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Bill Clinton as UN Special Envoy to Haiti

The Miami Herald is reporting that the UN will make an official announcement tomorrow.

"It is an honor to accept the secretary general's invitation to become special envoy to Haiti,'' former President Clinton said in a statement to The Miami Herald. 'Last year's natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti's government and people have the determination and ability to `build back better,' not just to repair the damage done but to lay the foundations for the long-term sustainable development that has eluded them for so long."

He's been there before, of course (and with pretty distinguished company), and has long been interested in the country.  Laura Rozen has more, and to Spencer Ackerman's legitimate question -- will Haiti's government suppose that this provides it with a diplomatic "backchannel" to the White House? -- I can only answer relatively pro forma: Bill is the UN's envoy to Haiti, not the United States'.  And while, sure, the United States is the major player on the world stage (and especially on quasi-neighboring Haiti's), Clinton provides no greater official connection between Haiti and the U.S. than, say, Kai Eide does between Afghanistan and Norway.  Eide's wife is not Norway's foreign minister, of course (not that I know of, at least), but I can easily envision Obama making it pretty clear to his Haitian counterpart that Bill will not be playing unofficial go-between for Haiti's government and his wife.

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David Miliband Dishes

I'm just returning from a presser with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband hosted by the New American Foundation.  (Catch the webcast on The Washington Note).  First, contrary to my prediction he was asked about Sri Lanka -- by the New Yorker writer and New American Foundation president Steve Coll no less.  Miliband said there is no question that the LTTE is a murderous organization, but democracies like Sri Lanka must be held to a higher standard; governments are not allowed to say 'the ends justify the means.' And in describing the plight of some 50,000 civilians trapped in a three square kilometer sliver of land and coming under heavy bombardment, Miliband said "that is the definition of hell."  

I would have liked Miliband to have addressed what sort of policy options are available to the UK and Europe for addressing this crisis, particularly given the fact that Russia and China do not seem to be willing to take this up at the Security Council.  Still, all in all he offered  a welcome response.  

Finally, the newsiest bit (for those, um, not obessively covering the Sri Lanka crisis) was the way in which Miliband framed the foreign policy era that we are poised to enter.   He said that while the global economic recession will never have the searing trauma of 9-11, the long term foreign policy consequences will be just as profound.  At the same time, says Miliband, the Obama administration has recognized that although it is the only superpower, it cannot bring solutions to heel on its own.  Rather, Miliband says that Obama administration understands that the combination of American leadership and international cooperation will be the most powerful force for taking on some of the world's toughest challenges.  The G-20 meeting, says Miliband, is a good example of this principal made manifest.

"Progressive multilateralism," in the words of Miliband, is making a comeback. 

Baby, we've been here for years!

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Secretary Clinton’s Remarks to Model UN Students

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered some remarks to students attending a model UN conference in Washington, D.C. today.  She spoke plainly about why the UN is such a valuable organization for the United States.

Some people criticize the United Nations for good reasons. I mean, it's a big organization and it's a difficult one to really get your arms around. There's so many different countries, and people have different points of view, but that's the point of it. If we didn't have the United Nations, we would have to invent one. On issues like piracy or the H1N1 flu virus, we have to work together. And we do so through organizations that are either formed by, run by, or associated with the United Nations. And that's why it was important, when the United Nations was created back in 1945 here in the United States, that people admitted that we can't solve all the problems on our own. No nation, even one as powerful as ours, is able to do that.

Just look at what's happening as we meet today. More than a hundred thousand UN peacekeepers are stationed around the world. I was recently in Haiti and there's been a great degree of security and stability achieved because of the blue helmets. In particular, that UN force is led by a Brazilian general. We know the difficulties of trying to deal with failed and failing states where conflict and violence is just an every-minute occurrence.

And the United Nations brings relief, they bring humanitarian aid. We're looking at what can be done to help the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Swat region of Pakistan because of the Taliban and the Pakistani army's offensive. We worry about displaced people in Darfur, the Sudan. We just have so many concerns, and the United States cares deeply about the entire world, but we could not be a presence working on all of these issues were it not for the United Nations.

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Hans Blix: UN is Not Outdated

Russia Today has an interview with Hans Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who is perhaps most remembered for not having enough time to look for weapons of mass destruction leading the weapons inspections team in Iraq prior to the invasion. Here he talks non-proliferation and urges moving beyond a Cold War mentality (calling the "League of Democracies" a "useless idea"). Candid about the flaws and benefits of the UN, he calls the body a "village council for the world" and argues that it is not an outdated institution.

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Susan Rice: Still Awesome

Ben Smith of the Politico landed an excellent interview  with US-UN Ambassador Susan Rice. In it, Ambassador Rice talks about the administration's decision to reverse Bush administration policy and join the UN Human Rights Council.

"We have a record of abject failure from having stayed out. We've been out for the duration and it has not gotten better. It's arguably gotten worse," she said. "We are much better placed to be fighting for the principles we believe in — protection of human rights universally, fighting against the anti-Israel crap and for meaningful action on issues that we care about and ought to be the top of the agenda, things like Zimbabwe, Sudan [and] Burma — by leading and lending our voice from within."

A similar logic is at play with the anti-racism conference, scheduled for April 20 in Geneva, the successor to a 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, that featured sharp condemnations of Israel. The U.S. delegation pulled out of preparatory talks for the conference after negotiators produced a 63-page draft text that featured more condemnation of Israel and demands for reparations for the slave trade.

This kind of ideological openess and pragmatism is a welcome break from the past eight years.  The haters will still hate, but all they offer is more of the same.

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NATO Drills (and Cameras)

Kudos to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband for calling Germany out on its sexist gifts to delegations at the NATO summit in France:

The German government are taking every opportunity to fight the downturn.  The large box in my (French) hotel room at the NATO summit was a Bosch drill (with extra drill bits).  But traditions die hard: women Foreign Ministers were given a Leica camera.

Better than DVDs that don't work, I suppose.

(image from flickr user Glenn Zucman under a Creative Commons license)