- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

NEW YORK — A Sri Lankan career diplomat with close ties to Washington and the United Nations has entered the race to succeed Kofi Annan as the next U.N. secretary-general.

The Sri Lankan government will nominate Jayantha Dhanapala, a former ambassador to Washington, for the top job at the United Nations when it opens up in two years, diplomats said.

Mr. Dhanapala, who for five years ran the U.N. disarmament office, is the second candidate from Asia to replace Mr. Annan. In September, the Thai government nominated its foreign minister, Surakiart Sathirathai.

“One advantage that Mr. Dhanapala has is his knowledge and experience with how the system works,” a Sri Lankan diplomat said last week.

The diplomat did not want to discuss the nomination on the record, saying it would be premature, but he noted that the former disarmament chief had significant international experience and strong ties in Washington.

“This could be very important in that position,” the diplomat said.

The Sri Lankan government has sent feelers to other South Asian nations in hope of building a regional bloc of support. This could help counter support for Mr. Sathirathai from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and discourage challengers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

India, which is hoping to win a permanent seat on the Security Council, is unlikely to put forward a candidate for secretary-general.

As the undersecretary-general for disarmament affairs from 1998 to 2003, Mr. Dhanapala, 65, was responsible for promoting nuclear nonproliferation and overseeing the creation of a conventional arms registry.

He served as his country’s ambassador to Washington from 1995 to 1997, and also has held diplomat postings in London, New Delhi and Beijing. He has long experience working with the Non-Aligned Movement.

Mr. Dhanapala was president of the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty review and extension conference.

Since leaving the United Nations early last year, he has served as the secretary-general of Sri Lanka’s “peace secretariat,” the department responsible for negotiating with the insurgent Tamil Tigers.

That peace process has been at a low ebb, with international observers fearing new outbreaks of fighting in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

U.S. officials were not surprised to hear that Mr. Dhanapala would be a contender to succeed Mr. Annan, but offered little evaluation of his candidacy.

The next secretary-general will have a full plate, including institutional reforms such as expansion of the Security Council, strengthening of the General Assembly and reassessing the priorities of various programs and mandates within the organization.

The process is already under way, with the recent release of suggestions from a high-level panel commissioned by Mr. Annan, but many of the more ambitious changes are likely to take years to complete.

In addition, the United Nations will be involved in the rebuilding of Iraq, peacekeeping in central Africa and the pursuit of ambitious development goals through much of the Southern Hemisphere.

The office of secretary-general, like most senior U.N. postings, is rotated among the world’s regions in an effort to spread the power and the responsibility.

The next five-year term, which begins in January 2007, is widely considered to be Asia’s turn.

However, many Eastern Europeans point out that they have never nominated a secretary-general and Asia had U Thant of Burma from 1961 to 1971.

Longtime U.N. diplomats and observers say the real politicking to fill the post won’t begin for another year or so.

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