WARREN HOGE: Good afternoon. I’m Warren Hoge, the United Nations bureau chief of The New York Times.
A couple of housekeeping measures. You all know, please, to turn off cell phones, electronic devices. When the time comes to ask questions, please identify yourself, wait for the microphone. And also, this record—excuse me—this meeting, unlike a lot of them here, this one is on the record.
There—one of the most telling decisions the United Nations will make in 2006, if not the most telling—certainly the most telling for its future—is the choice of a new secretary-general.
Now, there’s really not a process you can talk about. Matter of fact, there’s not a process that a Main Street bank in a small American town would recognize as the way you go about choosing a new leader, though it has been this year probably more transparent than it’s ever been in the past, partly because people have been complaining about the fact that there is no process.
By “no process,” I mean there are no platforms, there are no campaign speeches, there are no forums in which you can hear candidates speak, there are no standards those candidates have to meet. It’s pretty wide open.
Allan Rock, who was the ambassador of Canada until just a short time ago, until his government changed parties, described the process, such as it was, as “opaque, ill-defined, unpredictable and unsatisfactory.”
In a story that’s told by Sir Brian Urquhart, who I’m sure many of you know, Dag Hammarskjold didn’t even know he was a candidate when he was told he had won. (Soft laughter.) And he was told he had won on April 1st, 1953, and his immediate reaction—Sir Brian was there and knows this—was to think it was an April Fools’ joke.
This year is called Asia’s turn. Reason for that is the last Asian secretary-general was U Thant, who left office in 1971. Only one of the seven announced candidates is not an Asian, and that is Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who is the president of Latvia. She also is the only woman in the race. She also, I think unhappily, is from a country that would be certain to draw a Russian veto if it ever got that far.
The other announced candidates are Ban Ki-Moon, the foreign minister of South Korea; Surakiart Sathirathai, the deputy prime minister of Thailand, who, we are told, remains the ASEAN candidate, even though you had the military coup in Bangkok last week; Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, a former undersecretary-general for disarmament; Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, the ambassador of Jordan, which at the UN is an Asian country—he is the ambassador to the United Nations—and Ashraf Ghani, who just entered the race on Friday, who is the former finance minister of Afghanistan—he’s now the chancellor of Kabul University—and finally, our guest today, Shashi Tharoor, the undersecretary-general for communications and public information.
Full disclosure: I am a friend of Shashi’s, a first-name friend, and so you won’t hear me calling him Dr. Tharoor. But I will maintain absolute independence, of course, in the questions I ask of him.
As you know, the process is like this, according to the charter. Secretary of the Security Council settles on one name and sends it to the General Assembly for ratification.
Now, the last time the UN chose a new secretary general 10 years ago, Kofi Annan was only officially confirmed as the choice by the General Assembly on December 17th. He took over the job 13 days later—not much of a transition.
So for that reason, I feel pretty secure in telling you that this year the decision will be made in the month of October and indeed maybe even in the coming days.
There have been two informal polls of the Security Council members thus far, and Mr. Ban of South Korea has won them both. In both of them, Mr. Tharoor has placed second. The third takes place at 4 p.m. this afternoon, and a fourth has now been scheduled for Monday.
There’s one additional wrinkle. Today the ballots will all be the same color, as they have been in the two previous polls, but on Monday the ballots of the Permanent Five, Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States, will be in separate colors. Reason for that, obviously, is to determine whether there is a veto there against any one of these candidates.
The winner is the person who gets more than nine votes—the same way as a Security Council resolution—more than nine votes and no veto is how you pass.
So with that nail-biting prologue, I am happy to present to you the man in second. (Soft laughter.) He’s the guy in full gallop, applying the whip and the spurs, battling along the rail to close the gap in just a few hours from now.
Please welcome Shashi Tharoor.
SHASHI THAROOR: Thank you, Warren. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard so many metaphors mixed at one lunch. But it’s delightful to be with you all, and I do want to thank Warren for that generous introduction and really for laying out the issues before all of you this afternoon.
It is a genuine pleasure for me to be here under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations, an institution that is doing so much to advance serious consideration of global political issues in this city and in this country. And I’d really like to thank Richard Haass—I know he’s had to leave, but for his invitation to address this forum, and Warren for having agreed to engage me in a dialogue in front of and with all of you.
And I do take special satisfaction in the timing of today’s event, for the reasons that Warren has mentioned, because of course indeed it’s an extremely valuable opportunity to discuss vital issues concerning the future of the United Nations, certainly from the perspective of one who hopes to be given the opportunity to serve the organization in a new capacity as we work together to chart a course for our world into the second decade of the 21st century.
Now, I scarcely need to tell anyone on the council’s mailing list that the United Nations started out as a vision in the minds of leaders who were determined to make the second half of the 20th century different from the much-troubled first. So they drew up rules to govern international behavior and they founded institutions in which different nations could cooperate for the common good.
Their idea, which we now call global governance, was to create an international architecture that could foster cooperation across state lines, elaborate consensual global norms and establish predictable, universally applicable rules to the benefit of all, as an alternative—and I’m practically paraphrasing FDR’s speech to the houses of Congress here after Yalta—as an alternative to the military alliances and balance-of-power politics that had wreaked such havoc in the preceding five decades.
And the keystone of the art, so to speak, was the United Nations itself. The UN was seen by those world leaders as the only possible answer to the disastrous experiences of the first half of the century, 45 years in which the world had suffered two world wars, countless civil wars, brutal dictatorships, mass expulsions of populations, and the horrors of the Holocaust and of Hiroshima.
The new United Nations was meant to stand for a world in which people of different nations and cultures could look on each other not as enemies, not as potential adversaries subject to fear and suspicion, but as potential partners able to exchange goods and ideas to their mutual benefit. It was to be a place where small states and big would be able to work as sovereign equals pursuing common objectives in a universal forum.
And of course it would also provide a means to address what we sometimes like to call problems without passports, problems that cross our frontiers uninvited—climate change, drug trafficking, terrorism, epidemics, refugee movements, human migration and so on, the kinds of problems the solutions to can have no passports because no one country or group of countries, however rich or powerful, can tackle them alone.
