Thursday, February 26, 2009
Some advice for Ambassador Rice
From 2001 to 2008 I spent my days (and many nights) speaking for the United States at the United Nations. I was the longest serving American spokesman in history and it gave me a unique perspective on the United Nations and its relationship with its largest funder – the American taxpayer. The reality of how the U.N. works is not what some people on the right and the left would have you believe. As Susan Rice begins her tenure representing America at the U.N., she will find an institution in great need of change.
We all want the U.N. to live up to its original intent and be the place where the world comes together to solve international problems. Currently, however, too many members like the status quo too much to want to make any changes. While the United States, Japan and a handful of others are pressing to reform how money is appropriated and spent, others – including South Africa, Egypt and China are more interested in adding new programs and studies (that benefit their own economies or employ their own bureaucrats) with little regard for who pays the bill.
The biggest loser is the American taxpayer who is already spending more than $1 billion every year on U.N. dues, peacekeeping and contributions to U.N. agencies and yet has one vote among the 192 others to do anything about it.
The U.N.’s effort to support the fight against terrorism is a particular study in chaos. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.N. committed to fight terrorism and freeze the assets of terrorists. Committees were established and reports demanded of every country as to what was being done to stop the flow of terrorists within their border. Since then, after millions of dollars spent on committee structures and salaries, reports have either been shelved, not used or not even given to the U.N. As Security Council resolutions go unimplemented with no consequences for those who ignore them, more must be done to hold countries accountable. Former U.S. Ambassador John Danforth famously asked, “Can’t we agree that shooting children in the back is terrorism?” To no avail.
After eight frustrating years, I still have hope for the U.N. I also know that it will take a lot of sustained fortitude to fix these problems. Here are my recommendations for the New U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Ms. Rice:
1. Make reforming the U.N. budget process your No. 1 priority.
2. Don’t agree to any increase in U.S. taxpayer dollars spent at the U.N. until we see actual reforms.
3. The current committees designed for fighting terrorism are not working and must be changed by demanding more of members, not less.
4. Global warming, AIDS education and funding, smarter humanitarian assistance, and the protection of children are all noble causes that will greatly benefit from reforming the U.N. budget.
5. The best run agencies at the U.N. are the ones like UNICEF and the World Food Program where contributions are voluntary, not obligatory, and the top management are responsible to and held accountable by a board.
6. Fight hard for Japan to get a permanent seat on the Security Council, as it is one of our greatest allies.
7. The Human Rights Council will not be a legitimate agency until human rights abusers are denied membership.
8. You should get up every day and ask yourself “How do I make America stronger?” not “How do I make the U.N. stronger?”
9. If you are popular with other ambassadors it is probably because they like the fact that you aren’t asking them to do anything.
10. You should ignore the far right conservatives who think the U.N. doesn’t do anything good and the far left liberals who think the U.N. bestows legitimacy and therefore must first approve American ideas.
These reforms will go a long way toward showing Americans that the ideals of the U.N. can become reality and that the money we give to the U.N. to alleviate poverty and despair is worth the investment.
Richard Grenell served as director of communications for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations from 2001-2008.
Gay Rights Activists Upset By U.S. Refusal to Sign UN Measure
U.S. Only Major Western Nation Not to Sign Measure on Decriminalizing Homosexuality
By DAVID CRARY
Dec. 19, 2008—
Alone among major Western nations, the United States has refused to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.
In all, 66 of the U.N.’s 192 member countries signed the nonbinding declaration — which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with any-gay discrimination. More than 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution.
Co-sponsored by France and the Netherlands, the declaration was signed by all 27 European Union members, as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries. There was broad opposition from Muslim nations, and the United States refused to sign, indicating that some parts of the declaration raised legal questions that needed further review.
“It’s disappointing,” said Rama Yade, France’s human rights minister, of the U.S. position — which she described as in contradiction with America’s long tradition as a defender of human rights.
According to some of the declaration’s backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States — despite its unwillingness to sign — condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation.
Gay rights activists nonetheless were angered by the U.S. position.
“It’s an appalling stance — to not join with other countries that are standing up and calling for decriminalization of homosexuality,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
She expressed hope that the U.S. position might change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.
Also denouncing the U.S. stance was Richard Grenell, who until two months ago had been the chief spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N.
“It is ridiculous to suggest that there are legal reasons why we can’t support this resolution — common sense says we should be the leader in making sure other governments are granting more freedoms for their people, not less,” said Grenell, who described himself as a gay Republican. “The U.S. lack of support on this issue only dims our once bright beacon of hope and freedom for those who are persecuted and oppressed.”
More than 50 countries opposed to the declaration, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a joint statement Thursday criticizing the initiative as an unwarranted attempt to give special prominence to gays and lesbians.
The statement suggested that protecting sexual orientation could lead to “the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts” such as pedophilia and incest.
The declaration also has been opposed by the Vatican, a stance which prompted a protest in Rome earlier this month.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Roman Catholic Church opposed the death penalty and other harsh repression of gays and lesbians, but he expressed concern that the declaration would be used as pressure against those who believe marriage rights should not be extended to gays.
A new Vatican statement, issued Thursday, endorsed the call to end criminal penalties against gays, but said that overall the declaration “gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human norms.”
The European nations backing the declaration waged their campaign in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Dutch foreign affairs minister, Maxime Verhagen, said countries that endorsed that 1948 document had no right to carve out exceptions based on religion or culture that allowed discrimination against gays.
“Human rights apply to all people in all places at all times,” he said. “I will not accept any excuse.”
He acknowledged that the new declaration had only symbolic import, but said it marked the first time such a large number of nations had raised the cause of gay rights in the context of General Assembly proceedings.
“This statement aims to make debate commonplace,” he said. “It is not meant to be a source of division, but to eliminate the taboo that surrounds the issue.”
Although the declaration’s backers were pleased that nations on six continents had signed it, there were only two from Asia and four from Africa.
Gays, Republicans and a UN Resolution
December 19 2008 7:15 PM BY NICHOLAS KRALEV
Gay Republicans are furious at the Bush administration for opposing a non-binding U.N. resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality around the world, alongside such abusers of human rights as Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The document was introduced in the U.N. General Assembly by France and the Netherlands and so far has been backed by 66 of the 192 members of the United Nations. It urges countries “to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.”
Homosexuality is illegal in 77 countries, seven of which punish it by death, according to the resolution’s sponsors. Some of those states offered a rival document that gathered about 60 signatures. It said the original text “delves into matters which fall essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states” and could lead to “the social normalization, and possibly the legitimization, of many deplorable acts including pedophilia.”
The Bush administration, after intense lobbying by Catholics and hard-line conservatives, did not support France’s draft, which was backed by all 27 European Union members. The administration cited legal reason for its decision, saying that endorsing the resolution’s language is in conflict with U.S. laws, a reference to gay marriage.
But “that’s a huge stretch,” said Richard Grenell, a gay Republican who until recently was a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. “Concerns about a remote possibility (marriage) ignores the purpose of the resolution, which is to make sure that people are not killed or oppressed just because they are gay.”
A true conservative, Mr. Grenell said, is “always interested in less government involvement and more personal responsibilities.”
“If being gay is a criminal act, then the State Department has granted hundreds of criminals like me top-secret security clearance,” he said. “Common sense says that we should be the leader in making sure other governments grant more freedoms to their people.”
U.S. diplomats said that supporting a non-binding resolution in defense of human rights should have been relatively easy for the administration and would have sent an important message a month before President Bush leaves office. But they also wondered why France did not wait another month to introduce the document, which most likely would have been endorsed by the incoming Obama administration.
“Perhaps the French wanted to embarrass the Bush administration,” one diplomat said.
U.N. Spokesman Richard Grenell Resigns
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
By: Stewart Stogel
Richard Grenell, the longtime communications director and de facto press secretary for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, tells Newsmax he will conclude his eight-year U.N. term Sept. 29.
Grenell plans to return to his California home to become a senior vice president and communications director at DaVita, a healthcare company based in El Segundo.
But Newsmax also has learned that Grenell is on a short list for consideration as the next State Department spokesman if Sen. John McCain is elected president in November.
Should Grenell return to D.C., he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Jamie Rubin, who also was press spokesman at the U.S./U.N. mission before accompanying his boss, Madeleine K. Albright, to Washington for the second term of the Clinton administration.
Grenell’s resignation comes on the heels of the recent departure of his chief deputy, Ben Chang, who left the U.N. for a White House posting. Next in line for the exit is said to be Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is expected to soon depart for the private sector.
That would leave Deputy Ambassador Alex Wolff, a career diplomat, to guide the U.S. operation until a new administration takes office in January.
The shifts take place with several high-profile issues confronting the White House, including the Iran nuclear standoff, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Grenell, one of the longest-serving press spokesmen at the U.S./U.N. mission, had what many consider a thankless job. He came to the U.N. in mid-2001 after stints working for San Diego Mayor Susan Golding and New York Gov. George Pataki.
He was forced to defend the eventually discredited speech on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003.
He also led a quiet campaign that the Bush administration orchestrated to marginalize former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, whom the State Department considered a Clinton appointee. Annan had stated that Albright was influential in his decision to run for the U.N.’s top post in 1996.
Grenell also worked overtime trying to salvage the doomed nomination of John Bolton to the U.N. post. Eventually, Bolton withdrew his name under intense pressure from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del.
The colorful Grenell, long a fixture at many press gatherings in New York City, insists that his public life is far from over.
“Stay tuned,” the coy official said, with a boyish grin.
U.N. Ambassador Cuts Vacation Short Amid Memo Flap
By BENNY AVNI,
Staff Reporter of the Sun
August 29, 2008
UNITED NATIONS — The American ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, is cutting his vacation short and is due to return home on Monday night, after a leaked State Department memorandum raised questions about his methods of work, which many U.N. diplomats fondly call his “independent streak” but which have angered some of his colleagues in the Bush administration.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the press outside of the United Nations Security Council August 11, 2008 in New York City. As State Department officials questioned whether Mr. Khalilzad’s communications with a top Pakistani politician, Asif Ali Zardari, were authorized by policymakers, the ambassador decided to end his vacation in Europe early. He will return to New York on Monday night, according to a State Department official who confirmed a Web log entry posted yesterday by the spokesman for the American mission, Richard Grenell.
“We were told yesterday that ambassador Khalilzad will come back home earlier than expected from his vacation — I am sure he will be confronted with more erroneous assumptions from reporters who don’t bother checking the facts,” Mr. Grenell wrote at http://www.richardgrenell.com/, where he took issue with some reporting on the memorandum, which first appeared on Monday in an article in the New York Times.
“Ambassador Khalilzad is in constant touch with the State Department,” Mr. Grenell told The New York Sun yesterday. “He knows and delivers the policies of the United States.”
President Bush and Secretary of State Rice “value his counsel,” a State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, said earlier this week, adding, “Ms. Rice has full confidence in Ambassador Khalilzad.”
“Khalilzad knows many people,” the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, said. Like many diplomats here, Mr. Akram sought to avoid speaking extensively on the topic, which is a sensitive one in Washington and Islamabad. Diplomats rushed to defend Mr. Khalilzad, who is popular among many U.N. ambassadors, including some who have serious policy differences with America.
The Times article apparently touched a nerve in Washington and according to several sources was the top item on the agenda of the White House staff meeting on Tuesday.
State Department officials, including Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, are said to be miffed about Mr. Khalilzad’s consultations with Mr. Zardari, a pro-Western politician vying for the Pakistani presidency amid a major upheaval in the country, which began when a former prime minister — and Mr. Zardari’s wife — Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in December.
