Cablegate: Unesco Director General Race

R 240954Z JUN 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS FR 001185


E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/18/18

Classified by Ambassador Louise V. Oliver. Reason 1.4 (b, c, and d)

This is an action message. See Para. 12.

1. (C) Summary: The race to succeed UNESCO Director-General
Matsuura (Japan) is on in earnest, even though UNESCO's General
Conference will not make the final selection until October 2009.
Egypt's Culture Minister Farouk Husni was the first to enter the
race, but he has hurt his chances with a serious anti-Semitic gaffe
in a speech before the Egyptian Parliament. Among others, the
French, who supported him early on, may be looking for a way out of
this promise. Another Arab candidate, Morocco's PermRep Aziza
Benani, has come forward, and Bulgaria's PermRep Irina Bukova has
thrown her hat in the ring too. Lithuania's PermRep Ina Marciulionyte
plans to do likewise after UNESCO's October Executive Board meeting.
Although both the Arabs and eastern Europeans have never had a
director-general and are thus claiming that it is now their turn,
there is no clear requirement that the job go to them. Candidates
may also emerge in Latin America. Deputy Director-General Marcio
Barbosa is considering a run but may not yet have the support of his
government which is also considering backing a former education
minister. Even former Colombian President Pastrana indicated
recently to Ambassador Oliver that he is considering a running.
Given the high stakes and the relatively weak field of candidates
currently in the race, it is in U.S. interest that there be as many
candidates as possible to choose from. End Summary.

2. (C) UNESCO member delegations are increasingly consumed with the
competition to succeed Director-General Koichiro Matsuura (Japan)
whose term expires in November 2009. Much rides on this. His
successor should be someone who will continue Matsuura's sound
administrative/management reforms, while winning member state trust
and giving the Organization greater vision and panache than the
cautious Matsuura has been able to impart. It would be all too easy
for the wrong candidate to permit the Organization to become highly
politicized and to resume the hiring of unqualified cronies as
happened during the reigns of Matsuura's immediate predecessors.

3. (U) Decisions on the procedure to be followed for the election of
Matsuura's successor will be taken at the next session of UNESCO's
58-member Executive Board in October of this year. In September 2009,
the Executive Board will examine responses and recommend a candidate
to the General Conference which groups all 193 member states. The
General Conference will make the final choice at its next session in
October 2009.

4. (SBU) Arab states argue that it is their turn to have the top
job, as none of UNESCO's past directors-general have come from the
Middle East. Egypt, in particular, has moved out strongly, formally
launching Culture Minister Farouk Husni's candidacy even before
UNESCO's last General Conference in the autumn of 2007. The first to
enter the field, Egypt moved vigorously to round up support among the
Arab states and beyond in an attempt to sew things up before any
serious rivals could emerge. They appeared to have obtained an
important endorsement when French President Sarkozy reportedly gave
his blessing to Husni during a visit to Egypt last autumn. (Comment:
As the host country with a long record of active support for UNESCO,
France will have a major voice in the selection of Matsuura's
successor. While the French have not shared with us their criteria,
we assume that they will be insistent as always that whoever is
chosen be able to speak French. End Comment.)

5. (C) Husni's chances have taken a nosedive more recently. First,
he is no longer the only Arab candidate. Morocco has espoused the
candidacy of Aziza Benani, Morocco's UNESCO PermRep and herself a
former Culture Minister. (N.B. Benani's English is extremely weak.)
More important, he made an enormous gaffe in question-time in the
Egyptian Parliament in May. Questioned by a member of the Muslim
Brotherhood about the alleged presence of Israeli books in Egyptian
libraries, he strongly denied there were any and challenged his
questioner to produce one. If he did, Husni announced he would burn
it immediately. Not surprisingly, Israel has since come out strongly
againstHusni, but Husni's problems extend far beyond Israel. The
image of a potential UNESCO director-general burning books does not
sit well with many members, and Husni's subsequent efforts to explain
himself, in which he has not retracted what he is reported to have
said, have only dug the hole deeper. The Egyptian ambassador we are
told is a nervous wreck and trying to explain to everyone that he was
somehow misunderstood.