It’s the resolution of these problems that remains at the very core of the UN’s activities. Indeed, today I think it’s fair to say that even those countries that once felt insulated from external dangers—by wealth or strength or distance—now realize that the safety of people everywhere depends not only on local security forces, but also on guarding against external dangers like the threat of terrorism, warding off the global spread of pollution, of diseases, of illegal drugs and of weapons of mass destruction; and more positively, on promoting human rights, democracy and development.
I know the business people here know that jobs anywhere depend not only on local firms and factories but on faraway markets for the goods they buy and produce, on licenses and access and foreign governments, on an international environment that allows the free movement of goods and persons, and on international institutions that ensure stability; in short, on the international system constructed in 1945.
And so in 2006 I would argue that the need for a universal means of global governance, a mechanism for international cooperation, indeed—let us call it by its name—for a “united nations” is stronger than ever.
Which leads me to the next question: What kind of United Nations should we build for the future? The UN at its best and its worst is a mirror of the world. It reflects our divisions and our disagreements, but also our hopes and our convictions.
In speaking of the future, we must not forget that the United Nations has achieved an enormous amount in its 60 years. Most important of all, under this roof, I would argue it helped to prevent the Cold War from turning hot, first by providing a roof under which the two superpower adversaries could meet and engage; and second, by mounting peacekeeping operations that ensured that local and regional conflicts were contained, and did not ignite a superpower clash that could have sparked off a global conflagration.
Today, while the Security Council grapples with Lebanon, the Palestinian situation, Iran and North Korea, the UN remains at the heart of the challenges of world disorder, and must respond effectively to them. Over the years, more than 170 UN-assisted peace settlements have ended regional conflicts. Over 300 international treaties have been negotiated at the UN, creating an international framework that reduces the prospect for conflict among sovereign states.
It is indeed a striking fact that there is not a single war being fought today between two states anywhere in the world. Of course, there are conflicts involving non-state actors and the pervasive menace of terrorism, but states are no longer at war. And that is a positive development that owes a great deal to the UN.
In addition, over the years the UN has built global norms that are universally accepted in areas as diverse as the decolonization and disarmament, development and democratization.
The UN remains second to none in its unquestioned experience, leadership and authority in coordinating humanitarian action, from tsunamis to human waves of refugees. When the blue flag flies over a disaster zone, all know that humanity is taking responsibility, not any one government, and that when the UN succeeds the whole world wins.
Our newly established revolving fund for emergency response to humanitarian disasters both reflects and strengthens our ability to make a difference. And these are achievements we can build on.
But since our best crystal ball is often the rear view mirror, allow me a personal look into the past as well. For the UN has not just changed enormously in these first 60 years; it has been transformed in the career-span of the one UN official standing in front of you.
If I had even suggested to my seniors when I joined the organization 28 years ago that the UN would one day observe and even run elections in sovereign states, that it would conduct intrusive inspections for weapons of mass destruction, that it would impose comprehensive sanctions on the entire import/export trade of a medium-sized country, that it would send human rights monitors into a kingdom to report on how the monarch was treating his citizens, that it would create a counterterrorism committee to monitor national actions against terrorists, or that it would set up international criminal tribunals and coerce governments into handing over its citizens to be tried by foreigners under international law—if I had said any of this to my seniors, I’m sure they would have told me that I simply did not understand what the United Nations was all about. And yet the UN has done every one of these things during that last two decades, and more.
The United Nations, in short—the UN of my experience—has been a highly adaptable institution that has evolved in response to changing times. And since it has worked, therefore, in practice, my UN of the future must be firmly anchored in its own experience, even—if I can mix another metaphor here—even as it sails onward.
As though our walls are lined with Nobel Prize certificates, we must not rest on our laurels. We need reform not because the UN has failed, but because it has succeeded enough to be worth investing in.
Now, the need for reform has become clear in recent years, and we live in a time in which divisions of the UN have led to genuine worries. But the old East-West divide is being replaced by a new and equally serious North-South divide. Many diplomats and academic observers, if not journalists, are speaking increasingly of a crisis of confidence in the international system.
But we speak a lot of languages at the UN. Indeed, I’m the Secretariat’s coordinator for multilingualism. And my Chinese friends tell me that in their language, the Chinese character for crisis is made up of two other characters: the character for danger and the character for opportunity. Today, we must see the danger and seize the opportunity.
Now, you all know that a series of far-reaching proposals was made by the secretary-general last year. And at the world summit last year, some 170 world leaders—the largest-ever gathering of heads of state of government in human history—agreed on a plan to reshape the international architecture for the 21st century. We have to build on that level on political agreement and take our organization forward in the common interest, and that is where the new secretary-general comes in.
Friends, 53 years ago, the first outgoing secretary-general, Trygve Lie, described the post he was handing over to Dag Hammarskjold as the most impossible job in the world, an assumption described in the charter as the chief administrative office of the organization, yet one with major, unspecified, political responsibilities and communications challenges.
Today, the secretary-general commands great diplomatic legitimacy and even greater media visibility, but less political power than the language of the UN Charter might suggest. To be effective, he must be skilled at managing staff and budgets, gifted at public diplomacy and its behind the scenes variant and be able to engage the loyalties of a wide array of external actors, including non-governmental organizations, business groups and journalists. And he must work well, above all, with governments. He must convince the poor and conflict-ridden nations of the south that their interests are uppermost in his mind while ensuring that he can work effectively with the wealthy and powerful north.
He must recognize the power and prerogatives of the Security Council, especially its five permanent members, while staying attentive to the priorities and passions of the General Assembly. He must promote dialogue across the divides—geographic, political, ideological—and work with member states to search for common solutions. And he must present member states with politically achievable proposals and implement his mandates within the means that they provide him.
Above all, the secretary-general needs a vision of the higher purpose of his office and an awareness of its potential and its limitations.
Now, the way it’s to be successful, he must conceive and project a vision of the UN as it should be while administering and defending the organization as it is—truly an impossible job, but understanding what it takes is the first step towards doing it well.
