AT LAST a day off. The executive board of the World Health Organization had not been expected to meet on Saturday at all, but the meeting ran to 6 p.m. Today I can get out of Geneva. No sun here since I arrived two weeks ago. Go visit the castle at Gruyere, I was told.
Gruyere and the castles and mountains are beautiful. The stories are true. The sun actually shines outside of Geneva. As one might do in Gruyere, I buy some cheese.
When I return, Geneva is still cloudy and cold. Buffet dinner tonight with other delegates to the WHO meeting, at apartment of Australian diplomat who matches her skill in vegetarian cooking with her interest in getting people on opposite sides of the international fence to talk to each other.
Most conversation focuses on the effort by radical Arab states to punish Egypt for its peace initiatives. They want to move WHO's regional office out of Alexandria, Egypt. Tomorrow the board will consider it. Monday
Fortunately, the U.S. Mission is just around the corner from my hotel. Our delegation -- all three of us -- meets at 8 a.m. to compare notes on the Egypt issue. As alternate member from the State Department, I am particularly interested in administrative and political issues. The Egyptian issue concerns us all. The motivation may be political, but the result of moving the office could be harmful to WHO health programs.
Between us, we have talked to almost all the other 29 members of the board, and they seem to agree that the board should do nothing on the Egypt question, just pass the issue to the World Health Assembly next May. At a time of turmoil in the Mideast -- Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Mecca -- nobody wants to have a contentious debate when it can be avoided.
The U.S. ambassador wants to see us before we go to the meeting, but his French lesson lasts until 8:30. At 8:40 we go through 10 minutes of last-minute worrying -- what could go wrong? -- and then head up the hill to WHO's headquarters.
Everything goes as we had hoped. After only one hour, the Cuban vice chairman closes the session on Egypt and there is an audible sigh of relief. No one really wants these political issues injected into the work of an international health agency, but the 150-member assembly will need to grapple with this in May.
The new deputy chief of the U.S. Mission, a friend just arrived from Washington, has come to WHO to watch today's action, and we join staff from other Geneva missions in corridor post-mortems. Critics at home call this cookie-pushing, I instruct, handing him coffee and cookies.
I retire to the lounge to scribble a cable reporting the outcome, then read it on the phone to the U.S. Mission. State Department officers will be anxious to know what happened.
The board gets back to its real business: health. Plans to observe the eradication of smallpox. Frustration about limited progress in controlling malaria. Concern about the lack of safe drinking water that causes so much disease.
I have to attend a meeting at 6 p.m. on the rewriting of a resolution, and I don't get back to the hotel until 8. Fortunately, my room has a refrigerator. I'm tired. Cheese and apples will be sufficient for dinner. Tuesday
Running along the lake in Geneva is an ideal way to counter the physical (i.e., waistline) impact of long hours sitting in meetings. I had the best of intentions about running when I came here. Brought the equipment. Set the alarm. But the mornings are dark and the wind coming down the lake is cold. Today I just can't get out there.
The board turns to administrative questions, and I take the U.S. chair. I find myself under unexpected attack from the WHO director general. There are many staff worries at WHO, and I express concern for the morale of the staff and the impact on WHO programs. The director general thinks an American has his nerve speaking of staff morale. He takes the floor to warn that a major contributor to WHO (meaning my country -- he looks at me) is systematically undermining the morale of staff throughout the U.N. system by attempting to cut back on their salaries and benefits.
This is one of the dilemmas of U.S. diplomats. There are members of Congress and people in the media and public who hate the U.N., who think it is a ripoff of the U.S. taxpayer. They're wrong. Still, there is a need to ensure that U.N. staff benefits are appropriate. When we raise this point, we get hit from the other side. Today was my turn. Wednesday
Today we expect a little run-in with the Soviets. The issue will be recruitment of WHO staff. The Soviets regularly and argumentatively try to make it look as though they are the only true friends of developing nations while the big bad U.S.A. deprives all the others of WHO jobs. I stayed up late last night to put together a rebuttal to what I am sure is coming, and I am ready.
But today things seem different. The Herald Tribune from Paris, available at the morning newsstand, is filled with stories of Soviets -- Sakharov, Afghanistan, the U.N., the Olympics -- none of it good. Throughout the meeting, the Soviet delegates -- eight of them, vs. our three -- are unusually friendly. We are cool. We think the point gets through: Things between us are not the same.
Now the No. 1 Soviet delegate is missing. No. 2 speaks only briefly and doesn't come close to the traditional Soviet line on staff recruitment. It looks as though they've been told to cool the confrontation. I take the opportunity anyway to get on the record some facts about recruitment that make clear who's getting hurt and who's not.
In the afternoon, the board decides to recommend against moving Who's large headquarters out of Geneva. The decline of the dollar against the Swiss franc has had terrible impact on WHO's budget. Some members thought that by going to Tanzania or India or elsewhere, WHO could avoid such problems. In my best diplomatic language, I make clear I think that's crazy. The local newspapers proclaim victory for Switzerland.
In the evening I am treated by friends from the Argentine mission to a concert of the Swiss Orchestra Romande. My seat puts me literally within arm's length of the tympanist. Very exciting. Cheese fondue finishes the day. Thursday
Dress is interesting today. The member from China is now wearing western shirt and necktie. The member from Chad has a long traditional robe. The burly East German once again has his black leather jacket.
This is the day we will ask the board to adopt our resolution on drug abuse. We want all of the U.N. agencies to be more active on this growing problem. I suspect that some members will argue that drug abuse is only a U.S. problem and a low priority for WHO. But they are now recognizing how globally pervasive the issue is. Some wanted an even stronger resolution. Today our revised draft is adopted without objection.
At last the meeting is winding down. After dinner with the member from Somoa, I return to the U.S. mission about 10 p.m. I want to get started writing the reports that will summarize the events of the last three weeks and raise issues for action in Washington. Some of the action will be mine. Friday
The closing session is brief and mostly ceremonial. Afterward, we circle the big round table to say goodbye to colleagues. We'll meet again in May.
Earlier the Soviet member had told one of our delegation he hoped something could be done about this terrible Olympics problem. He is told by our colleague that the answer to that is easy. It wasn't necessary to spell it out. Today he tells me he hopes that our two presidents can stop saying nasty things about each other. He gives a farewell bottle of vodka to members from some other countries. Not to me.
I spend the afternoon at the mission finishing up the summary telegrams, then walk downtown looking for last-minute souvenirs. People often come back from Geneva with chocolate. I am no exception.
Dinner with the political counselor and friends. As often happens with U.S. diplomats abroad, the conversation turns to terrorism. When you know people who are being held in Iran, or who have been held elsewhere, the idea stays on your mind. Saturday
This will be a long day. The sun is out for the first time since I arrived in Geneva, and so I walk down to the lake for one last look.
U.S. Government rules say we can't take the Swiss-air direct flight to the United States, but have to go to London or Paris to change to an American airline. That's okay. Today I go home on Pan Am. On Monday, I will need to adjust to the N-1 bus.
My wife Alba and Sabrina, our daughter, are waiting at Dulles Airport. The plane is early and my luggage, for a change, has come with me. Sabrina smiles, as five-month-olds do. Does she recognize her father after three weeks? Alba says she has smiled at every man who walked past. Oh, well. I get to do the driving home.