UNITED NATIONS — Departing Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali bore the American veto that forced him from office like a medal of honor Tuesday in a farewell address that gently scolded the United States for failing to fully support the world body.
The speech, alternately defensive and defiant, did not specify the United States. But Boutros-Ghali reflected a common complaint about the U.S. among member states by criticizing governments that would impose reforms on the United Nations while failing to meet their financial obligations to the world body.
The United States, which has clamored for a less expensive and restructured U.N., is the member most behind in its dues, owing about $1.45 billion.
And the U.N. fiscal crisis, Boutros-Ghali said bluntly, "is not the result of mismanagement. It is [due to] the refusal [of members] to fulfill a treaty obligation."
Further, he said in his 20-minute address to the General Assembly, "Extensive reform of the United Nations can only emerge from a consensus among member states on the goals of reform. Until such a consensus exists and until the political will emerges to take hard decisions . . . major institutional reform is impossible."
Boutros-Ghali also put his own spin on the Clinton administration decision to bar him from a second term, suggesting that he was dumped because he refused to bend to the Americans' will.
"The holder of this office must never be seen as acting out of fear of, or in an attempt to curry favor with, one state or group of states," he said. "Should that happen, all prospects for the United Nations would be lost. . . . Throughout the past five years, the first thing I thought of when I awoke in the morning were my responsibilities as secretary-general to the ideal of the charter and [the] independence and credibility of the organization."
His speech preceded the General Assembly vote by acclamation that confirmed Kofi Annan, 58, of Ghana as the new secretary-general, effective Jan. 1.
Annan, in contrast to Boutros-Ghali, stressed cooperation, change and "healing" in his acceptance speech, saying the 185-member U.N., "along with the rest of the world, must change. . . . Let every member state welcome this change, not resist it. Let us make change our ally, not our enemy. . . .
"If all of us in this hall," he told delegates, "can make this organization leaner, more efficient and more effective, more responsive to the wishes and needs of its members and more realistic in its goals and commitments, then . . . will we serve both this organization's high purpose and the planet's best interests. . . . Applaud us when we prevail, correct us when we fail. But above all, do not let this indispensable, irreplaceable institution wither, languish or perish as a result of member states' indifference, inattention or financial starvation."
In a speech congratulating Annan on his election, U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who has been selected by President Clinton to replace Warren Christopher as secretary of state, covered similar ground.
"We live in an era in which international cooperation is both more possible and more necessary than ever before," she said. "We see institutions of all kinds learning to adjust to the demands imposed by technological, demographic and political change."
Boutros-Ghali, 74, had hoped to serve five more years, despite his promise on election in 1991 that he would serve just one term.
But the United States, using the veto it has as one of five permanent Security Council members, blocked his reelection last month. The administration had announced in June that it would veto him, asserting that the veteran Egyptian diplomat was too slow to embrace U.N. "reform" and had become a liability in efforts to persuade the Republican-led Congress to cough up the United States' back dues to the U.N.
Almost until the very end, Boutros-Ghali clung to the hope that the administration would change its stance, believing that Clinton had abandoned him as a political move intended to prevent GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole from using the U.N. as a campaign issue. Once the election was over, he reasoned, the U.S. would accept the opinion of the U.N. majority and remove its veto threat. But Albright did not budge, casting the sole, decisive "no" vote in the 15-member Security Council.
His disappointment was evident in his speech and in the stern expression of his wife, Leia, as she listened to her husband in the gallery and as Annan's election was proclaimed.
The irony was that the U.S. opposition raised Boutros-Ghali's popularity to an all-time high within the United Nations. Before the administration leaked its veto decision to the New York Times in June, the secretary-general was generally seen as remote, even arrogant, presiding over a demoralized staff and unable to marshal consensus among members on a renewed, post-Cold War mission for the U.N.