I come to you, dear friends, with 28 years of service to the United Nations in a wide variety of areas: refugees and humanitarian operations; peacekeeping at the end of the Cold War; service in the secretary-general’s office; and other management of a large department that I’m pleased to say I was able to reform. In the process, I have seen from the inside and the ground up most of the major types of challenges from which a secretary-general can expect to be faced. I believe I can handle them well. I offer both continuity and change; continuity with the best traditions of the United Nations, change because change is a constant in our organization.
I believe an effective United Nations is essential as the indispensable global institution for our globalizing world. And a vital task of the next secretary-general will be to ensure that this 20th-century organization is ready for the challenges of the 21st century, building on the changes that Kofi Annan has already introduced, but prepared to deal with the unpredictable challenges of tomorrow. And let’s have no illusions about the scale of those challenges. The divisions over the Iraq war dramatically affected the UN’s standing. Our image went down in the United States because the UN did not support the administration on the war, and it went down in many other countries because the UN was unable to prevent the war. So we disappointed both sets of expectations, and some famous and rather powerful voices began to speak of the UN’s irrelevance. This is ironic, because the UN reflects, as I pointed out earlier, the realities of the world, and our willingness to agree with and cooperate with each other.
If I were secretary-general, I would focus on those areas which are within my direct competence. None is more important the reinforcement of the operational capacity of the United Nations, to fulfill the Millennium Development goals, mount effective peacekeeping operations and respond urgently to crises.
As the chief administrative officer of the organization, I would ensure the strengthening of the international civil service, insisting that staff of both sections of the highest competence and integrity are appointed to responsible positions and ending completely the cronyism and nepotism of which we have sometimes not unfairly been accused.
I spoke of continuity and change. There is much at the UN that must continue. Our work in development, in humanitarian relief and crisis response are all things we can be proud of and which we can strengthen. We must continue to improve our ability to mount effective peacekeeping operations. Currently they take too long to deploy and they’re uneven in quality.
The UN is and must continue to be a forum where the rich and the powerful can commit their strength and their wealth to the cause of a better world, and it must continue to provide the stage where great and proud nations, big and small, rich and poor, can meet as equals to iron out their differences and find common cause in their shared humanity. The UN will only succeed as a recourse for all and not the instrument of a few, and to be that, the UN must embrace sensible reform.
I’m from India, and I always remember Mahatma Gandhi’s famous line that “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Well, it’s true for individuals; it applies also to institutions. If we at the United Nations want to change the world, we must change too. And I respectfully suggest that managing change is best done by someone who knows how to do it, who values and respects the traditions and principles of the institution he serves, but who knows how to bring about transformation, who has a record of doing so and who also understands that at the UN the diplomacy of management is sometimes as important as management itself.
A new secretary-general must also do everything possible to build on the reforms achieved in recent months. We must, in my view, promote democracy and good governance as essential to development. We now have a Democracy Fund to help us do that financed not just by the rich West, but by countries like India. The UN must stand up for human rights everywhere ensuring that the new Human Rights Council fulfills its responsibilities more effectively than the over-politicized Human Rights Commission it replaced. And we must not let conflicts reignite when the peacekeepers have left.
As I have said in today’s op-ed page of The Times, we must work in the newly-created peace-building commission to ensure that conflict gives way to development and to democratic institution building, so that peace is truly sustainable.
Now, these are all institutions in which member states and the secretary-general must work and hand in glove, but equally important to take is one of those issues. The doubling of the budget of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will permit us to make a difference in operational terms in the field where it counts, not just in the conference rooms in Geneva.
Now, there are other obvious tasks of the secretary-general, but I really would like to end this soon so we can engage in a dialogue. Let me say, though, that it’s essential to ensure that the UN is organized to be ready to tackle a vast range of problems effectively and to be prepared for new and unpredictable ones. Three years ago, who had even heard of the threat of—the risk of avian flu; two months ago that Kofi Annan had imagined that he would spend his August and early September in the Middle East dealing with Lebanon? The unexpected is a daily currency of life at the United Nations.
There is an immediate task, though. The new secretary-general must work together with states on the unfinished business of management reform, especially to ensure ethics, transparency and accountability, together with truly independent audit oversight. I would focus on building issue-based coalitions on specific practical problems: management inefficiencies, procurement policies, information technology outsourcing—issues that have nothing to do with ideological politics, but can be discussed with both north and south as practical managerial problems. And I would hope once we’ve got that down, that the next secretary-general can concentrate on implementation.
But certainly here in one of the richest countries on our planet, I would also like to stress that development must be a major priority for the UN. Despite its remarkable successes in pulling millions out of poverty in recent years, Asia cannot afford to be complacent. Latin America is not much better off, and Africa continues to struggle. Let us not forget that at the world’s summit leaders in donor and developing countries alike made a strong and unambiguous commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, but they are not for the most part on course to being met. The leaders devoted a separate section of their declaration to the compelling and continuing problems of Africa. We must hold them to their commitments and work to ensure that the world develops mechanisms that should make successful and sustainable development more likely.
And not all of this is going to happen at the UN. The World Trade Organization, the Bretton Woods institutions in particular, will have a key role to play, but the UN remains indispensable as a place where political agreement can be reached on development goals, and where the agenda is set on issues that affect the well-being of the overwhelming majority of the world’s people, and where the voice of each country is heard on that agenda.
I have I hope painted a picture of a UN of the future as firmly anchored in its achievements, but easily engaged in conforming itself in the light of changing circumstances. A refurbished UN builds on the strong foundations laid down in 1945, which is why I spoke of that time, buttressed by the innovations and achievements of the last 60 years, and renovated to take account of the problems that we have uncovered in the course of dealing with the real challenges of a changing world outside; a UN that is more sharply focused on areas where it has a proven and undoubted capacity to make a difference.
But as we all know, a house is not a home. The new UN must also recapture the 21st century’s equivalent of the spirit that informed its founding. It must amplify the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard, and serve as a canopy beneath which all can feel secure. My UN of the future must never forget that it is both a result and a source of hopes for a better world, hopes that all human beings share. And it must—it must never cease to inspire men and women of goodwill everywhere.
