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Controlling chaos: USUN team gears up to serve General Assembly.

For New Yorkers, early September means the approaching end of a long baseball season and an equally long hot summer, but for the staff of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in midtown Manhattan it means controlled chaos as 192 delegations from all U.N. member states descend upon New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The recently concluded 65th session of UNGA was no different. USUN saw a huge increase in activity and a surge of energy in its daily hustle and bustle.

For Reporting Officer Alex Tatsis, who recently completed his first tour as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, UNGA was an exciting new challenge.

"As the Darfur reporting officer in Sudan, I dealt extensively with the U.N./African Union hybrid mission in Darfur," he said. "Having observed U.N. operations in the field, I was especially interested to see how decisions are made at U.N. Headquarters."

At UNGA, Tatsis was the U.S. delegation's reporting officer for the Committee on Disarmament and International Security, as well as on the Special Political and Decolonization Committee. He held one of five temporary positions set aside each year for entry-level officers at USUN.

Tatsis and his colleagues spent nearly four months filling these key reporting positions while between postings abroad. He produced a series of reporting cables on the committees' general and thematic debates, saying he enjoyed helping keep Washington informed and seeing multilateral diplomacy in action.

Jeff O'Neal, one of four other ELOs working alongside Tatsis, said he wanted to be on the "sideline to history in the making."

The Department also sent to UNGA public delegates who were nominated by the President and funded by the Bureau of International Organization's Office of International Conferences. The delegates deliver speeches and defend U.S. interests as alternate representatives to the permanent representative in all UNGA sessions.

Carol Fulp and Greg Nickels, the delegates to the latest UNGA, are Department employees who said they saw themselves as "citizen ambassadors." Fulp is from the private sector, and Nickels is the former mayor of Seattle.

Nickels called the opening ceremony, involving 130 or so heads of state and diplomats, "an awesome equalizing experience."

Fulp hopes to leave "a legacy others can build on while taking away a greater sensitivity to a host of cultures."

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Area Advisors

The Department's area-specific advisors at USUN work at UNGA with other nations' U.N. ambassadors, conveying U.S. views, values and policies. Besides covering the General Assembly, they facilitate informal meetings, nongovernmental organizations' briefings and public diplomacy events. Because these advisors have spent most of their Department careers within their geographic regions, they are critical to reassuring other nations' delegations that the State Department is sensitive to their approach.

"Every country looks at issues through its own pair of glasses," said Ambassador Gerald Scott, whose regional focus is Africa.

This year, Ambassador Richard Erdman, who served as an area advisor focusing on the Middle East, led the United States and at least 37 other nations' delegations in a walkout of Iranian President Ahmandinejad's speech accusing the United States of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Because of a similar walkout last year, said Erdman, "We knew something could happen, so we were prepared."

The UNGA support operation relies on the dedication and hard work of the USUN team and the Office of International Conferences, which allocates a major portion of its budget to each year's UNGA for such expenses as salaries for support staff and travel, per diem and housing for ELOs, delegates and advisors.

"Housing is secured well in advance and planning for this year's UNGA 65 began during UNGA 64," said Jennifer Johnson, general services officer at USUN. The GSO also provides credentials for the U.S. delegation, handles the procurements for meetings and press briefing and arranges audio-visual support.

Complexity Added

Last year's preparations were greatly complicated by USUN's move to a new facility, which did not occur until mid-August, weeks before the arrival of the U.S. delegation.

The move, said Johnson, required the GSO to set up computers, workstations, printers and Blackberries for up to 225 people, depending on the presence of the U.S. delegation, and handle the logistics of moving and consolidating offices.

Working at USUN during the UNGA is an intense and exceptionally rewarding experience, and all mission staff operate in high gear until the end of December. Then, they get a short break before heading out to a new post or returning to start planning for next year's UNGA.

The author is an intern in the Office of International Conferences of the Bureau of International Organizations.
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Title Annotation:U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Author:Bristol, Anita
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:781
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