6. (C) Significantly, French officials, whose support for Husni was
never more than tepid, seem to be looking for a way withdraw from an
embarrassing commitment. France's new UNESCO ambassador, Catherine
Colonna (protect), who claims to be well-connected to the current
French administration, told Ambassador Oliver on June 6 that she did
not think an Arab would be a suitable UNESCO director-general. When
asked, how that squared with Sarkozy's commitment to Husni, she
replied that Sarkozy tends to make off the cuff remarks. Colonna
agreed that the U.S. and France are two countries with the greatest
influence on the outcome, and that we must try to agree on a

7. (C) With Husni appearing to stumble, candidates are emerging in

UNESCOPARI 06241185 002 OF 002

Group II, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which has also
never produced a director-general. Bulgaria's UNESCO PermRep Irina
Bukova told Ambassador Oliver on June 11 that she is now her
country's official candidate. We understand that Bulgaria's president
publicly announced her candidacy at a meeting of Southeast European
heads of state in Athens earlier this month. According to Bukova, the
Bulgarian Prime Minister will seek U.S. support for her during his
meeting with the President in Washington on July 15.

8. (C) Bukova is not, however, the only Eastern European angling for
the job. Lithuania's PermRep Ina Marciulionyte has informed
Ambassador Oliver that she too plans to be a candidate. She says she
has the firm backing of her president and plans to make her candidacy
known after UNESCO's October 2008 Executive Board meeting. (N.B. The
Board is expected to agree at this meeting to send a letter to all
member states asking them to propose candidates.) Ambassador
Marciulionyte's candidacy has already drawn a reaction from her
Bulgarian rival. Ambassador Bukova has told Ambassador Oliver that
Lithuania's backing for Marciulionyte is not firm, and that Bulgaria
has already approached Lithuania to ask that she not proceed with her
candidacy. Marciulionyte says she will not withdraw and firmly
denies that her government is having second thoughts about her.

9. (C) Despite the claims of the Arabs and Eastern Europeans, there
is no formal requirement that the next director-general come from
either region. Viable candidates may thus also emerge in Latin
America or elsewhere. Current Deputy Director-General Marcio Barbosa
(Brazil) wants to run and claimed some months ago to have the backing
of his government. The Brazilian PermRep told Ambassador Oliver on
June 11, however, that the Brazilian Government has not made a
decision whether or not to back Barbosa. The Brazilian Government is
also considering nominating a former Brazilian education minister.
The Brazilian ambassador told us that he will make a recommendation
to his government in July.

10. (C) Finally, former Colombian President Andres Pastrana who
attended a June 15-17 UNESCO Conference on the violent radicalization
of youth, asked Ambassador Oliver whether it was true that the next
director-general had to be an Arab. When told this was not the case,
he responded that he was interested in running but had not made a
final decision.

11. (C) Comment: In our view, the field of candidates so far is
relatively weak. It would be very premature to make any decisions.
We should encourage more candidates to enter the race and widen our
scope for choice, and we should be on our guard for
misrepresentations from the candidates and their governments. The
contradictory assertions we have already received about who does and
does not have the support of his/her government are the first, but
probably not the last, efforts to mislead us.

12. (C) Action Requested: We should look before we leap. The U.S.
should look carefully at the backgrounds of various candidates who
have emerged so far to see whether there is anything in their past of
which we should be aware. We would be particularly interested in an
all-source assessment of the Bulgarian candidate, Irina Bukova and
her relationship with the current Russian Culture Minister (until
recently Russia's ambassador to France). Given Russia's strong
historical relationship with Bulgaria, we would expect the Russians
to support Bukova. Their support, however, could come with some
significant strings attached. Post also requests a careful
assessment of former Colombian President Pastrana. Given the
weakness of the field, he could have a chance if the Latins were to
rally behind him.


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