A memorandum written by the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Richard Boucher, referred to extensive recent phone conversations between Messrs. Khalilzad and Zardari. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personnel?” Mr. Boucher wrote in the memo.
U.S. Spokesman at the U.N. Makes His Mark
Monday, August 11, 2008 2:35 PM
By: Ronald Kessler
In February 2006, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times ran editorials saying that John Bolton, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, was right to reject sham proposals to reform the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Noting that some of the world’s most abusive regimes hold seats on it, the Times called the commission “disgraceful.”
The paper even applauded Bolton’s refusal to go along with a “shameful charade” to make cosmetic changes in the commission.
The New York Times is normally a cheerleader for the United Nations and a critic of the Bush administration, not to mention then U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.
“It was a coup for Ric Grenell,” says Maggie Farley, who covers the United Nations as bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.
Since 2001, Grenell has been the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations, a position officially called “director of communications and public diplomacy for the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.”
“He had both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times saying that Bolton was right and Secretary General Kofi Annan was wrong,” Farley recalled, noting his ability to reach out to the media.
Working Behind the Scenes
Grenell is a not exactly a household name; he stays in the background and works diligently behind the scenes to make his bosses look good as he promotes and protects America’s reputation. The longest-serving U.N. spokesman, Grenell has advised four U.S. ambassadors — John D. Negroponte, John C. Danforth, John R. Bolton, and Zalmay Khalilzad the current U.S. ambassador — on the formulation and articulation of U.S. policy at the United Nations.
Grenell has a no-nonsense approach – he quickly responds to attacks against the United States. That has raised some hackles among reporters who see the United Nations as a perfect launch pad for anti-American diatribes.
Still, many of the most respected reporters who cover the United Nations and State Department view him as a breath of fresh air who makes their jobs easier while getting the U.S. message out to the world. In that respect, many of them say, the White House press office could take a few lessons from Grenell.
Few outside the media grasp how much a good public relations person can shape coverage. Reporters are human, and if they are given respect and attention, they are more likely to be open to the official line. If they are ignored or simply “fed” a story, they often take it out on the agency or person they are covering.
“Ric Grenell is one of the sharpest press officers I’ve dealt with,” James Rosen, Washington correspondent for Fox News, tells Newsmax.
“He knows the policy underlying the talking points, the personalities, and the issues. He also understands the black-is-white, up-is-down bizarro world that the United Nations can sometimes become. Ric can be exceptionally helpful to an honest reporter — when he wants to be . . .
“The U.S. government is lucky to have him.”
Grenell looks younger than his 41 years. He’s articulate, well dressed, and comes across as poised as a veteran politician. In fact, before arriving at the United Nations, Grenell earned his stripes in the political world.
He worked on several political campaigns, then served as press secretary on Capitol Hill to then Congressman Mark Sanford — who went on to become South Carolina’s governor — and Congressman Dave Camp of Michigan.
From Washington he moved on to Albany and served as a spokesman for New York Gov. George Pataki. Later he joined San Diego Mayor Susan Golding as her press secretary.
Despite his media background, Grenell said dealing with the press at the United Nations offered different challenges.
“The U.N. press corps viewed themselves as international civil servants,” Grenell told Newsmax. “They certainly were journalists, but they viewed themselves differently than the press corps of Washington. They saw themselves as helping the world’s poor and needy. They were friends with Secretary General Kofi Annan, and they felt it was their job to trumpet the obscure reports produced by him and the U.N. They weren’t, for example, looking at how the billions of dollars were spent at the U.N.”
As aggressive reporters for Fox News, The New York Sun, and a few other news outlets arrived on the scene, “The press corps began to have a fight among themselves,” Grenell remembers.
“The old deans of the U.N. press corps immediately started talking loudly about those who were rocking the boat. And what really irritated me at this point was those old deans of the press corps not only were upset that people were rocking the boat and doing stories that they weren’t supposed to do, but they dismissed these people as not really true journalists. It was that elitist attitude of, You just don’t know the world, and we do.”
