A Week in the Life - Danilo Turk, Un Ambassador: Endless round of war and jaw in good company

Click to follow
The Independent Online
"THIS IS a non-stop place, but once you understand its special rhythms you can survive it." So says Danilo Turk, a professor of international law, who in 1992 became Slovenia's first ambassador to the United Nations on its independence. For the past two years, Slovenia has served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. This month Dr Turk is its president.

"Friends at home say that I must have special privileges, that this job must be glamorous," Dr Turk says with a chuckle. "Well, it really isn't." He has an Upper East Side apartment and a chauffeur-driven Lincoln - but Britain's ambassador glides about in a Rolls. "That is only for the UK; it has to be something special for them."

Running the council is daunting for a small country. Dr Turk, 47, has eight diplomats in New York, compared to 33 in the British mission. The British, he says, can turn out draft resolutions "on an industrial scale". For the Slovenians it is not so easy.

TWO MONDAYS ago was the start of a hectic week. Slovenia's Foreign Minister, Boris Frlec, chaired a special council meeting attended by the three ethnic leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UN was abuzz after a report by the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, acknowledged errors that led to the overrunning of Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995 and the ensuing massacre.

ON TUESDAY the council convenes at 10.30am and focuses on trouble in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and new sanctions on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Later the Slovenians pose for a "family photo" with Mr Frlec in the chamber.

COUNCIL discussions on Wednesday are tricky as ambassadors struggle to renew the six-month oil-for-food regime for Iraq. The talks last all day, punctuated by a "very pleasant" lunch at the Hungarian embassy for the incoming ambassador of Austria. "We all have a nice social life. I find it pleasing always to be in the company of educated and sophisticated people."

THURSDAY IS a rest day for the council. Dr Turk uses the time to catch up, sending cables to Ljubljana and drafting a council report on measures to prevent armed conflict. He gets word from a group of diplomats trying to settle the draft Iraq oil-for-food resolution. Ominous news - Moscow is digging its heels in.

ON FRIDAY, there is agreement on a stop-gap resolution to roll over the Iraq oil-for-food arrangements for two weeks. Dr Turk convenes a formal, public council session for a broader debate on Iraq. It is a testy meeting. Non-permanent members attack the five permanent members because they have failed to resolve the other Iraq conundrum: the institution of a new weapons inspection regime.

Tempers are never lost, either in public session or behind closed doors. "This is a highly professional group," Dr Turk says. The friction at this meeting attracts instant attention. "There was a lot of excitement in the press because this was one of the few occasions when dissatisfaction had come to the surface. Feelings were quite strong." But a two-hour lunch at the Swedish ambassador's residence to discuss UN finances provides solace, as does dinner at the house of the representative of the Holy See.

SOME WEEKENDS bring no rest to the council if there is a crisis, such as Kosovo or Iraq. Not this weekend; Dr Turk visits Massachusetts with his wife and two American friends on Saturday, and on Sunday he finishes reading the Srebrenica report and indulges in some academic reading - a tome on the tactics of social revolution by Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs.