- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

NEW YORK — John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, demanded yesterday that Kofi Annan repudiate what Mr. Bolton called “condescending” remarks about Americans by the secretary-general’s chief aide, sparking a nasty U.S.-U.N. spat in which neither side showed signs of backing down.

“I spoke to the secretary-general this morning. I said, ‘I’ve known you since 1989, and I’m telling you this is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen in that entire time,’” Mr. Bolton told reporters yesterday morning.

“To have the deputy secretary-general criticize the United States in such a manner can only do grave harm to the United Nations.”

Neither the U.S. Mission to the United Nations nor the State Department spelled out what sort of harm was meant, but Mr. Bolton’s remarks were widely presumed to augur a new budget fight.

“I am concerned at this point at the very wounding effect that this criticism of the United States will have in our efforts to achieve reform,” Mr. Bolton added, a likely reference to the effect on Congress, where bills to limit or put conditions on the payment of U.N. dues have been discussed.

Mark Malloch Brown, the U.N. deputy secretary-general, said Tuesday that Middle America did not understand how closely the United States works with the United Nations because the Bush administration had failed to publicly support the organization.

“Much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News,” Mr. Malloch Brown said in a speech to two think tanks, the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation.

“The U.N.’s role is in effect a secret in Middle America even as it is highlighted in the Middle East and other parts of the world,” he added. “To acknowledge an America reliant on international institutions is not perceived to be good politics at home.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington yesterday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be “most surprised” by Mr. Malloch Brown’s complaints.

“This administration has worked very hard and worked very closely with Secretary-General Annan on the issue of U.N. reform. We’ve worked hard to explain what we’re doing to the Congress. We’ve worked hard to explain that to the American people,” he said.

But U.N. officials were not backing down.

“The secretary-general stands by the statements made by his deputy … and he agrees with the thrust of it,” said Annan spokesman Stephane Dujarric. He said there was “no question” of repudiating the remarks or disciplining the often-outspoken deputy.

The United States and the United Nations have clashed repeatedly over the years. Most recently, Washington has been pressing for reforms to make the organization more efficient and accountable, and Mr. Annan himself has drafted several proposals to streamline the far-flung organization.

Many of the key reforms have been shot down by a coalition of developing nations, which did not want to see decision-making taken from committees in which they constitute a powerful voting bloc.

U.N. officials are particularly frustrated because the United States has held up approval of its current contribution to the organization’s budget in hopes of maintaining pressure for reforms.

Mr. Malloch Brown, a British national who has long lived in the United States, said in his speech that Washington’s “intermittent” attention to the organization has contributed to a relationship similar to a “bad marriage.”

“And when the U.S. does champion the right issues like management reform, as it is currently doing, it provokes more suspicion than support,” he said.

Mr. Malloch Brown said he was offering the remarks as “a sincere and constructive critique of U.S. policy toward the U.N. [as] a friend and admirer.”

But the former World Bank vice president and public relations executive clearly understood the explosive nature of what he said. It has been a custom that senior U.N. officials do not criticize member nations, particularly the largest contributor to the U.N. budget.

“I am going to give what might be regarded as a rather un-U.N. speech,” he said at the outset. “My underlying message, which is a warning about the serious consequences of a decades-long tendency by U.S. administrations of both parties to engage only fitfully with the U.N., is not one a sitting United Nations official would normally make to an audience like this.”

U.N. and U.S. officials agree that Mr. Malloch Brown, who left the World Bank to run the U.N. Development Program with the Clinton administration’s support, has worked vigorously on U.N. management reform.

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