Sunday, May 29, 2005

U.N. Party Planners Wonder, Will Bush and Friends Attend?

The New York Times
May 29, 2005
U.N. Party Planners Wonder, Will Bush and Friends Attend?

SAN FRANCISCO, May 28 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has indicated she will not attend. So has former President George H. W. Bush. The controversial nominee for United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton, has not been heard from, nor has President Bush, who was sent an invitation in February.

Getting big-name administration officials to attend events outside Washington is always a long shot because of their busy schedules. But in the case of the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the United Nations, which will take place in San Francisco late next month, some organizers are wondering if something beyond scheduling conflicts is at play.

Nancy L. Peterson, president of the United Nations Association of San Francisco, a nonprofit group that has been planning the celebration, said no explanation had been offered by the White House. But she said some members were worried that President Bush's seeming disdain for the world organization might be behind the silence and no-shows.

"We are a month out, and that's cutting it close," Ms. Peterson said. When asked if San Franciscans felt slighted, she said, "I think the administration is slighting the American people by not stepping forward on behalf of the United Nations at this turning point."

At the last big anniversary celebration, 10 years ago in San Francisco, where the United Nations charter was signed in 1945, President Clinton played a prominent role.

Sherri Ferris, who is organizing the 60th anniversary invitations, said Mr. Clinton's office had indicated that an appearance next month "is still under consideration." She expects many invitees will fix their June calendars next week.

As of this week, invitations had been accepted by several international figures, including Shashi Tharoor, an under secretary general at the United Nations; Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who was the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights; and Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico. But no member of the Bush administration was among them, organizing officials said.

"It doesn't mean they aren't coming, and it doesn't mean they are," said Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom. Mr. Ragone added, "We've become accustomed to not expecting the Bush administration to attend official events in San Francisco."

As president, Mr. Bush has visited California numerous times but has avoided the overwhelmingly Democratic San Francisco, where he garnered just 15 percent of the vote last year.

Ms. Rice, who taught for many years at nearby Stanford University, was interrupted by antiwar protesters when she spoke at the Commonwealth Club here on Friday.

A spokesman for the National Security Council, where a call to the White House about the president's invitation was referred, said he did not know the invitation's status. A spokesman for the State Department, Noel Clay, said that "the delegation has not been determined," and that Ms. Rice remained a possible attendee.

But Ms. Ferris said the secretary of state had indicated to "someone of stature" on the organizing committee that she would not be attending.

For now, the 16-page official program to the celebration is vague on the subject of dignitaries. The entry for the opening event on June 25 says "speakers will be announced."