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Current Events at the United Nations

Aired May 15, 2005 - 16:00:00   ET


NORM COLEMAN (R-MN): The program is flawed. It was ripped off. Saddam in the end was using it to buy political favor.

GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA): We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We do not need Mr. Milquetoast in the United Nations.

MARTY MARKOWITZ, BROOKLYN BOROUGH PRESIDENT: My phone is open. I'm waiting for the phone call from the United Nations so I want them to know, I'm waiting for the call. I'm at your call.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN ANCHOR: Bolton on the brink. And it's time for European politicians to start to squirm a little about Oil For Food.

Welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. I'm Richard Roth.

President Bush's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, moved a step closer to coming to New York, but he didn't exactly get a pat on the back for the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which sent his nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation.


RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): . is not automatic, first because at the core of any nomination process is the question of whether the nominee is qualified to undertake the task for which he or she is nominated. I have no doubt that Secretary Bolton is extremely qualified.

JOHN KERRY (D-MA): I mean, imagine when he walks into one of the first meetings, if he is confirmed. People sit there and say, well, here's Ambassador Bolton. Is he sitting on one of the floors that he wanted to eliminate? Here's Ambassador Bolton. Is he today telling us intelligence that is his view or someone else's view?

GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH): And it is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.

ALLEN: We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We do not need Mr. Milquetoast in the United Nations. We're not electing Mr. Peepers to go there and just be really happy and drinking tea with their pinkies up and just saying all these meaningless things when we do need a straight talker and someone who is going to go there and shake it up, and it needs shaking up. It needs reform.


ROTH: Joining me, some guests. No, not Mr. Peepers, though I do wear glasses.

In Washington, Marshall Manson with the Center For Individual Freedom; and from the U.S. state of Indiana, George Lopez, at Notre Dame University. Mr. Lopez is a senior fellow with the Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and a professor of political science. And here with me in the studio, Thomas Weiss of the City of New York Graduate Center, where Professor Weiss is presidential professor of political science, director Ralph Bunch Institute for International Studies.

Professor Weiss, what damage has been done to John Bolton should he even get to New York from the weeks of testimony and all of the allegations against him?

THOMAS WEISS, CITY OF NEW YORK GRADUATE CENTER: It seems to me not. This is not a pat on the back, as you said. It's a slap in the face at the Bush administration. It doesn't seem to me likely that the administration will continue to spend what is scarce political capital on going to the mat over someone who shouldn't have been there in the first place.

ROTH: You don't think they're going to push for him?


ROTH: All right. Marshall, do you disagree with that? I have a hunch you do, in Washington.

MARSHALL MANSON, CTR. FOR INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM: I do indeed. I think it's clear that John Bolton is going to be confirmed. I think there will certainly be some senators who vote no, but John Bolton is eminently qualified. He's proven himself to be on outstanding negotiator and I think he's going to be a great U.N. ambassador.

ROTH: Professor Lopez?

GEORGE LOPEZ, NOTRE DAME UNIV.: Well, I think the next couple of days is going to answer this. We now have a meeting of the issues with the candidate, if you will, and the senators that I've talked with really are worried about the coming of the Iran issue to the council and whether or not John Bolton is the correct person to handle this. We really have the rubber hitting the road here.

ROTH: And John Bolton, though, was accused of not always following State Department orders when it comes to nuclear speeches and nuclear remarks. Now you're saying Iran, all three, it could come to the council.

LOPEZ: Yes, I think this is really a critical issue, that now the focus is not administrative style or milquetoast diplomacy. It's really about whether or not it's the right match between the person and the task.

ROTH: Professor Weiss, what struck you from these hearings? I mean, this is a man who doesn't like the United Nations, but he has worked in international forums before.

WEISS: He's certainly worked in international forums, but he's irritated everyone around. It seems to me that part of the job is to try to build alliances, as George claims, to look at Iran and other issues. He's not the right man and the White House claiming that this is a smear campaign reminds me of the comment yesterday by the prime minister of Mongolia who said that Genghis Khan got a bad rap because the media was around.

ROTH: Marshall.

MANSON: Well, I really think that John Bolton is exactly the man to take on the question of Iran and North Korea. This is a man who's built a great wealth of experience dealing with nuclear proliferation issues.

ROTH: But, Marshall, there are other people who could have been chosen, but it seems like the Bush administration was sending a message. I mean, do you really send someone to a place that he's been so critical of and condescending, even if it needs a shaking up? There are a lot of other people who could do it.

MANSON: Certainly, that's the case, there are certainly other people that can do it. But John Bolton is exactly the kind of man, I think, and sure, the Bush administration is making a statement to the United Nations.

