It's UNGA week, as they say, referring to the U.N. General Assembly opening session. That means, in addition to horrific Manhattan traffic jams and fine networking opportunities, the beginning of yet another round of inconclusive jousting over adding new permanent members to the quintet on the U.N. Security Council.

Perennial favorites for inclusion are Japan, Brazil, India, and Germany. But if the Japanese have a special bounce in their step this week it might be because new U.N. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke said recently he would "work vigorously" to get Japan a seat, according to an Associated Press report.

Holbrooke warned it "was going to be difficult," and that "there are many complexities to it." But "there is no official currently serving in the United States government who has as long a track record supporting this," he said at a news conference with Japan's ambassador to the United Nations, Yukio Satoh.

Despite Japan's economic slide in recent years, Holbrooke said, "I believe that the U.S.-Japanese relationship is our most important bilateral relationship."

Might come as something of a surprise to folks in London, Ottawa, Mexico City and Tel Aviv.

No More Pyongyangs

Speaking of surprises, Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) blasted the Clinton administration's decision last week to ease sanctions on North Korea, calling it "a startling act of appeasement to a regime that poses one of the greatest threats to U.S. national security."

"It astounds me," Ashcroft said, "that the administration is pressing ahead . . . with trade concessions to this hostile regime."

Shouldn't have been so shocking. After all, it was Ashcroft who recently introduced and got passed by the Senate a bill that would lift unilateral export bans on "terrorist states" so that hard-pressed U.S. farmers and pharmaceutical manufacturers could sell food and drugs to those countries.

Folks say that would include North Korea.

Cracking the Filberts

Looks like first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's two brothers pulled out of that big hazelnut business deal in the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the nick of time.

Anthony D. Rodham and Hugh Rodham, under heavy White House pressure, dropped their proposed plan to invest $118 million in a venture with Aslan Abashidze, a rival to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Shevardnadze, an old fishing buddy of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, is widely seen in Washington as leader of the good guys in Georgia.

The brothers' move will make things ever so much easier Thursday night at the National Democratic Institute's dinner honoring Clinton for her democratization efforts worldwide, especially political participation by women.

She's sharing the W. Averell Harriman Democracy award with none other than Shevardnadze, who's being honored for his commitment to democratic reform, in a region where that can be very dangerous.

Unlikely the menu will include anything with hazelnuts.

Sanders Sees Jeffords About Pensions

Can't blame Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) for apparently letting his mind wander a bit at a hearing yesterday. The subject was legislation to punish companies that didn't give older workers the option of staying with their old pension plans rather than forcing them to new, inferior plans.

The witness was Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who may be challenging Jeffords in 2000. Sanders spoke in support of the protective legislation.

"Thank you, Senator, er, Representative Sanders," Jeffords said as the audience cracked up.

Birds Fleeing the Hurricane

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman was coming back from Wichita, Kan., on Sunday when he ran into some trouble in the form of a flock of starlings. Just after takeoff, the birds apparently got sucked into the engine and the pilot reported that the 65 passengers and crew would have to return to the gate.

Some lights on the plane were broken and the aircraft was slightly damaged. Glickman and the others got on other flights.

Somebody should call folks at the wildlife services agency, which used to be called animal damage control. That's the agency that goes out and exterminates coyotes and other troublesome creatures.

Wait a minute. Don't those folks work for Glickman?

Five Moves Short of Checkmate

On the judicial front, the partisan standoff in the Senate continued last night as minority Democrats succeeded in blocking the confirmation of Utah official Ted Stewart, strongly backed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), for a federal judgeship. The Republicans mustered 55 votes, five short of the 60 needed to overcome the Democrats' resistance.

But the Democratic efforts to force votes on two other Clinton nominees failed in the face of solid Republican resistance. Stay tuned.