WHEN freed American hostage Terry Anderson first spoke with the press in Damascus, Syria, last week, his thanks included "that wonderful man a tall, dark figure standing behind him.
Italian-born Giandomenico Picco, special envoy to United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, had been quietly conducting talks with captors and governments for many months. It has been a risky and largely thankless job. Mr. Perez de Cuellar, who also played a central role, vows the work will continue until all hostages are free.
"The hostage game has been over for a long time," observes Augustus Norton, a political scientist at the United States Military Academy, "but I think a lot of this has to do with the simple doggedness and sincerity of Perez de Cuellar and his staff ... and the energy they invested in this."
Energy is the right word for almost every diplomatic effort under way at this once-staid institution. No longer does superpower rivalry block every UN effort to act. Even the 166 colorful flags (including those of seven new members) flapping vigorously in the breeze on First Avenue seem to be standing a bit taller.
"A growing sense of urgency seems to be building about the need to work together," Perez de Cuellar notes.
This week the El Salvador peace talks are expected to move from Mexico to New York where it is hoped that the UN's ample resources may give a "final push" to negotiations, says UN mediator Alvaro de Soto.
Meanwhile another special envoy, Cyrus Vance, just ended his latest round of discussions in Yugoslavia in preparation for the possible dispatch of a UN peacekeeping force there. The Security Council stands ready to send troops if a lasting cease-fire is reached and the secretary-general gives the word. …