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Boozy Diplomats Warned At UN

UNITED NATIONS -- United Nations diplomats know how to have a good time. Many missions regularly sponsor concerts, cultural events, and hold swanky parties and receptions.

But some say the carousing has crossed a line. The U.S. ambassador for management and reform chided colleagues on March 4, saying there has been excessive drinking during budget negotiations.

"As for the conduct of negotiations, we made the modest proposal that the negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone," U.S. Ambassador Joseph Torsella said during a meeting of the General Assembly's Fifth Committee, which deals with administration and budgetary matters.

"While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent practices, let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee's reputation in the process."

The UN's budget talks are marathon sessions that run for weeks each December, and often last long into the night. They resumed recently.

A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that diplomats have in the past come to the meeting so intoxicated they could not perform their duties

In one instance, a diplomat was supposed to record the outcome of the meeting, but was too drunk to type.

"This is not about a drink at the end of the day, or even a glass of wine or a scotch while negotiating the text, or a celebration with multiple toasts upon conclusion of negotiations," the anonymous diplomat explained.

The diplomat went on to allege that arriving to meetings late or intoxicated was a tactic used by some representatives to stymie negotiations.

"There are those in this committee who would like to preserve the status quo, and those who would like to see the UN Management and Budget Committee actually adopt some of the reforms that it desperately needs," the source said.

Lubricant To Negotiations

Other diplomats, however, said the drinking that goes on in the Fifth Committee is far more low-key -- and potentially even advantageous to negotiations.

One UN diplomat, also speaking anonymously, said it is usually late in the night of the last meeting that the alcohol is brought out.

"Tradition has it that the chair of the committee, usually around midnight, orders a dozen large pizzas and sodas, so that they don't have a break and go home, dine, and lose time," the diplomat said. "The Russians would usually come up with a couple of bottles of vodka at this time."

The diplomat added that the drinking does not occur in the negotiating room and did not involve the main representatives involved in negotiations.

Some diplomats at the UN are not amused.
Some diplomats at the UN are not amused.
The source suggested that Ambassador Torsella's comments might have been directed toward those diplomats who are only required to be present and must ride out the negotiations until the vote.

The anonymous diplomat suggested that, because Fifth Committee outcomes are decided unanimously, the negotiations might go more smoothly if the more combative representatives have a drink in them.

"It's no secret that sometimes it was pretty useful to have some spoilers being led to a state where they couldn't antagonize the whole negotiation," the diplomat said. "So it's not like the U.S. and others wouldn't have, at times, had a benefit from the approach of some members not being in the proper state of mind to negotiate."

The diplomat said it was difficult to understand the reasoning behind the calls for an inebriation-free zone.

One African diplomat based at the UN, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested that curbing alcohol consumption would go against the spirit of camaraderie.

"Sometimes Russians, they bring vodka. Some African delegations, they bring also wine," the diplomat said. "We have to encourage them, not blame them. We can blame people who are sleeping and not coming to the United Nations to work."

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