of the major problems is multiple investigations into the oil-for-food program in which the government of Iraq's Saddam Hussein received food shipments in return for petroleum exports. Annan suspended two employees this month after an interim report was issued in a probe into the multibillion-dollar program.
Mark Malloch Brown became Annan's chief of staff last month.
Britain's Malloch Brown acknowledges that he is trying to carve out a larger role for himself at the U.N. Secretariat in policymaking and public diplomacy. "Certainly, I am going to be more than a chief of staff," he said in a telephone interview last Wednesday after a day of meetings in Washington with U.S. lawmakers. "You do not bring the number three at the U.N. to keep a diary."
Top diplomats at Washington-based multilateral institutions, U.N. officials and European ambassadors have said Malloch Brown's bid for more influence has some other top U.N. officials on edge. They include Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette, Canada's former deputy minister of defense and a former associate deputy minister of finance.
Brought into the United Nations as deputy secretary general in 1998, she turned what could have been a new administrative position into a high-profile policy job tackling peacekeeping and funding. She has not commented publicly on the talk of tension.
Malloch Brown said allegations that he is angling for Frechette's position are "absolute, complete nonsense." He said they would be working together on U.N. reforms, adding that what made his job possible was the power he derived from Annan and Frechette.
Malloch Brown, whom Annan appointed chief of staff on Jan. 3, noted his experience as head of the Development Program and as communications director at the World Bank.
"Can you bring someone in who has run a staff two-thirds the size of the U.N., with a much bigger and more complex agency than others, and have him just manage the secretary general's appointments?" Malloch Brown said. "I am a reform-oriented manager and someone who has been involved in communications."
As the new chief of staff, he said, he would work closely with India's Shashi Tharoor, Annan's communications director. "I need to rely on him and his team 24-7," Malloch Brown said. "What I am interested in is what I can get out of everyone while we are in a crisis."
Tharoor said they are working very closely and take turns chairing a daily communications meeting on the 38th floor, where the secretary general's office is located.
Malloch Brown said he wanted "to get things to work more smoothly, remove the points of friction that have developed with Congress and get a better interface between congressional committees" and an independent investigator and his staff. "We want to get to the bottom of it and get this cloud removed from over our heads. We are in crisis, and new faces and ideas are good."
Staying Upbeat on Northern Ireland
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern says he is trying to remain optimistic despite recent setbacks in efforts toward a long-term political settlement for Northern Ireland. Negotiators have been struggling to find a deal that would restore a joint Protestant-Catholic government in the British province.
In an interview last Wednesday, Ahern said the Dec. 20 theft of about $50 million from Northern Bank in Belfast has had "a seismic effect on trust" in the faltering peace process. Both the British and Irish governments have accused the Irish Republican Army of the theft; the IRA denies involvement.
Peace talks collapsed days before the robbery, largely because of disputes over a proposal that the IRA allow photographs to be taken when it got rid of weapons, Ahern said. Protestants had said this was the only way to convince people that the movement was really disarming; the IRA considered it a "triumphalist" demand meant to humble the movement, Ahern said.
"I am a bit sobered, but you also have to remain positive," he said.
He was in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday last week to update U.S. officials on recent developments in Northern Ireland and to meet with U.S. special envoy Mitchell Reiss and a number of lawmakers. Ahern said he came to tell officials "not to take their eye off the ball because we are so close."