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UN: World Begins Search For Next Secretary-General

By Nikola Krastev

Last week, the Security Council began discussions on the selection of the next United Nations leader. The term of the current secretary-general, Kofi Annan of Ghana, expires at the end of the year. Annan has led the world body for almost a decade, and in accordance with the UN Charter, is not eligible for a third term.

UNITED NATIONS, 21 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, says the election of the next secretary-general may be the organization's most important decision of 2006.

But speaking last week, Bolton said it's still too early in the talks to name any names.

"We had a general discussion about the subject of the next secretary-general, which is part of our ongoing consultations among the five permanent members," Bolton said. "But that's all really I can say."

Permanent Security Council Members Need Not Apply

Under the UN Charter, the secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. 

And there is an unwritten agreement that the secretary-general will not be a national of any of the five veto-holding permanent members of the council -- China, France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States.

So far, this informal rule has held. And some UN diplomats express regret behind the scenes that because of it, former U.S. President Bill Clinton probably is not eligible to head the world body.

Other names, however, are being mention, including former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden, South Korean Foreign Minster Ban Ki-moon, and former UN disarmament chief Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka.

Geographic Rotation

During the UN's 61-year history, another informal rule has established itself -- that is, for a geographic rotation of the secretaries-general. However, Bolton has said the talks will look not for a candidate from a particular region, but for the most qualified candidate.

But despite Washington's reiterated opposition to the geographic principle rotation, a block of African-Asian member states has formed at the UN that intends to support a candidate from Asia.

The last UN secretary-general from Asia, U-Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), served from 1962 to 1971.

Beijing's UN envoy, Wang Guangua, recently reiterated that China will push for an Asian candidate, and that it has the support of more than half of the UN member states.

"Our position to support the Asian candidates is a clear one, so therefore it is a firm one," Wang said. "Because we believe that with more than 2 billion people, definitely Asia can provide the best qualified candidates for the UN."

The process for selecting the next secretary-general will intensify at the end of the current General Assembly session in June, and resume in September, when the assembly gathers for the start of its new session. 

The new secretary-general will need at least two to three months to get acquainted with the position. With the exception of the current UN leader, who was elected from within the ranks of the organization, all previous secretaries had been outsiders.

Options On The Table

Andrey Denisov, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said Moscow's position for now is "wait and see," and that all options are on the table.

"We don't have any categorical position, any red lines, or any strong principles in that problem," Denisov said. "Well, it is a matter for discussion, and that is first and foremost. As far as Asian [candidate], well it is tradition and nothing else. But it doesn't mean that there is a strict adherence [to that]. It is a matter for discussion."

Pragati Pascale, a spokeswoman for UN General Assembly President Eliasson, said that despite press reports, Eliasson is not interested in running.

"He wants to emphasize that he is the president of the General Assembly, he's very busy doing that, he's obviously completely focused on the very demanding negotiations for the reform of the UN, that he has been mandated to undertake coming out of the World Summit, and he is not a candidate for secretary-general," Pascale said.

The UN has never had a female secretary-general. But Equality Now, an international group promoting gender equality, has undertaken a campaign for a woman to be elected as the next UN secretary-general.

Among the 18 distinguished candidates Equality Now proposes are Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour; and Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a prominent dissident and prime minister-elect of Myanmar (Burma).

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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