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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yushchenko Joins the Davos A-List

COLOGNY, Switzerland -- Klaus Schwab's office here has a striking view of Lake Geneva and the snow-dusted peaks beyond. It is a fitting backdrop, because for Schwab, the ups and downs of his job these days are more vertiginous than a mountain range.

On a recent morning, Schwab arrived to a telephone call from the Indonesian ambassador to Switzerland, who broke the news that his president would not attend this month's World Economic Forum conference in Davos because he did not want to leave in the wake of the tsunami.

"C'est dommage," Schwab rumbled in French -- "that is too bad." After conveying his best wishes for the relief effort, he hung up and returned wordlessly to his appointment calendar.

If Schwab was chagrined at losing a timely guest for his conference, he was not about to show it. After all, he was fresh from landing another big name, Viktor Yushchenko, the newly elected president of Ukraine, whom he persuaded at a private dinner in Geneva two nights earlier.

Each year in late January, Schwab, a German-born former business school teacher, throws the ultimate A-list party -- gathering chief executives, political leaders, activists, even rock stars for a blend of high-flown talk and down-and-dirty networking in an Alpine ski resort.

Schwab, 65, has built a thriving business around the conference, housed in a sleek, glass-and-stone building outside Geneva.

For all its ancillary activities, however, the World Economic Forum still lives or dies on the buzz generated by Davos. Two weeks before opening day on Jan. 26, the planning here has reached a fever pitch.

The conference schedule, nearly a year in the making, is being rearranged up to the last minute, as the organizers try to nail down confirmations from presidents, prime ministers and other notables. German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der is coming and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely, but French President Jacques Chirac is probably not. Bill Gates is a definite, as is Bono of U2, but Bill Clinton had not yet sent his R.S.V.P.

"Clinton's people aren't enthusiastic about his being scheduled on Sunday," said Stephanie Janet, a keeper of the schedule, as she delivered a daily status report. Aides to Gates, the Microsoft boss who is a co-chairman of the conference, had earlier suggested that he appear on a panel with the former president.

"I've already scheduled two major sessions for Bill Gates, and told them, 'that's it,'" said the program director, Ged Davis, rubbing his eyes wearily. "He seems to want more and more."

A Microsoft spokesman said, "It sounds like there was some confusion somewhere. The general outline of Bill's schedule has been the same for weeks."

Do not even ask Davis about the contretemps between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his arch rival, Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer. The forum has been dragged into a spat between the two, because Blair laid claim to a slot previously intended for Brown.

While the chancellor's loyalists groused in the British press, Davis scrambled to come up with an alternative respectable enough to keep Brown from canceling. How about a panel on Third World debt relief with Gates and the Brazilian president, Luiz Lula da Silva?

"A lot of this is about putting people together in unique situations," said Davis, a soft-spoken, unflappable man who used to do scenario planning at the Royal Dutch/Shell Group.

It is also about getting people at the right time. Yushchenko asked to deliver an address, a privilege Schwab hands out sparingly. But given his riveting story-winning election after a popular uprising forced an earlier ballot to be nullified -- Schwab was happy to oblige.

Davos' bread-and-butter remains the more than 1,000 corporate executives who pay $12,000, plus an annual membership fee of $25,600, for the privilege of hobnobbing with the likes of Yushchenko and Angelina Jolie, the actress, who is coming to talk about development issues.

For all its claims about setting the global agenda, the World Economic Forum is a hostage to events.

The elections in Iraq, which fall just after Davos, ruled out visits by prominent Iraqis. On the plus side, Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian leader, is hoping to come, provided events at home allow it, as is Shimon Peres of Israel.

Last year was a tough one for Schwab on several fronts. He received a diagnosis of prostate cancer, which was treated successfully in the United States. And he lost his two lieutenants, when the World Economic Forum's co-chief executives resigned within months of each other.

Schwab's dominant role has caused problems before. Five years ago, he came under scrutiny for using the World Economic Forum, a nonprofit entity, to invest in for-profit business ventures. He says he and the forum no longer have such investments, and he recently gave up his last outside board seat.

In his office, Schwab took stock of the preparations. He had high hopes for the Israel-Palestine panel, which he said could revive a Davos dialogue on the Middle East that was interrupted in 2001 when Yasser Arafat delivered a scathing denunciation of the Israelis, while sitting on a stage with Shimon Peres.

"I came prepared for a wedding, not a divorce," Peres responded, in a line that has become part of Davos lore.

It is these unscripted moments that give Davos its juice.

As Schwab reached for the phone, he was already thinking of how to stir things up. Maybe Benjamin Netanyahu, the finance minister and former prime minister of Israel, on a stage with Mahmoud Abbas.

"I'll send Netanyahu an invitation," he told the Israeli ambassador.