So, Grenell says, he focused on helping “those journalists who wanted to act like journalists.”
Instead of deferring to The New York Times and Washington Post, Grenell began pushing his staff to go online, blog, start MySpace and Facebook pages, and reach out to the new media.
“I’m not from the East Coast, and I don’t think like an East Coast press person,” Grenell says. “I don’t naturally think The Washington Post and New York Times are the be-all, end-all. I understand it’s all about digital media.”
Farley of the Los Angeles Times confirms, “Ric was very aware of the online presence of new media like The Huffington Post and Slate, and he made sure the news was accessible to them.”
Normally, government spokesmen confine themselves to passively working with the daily press. But Grenell made a point of reaching out to editorial writers, including those at The New York Times.
“I was doing monthly editorial writers’ calls with our ambassador to update the editorial writers, even at medium-size papers,” Grenell says. “When you have a conference call with the ambassador to the U.N., these people get very connected into what we are doing.”
At least once a week, Grenell checks in with two editorial writers at The New York Times. Such proactive work often pays dividends, as it did when the Times ran its Feb. 26, 2006 editorial, “The Shame of the United Nations.”
“When it comes to reforming the disgraceful United Nations Human Rights Commission,” the editorial said, “America’s ambassador, John Bolton, is right; Secretary General Kofi Annan is wrong.”
“Nobody could believe it,” recalls Farley.
Receptive to All Press Reps
Keeping in mind the need to convey to the rest of the world what America stands for, especially in the wake of Sept. 11, Grenell has cultivated the Arab press.
“All of the Arab bureau chiefs are integral to what we are doing here at the U.S. mission, and so I befriended them and really reached out to them, socialized with them,” Grenell says.
“I joined them on domestic trips sponsored by the State Department, so that I could encourage these Arab journalists to see more of America and understand that America is more than just Washington and New York.”
Grenell took them not only to Chicago, Denver, and Kansas City, but also to Las Vegas.
“Ric strongly defended his government’s position but always gave me the informational tools I needed to build a comprehensive and meaningful picture of that position for my audience,” says Abderrahim Foukara, bureau chief of Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel.
“On many occasions, he arranged for me to hear that position from the horse’s mouth, in one-on-ones with those representatives, whatever the issues may have been. This is extremely significant in light of the difficulty that some of my colleagues experienced in getting that kind of access to people and information in Washington.”
Raghida Dergham, senior diplomatic correspondent at the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, says she never felt like a second-class citizen because her publication is not American.
“Ric Grenell changed the tier system and understood that he served American policies best at the U.N. though dealing with the international press as equal to the American press,” she says.
Grenell uses the carrot and the stick: If he feels certain reporters are not interested in doing an honest story, he shuns them.
“When we’re dealing with reporters who are biased from the beginning, and who don’t allow us to speak our mind and explain our policies, then that’s a vicious cycle,” Grenell says.
And if a reporter gets a story wrong, he tells him.
“I fully believe that it is my job to follow the story to the end,” Grenell says. “If a reporter writes a story that is erroneous, I feel that it is my responsibility to the public to correct the record as much as possible.”
Grenell says his job is to get the story out; he only has a limited number of ways to do that.
“I ask myself every day, ‘Am I getting the story out? Am I explaining our policy enough?’” he says.
As noted in the Newsmax story “Dana Perino: Press Job Like Herding Cattle,” President Bush’s approach is to present his message publicly in speeches and press conferences. Bush believes this approach minimizes leaks.
When it comes to the press, the White House has been known as a buttoned-down operation, often unwilling to feed the media even harmless tidbits that would make their stories more colorful and help to tame snarky reporters.
If Grenell differs in his approach from the more traditional White House press operation, that has not raised eyebrows at the White House.
“They recognize that New York is a different place and that the U.N. press corps is a huge challenge,” he says, “so they have given me a long leash.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com.
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