Robert Moller Dies at 85; Mediated Between U.N. Envoys and the City

Robert C. Moller, a former New York City police detective who as a State Department diplomat spent two decades shielding visiting U.N. delegates from the idiosyncrasies of New York City and vice versa, died on Dec. 6 at his home in Freehold Township, N.J. He was 85.

The cause was a degenerative brain condition called progressive supranuclear palsy, his son Thomas Moller said.

As if Mr. Moller’s job in the police Intelligence Division wasn’t perilous enough, his subsequent portfolio as the host country’s liaison for some 50,000 United Nations envoys and staff would have tested the patience of any referee or pacificator.

Mr. Moller (pronounced MOE-ler) gently pressured deadbeat countries to reduce what they owed in rent, parking fines and overdue utility bills (including $86,000 Uganda and Cameroon owed Consolidated Edison). He helped expand the jurisdiction of U.S. courts to garnish the wages of United Nations workers who miss alimony and child support.

He dealt with challenges to travel restrictions the United States placed on diplomats from certain countries and immunity claimed from local criminal and civil statutes.

In 1983, his office intervened with officials in Englewood, N.J., who objected that Libya’s United Nation’s ambassador had turned a million-dollar one-family home into a retreat for more than a dozen employees of that country’s U.N. Mission.

That same year, Mr. Moller’s office negotiated the surrender of a North Korean diplomat who had been hiding in his country’s Manhattan mission for 10 months to avoid arrest for sexual assault. The diplomat left the mission, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and vowed to leave the United States and never return.

His surrender affirmed the legal doctrine that diplomats from observer missions are entitled to immunity from arrest only for acts connected with their official duties.

The job — Minister-Counselor for Host Country Affairs of the United States Mission to the United Nations — sometimes required creative diplomacy. Mr. Moller once sought to force the recall of a Mexican ambassador who drew his gun on a New York City driver over a parking dispute, The Washington Post reported. When a low-flying helicopter nearly hit the weekend residence of the Soviet delegate to the United Nations, Mr. Moller was the one trying to explain it to the Soviets.

Mr. Moller’s office often attracted more mundane concerns, including requests for help from poorer countries challenged by the city’s high cost of living, complaints about water main breaks and power failures, and episodic crackdowns by politically-sensitive public officials on double-parked diplomats and other abuses by drivers with diplomatic license plates.

In 1984, the State Department assumed responsibility from state motor vehicle departments for issuing diplomatic plates, requiring that unpaid parking tickets be settled before plates could be renewed.

The perception that foreign diplomats get away with murder is misplaced, Mr. Moller told The Washington Post in 2003. “Our statistics show that the diplomats are probably victims of crime 30 times compared to the one time they commit the crime,” he said.

Robert Charles Moller was born on March 30, 1937, in Brooklyn. His father, Viggo, was a police officer. His mother, Helen (Bodenstedt) Moller, was a homemaker.

He graduated from James Madison High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Albright College in Reading, Pa., in 1958. He served in the Army Reserves and received a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College of the City University of New York in 1971.

In addition to his son Thomas, he is survived by his wife, Margaret (Carrigy) Moller; their other sons, Robert and Kenneth Moller; their daughter Christine Mitchinson; his sisters, Marilyn Slaker and Joan Taks; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mr. Moller’s first job after college was with the New York City Police Department. He retired as a first grade detective in the intelligence division in 1976.

Mr. Moller then joined the United States Foreign Service, a job in which he drafted an evaluation of New York City’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

His research, coupled with five years of experience in the diplomatic service, led to his appointment in 1981 to the State Department’s newly-created position of liaison to the United Nations.

While New York City had its own commissioner for the United Nations, more or less as a courtesy and to promote tourism and economic development, since 1962, Mr. Moller’s office was established to provide a diplomatic level liaison with delegates, missions and residences of member and observer states and their staffs.

He served in that role until his retirement in 2004.

When he retired, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright characterized him as “one of America’s best diplomats.”

“I have often said if the United Nations did not exist, we would have to invent it,” she wrote him. “The same goes for you. If Bob Moller did not exist, we would have to invent him.”

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