By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 7 -- Josette Sheeran, a senior U.S. State Department official and former managing editor of the Washington Times, was chosen Tuesday to head the United Nations' Rome-based World Food Program for a five-year term.
Sheeran, the U.S. undersecretary of state for economics, business and agricultural affairs, will replace American James T. Morris, who plans to step down around the end of the year. She will take charge of the United Nations' largest humanitarian institution, which feeds about 90 million people in about 80 of the world's poorest countries.
Sheeran is the latest Bush administration nominee to secure a senior position in the world's most prominent international agencies. Others include World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz, who had been deputy secretary of defense, and former Agriculture Department secretary Ann M. Veneman, now the executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund.
Sheeran said she "couldn't be more honored" to lead the 44-year-old relief agency. She said she would focus on meeting U.N. targets to end hunger, which accounts for 25,000 daily deaths, by the year 2015.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Jacques Diouf, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization, named Sheeran after consulting with Annan's successor, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon, who takes the helm of the United Nations on Jan. 1. In a joint statement, they said Sheeran has "a 20-year proven track record as a management leader."
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the appointment, saying he looked forward to Sheeran's leadership of the World Food Program. "She's obviously an extraordinarily well-qualified candidate," Bolton said.
The State Department mounted an intensive campaign, including a slick election brochure, to ensure continuing U.S. leadership in the organization. The U.N. food agency, which receives nearly half of its $2 billion budget from the United States, is traditionally run by an American.
But the United Nations opened the race this year to outsiders and placed an ad in Britain's Economist magazine urging qualified potential candidates to put their names forward. Sheeran overcame challenges from Switzerland's top aid official, Walter Fust; a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Fowler; and American Tony Banbury, the head of the World Food Program in Asia and formerly a national security aide in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and President Bush.
The Bush administration was sensitive to the possibility that Sheeran's former membership in the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church would emerge as an issue in the race. A U.S. official pressed The Washington Post not to mention Sheeran's past links to the church, saying it was inappropriate to describe her religious affiliation.
Sheeran said of her candidacy, "I don't know why personal faith has any relation or bearing," adding: "It is a matter of record that I have no association with the Unification Church."