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'I haven't made a decision to quit the UN yet'

By Aziz Haniffa
October 06, 2006 11:41 IST
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Dr Shashi Tharoor, who bowed out of the race for United Nations secretary general, says he has made no decision whether to quit the UN.

Dr Tharoor, currently the UN under secretary general for communications, lost out to South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

In an exclusive interview to Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa from Frankfurt, Germany, where he is attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, Dr Tharoor said he has no illusions that "it's clear that under secretaries general serve at the pleasure of the secretary general," and that Ban Ki-moon has not sounded him on retaining his services at the UN as yet.

Dr Tharoor said it is unlikely that he would become a full-time author because "I don't know if I can afford that."

Asked if he would consider going back to India to serve in some capacity if he were offered a position commensurate with his talents, qualifications and experience, Dr Tharoor said, "I have not been offered anything but certainly that would be one of the options that I would be very happy to consider."

What are your plans now? Will you quit the UN?

I haven't made that decision yet. The fact is that I am actually returning to my desk and to my job on Monday the 9th. The new secretary general only starts on the 1st of January and it is clear under secretaries general serve at the pleasure of the secretary general. So we'll have to see. How can I put this bluntly... whether there is... what his wishes are and indeed whether thereafter I should also examine my own options.

In the meantime, between now and then, I will be considering all possible options because throughout this race I have been focused very much on this secretary generalship and I have not given any thought to Plan B.

At this stage, I haven't got a Plan B, but I am certainly prepared to think about it at the appropriate time.

Has the new secretary general-elect tapped you for any other top position at the UN or sent any feelers through intermediaries about retaining your services at the UN?

He is somebody whom I know, but no. But as I said, I've known him for six years now because I met him when he was in New York. But we have not discussed my future.

The fact that you are at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- what are you doing over there? Is there a message in here?

Actually, this is a one-year-old speaking commitment. As you know, India is the guest of honour at the book fair this year and I had been invited to speak here. Already, on Monday, I missed a major event as patron of the literacy campaign at the book fair. I missed that because of course I stayed till Monday night (October 2) in New York for the poll. But once that went the way it went, I decided that I should keep the rest of my commitments.

I've been doing a number of speeches, panels and interviews as an Indian author here in Frankfurt. There are a number of Indian authors here for this big event. It's the biggest book fair in the world. It's a major, major thing and this is the first time in 20 years that India has been the guest of honor. So it was an important thing to be able to do as an Indian right now.

When Prem (Panicker) interviewed you immediately after India nominated you as its candidate for the post of UN secretary general, you told him that if you did get the secretary general post you would have no time for writing, but that if you didn't get the job, you would have all the time for writing. Will you become a full-time author now?

I don't know if I can afford that, Aziz, to be very honest. But I will certainly, whatever I do in the future, I want to make sure that it leaves me the possibility of carving out enough time for writing.

The fact that you were unsuccessful in landing this plum post at the UN, does this mean it is the end of your career as an international diplomat?

It's too early to draw that conclusion. I haven't drawn any conclusions yet.

Would you consider going back to India to serve in some capacity if you are offered something?

Certainly. I've not been offered anything, but certainly that would be one of the options that I would be very happy to consider, if something is offered. But as I believe I said before to somebody else anyway, I believe I've already received enough from the government in terms of support and I certainly would not ask them for anything.

I believe you are very heartened by the statement Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made on his way back from South Africa?

I am very heartened. He is a very gracious man. I might add that there is a canard being spread by some, frankly, dishonest journalists in Delhi that I had not consulted the government before issuing my statement on Monday.

I just want to tell you on the record that I had consulted the prime minister in South Africa before issuing that statement. So he has been fully understanding and fully supportive from start to finish.

Were you concerned that the South Koreans adopted the strategy that they did in aggressively backing their candidate?

My answer frankly, is that as a candidate my fundamental pitch for myself was about my own record -- my own track record. I was not particularly concerned about how others were advancing their credentials.

We in India have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about in our campaign. We put forward the right issues, we ran on the merits, and we ran very constructively and I don't want to comment on what anybody else was doing.

In any case, I believe that sovereign independent governments make their decisions on the basis of much larger considerations -- at least I would like to believe that -- and I leave it at that.

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