After five hectic years, Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson is leaving Washington June 30, along with his favorite Swedish chair and an old English desk, to set up shop in New York as president of the U.N. General Assembly for the next year.
Eliasson said his shipper was flummoxed last Thursday to discover he could not squeeze those last two items into a container headed for Stockholm, where Eliasson will join his wife Kerstin Eliasson, Sweden's deputy minister of education, research and culture, after he leaves New York.
But the envoy told the mover he would gladly take the furniture with him.
"I was really happy to see them shipped with my books and winter clothes to New York," he said in an interview Monday. Eliasson is also taking memories of a Washington posting he described as personally and professionally gratifying.
His time here spanned two American elections and tragedies such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the assassination in Stockholm of Anna Lindh, Sweden's foreign minister, as well as many stimulating discussions at policy institutions.
"I so much enjoyed doing the think-tank circuit once or twice a week. . . . I like the element of communicating and thinking aloud with like-minded and less-like-minded individuals," Eliasson said.
After several stints at the United Nations, including an assignment as Sweden's ambassador to the world body, Eliasson is returning at a turbulent time for the institution.
"The next year is going to be a real test," he said. "Criticism of the U.N. and the need for reform are to be taken seriously, but we also have to acknowledge its role in conflict zones, its accommodation of development goals and human rights."
Eliasson described himself as "not an uncritical U.N. supporter. What I ask for is some attention to other issues in which it is involved," he said, citing peace-building in fragile post-conflict countries and efforts to provide clean water to remote regions.
These days, as he wanders the halls of his mostly vacated residence on Nebraska Avenue, Eliasson said he felt a touch of melancholy when he gazed at the empty bookcases and thought of his wife, an enthusiastic dancer and tennis partner, who returned to Stockholm last year.
"There have been such wonderfully happy moments here, like the lively dinners for U.S. Nobel laureates," he said. "Washington has acquired so many new dimensions in its cultural life, the high-tech business scene and so much more. Leaving also means dying a little."
Eliasson will also leave behind his daughter, Anna, who is married to an Argentine professor at American University, and his first grandson, Max. He will be succeeded in September by Gunnar Lind, a career diplomat.
Six months after a powerful tsunami wrecked coastal resort and fishing towns across South Asia, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and homes, one of the affected nations, Thailand, is lending its exotic cuisine to the relief and reconstruction efforts.
Four Thai celebrity chefs are taking part in a gala this evening at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel to benefit orphaned Thai children. Patrons will be treated to "A Taste of Thailand," organized by the U.S. -Thailand Amity for Charity Foundation. Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will attend as a representative of Queen Sirikit.
At a briefing Tuesday, Thailand's deputy chief of mission, Chirachai Punkrasin, said the Thai government was now focusing on the long-term recovery needs from the disaster, such as providing homes and education for 1,200 children orphaned by the tsunami.
To whet charitable appetites, the chefs provided a teaser menu of scrumptious shrimp cakes, green chili in pastry cups and fresh spinach leaves stuffed with a compote of peanuts, ginger and onion crush.
Students from the Middle East were feted last Thursday by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) as part of the second class from the Cultural Bridges Youth Exchange and Study Program. The group included Ruba, a 16-year-old Iraqi girl who is attending Falmouth Academy in Massachusetts, and Khalil, a boy from Gaza who is enrolled at the Dover Sherborn High School, also in Massachusetts.
"Most of you have probably spent the year explaining your own country and your lives to Americans. I'm sure you've helped bring our countries a little closer," Kennedy told them.
He said that although members of Congress may disagree with some government actions, they share the fundamental American beliefs that "everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed, and no one is above the law."
The senator told the visiting youths that they and their hosts shared a challenge "to understand each other's ideals and aspirations. After a year here, all of you are now unofficial American ambassadors," he said.