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Jordanian Joins Race to Succeed Annan

September 06, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — A Jordanian prince announced his candidacy Tuesday for U.N. secretary-general, stirring up the race to replace Kofi Annan, who completes his term at the end of the year.

Prince Zeid Raad Hussein, Jordan's ambassador to the U.N. and well-respected among diplomats here, became the fifth declared candidate and would be the first Muslim to hold the post if chosen.

As a diplomat, Zeid played a key role in establishing the International Criminal Court in The Hague. A former U.N. peacekeeping official, he called for a public accounting of peacekeepers' failure to protect civilians in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 and has led the effort to reduce rampant sexual exploitation by peacekeepers.

The 42-year-old Zeid entered the race after four candidates already nominated by their home governments failed to win decisive support from the Security Council in a recent straw poll. The other four are South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon; Shashi Tharoor of India, the U.N. undersecretary-general for public information; Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, a former U.N. disarmament official; and Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand's deputy prime minister.

The Security Council will select the next secretary-general in a secret ballot, then forward the name to the General Assembly for approval.

According to U.N. tradition, the next secretary-general should come from Asia, and under the world body's definition of regional groups, that includes Jordan. The ideal candidate, diplomats say, must not be considered too close to any of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia -- nor be a rival to any of them.

Zeid said Tuesday that there was room for a Muslim leader who had insight into the conflicts in the Middle East and was "familiar with the U.N., but not part of it." He joked that Tuesday's announcement constituted the "world's most public job application."

His multifaceted appeal may also mean he lacks a single, strong constituency to back him, diplomats say. He is Asian but Arab, from a country friendly enough with the U.S. to make others suspect that he would do Washington's bidding, but at odds on some key issues that could cost him U.S. support.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton has said the ideal candidate would be a woman from Asia who was not part of the U.N. system and who could act as a CEO in running -- and reforming -- the bureaucratic tangle of institutions and interests that make up the U.N.

Fitting that bill may be Chan Heng Chee, 64, an academic and onetime government critic who has been Singapore's ambassador to Washington for 10 years. Her name has been making the rounds at the U.N., but she has not been nominated.

Singapore is officially supporting Surakiart, the Thai candidate who won the endorsement of a group of Southeast Asian nations. But if he fails to win strong backing in the next straw poll, planned for this month, that may leave room for new candidates.

Chan said diplomatically that she could not comment on whether she has been approached to run. "It's not right for me to say anything," she said. "Let's see what happens."

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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