Cablegate: Fao Director General Election: India's Permrep Floats Possible Indian Candidates
C O N F I D E N T I A L ROME 002926
FROM U.S. MISSION TO THE UN AGENCIES IN ROME PASS USDA FAS FOR U/S PENN, JBUTLER, MCHAMBLISS, LREICH, RHUGHES; STATE FOR IO A/S HOLMES, DAS MILLER, IO/EDA, E, EB; AID FOR EGAT, DCHA/OFDA, DCHA/FFP; NEW DELHI FOR AGCOUNS RUSSELL AND POLCOUNS PYATT
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/27/2009 TAGS: AORC EAGR PREL KUNR IN FAO
SUBJECT: FAO DIRECTOR GENERAL ELECTION: INDIA'S PERMREP FLOATS POSSIBLE INDIAN CANDIDATES
REF: ROME 2873 (NOTAL)
Classified By: Ambassador Tony P. Hall for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (U) This is an action message. See para 10 below.
2. (C) Summary: Indian Permrep Himachal Som requested a meeting with Ambassador Hall on July 26 to discuss options for a possible Indian candidacy to succeed Senegal's Jacques Diouf as Director General (DG) of FAO. Som said the GOI supports term limits for UN agency heads, and is concerned that another term for Diouf would result in benign neglect (or worse) of FAO by major donors. He explained that India might be able to present a strong candidate, mentioning two possible names; but he added that the GOI is unlikely to pursue this unless it is reasonably confident that an Indian candidacy has a chance of success, which would at minimum require strong USG and EU support.
3. (C) Ambassador Hall reiterated the firm USG commitment to term limits as a matter of principle, and reviewed our efforts to encourage nominations of alternative candidates. He noted, however, that Diouf has already lined up considerable, possibly sufficient G-77 support, and any challenger would need to run a vigorous, against-the-odds campaign. In U.S. Mission's view, the Indian Permrep's proposals are welcome, but tardy. Som had not done his homework to assess the current state of play, and was probably at too early a stage in his thinking to be able to table a serious initiative. This was a discussion we should have had four months ago. End summary.
4. (C) Som began the discussion with Ambassador Hall and key U.S. Mission staff by mentioning India's UNGA votes in favor of term limits. He said that the GOI, while recognizing that circumstances might differ at the specialized UN agencies, disagrees with the notion that the incumbent DG at FAO should be exempted from such limits. Moreover, he added, the Indians are seriously worried that another six -- and possibly even ten -- years under Diouf would seriously undermine support for FAO among the major contributors and cause lasting harm to the organization. Som said he feared another Diouf term would result in benign neglect by key contributors, at best, or a repetition of UNESCO's experience, at worst. (Note: The term limits amendment to the FAO Constitution does not go into effect until January 2006 -- i.e., after the DG election -- and the generally accepted view in Rome is that it does not apply retroactively. By this logic, Diouf, like any other candidate, would be eligible for a six-year term, followed by a possible four-year, final term. See reftel for further background. End note.)
5. (C) The Indian Permrep then laid out the case for a possible Indian candidacy, noting India's population size and democratic system, its agricultural and technical expertise, its pivotal role as a both a donor and recipient of international aid, and its current lack of a top UN position. He mentioned two possible candidates, noting that neither had yet been approached:
-- Dr. M.S. Swaminathan: father of the Green Revolution in India, widely respected, already eighty but very energetic; and
-- Dr. Amrita Patel, Chairperson of the National Dairy Development Board, a dynamic veterinarian in her fifties who brings a strong interest in cooperatives and a concern for gender issues.
6. (C) Som said he had raised the idea of an Indian candidate tentatively with his Foreign Minister recently, whose immediate question was whether such a candidacy could be successful. Som admitted that, following the recent elections, the minority government in India was in a weak position and could not afford a failed candidacy. There is also concern in the GOI about potential harm to India's relations with Africa, which it has worked hard to cultivate. Som concluded that, with these potential downsides, he would not be able to recommend pursuing a candidacy without ""more than passive support"" from the U.S. and other key OECD members. He also foresaw possible USG support for an Indian candidate for the FAO position as a major step forward in U.S.-Indian relations.
7. (C) Ambassador Hall responded by restating the USG commitment to term limits and reviewing U.S. efforts to encourage nominations of other candidates. He noted that no serious candidates had appeared thus far; meanwhile, Diouf had already lined up substantial G-77 support. He agreed with Som that others are unlikely to back a challenger unless there is some assurance of a successful outcome, and this would require mounting a serious campaign. The Ambassador engaged to refer Som's proposals to Washington agencies, and to report back the reaction received.
8. (C) Comment: The Indian Ambassador's visit is the first serious proposal of an alternative candidate we have received at the U.S. Mission (though other names have been mentioned in passing). Yet even this trial balloon seems fairly limp, with Som's seeming unawareness of Diouf's recent successes in lining up Caribbean and Islamic countries' endorsements, his lack of information about vacillation on term limits within the EU, and his failure thus far to even approach tentative Indian candidates.
9. (C) Comment, Continued: As pointed out in reftel, any serious attempt to mount a candidacy at this relatively late stage will require running against the odds to successfully break unity within several G-77 regional groups. Any octogenarian (short of Mandela), or other less than gung-ho candidate with money, energy, time, organization, and full national support is not going to make the grade. Before any OECD members will openly consider an Indian candidate, moreover, they will want to see whether India has the Asia Group behind it. That is not yet the case, and achieving even that first step could require weeks or longer, given the summer holiday season now upon us. In other words, the game is late for testing the waters, as was Som,s apparent objective for this meeting. End comment.
10. (U) Action request: We would welcome Washington and Embassy New Delhi comments on this subject.
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