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U.N. Chief Must Step Down, Clinton Insists

Diplomacy: Boutros-Ghali's supporters say he will fight for second term as secretary-general despite opposition.

September 25, 1996|CRAIG TURNER and STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

UNITED NATIONS — President Clinton on Tuesday repeated his administration's determination to block Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term as secretary-general, but supporters of the embattled U.N. leader said he will not withdraw from his fight to keep the job.

Clinton and Boutros-Ghali conferred privately for 15 minutes and discussed world issues. But they omitted the matter everyone else at the United Nations is talking about: the pledge by the United States to use its veto if necessary to defeat Boutros-Ghali.

Asked if the veto had been discussed, Clinton told reporters that it had not because the Egyptian diplomat "knows our position is firm and will not be changed."

White House spokesman David Johnson elaborated, saying: "It is clear to the secretary-general that our decision to seek a new secretary-general is irrevocable. There is no doubt in the secretary-general's mind that we will exercise our veto."

Asked if the U.S. intended to renew its offer--rejected by Boutros-Ghali months ago, then withdrawn--to extend his term for one year, Johnson said there will be "a new secretary-general in 1997, the first of the year."

U.N. spokeswoman Sylvana Foa said the two leaders, in their "businesslike session," talked about turmoil in Burundi, refugees in Zaire, African development and the problem of focusing public attention on the world's trouble spots.

The session came only three months after the Clinton administration first said it would employ its Security Council veto if necessary to defeat Boutros-Ghali's bid for another five-year term.

That declaration has stirred up much U.N. resentment against the United States and bolstered the once-sagging popularity of Boutros-Ghali. It comes atop anger among U.N. members over Washington's failure to pay its full assessment of U.N. dues.

In the face of the anti-American mood, Clinton included a spirited defense of the U.N. in an address to the General Assembly and promised that the U.S. will pay its accumulated debt--now at $1.64 billion--"soon." He praised the U.N. for "preserving the peace . . . vaccinating children . . . caring for refugees . . . sharing the blessings of progress around the world."

While Clinton made clear his determination to torpedo Boutros-Ghali, whose term ends Dec. 31, the secretary-general's supporters insisted that he has no intention of retreating, leaving uncertain both his future and that of the U.N. Other serious candidates for the position have refrained from declaring themselves while Boutros-Ghali holds out.

The secretary-general has been campaigning for support all summer, and one advisor Tuesday estimated his chance of staying in office at "50-50."

The principal strategy for keeping him in office involves an arcane parliamentary maneuver that would drive the Security Council into gridlock. Under the U.N. Charter, the 15-member Security Council nominates the secretary-general while the General Assembly--all 185 U.N. members--accepts or rejects the choice. No nominee has been turned down by the assembly in the United Nations' 51 years.

As outlined by an African ambassador who is one of Boutros-Ghali's strongest backers, the plan would depend on cooperation from another permanent Security Council member--probably China--to veto any alternative candidate. Under this scenario, the General Assembly would let Boutros-Ghali stay in office while the Security Council remained deadlocked.

Although some diplomats believe that African governments--who control the largest block of assembly seats--would come up with another candidate once Boutros-Ghali was vetoed, the African ambassador denied that the continental ranks would break. "No credible African candidate will put himself forward," he said.

Times staff writer Norman Kempster contributed to this report.

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