As our great second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold, put it, the United Nations was not created to take mankind to Heaven, but rather to save humanity from Hell. That it has, so far, but not all the time and not everywhere. We can do better. Indeed, at this time of turbulence and transformation, we must.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
HOGE: Shashi, I’m going to ask you just two questions, one about the race and one about the United Nations. And the first one, of course, since I’m a journalist, the first one has three parts. Three questions in one, but they’re all on the same point.
Here are the three obstacles to your candidacy that people find. One is, the United Nations this year, and particularly the United States, says it is looking for an outsider. You have been at the UN for 28 years. Secondly, you’re from India. Will China sit still for another world power from its region controlling the secretary-generalship? And third, Mr. Ban, with the apparent support of the United States, has it locked up, doesn’t he?
THAROOR: (Chuckles.) All right. Yes, I’m glad you gave me the softball question first.
On the outsider/insider business, the fact is if by “insider,” one understands a stereotyped bureaucrat who’s committed to business as usual. I wouldn’t want an insider like that either. The fact is that in my 28 years, in every one of the jobs I’ve done, I’ve built up a paper trail, I’ve built up a record of demonstrated innovation, creativity, imagination, and indeed of willingness to lead change.
The department I took on five years ago was one that many thought unreformable. I think I’m fairly able to say that I have reformed it, everything from transforming the entire orientation of the staff of the department—a new mission statement; a new concept of operations; hiring off bits of the department I felt we didn’t need; creating a client orientation so that we now go to the substantive departments of the UN and say, “What are the substantive challenges you face, and how can we help you use information as a tool to fulfilling them?”; the institution of an evaluation culture, which didn’t exist before, where every manager now has to do an annual performance impact review where they defend to other managers the products and services for which they’re responsible—again, hailed by our OIOS, our internal auditors, as a model for the rest of the secretariat—all of this—and I have a letter from our good friend Chris Burnham saying thank you for walking the talk. In other words—
HOGE: Undersecretary general for management.
THAROOR: I’m sorry, for management, a good friend of Warren’s—
HOGE: And a former member of the Bush administration.
THAROOR: So the fact is that we’re not talking about a stereotyped bureaucrat. I’ve been called very many things, and I’m sure I’m being called even more behind my back these days, but no one’s ever called me that. And I think it’s important to recognize that there are insiders and insiders, and I’m the sort of insider who represents precisely a different sort of option of change, the old cliché that you need a new broom to sweep clean, but in fact in a place like the UN, an old broom can sweep cleaner because it knows where to sweep and how to sweep. We’re not the kind of organization where you can bring in the chairman of General Motors. He’d resign in frustration in six weeks because he simply wouldn’t be used to taking decisions with 192 member states telling him what he can do and what he cannot, and functioning within the rules and regulations that the General Assembly has imposed. So I do feel that it’s an asset and no t a disadvantage to be an insider for those who really want to see this organization function.
HOGE: Is it an asset to be an Indian?
THAROOR: Your second question, the “Indianness.” Well, obviously I can’t speak for China, but I can assure you that I wouldn’t be in this race if I had reason to believe that China had an intractable opposition to my candidacy. I think these are matters that each government will have to speak for itself. I’ve never had a lot of respect for candidates who emphasized who they think is supporting them, but let me say that I have had no reason to believe that the concern implicit in your question is one that I need to worry about.
Remember, too, that I’m the only candidate who hasn’t actually worked for his national government, that everyone in the fray have spent their entire professional lives, or most of them, anyway, in advocating the foreign policies of one country. I’m the one person in the fray who has devoted his entire professional life, pretty much all my entire adult life, defending the collective interests of the international community.
And that, to me, I think is one of the reasons why I might be seen as somewhat differently from, say, an ambassador of a government or a person who has had to follow the foreign policy prescriptions of his country and thereby placed himself in opposition to the foreign policy interests of others. That simply hasn’t been my role. Every member of the Security Council at one time or another has had to work with me and deal with me as a professional, and I hope they would be prepared to judge me as that.
Finally, has Mr. Ban got it locked up. I must say he is the front-runner. There’s no question that today as we go into the third poll at 4:30 this afternoon, that he is the man to beat. If he succeeds in consolidating the lead that he has, then I think you’re quite right that it could well be all over or very close to it, because there is a fourth ballot scheduled for Monday, but that could be little more than a formality, if he ends up with a dramatic score.
But, you know, in this country you have this wonderful old line about the opera not being over until the fat lady sings, and I’m not sure the fat lady has yet appeared. She might show up at 4:30 this afternoon, we’ll have to see. But the fact is that I have been second in the fray in both ballots, and I have enough indications from ambassadors around the UN that many countries would still like a choice.
I have nothing aganist Mr. Ban as an individual, I just think that I offer a different set of professional qualities that many ambassadors, I believe, would like to see available to them as they make this choice. Now, you know, you never met a candidate who tells you that he has no chance, so I’m not going to be the first one to do that. But I do believe that the race isn’t over yet, and we’ll find out how close it is to being over at the end of the day. I think there are only two realistic options, frankly, though there are seven candidates in the fray. I think we’ll end the day today with either Mr. Ban having consolidated an all-but-sure victory, or my having been able to make it into a geniune two-horse race.
HOGE: And on the UN, Shashi, this may be my interpretation, not yours, but the past year has been a year in which reform has been the great focus, particularly if you’re living in this country and viewing it from an American optic. What that reform movement produced—and this is my interpretation—was a really profound deepening of the North-South divid.
THAROOR: Exactly. Exactly.
HOGE: We saw it in various meetings, that sort of thing. Basically, you had a situation where the developing world, the so-called G-77, which now represents 132 developing countries, ended up viewing UN reform proposals as a Washington-hatched corporate takeover of the UN, and the beginning of the recolonization of the third world. And whereas on the other side, the great powers, led, of course, by Washington, said that the UN was becoming enfeebled and ineffective, and would become even more so unless it got hold of its management, unless it cleared out the corruption in the ranks. And it ended pretty much of a divide there. Yes, there were some accomplishments. You mentioned two of them today in The New York Times—a new democracy fund, and a peacebuilding commission.
But as the secretary-general, how can somebody go forward and bring these two sides together over what I think is almost the essential question about how the UN will work in the future?
