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Competition Heats Up for Top Job at OAS

By Nora Boustany
Wednesday, February 2, 2005; Page A18

The campaign is heating up to decide who will be the next secretary general of the Organization of American States. Candidates from El Salvador, Mexico and Chile have formally presented their résumés and their proposals for running the 34-nation institution to the Permanent Council of the OAS in the past few weeks.

The top job has been open since former Costa Rican president Miguel Angel Rodriguez resigned in October. Rodriguez has faced accusations that he received a bribe in 2001 while he was president.

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Each of the top candidates has supporters. The United States has come out strongly in favor of former Salvadoran president Francisco Flores, while Canada has expressed its support for Mexico's foreign minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez. Argentina and Brazil back Chile's interior minister, Jose Miguel Insulza, who addressed the council yesterday.

Derbez and Flores spoke eloquently during their presentations at the Permanent Council about the need to stamp out poverty and to focus on smaller countries in improving the response to natural disasters. Insulza emphasized the importance of democracy, good governance and strengthened national institutions. "Democracy in Haiti has been subjected to harsh trials," he said, adding that the crisis there "poses a special challenge for the international and hemispheric communities." He underlined the significance of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed in Lima in September 2001.

Chatting with journalists yesterday, Insulza joked that if the countries promoting candidates had all the votes they claim, the OAS would have 60 members, not 34. No agreement has been reached on when the vote should take place, but there seems to be an unspoken consensus to have the issue settled before the June meeting of the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In one more twist, Insulza said he would prefer to have the vote take place after March 1, when Tabare Vasquez will succeed Jorge Batlle as the president of Uruguay. Vasquez has expressed his support for Insulza and would offer a solid vote in favor of the Chilean candidate. El Salvador and Mexico are pushing to have the first round of elections this month.

One question in the choice of secretary general focuses on the 14 Caribbean members of the OAS. In the past, those countries voted as a bloc, but observers said there was no sign they would do so this time. A summit meeting of the Caribbean community countries, known as Caricom, is scheduled for Feb. 16 in Surinam.

Last month, Argentina's ambassador to the OAS, Rodolfo Gil, suggested that because there seemed to be a "credibility crisis" hanging over the institution, the candidates needed to engage in an American-style debate. The process, he said, would measure each against the other and demonstrate how they reacted under pressure. But Denis Antoine, the ambassador for Grenada, opposed changing the rules to put candidates "on trial" before they assume office. After a long and tedious discussion, the Argentine proposal was shot down.

Visitor From Luxembourg

Luc Frieden, the defense and justice minister of Luxembourg, is in Washington this week at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Frieden's country holds the presidency of the European Union for the first half of 2005. He said in a telephone interview yesterday that his four-day working visit had a number of main points, including the fight against global terrorism, the future of Kosovo, the situation in Afghanistan, and the role of NATO in building up security forces in Iraq, Iran and China.

Describing his conversation with Rumsfeld yesterday, he said Europe needs NATO and NATO needs both Europe and the United States. "It remains the ideal instrument. We don't want to have that crushed. We do want to strengthen its European pillar to help NATO take on a new role as a global player on security issues," Frieden said.

"The global threat of terrorism is not just a U.S. or a European problem. It affects everyone, and we must work together against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through common means," he said.

On Iran, he said: "Europeans are very clear, we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability, and we will have to define the mechanism to control whether Iran lives up to its commitments made to the E.U." He noted that "tough language is an important diplomatic means, and dialogue is important, but nothing can be achieved unless it involves the same language used by the U.S."

Frieden met with the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency and has meetings scheduled with top officials at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security as well as with officials in Congress.

Two Envoys Heading Home

South Korean ambassador Han Sung Joo is returning to Seoul on Feb. 13. He plans to teach at the University of Korea for a year before retiring. Ambassador Syed Hasan Ahmad of Bangladesh is also planning to return home in a few weeks.


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