Look, the United Nations is beset with corruption. It's desperately in need of reform, and here you have a man who is very close with the president, who we know has the president's trust, who can go up there and, I think, make a real difference.

LOPEZ: You know, one of the things that is curious about this discussion. We have to look at the myriad of issues that come before the council, and they're coming very, very rapidly. If John Bolton has shown anything in his diplomatic career, even when he has been a success, it is not his versatility to jump from issue to issue. And particularly on the proliferation issue, he has had such a strong stand against Iran that certainly at some point served U.S. interests, but it's not a diplomacy builder. It's not a coalition builder.

I worry most about the lack of confidence of our European allies now around this Iranian deal and the fact that Britain and ourselves are going to have to champion this reform at the council, and I don't see our British colleagues having a lot of confidence in Mr. Bolton as the appointee.

MANSON: I do think, though, John Bolton brings a certain zealousness for the U.S. position that I think will bode well for us. I mean, look, we've tried to go to the United Nations --

ROTH: That's an interesting word, zealousness.

MANSON: Well, it's the right word. We've tried to go to the United Nations and build consensus. We've tried to go and make friends. We've tried to go and put groups together, but, you know what, the vast majority of the General Assembly membership right now is not sympathetic to U.S. interests. They made it abundantly clear.

I think having somebody who can go there and be a strong leader, who can, frankly, aggressively pursue U.S. interests, I think it is certainly worth a try and I think we're going to find that it's going to be more successful than some of the avenues that have been pursued in the past.

WEISS: Build consensus? Is that what we did with Jean Kirkpatrick and Moynihan? This is not the way to build allies. Actually, I would have said the president's father was probably a better person for this job than John Bolton.

MANSON: I was just going to say I think at this point in time the Jean Kirkpatrick model is precisely the kind of model that we need to be embracing. When we've got all these critical issues before the council, before the General Assembly, when we've got the United Nations, as I've said, rife with scandal. Having someone up there who is strong, who is tough, who is going to be effective, I think, is absolutely critical. Ask I think it's the best thing we can do.

ROTH: George Lopez, who is wrong with Bolton for a place that needs some strong leadership, let's say, at the United Nations, where Kofi Annan is sort of lost in other problems.

LOPEZ: Well, it seems to me, if sincerity was the issue, I would go along with the argument. But we need somebody who is really steeped in substance, and that's what the dilemma is here.

You know, Jean Kirkpatrick exceeded John Bolton on every level of substantive expertise, even though any number of us might not have agreed with her stances. She knew what she was doing under the right conditions.

Mr. Bolton has manifest a single narrow line with regard to how to deal with Iran and how to deal with North Korea, which poses no flexibility whatsoever in its stance. It may serve U.S. interests under certain conditions, but it is not the kind of coalition builder, it's not the multitask environment that the Security Council happens to be.

ROTH: All right. John Bolton, if approved, would enter a United Nations world reeling from the damage done by Oil For Food. By the time he gets there, there might be quite a list of politicians, businessmen and journalists who are accused of making millions of dollars with the help of Saddam Hussein.

A Senate committee says it went further than any other probe so far to date in releasing a report this week targeting two well-known Europeans.


(voice-over): The Senate committee report says Saddam Hussein rewards European politicians, such as Britain's George Galloway, who supported his quest to have economic sanctions lifted.

The bipartisan report accuses Galloway, a member of Parliament, and former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, of receiving millions of dollars in oil rights from the Saddam Hussein regime.

COLEMAN: The program was flawed. It was ripped off. Saddam in the end was using it to buy political favor.

ROTH: Many of the allegations have been made before, but this latest report includes documents from the fallen regime and recent interviews with Iraq's former vice president and deputy prime minister to back up the conclusions.

Former Iraqi leaders told investigators they called the process off letting Iraq choose who got to buy its oil the Saddam bribery system.

The committee says this is how it worked. Saddam Hussein instructed that 20 million barrels of oil be given to Galloway. According to Iraqi officials, the allocations were for support for the Hussein regime and his opposition to U.N. sanctions.

The report says Galloway then arranged for two companies to take delivery of the crude oil. The report does not say he made money of the deal, but so-called gatekeepers stood to reap large profits as a commission on later sales.

Galloway, who recently was reelected to parliament, denied the allegations.

GEORGE GALLOWAY, BRITISH MP: I have never seen a barrel of oil. I have never owned one. I have never bought one or sold one. And neither has anybody on my behalf.