THAROOR: Absolutely. In fact, this is precisely why I believe I would be in many ways a wiser choice, because I would be able to attack this North-South divide directly as a son of the South, as somebody from a non-aligned country; somebody who, unlike the leading candidate, belongs nationally, by citizenship, to the G-77, the Non-Aligned Movement, and can say, “Look, I’m one of you. We really have to look at this differently.” An advantage that I believe would be indispensable as we face these problems.
I would unbundle the package that was dumped on the G-77 this year. Part of the problem was, indeed, that a number of things got mixed up in that package, and so people who didn’t like one issue or another got together and rejected the entire package. In particular, I think, including in its so-called governance question, which is not what you might imagine in the global sense, but, rather, the notion that we should, because we have, after all, 192 countries in every one of the General Assembly’s committees, so the Financial Committee, the (FIN ?) committee, has 192 countries poring over every line of our budget. And the suggestion was made, I think really with no bad faith implicit in it, why don’t we have a smaller committee that does the work and reports to the larger membership? And this fed in, unfortunately, precisely into the mistrust you were describing. And we even had a well-known moderate, like the South African ambassador, say, “I’ve spent my entire life resisting the idea that a small group of people can decide for the rest of us.” And that veiled allusion to apartheid was the end of the debate. When you’re on that kind of emotional political territory, no one wins. So I’d want to take it away from that.
I mean, frankly, if I were elected, I would simply say to my staff: If you and I have to spend that many extra hours answering 192 questions, that’s a price worth paying for 192 countries to feel that they have their stake in the matter. So let’s forget about this governance thing, let’s work with the membership as we have it.
But I do believe that one can practically build coalitions on specific issues. At the risk of boring some of the non-management inclined people here, let me give you a practical example.
In my own department—I mean, I have offices around the world; indeed, my is the most far-flung department. In one country I have an international post and I have an operating budget. The international post was budgeted, of course, with a particular salary, the operating budget has been eroded over the years, both because it hasn’t gone up for the last 10 years in dollar terms, but also because the decline in the value of the dollar has reduced the effect of the budget.
Now, what would I want to do as an efficient manager, I said, look, let me replace this international post with either a more junior position or a national officer position, and spend the resulting savings on increasing the operational budget. Logical enough? No, not possible. Why not? General Assembly rules don’t allow it. Why not? Because the General Assembly says staff costs have to be approved by them separately, operating costs separately. So I’d have to go through a two-year process in which I’d have to separately recommend a reduction in the level of the post, separately recommend an increase in the level of the budget, and the odds are 9 out of 10 that the General Assembly will swallow the reduction of a post and not give me the extra money for the budget. So I, as a manager, have no incentive to be efficient.
Now, this is a classic kind of practical conundrum that outsiders, I’m afraid, don’t fully understand we’re subject to in the United Nations. When I’ve talked to ambassadors from developing countries about this as a concrete example and said, “Who exactly do you think you’re protecting when you make it impossible for me as a manager to do this?
In effect, some international official gets a higher salary, but I’m not able to deliver the information services in a country of the South, which is where you want to see it delivered, and I’m not able to spend UN money in that country. Who is benefiting?” And when you put it that way, as a practical matter, I get no dissent. They agree with me.
You put it in the question of governance—the secretariat needs more flexibility—and immediately mistrust goes up. Why do they want more flexibility? What are they trying to do? Whose behest are they trying to do it at? And so on. So it’s a question of approaching it differently.
My approach would be as a nuts-and-bolts, hands-on manager who knows what he’s talking about, who wants to solve practical problems. And I believe on that basis, I can build effective coalitions, unbundling the package and going issue by issue.
HOGE: All right. If I see a raised hand—wait for the microphone, please, wherever it—it’s coming from behind.
QUESTIONER: And here it is. I’m Jim Zirin, and thank you for your remarks, which were quite interesting. I wondered what you would say were the major successes of the Annan administration perhaps over the past five years, or over whatever recent period you’d like to look to, and what do you see as the greatest failures over the same period? And how would you propose to build on the former and, indeed, what lessons would you say have been learned from the latter?
THAROOR: Right. This would be a very long conversation. I’m going to try and be telegraphic.
But I think Kofi Annan has left behind—or is leaving behind a United Nations that in many ways is a vast improvement from the one he inherited. It’s certainly more coherently organized, much more collegial. He’s pulled together various feuding baronies within the UN system into one effective whole. He has also used his bully pulpit to advance some very important international norms. His initiation of the debate on intervention led, through a series of processes that I’m summarizing here, to the adoption by the world leaders at last year’s General Assembly of the norm of a responsibility to protect. Hasn’t actually protected anybody yet, but the important thing is the fact that governments have signed onto this principle will change the climate within which future crises like Darfur are discussed. And that again is a normative change that Kofi Annan has directly brought forward.
He’s also been effective in engaging the United Nations with the private sector—his so-called Global Compact, which brought businesses into—adhering to principles already agreed upon by governments. His relationship with civil society institutions. And then the concrete reform achievement of the last couple of years, the transformation of the Human Rights Commission to a Human Rights Council, which he’d proposed; the creation of a Democracy Fund, which President Bush had proposed, and which now has concrete shape here; thanks to his reform initiatives, his moves on the administrative front—aside from the ones that didn’t get through—there has been concrete progress made in a number of areas, from the creation of an Ethics Office to the institution of whistleblower protections. So there’s a whole lot on the positive side. What—and then there are operational successes. I mean the East Timor intervention was at least in part due to his assiduous working of the phones at a time when the Indonesians were laying waste to that island; and certainly constructive leadership on everything from Afghanistan to Congo.
What are the failures? I think the most obvious one, you know, leaps out from the headlines of the last couple of years: oil-for-food. Not so much a failure in terms of Kofi Annan or any of his staff being corrupt, as unfortunately, quick readings of these articles and leaks over a couple of years have left people with that impression. In fact, no UN official has actually been legally charged of any corrupt act, and certainly Kofi Annan has been exonerated of any personal corruption. But the failure lay in management, in the oversight arrangements that were in place. And the lesson has been learned in that there is a concrete proposal to create an independent audit and oversight arrangement at the United Nations, which, of course, we still need to cooperate with governments to get them to sign onto it. But that is a principal lesson that’s been learned.
