- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

Annan at alma mater

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan returned over the weekend to his alma mater, Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., to open the Institute for Global Citizenship.

While a student at Macalester (class of 1961), Mr. Annan excelled in track and field, debating and mixed doubles table tennis, said college President Brian Rosenberg.

“I hope the students don’t walk away with the impression that the most important achievement or the most important activity [at Macalester] is pingpong,” Mr. Annan said to student laughter and applause. “But I must admit, it is fun to play pingpong.”

In a more serious vein, he told of his frustration at the Security Council’s failure to agree on prewar Iraq and his continuing sorrow at not being able to do more to help stabilize and rebuild the oil-rich nation.

“The greatest challenge was the destructive debate and division among the membership in the lead-up to the Iraq war,” Mr. Annan told students during a question-and-answer session. “We failed,” he said.

“Not only did we fail. At the end of the war, I felt we should all do whatever we could to get Iraq right because we can’t afford a destabilized Iraq in the center of the Middle East — a very crucial and sensitive part of the world.”

He also said he wishes Security Council expansion efforts had been successful.

A radical proposal

The Canadian government last week challenged the United Nations, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, to change the way they will choose the next secretary general.

The current system, in which regions nominate candidates and the five permanent members do what they will behind closed doors, eventually presenting one nominee to the full General Assembly for approval, recently provoked unprecedented criticism.

Canada sent open letters to the heads of U.N. bodies last week, and sponsored a press conference by a group of nongovernmental organizations trying to shed light on the process. “We call on Council members to implement a set of realistic yet imperative provisions to bring the current selection process for the U.N. secretary-general in line with improved U.N. standards of transparency and accountability that ensure the selection of a qualified candidate,” they wrote in a letter to council members distributed widely.

The group seeks a public timetable for the selection process, a job description and criteria, as well as a public shortlist of candidates and finalists. The goal, it said, is to create as much transparency as possible for filling an important post.

Mr. Annan’s second five-year term ends Dec. 31, and there is a strong desire to find his successor as soon as possible to allow for a smooth transition.

In the United Nations, where bureaucracy is revered as well as resented, ambassadors say that little can be done to challenge the absolute power conferred by the U.N. Charter on the 15-member Security Council. So nongovernmental organizations, especially those involved in human rights, national development, law and disarmament, have taken an early lead in trying to shake things up.

“Civil society has a huge stake in the United Nations leadership and a deep desire to see that the secretary-general is a highly qualified individual,” said William Pace, executive director of the World Federalist Movement.

Council members have been meeting in small groups for months. Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, who is presiding over the council this month, said he wants all nations to feel they have participated in choosing Mr. Annan’s successor. But none of the five permanent council members seems willing to give up its veto.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said last week that picking the next secretary-general “is a very confusing and unclear procedure.” But candidates have been able to work their way through it in each election for the past 60 years, and “I am sure we will find a way through it now as well,” he added.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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