ROTH: The Senate committee says there is substantial evidence former French Law Enforcement Minister Pasqua was granted 11 million barrels of oil by Saddam Hussein, though no proof of any profit is offered.

Based on Iraqi documents and interviews with former Iraqi officials, the report says Pasqua was also granted the oil rights for his continued support. Pasqua objected to the latest accusations against him, saying, "Once again, I deny them one more time."

COLEMAN: The individuals can deny it all they want, but clearly the Iraqi documents and statements of Iraqi officials confirm that they received these allocations and benefitted from working with Saddam.


ROTH: Professor Weiss, you've studied Oil For Food in the United Nations for a while. What is the naming of these European politicians now mean? Is the world finally going to know that this is a bigger scandal than just Kofi Annan's floor or what?

WEISS: It certainly goes far beyond the 38th floor, to include member states who need to share responsibility for this, the Security Council, as well as the secretariat and the sloppiness of the management of this. But there are a lot of people with their fingers in the cookie jar.

ROTH: George Lopez, your take on Oil For Food.

LOPEZ: Well, remember, we know that $4.4 billion in Oil For Food needs to be accounted for. This may be a good deal of that. What we also know is that it is nearly triple that amount worked outside the system, with the approval of individual members of the council, and the dialogue in the media up to this point has focused almost exclusively on the secretariat and not on the member states and the Security Council.

ROTH: But Kofi Annan had also thought that, OK, he's home free with a Paul Volcker independent led inquiry, but lost in the shuffle the last few days, key investigator of the Volcker panel quit and has given documents to another Senate committee. That sounds like it could be explosive.

Marshall Manson, what do you think of that?

MANSON: Well, I think Kofi Annan is in real trouble here. I think there is no question that the misconduct and mismanagement goes right to Kofi Annan's door. And I think that's unfortunate and I think it is right now a serious black stain on the United Nations and the secretariat's ability to get anything meaningful done.

ROTH: But you would agree that the United States certainly knew about a lot of problems and never spoke up and is sort of hiding right now? Are you willing to agree to that?

MANSON: I certainly do think the evidence is clear that that's the case. But remember none of the smuggling, or most of the smuggling, would have been impossible but for the help of Benon Sevan in the Oil For Food program.

ROTH: But Benon Sevan was not doing deals between Syria, Jordan and the United States.

George Lopez, go ahead.

LOPEZ: That's the wrong call here, it seems to me, that the oil we're talking about in this particular set of indictments, if they're to be forthcoming, really was outside that system. And the dilemma is you have leakages on two ends. One through the U.N. administered program, the Oil For Food, which was a small percentage of this, 15 percent, the Dulfer report tells us, and the other is the 85 percent --

ROTH: And we have consistently talked about the smuggling issue. Professor Weiss, where is this going? Is Kofi Annan going to survive? And is Oil For Food something that the public and the world still cares about? The Europeans laugh when we do it on the show.

WEISS: The Europeans do laugh. It seems to me that Kofi Annan will make it through his term, but he will be a diminished secretary-general, and it seems to me the most likely impact will be on the next secretary- general and the office which will be called into question and the other kinds of expectations. We'll be looking for milquetoast for sure at the top of the organization.

ROTH: OK. Professor Thomas Weiss, of the City of New York Graduate Center, and you are the presidential professor, political science, Ralph Bunch institute for international studies. You are your own United Nations organization, you're on the right of the screen. Thank you very much. In the middle, George Lopez, Notre Dame University senior fellow with the Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and professor of political science. And on the left, Marshall Manson with the Center For Individual Freedom. We kind of opened up a lot of topics there which we didn't get to finish off. I can guarantee you several of you will be back -- the people who pay me off will get back first of all.

Kofi Annan, just back from an overseas trip, was asked if the naming of George Galloway and Charles Pasqua and the continued hubbub of Oil For Food will stay in the organization -- Marshall used those words -- and clog up attempts by member countries to reform the United Nations.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: I do not expect it to derail the reform process. We are determined to go ahead and I urge all the member states to go ahead and do so. For some, the Oil For Food crisis will never die down.



ROTH: For decades, city slickers have been selling pieces of the Brooklyn Bridge to out-of-town rubes. Selling the United Nations on crossing the bridge to set up shop here would be the steal of the century for a borough tired of playing second fiddle to Manhattan.


(voice-over): Brooklyn, home to more than two million people, is now a potential option for the United Nations, which urgently needs a temporary home while its Manhattan headquarters is renovated.

MARKOWITZ: My phone is open. I'm waiting for the phone call from the United Nations so I want them to know, I'm waiting for the call. I'm at your call.

ROTH: Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough president, says more Manhattan residents are moving to Brooklyn every day, so why not the world?