Another lesson I talk about in today’s op-ed pages. I think the tendency perhaps to sometimes declare victory and quit, which we did too soon in East Timor, is something we’re going to have to learn to resist. How long is too long? It’s a debate we can have indefinitely on a country-by-country basis. But pulling our peacekeepers when even the country concerned really wanted them to stay on resulted, I’m afraid, in a situation where peace broke down again. And I think we really have to ensure we demonstrate the staying power when we go in someplace. When I say “we,” I don’t just mean Kofi Annan and the secretariat, I mean the member states on the Security Council, that they demonstrate the staying power to ensure that we stay on long enough to ensure that peace is sustainable.
HOGE: To speed this along, I’m going to take two questions at once. You first, and then will you pass the microphone back to the woman in the green jacket? And then you can answer both at the same time.
QUESTIONER: Sure. Sherry Fink, Harvard School of Public Health. Thanks very much for your comments. I was going to ask you your views on protection of civilians. And you’ve mentioned your thoughts on that already. So the second part of the second is, what are the dangers of bringing in a potential UN secretary-general such as the front-runner, Ban, who wouldn’t even call what happened in Rwanda a genocide?
QUESTIONER: Felice Gaer, the Jacob Blaustein Institute. Mr. Tharoor, you have been remarkable in bringing issues dealing with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust into the UN for the first time in its 60-year history, and for that, you know, commendations. I’m wondering if at the same time you could tell us something about your view of what is going on at the current Human Rights Council, which has decided that 100 percent of the world’s violations only address one country. And if you could tell us if you think that the performance meets the expectations, particularly with regard to countries’ specific resolutions.
THAROOR: Thank you, Felice, and I’m afraid, ma’am, that I really will have to ask Mr. Brown to speak for himself when it comes to how he describes the certain tragedies. As far as I’m concerned, Rwanda was genocide, and I don’t think there’s any serious dispute about it.
But I’m almost equally convinced that the label is less important than the response. We’ve see this dancing on—angels dancing on the heads of a pin on Darfur. Is it genocide? Is it is a slow-motion genocide? Is it crimes against humanity? Is it war crimes? I mean, for God’s sake, people are being killed, hundreds are being burned, women are being raped, children are being violated. I mean, this has to stop whatever we call it, and I think that level of moral clarity is indispensable. But it has to be allied, of course, to a realistic appreciation that at the UN you get things done by working with governments.
And beyond that, I will not comment on the “dangers,” as you put it, of anyone’s election. They really will have to think that through for themselves.
Felice, on anti-Semitism, I’m grateful to you for acknowledging that I’m openly proud of my role in having conceived, initiated and shared the first-ever anti-Semitism seminar in the history of the UN, and I was given the great privilege of leading this year’s very moving commemoration of the Holocaust in the General Assembly. It’s an issue that I care about greatly having grown up in a country and indeed having come from a part of the country where we have perhaps the oldest recorded Jewish population outside Palestine, which has never known a single instance of anti-Semitism in the more than 2,000 years that it’s existed in India. So that’s a tradition from which I’m proud to hail, and I’m very pleased that we can say with all honesty that the Jewish people have as much a right to call the United Nations their home as anyone else and that applies to the state of Israel, it applies to other states in this organization.
On the Human Rights Council, I would like to think that it may be too early to judge them, but I share your disappointment that it could only find one human rights situation worth condemning. It’s still early days yet; they only came into business in the spring. Maybe we should give them a whole year to look at the world before we decide that they’re going to have a 100 percent of their resolutions on one country. It didn’t help, of course, that the Lebanese affair took place—all bombing and so on—while they were beginning their deliberations, and inevitably, they felt obliged to take account of that. But there are atrocities taking place elsewhere in the world that are equally worthy of attention, and I certainly hope that they will attend to them.
So let me just say, let’s not give them the benefit of the doubt, but let’s give them the benefit of the calendar a little longer.
HOGE: Okay. I’ll do two more again. Joanna one, and then, I have to let some of my colleagues in the press corps in. Shinichi, you’ll be the second one, okay?
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Joanna Weschler with Security Council Report. In your opening remarks, you mentioned continuity and change. If selected, elected, appointed—(laughs)—I don’t know what the verb is—
THAROOR: The office is appointed.
QUESTIONER:—what is your change agenda for the first six months as specifically as you can put it?
HOGE: And could you walk that back to Shinichi.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Shinichi Ikeda. I’m working for the Asahi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper, and I—before I came to New York, I was editing the Japanese version of Foreign Affairs. I’m very happy to be here.
I’d like to ask you about tradition of the secretary-general. Previous seven secretary-generals are all from no nuclear powers. I know you’ve been working very hard personally for the disarmament and the nonproliferation, but—and you didn’t work for—you never worked for the Indian government, but you’re endorsed by India. And what do you think about that?
THAROOR: (Laughs.) Right. China—in a sense, my speech was about that, so I’m going to really try and be very, very brief so that others can get their questions in. I think that there—that, you know, the number fronts from which one must work simultaneously, there is the unfinished business of management reform, and I’ve spelled out a few things that I would give priority to.
I would want to push certain aspects of development issues. I think girls’ education is one that I’ve nailed my colors to the mast on; for some time, I’ve written about it. I think we can do more to push that across the board.
I would like very much to see how we can make the Democracy Fund and the peace-building commission, as I’ve said in today’s paper, even jointly, become a force for good in the world. I think those are things we can push concretely.
The fourth thing is to have to deal with the unexpected. I think it’s fairly certainly that whoever is elected is going to be dealing in the first six months and next year with issues that you and I cannot imagine today because they’re not in our headlines and in our consciousness. So we simply have to be ready to cope with whatever they are, whether it’s avian flu or that it’s a new war somewhere where there’s a crisis of some sort. And therefore, tackling issues like peacekeeping deployments can’t wait until the crisis is upon us, nor can we say it’s urgent that we end this particular war and we send you soldiers in three months. I mean, that’s not serious. And governments have to recognize that when you go by what Henry Kissinger talks, as he often does, about the fact that in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, the first soldiers arrived in the Golan Heights in 48 hours.
