- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

Annan’s successor

The election for U.N. secretary-general is still a year away, but the campaign to succeed Kofi Annan is well under way.

Three Asian candidates are already making the rounds, with Asian nations and most of the U.N. Security Council agreed that it is the region’s turn to fill the job under an unwritten principle that rotates top jobs around the world.

But the Bush administration appears to have other ideas.

In the delicate language of diplomacy, U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton last week dismissed Asia’s exclusive right to the job, saying Washington would continue to look for experienced, qualified candidates regardless of their nationality.

“We’ve never accepted the idea that there is geographical rotation,” he told editors and writers during a luncheon at The Washington Times. “Eastern and Central Europe have never had a secretary-general, so that’s worth looking at.”

Mr. Bolton said Mr. Annan himself broke the tradition of two terms per continent by seeking his own re-election after Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali had already served one.

Mr. Bolton declined to say who the Bush administration is backing, or even whether Washington has identified any suitable candidates. U.S. officials have long acknowledged that their endorsement can bring the “kiss of death.”

“We’re in discussions with a lot of people now about who that might be and how they might be persuaded to run, and if they do, how they might be selected,” Mr. Bolton said. “The United States never says who it votes for for secretary-general, and I guess the corollary is that we never comment on their candidacies, either.”

Manager needed

Mr. Bolton hinted that the Bush administration is underwhelmed by the declared candidates — Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Sri Lankan peace negotiator Jayantha Dhanapala and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

“I’ve met with all three and have respect for all of them and enjoyed exchanging ideas,” Mr. Bolton said, noting that U.S. diplomats are still scouting additional candidates. “There are many people who might put their names forward, and it’s awkward that people who are in another position may not want to be seen as looking for other things. … We want the broadest universe to choose from.”

Mr. Bolton said that regardless of his or her nationality, the next secretary-general should be more of an administrator than a global diplomat.

“We are actively considering … what kinds of characteristics we need in that person so they can hit the ground running with their own view of reform,” Mr. Bolton said, adding that the next U.N. chief must “believe that good administration is really his priority, rather than something to be dealt with secondhand after international political issues.”

Mr. Bolton was relaxed and cheerful during the 90-minute luncheon, rarely going off the record or wavering from familiar talking points. Unlike many diplomats, for whom working meals and receptions can fill the day, he even tucked into the rich chocolate cake for dessert.

The U.S. ambassador said he is enjoying his time in New York and has been well-received by the other ambassadors.

Since arriving on Aug. 1, he said, he has had private meetings with more than 90 of the 190 other U.N. ambassadors, and has at least shaken hands with representatives of nearly every nation that has diplomatic relations with Washington.

Mr. Bolton said he might not recognize the North Korean or Cuban ambassadors, although the Iranians — who favor a unique collarless shirt — are easier to spot.

“And I’m sure they know me,” Mr. Bolton acknowledged, a smile visible under his famously bushy mustache.

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

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