The United Nations would join other Brooklyn attractions, such as Coney Island on the Atlantic Ocean. It probably wouldn't replace in some hearts the famed Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team that headed to Los Angeles last century.

One potential location would be just over the bridge on Flatbush Avenue, where a parking lot now stands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being a Brooklynite myself, it would be something good for Brooklyn, a nice change, definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the street, if you stop people, you will see they are from Poland, from Czech, from Nigeria.

ROTH: The diplomats could talk about Oil For Food at nearby Junior's restaurant, famed for its cheesecake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could certainly offer them a great meal and some great cheesecake.

ROTH: Junior's is almost as old as the 60 year United Nations. The United Nations was going to move just a few yards away and construct temporary housing in this playground, but New York legislators who oppose the United Nations in principal, especially after the Iraq War debate, refused to fund the project, and some Brooklyn lawmakers say not in my borough.

DOV HIKIND, NEW YORK STATE SENATOR: New York can live without the United Nations. Let them go to other places in the world where their philosophy will be much more welcomed. They're not coming to Brooklyn. We don't want to see them in Brooklyn.

MARKOWITZ: They ought to be in Brooklyn and they ought to be in Brooklyn because I want those diplomats to take a look at the ethnic mix in Brooklyn. We're home to every religion in the world and we're home to almost every ethnic group in the world.

ROTH: The United Nations is showing its age. The building has no sprinkler system but does have asbestos, lead and electrical problems.

ANDREW TOH, U.N. ASST. SECY.-GEN.: The problem is pretty urgent in the sense that every day there is a level of risk that we take when we come to this building. The access are not great for evacuation.

ROTH: The United Nations is ready to move in 2007, but to where?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: We're not going to pick one neighborhood over another, but we certainly are anxious to be helpful to the United Nations and accommodating them.


ROTH: Brooklyn is one of several options still on the table. Some residents worry whether the move will ever occur. Many can always look to the familiar refrain from the old losing Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, wait until next year.


ROTH: Tariq Aziz didn't get to meet the stars as he once did when he was Iraq's deputy prime minister, but that Senate committee is relying on him to sort of be the star witness for information to pursue Oil For Food leads.

Sean Penn, who met Aziz before the Gulf War, has been in the United Nations more than Aziz recently filming his role as a Secret Service man in the movie "The Interpreter."

Which leads us to your film reviews of the movie, "The Interpreter," in e-mail form. We discussed the film with real-life interpreters two weeks on the program.

E-mail number one: "I was really looking forward to this movie, but I was very disappointed when I saw it. I wonder if that scene where the U.N. security guard lectured that Secret Service agent on international law was conditional for filming in the United Nations. Ms. Kidman's character wanted to be an interpreter because she believes in what the United Nations tries to accomplish, which is accommodating the interests of the countries on the Security Council. I wonder if the director knows that." Anders Nausthag of Norway.

Well, Mr. Nausthag, you're implying the Security Council has too much control. And, no, that dialog was not a must-have for the United Nations to approve the project.

E-mail number two: "What are the three other official U.N. languages? You noted English, Spanish and French in the interpreter interviews. Many thanks." Mary Jae Abbot, from Bulgaria.

Well, I'm glad you asked, Mary Jae. The other three are Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

E-mail number three: "I wonder if there is a scene where the delegate before speaking blows into the microphone or taps it with his fingernail or with a pencil and says with a straight face, "Is it (the microphone) on?" Interpreters love this." That's from Richard in New York, some sarcasm.

E-mail number four: "I think the movie was very routine thriller, from the master of the genre, Sydney Pollack. As you saw, they invented a country called Motobo. In that country, there is president who is killing innocent people. The United Nations did nothing to stop the war in four years. United Nations did nothing to stop killing, torture, rape, slaughtering. United Nations did nothing to search, find and arrest those who are responsible for crimes. Sounds familiar? Who needs Motobo? The worst thing over all worse things, United Nations with this movie, the first in history of filmmaking which is filmed inside of U.N. building, is trying to wash out all responsibility of zillion failed missions all over the world by arresting on big screen some old guy who killed KU people -- the language they used in the movie -- that exists in country named Motobo, only in brain of screenwriter. Get it now? Seriously rotten." Sarcasm also from Sarajevo.

If you would like to send DIPLOMATIC LICENSE an e-mail, maybe to enquire why the program gets deleted on some weekends, please e-mail us at That's

And that is DIPLOMATIC LICENSE, in New York. We're not moving to Brooklyn, so join us next weekend.

I'm Richard Roth. Thanks for watching.



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