One—(inaudible)—to the Pentagon provided free airlift. Are we going to be able to get countries to rethink their ability and their willingness to support the UN that way, so we’re not issuing tenders for the cheapest Ukrainian aircraft that will take our soldiers to places where the were needed yesterday?
All of these things—practical matters that need to be done. But I shouldn’t go into more detail. They’re out in there in my—and Warren said the candidates don’t have platforms. I have one, shashitharoor.com—(soft laughter)—and you can see in some detail of what I’ve had to say about all of that.
Shinichi, you were kind enough to acknowledge part of my answer already in your question, which is that of course in my own personal convictions I have never hesitated to speak in favor of disarmament. I don’t like—as a UN official, I don’t nuclear weapons in anyone’s hands, including those of my own government. And I have written, in my sort of moonlighting life as a Sunday midnight writer, of how much my visit to Hiroshima meant to me and what that stands for. So I don’t think you and I would disagree on the morals of that.
I don’t think Kofi Annan would disagree. I think the secretaries-general of the UN have stood for the principles of disarmament, and Kofi Annan actually revived the Disarmament Department, which had been abolished by Mr. Boutros-Ghali.
But the fact is, again—and I often say this—at the UN, to work effectively, you have to be both an idealist and a realist. You have to be an idealist, because without ideals, you may as well go off and work for a bank somewhere. Forgive me. (Laughter.)
But you have to be willing to pursue your ideals within the framework of the politically possible. If you are not prepared to do that, then the UN is the wrong place for you, because we are a government—an intergovernmental body, a body of sovereign governments, and whatever we can accomplish reflects what we’re able to get governments to agree to do.
And therefore, as an idealistic realist, I’ll preserve those ideals, but I’ll work with governments that have nasty weapons I don’t like.
HOGE: I have one question in front. Do I have another one from this side of the room? Fine. Would you go first, please, and then, Richard, would you take second?
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Moishumi Khan. I’m an attorney. I have a question regarding public diplomacy efforts within the UN and the Muslim world. As you know, it’s happened with the pope and the cartoons. There are four initiatives at the UN Can you please describe those in detail and maybe give some insight as to how they are not working? Thank you.
QUESTIONER: Shashi, you’ve demonstrated today, as you have 28 years, that you’re a brilliant communicator, an imaginative person and an independent thinker. Why would any of the five permanent members of the Security Council want someone like that as secretary-general? (Laughter.)
(Applause.) All right. You’re very kind, but I will answer that.
Let your—to answer Ms. Khan’s question, the fact—
HOGE: And you want to answer that one first, don’t you, but you have to take—
THAROOR: No, no, I’ll answer that one, of course. But taking it in order, as I must, I mean, the fact is that yes, we have a number of initiatives. The best known was the Dialogue among Civilizations, purposed, as it were, as it happens, by President Khatami, which is sort of kind of a decade that the General Assembly has voted for people to talk to each other.
It kind of got overtaken by the Alliance of Civilizations, a proposal by Spain, which is now co-authored with Turkey. And they are in fact doing—they’ve done an interesting series of meetings involving experts from around the world, but principally indeed Muslims and Christians. And we are expecting their reports the middle of next month. And I’m waiting for that with bated breath, because, frankly, there’s a lot of pablum spouted about dialogue and so on in every part of the world. What we need is to see some concrete practical ideas that might actually take us forward in improving understanding across civilizations.
But the fact that the UN should be a home for this, I think, is beyond dispute. Even though we are an organization of states and not an assembly of religions, it seems to me that precisely because all states are represented at the UN, we have a unique advantage, through our universality, in being able to convene people of every persuasion and every faith. And I hope that will be worth doing.
Richard, I’m going to actually take your question seriously and tell you why I think the UN needs an independent secretary-general, not merely because you’ve been kind enough to suggest that I would fit that bill, but because it’s a guarantee not only of the effectiveness of the United Nations, which I believe I could stand for, but also for the utility of the United Nations to the very big powers making this decision.
And let me give you a concrete example. Just a couple of years ago, in Baghdad, the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Jerry Bremer, wanted to hand over to some Iraqi entity. Problem was, they couldn’t find a key element of the Iraqi political spectrum willing to talk to Mr. Bremer or to any American envoy.
So what do they do? They came to the UN. We sent our envoy Lakhdar Brahimi out there. Ayatollah Sistani received him. Muqtada al-Sadr talked to him. He spoke to the communist parties, all sorts of groups. And he midwifed the creation of an interim Iraqi government, to which Mr. Bremer and the coalition officially “handed over sovereignty,” quote, unquote. And that would not have been possible if the UN had not been seen by these important Islamic Arab actors in Iraq as an independent entity, as an entity that was over and above the national interests of any one country, even the countries comprising the coalition, and that the very usefulness of the UN in this role would not have been possible if the secretary-general had been widely seen as a bag carrier for the White House and the State Department.
May I rest my case with that?
HOGE: Two more questions. Neil—there’s another UN correspondent—and then finally and perfectly as a finish, Roy Goodman. But Neil, go first.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I’m Neil Herland with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I have two quick questions. First, my own government, Canada, presented a proposal last year to make the selection process more transparent, more open. I’m wondering if you could comment about what actually took place this year from your vantage point; how did that inform the process this year, how transparent is it? Second question: Because this isn’t like a presidential race, you don’t have a campaign bus, there’s not journalists following you at every move, could you maybe describe briefly the guts of the campaign? Do you have a war room? (Laughter.) Do you have a campaign staff? What actually goes on behind the scenes when you’re running for secretary-general? I’m curious if you can share with us the process.
HOGE: And then to Roy Goodman, please. If you can bring—just bring the microphone up to Senator Goodman.
By the way, shashitharoor.com, the Shashi Tharoor platform is there. I have to correct myself.
QUESTIONER: Shashi, some of us envisage the role of the secretary-general as one that does not depend upon a series of specifics but rather upon the personality of the individual chosen to lead the UN, which is, after all, one of the most ungainly bureaucracies, to our knowledge, that exists in the world today. With this number of people and the number of constituencies within the UN, the secretary-general must be a dynamic individual who can point the way on a number of issues at the moment hard to visualize and impossible to predict precisely. I’m wondering whether you feel that you possess those characteristics.
