United Nations Seeking Annan's Successor

With Kofi Annan's term due to expire at year's end, the U.N. Security Council is starting the search for a new secretary general. Asian nations insist it's time for someone from their region to hold the post.

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The U.N. Security Council has a full agenda these days with the Middle East crisis and nuclear showdowns with Iran and North Korea. The five permanent members have another major job - searching for a new secretary-general.

Kofi Annan's term expires at the end of the year. Today, the Security Council is holding a straw poll to gauge the popularity of the four candidates announced so far.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Diplomats aren't used to running election campaigns, but candidates for secretary-general from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and South Korea have been making the rounds in New York and in world capitals, trying to get support from Security Council members.

Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala says the feeling among all of them is that it's Asia's turn to have this post.

Mr. JAYANTHA DHANAPALA (Special Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka; Sri Lankan Candidate, Secretary General of the United Nations): It is 36 years since U Thant was the last Asian secretary-general. And we think that Asia -with 60 percent of the global population and with the great powerhouses of the global economy - has a great deal to contribute.

KELEMEN: But the idea of regional rotation is not one that U.S. Ambassador John Bolton is buying. He says it's not in the U.N. Charter. And besides, Eastern Europe has never had the chance, nor has a woman.

Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (United States Ambassador to the United Nations): Nobody ever talks about gender rotation, and so if we're in that kind of mood, why not - after 60 years - consider a qualified woman candidate?

KELEMEN: Secretary General Kofi Annan has suggested this as well. There are no female candidates so far, and U.N. watcher William Luers says none of the announced candidates is likely to be picked.

Ambassador WILLIAM LUERS (President, United Nations Association of the United States of America): The history would argue that the people whose heads appear first are probably not likely to last.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Luers is the president of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. He says the process of picking a U.N. secretary-general has never been a democratic one.

Amb. LUERS: It's more democratic than the selection of the Pope, and less so than the president of the United States

(Soundbite of laughter)

Amb. LUERS: Somewhere in there.

KELEMEN: As the U.N. grapples with numerous reforms, some member states say the selection process for secretary-general should be changed, too. Some want the Security Council to offer the general assembly a choice rather than a fait accompli. Ambassador Bolton says that won't happen. He says the five permanent Security Council members feel it is their duty to choose, and he says they're moving more quickly than in the past.

As to what the U.S. is looking for, Bolton clearly wants a reformer, not a diplomat-in-chief to the world.

Amb. BOLTON: We want somebody who will be the chief administrative officer. I've described the ideal candidate as a proletarian - somebody who will work in the system, who will get his fingernails dirty or her fingernails dirty, and really manage the place, which is what it needs.

KELEMEN: Bolton told NPR he'd prefer someone with, as he put it, fresh eyes. William Luers says there's pressure on the Security Council to find more of an outsider to replace Kofi Annan rather than someone with a lot of experience in the U.N. bureaucracy.

Amb. LUERS: Kofi was an insider, and although he was excellent in my books, he also had so much knowledge of the internal workings that he wasn't prepared to say let's do it this way. Let's do it the new way. And I think the feeling is somebody who hasn't been sort of educated within the U.N. might be a good choice this time.

KELEMEN: There is a history of dark horse candidates emerging, and some U.N. watchers are looking, for instance, at Jordan's ambassador to the U.N., who led an investigation into U.N. peacekeepers and allegations of sexual exploitation. And there are other candidates likely to emerge.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Bolton looks likely to get his own tenure at the U.N. extended. His recess appointment was due to expire at the end of this year, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing this Thursday, and the key Republican holdout the last time around - Senator George Voinovich - says he'll back Bolton this time.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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