Washington's African at the U.N. Kofi Annan: Next secretary-general must effect reforms to keep U.S. support.

December 15, 1996

AFTER A HALF-CENTURY, the United Nations will begin the new year with its seventh secretary-general. Kofi Annan of Ghana, 58, will be the most experience-qualified of the lot, having spent three decades as an international civil servant. And he will be the first black African.

Now the under-secretary-general for peace-keeping, Mr. Annan enjoys a high reputation around the U.N. for competence and tact. That may not please the likes of Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the sort of critic to be assuaged if the U.S. is to pay its $1.4 billion arrears to rescue the U.N. from bankruptcy. More of the U.N. bureaucratic culture is not what is required. Drastic fat-trimming and effectiveness-raising are.

Mr. Annan's anointment marks success for the U.S. campaign to limit his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to one term. Mr. Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian diplomat-politician, was the U.S.-preferred candidate five years ago. He had agreed to have a U.S. subordinate to hunt graft and waste. But after his benefactor, President Bush, lost office in the 1992 U.S. election, Mr. Boutros-Ghali shelved the recommendations of the reformer supplied by Washington, former Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh.

The U.S. drew animosity ostensibly for vetoing Mr. Boutros-Ghali but really for not paying its arrears. So the U.S. did not push a candidate. That made Mr. Annan the obvious African choice on experience and merit. France held out, grandstanding for a secretary-general from a French-speaking African country, showing it could veto as well as the U.S.

Finally, France gave in. The Security Council nomination of Mr. Annan assures his election by the 185-member General Assembly. He knows the turf and can hit the ground running. If the unhappy tradition of two five-year terms has been ended and Mr. Annan considers himself a one-termer, he can be more effective.

He can best serve the United Nations he has worked for all his professional life by implementing true reforms to attract back dues from all the countries owing them. That would raise respect and confidence for the world body as it heads into its second half-century.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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