Viewing cable 08PARISFR1185

08PARISFR11852008-06-24 09:54:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Mission UNESCO
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 
against Husni, 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.