UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 14 -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will appoint the Bush administration's outgoing secretary of agriculture, Ann M. Veneman, as head of the U.N. Children's Fund next week, senior U.N. officials said.
Veneman was one of three candidates the administration proposed to succeed UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who will step down in May after leading the agency for 10 years, the officials said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had been instructed to keep the decision confidential until next week.
Annan will inform UNICEF's executive board of his decision on Monday and announce Veneman's appointment Tuesday, the officials said. She will oversee a staff of more than 7,000 people in 150 countries for a five-year term. Annan previously imposed a two-term limit on the position.
The top post at UNICEF has gone to an American since the organization was established in 1946. U.N. officials hope that the hiring of a prominent Republican official to a senior U.N. post will help improve the organization's troubled relations with the United States.
Calls to Veneman's spokeswoman were not returned Friday night. William Brisben, the U.S. delegate to the board, said Washington has not been informed of Annan's decision. But he said that "obviously, she is one of the candidates on our list, and the United States government would be very pleased if Secretary Veneman, with her wide-ranging experience, is selected by the secretary general."
Bellamy, 66, a Peace Corps director during the Clinton administration, had long been a target of social conservative critics who faulted her for promoting children's rights and reproductive health services for poor women.
Veneman, 55, is a political conservative who has served under Republican administrations dating back to President Ronald Reagan. Her views on many of the most politically sensitive issues confronting the United Nations' leading advocate for children, including access to sex education and reproductive health care services, remain unclear, according to U.N. officials.
Brisben praised Bellamy's administration of UNICEF but said the Bush administration would like to see it focus less on issues such as children's rights and more on reducing child mortality rates. "We believe that we've got to get back down to the basics of child survival," he said.