UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that he had nominated outgoing U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to head the United Nations Children's Fund, and expected the organization's board to confirm her today.
Veneman, a California Republican, will take the place of Carol Bellamy, who will end a decade-long tenure as UNICEF's executive director in May.
The post has traditionally gone to an American since the agency was created in 1946 to help young victims of World War II, and Veneman was reportedly the Bush administration's first choice. Annan interviewed her during a trip to Washington last month and agreed she would be the best candidate.
UNICEF is the U.N.'s largest and perhaps most widely known agency, with more than 7,000 staff members in 150 countries. It is charged with protecting the world's children and has organized massive vaccination campaigns, helped raise awareness of the number of children orphaned by AIDS and ensured that care reaches young people in emergencies such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, in which more than half those killed were under 18.
Veneman, a 55-year-old lawyer, grew up on a peach farm in Modesto, and her career has focused on agriculture. Before she joined President Bush's Cabinet in 2001, she served from 1995 to 1999 as secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She has also served in agriculture-related posts in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
As Agriculture secretary, she managed the administration's response when a U.S. case of mad cow disease was discovered in 2003, and she supported Operation Beef Up Our Troops last year, in which cattle farmers donated beef jerky to U.S. soldiers overseas.
Her selection may signify a U.N. move to strengthen ties with Washington, which have been strained, and comes amid a major shakeup of Annan's Cabinet in an attempt to reinvigorate the world body.
He named a new chief of staff and head of security this month and will soon replace the controller, the head of management, the director of the Palestinian relief agency and perhaps his head of political affairs.
"Several people were going to leave anyway ... so I decided to take a look at the whole team," he said. "It offered an opportunity to rethink the team and remake the team."
Bellamy, 63, was nominated by President Clinton for the position in 1995 after heading the Peace Corps. An outspoken Democrat and former New York politician, she has been a target of conservatives who have criticized her for using her position to advance global reproductive health, sex education and children's rights, which those critics believe take decisions out of parents' hands.
A U.N. official said Monday that Veneman's political views on such issues remain unknown.
Veneman said through her spokeswoman Monday that she considered it "a great honor" to be Annan's choice.