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UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen took many by surprise last week when he blasted Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, after systematically blaming Israel for the Palestinians' situation.

Diplomats and commentators believe that Roed-Larsen made a "calculated gamble" that would help him get elected as UN secretary general.

Roed-Larsen, one of the most senior and prominent UN diplomats, said last week in a briefing to envoys of member states and in the Security Council that, "despite repeated promises by the PA leadership, there has been no progress in implementing its undertaking to take measures to put an end to violence and terror." He lambasted the PA chairman, accusing him of helping the Egyptian efforts to advance the reforms in the PA "only partially."

The UN PLO observer, Nasser al-Kidwa, distributed an unprecedently harsh statement in response to Roed-Larsen's utterances. The PA declared him persona non grata and banned him from entering the PA.

"Roed-Larsen has high ambitions," said a Western diplomat in New York. His desire to be elected UN secretary general after Kofi Annan retires in about two years is no secret in New York. Roed-Larsen is considered a skilled, energetic and reliable diplomat, and Scandinavian diplomats are highly regarded in the United Nations.

Roed-Larsen is due to end his Middle East mission in November and is planning to settle in New York. He is expected to be appointed CEO of the International Peace Academy, which is affiliated with the UN. His wife is to be appointed to a senior post in Norway's mission to the UN.

The peace academy position will provide Roed-Larsen with a convenient springboard to the race for UN secretary general. "Roed-Larsen knows the Jews in New York are very influential, and he cannot begin his new career with the reputation of a Palestinian lover who harassed Israel," a New York commentator said.