I would cite an example of the type of leadership which is sorely needed, that of Dag Hammarskjold, who unfortunately was taken away by a plane crash at an untimely moment in the history of the UN, but who actually was that type of leader and who made an enormous difference at a time of great difficulty for the UN. It strikes me that the UN is in need of this sort of leadership, and I’m reasonably persuaded by my knowledge of your work at the UN, with which I’ve had something to do, that you have precisely the chemistry and the personality that would permit you to become a leader of significance and alter the whole approach to the problems of the world at the UN.
THAROOR: Thank you. Thank you, Senator, very much.
HOGE: (A bookend ?) Professor Gardner’s question.
THAROOR: Let me respond to the Canadian gentleman first. I mean, the fact is that this year—and I think the Canadian paper was a major contributor to this—the process has been a little more transparent than in the past, which is perhaps not saying a great deal, because in the past it was anything but transparent. But this year there have been a few things that have happened.
First, the Canadian paper started a genuine discussion in the General Assembly and in the corridors of the UN which began to attract a certain amount of attention. Then there was the attempt at a resolution that might actually have seen the General Assembly asking the Security Council to send two or more names to the assembly for—you know, the charter says the secretary-general shall be appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. The recommendation has been now for all these seven occasions the real election because the Security Council does its own discussions, picks one name, and the General Assembly, putting it bluntly, has just tended to rubber-stamp it.
So when this restiveness communicated itself to the council, I think the council scrambled to find some gesture that would open up the process a little more, and that was helpful. First they publicly announced, in the sense that the president of the council went to the president of the assembly and, through him, wrote to the rest of the membership, saying that they would be considering names submitted to them by member states in July. This was what led to the first straw poll. Then they managed to leak very successfully the result of that straw poll. They announced the next one, and that one was leaked even more rapidly. I actually got my first call from a journalist before the president of the council had called to communicate my scores to me. That’s how extremely effectively the transparency process has been working.
And I must say one thing. I mean, we were officially encouraged—in my case, the then-president of the council called me and officially encouraged me to present myself to regional groups, which has never been done before. As you all know, ambassadors—I mean countries at the UN belong to regionally defined groups. There are five of them. And each of them then held a meeting with the candidates—I mean with each individual candidate. I don’t know if everyone managed to do it, but I certainly had meetings with each of the five regional groups. And I found it a fascinating exercise.
I spoke somewhat along these lines—I try to have a consistent message everywhere—for about 20 minutes, 25, maybe, and then I took another 2-1/2 hours of questions from ambassadors, which were pretty probing and as tough as some of the ones you’ve heard today. What was interesting was that not only did it, I think, strengthen me and, I hope, the others as candidates to go through this because it meant I had to reach within myself to find answers to some of their concerns or issues, but also I think it strengthened the organization because a lot of ambassadors who in the normal course would have been focusing on the immediate and the urgent rather than the long term were forced for those 2-1/2 hours a day on each occasion to reflect on the nature of the institution and its future direction. And I think that actually has helped the UN, in that people for the first time were allowed to be associated with deliberations relating to a process that up to then had been kept very closely guarded within the Security Council.
So the broad answer is I think it’s been a better process. I and, I think, a couple of the other candidates also widened our outreach by speaking to larger groups. I’ve spoken here now, as has Mr. Ban, I spoke at the CSIS in Washington, at the International Peace Academy here and at some similar forums during my travels abroad. And I think it’s been very healthy that candidates were given this time and space to project their vision of the organization.
And I will indeed pay tribute to the candidates who were announced well before me. The Thai candidate’s been around for 2-1/2 years, the Sri Lankan for a year and a half, and the Korean for a year, and they have actually been out there visibly laying out their case and thereby setting a precedent that none us could ignore. If I thought for a minute that I could away with what Kofi Annan was able to get away with, which was to do my job as an undersecretary-general and wait for the council to do its work—I was disabused of that notion very soon after my nomination, when ambassadors very archly started saying, “Well, the other candidates have been to our capitals; when are you coming?” And that essentially is an interesting change.
The guts and so on of the campaign, frankly, you’d be far better off asking someone like Mr. Ban or Mr. Surakiart, who have entire national machineries behind them, and war rooms, as well. I have been candidate, campaign manager, chief scheduler, logistician, speechwriter, correspondence writer and spokesman—(laughter)—for my campaign, so I’m afraid, inasmuch as there is a war room, it’s usually between my ears. (Laughs/laughter.) But the fact is that of course I’m grateful to my government for the support the Indian government has given me, but essentially this has been largely an individual campaign. And I’ve spent a particular four-week period—I don’t know, you’re too young to remember the movie, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” but believe me, every week was like that, sort of hopping from country trying to present myself to foreign ministers and governments who have to make these decisions.
Warren is getting restive.
HOGE: I’m going to finish it off by saying when I flew to Geneva three weeks ago to join the secretary-general for a trip around the Middle East, I arrived at Intercontinental Hotel, which is something of a playpen in Geneva for the United Nations, and the first person I saw was Shashi Tharoor. And I said, “Where have you been and where are you going?” The answer was, “I’ve just been to Peru and Argentina and I’m going to Slovakia.”
So what I wanted to say was, I’m glad you came here. Thank you for—
THAROOR: Let me answer Roy’s quickly before we shake hands. Just to say you’re very kind, Roy, but I think the judgment of my personality will have to be made by the likes of you, and more important, I’m sorry to say, by the 15 voters on the Security Council.
I would like to think the individual makes a difference. I do genuinely believe that this is an institution that is going to be led by an individual, and so the nature of that person, his individual qualities, his ability to inspire both his staff and a broader audience, are to me very important. And it’s entirely possible they’re not so important to those who are making the decisions, but I’m grateful to you for suggesting that these qualities are important. I agree with you that they are. Whether I possess them, I’ll leave to you and the rest of the people here today to judge.
Thank you very much.
HOGE: Good luck. (Applause.)
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