The United States today voted against a new five-year term for Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in an informal straw poll of the 15-member Security Council and reiterated that it would veto his reelection when the council takes its first formal vote Tuesday.
Washington's actions, which backed up its long-standing threat to block Boutros-Ghali from succeeding himself, indicated that there will be a deadlock within the Security Council over the need to agree on a new secretary general before Jan. 1.
The Clinton administration announced last spring that it would oppose Boutros-Ghali because it believes him too resistant to reforming the world body, while the overwhelming majority of the other members support the desire of African and Arab states to see the veteran Egyptian diplomat reelected.
Today's unofficial vote, a gauge of sentiment within the council, saw U.S. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright signal anew that Washington intends to block Boutros-Ghali from continuing as head of the bureaucracy that runs the United Nations. As one of the five permanent members, the United States can veto any council decision.
The move put the United States at odds with the 14 other council members. In the straw poll, 13 voted for Boutros-Ghali, with Britain abstaining because it had not received instructions from London. Boutros-Ghali is the only officially nominated candidate. Other countries, in deference to the African and Arab blocs, have refused to put forward competing names.
"The United States regrets the insistence of other countries on pushing at what is a closed, locked and bolted door," said a U.S. official who warned that the administration's intention to use its veto is irrevocable. "We are determined to find a new secretary general, and the sooner the other members realize that, the sooner we can move ahead to considering other candidates who would be qualified to make the U.N. a better and more effective organization for the coming century."
However, when Sylvana Foa, Boutros-Ghali's spokeswoman, was asked whether the straw poll result might induce him to avert a prolonged stalemate by stepping aside, she replied: "The secretary general has no intention of withdrawing."
In a sign that the battle is just beginning, nine council members, acting at the behest of the African bloc, followed the straw vote by introducing a resolution that would direct the council to call on the General Assembly, where all 165 U.N. members are represented, to give Boutros-Ghali a second term. The assembly technically elects the secretary general, but in practice it merely ratifies the recommendation sent to it by the Security Council.
The resolution is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday morning, and sources said the United States will be in the position of casting a veto in the face of a solid "yea" vote by the other 14 council members. But there is no guarantee that a U.S. veto will end Boutros-Ghali's candidacy because his supporters can keep resubmitting his name.
In 1981, for example, a drive to re-elect then-Secretary General Kurt Waldheim for an unprecedented third term was frustrated by repeated vetoes by China, while the United States vetoed Chinese-backed candidate Salim Salim of Tanzania. After 15 ballots over six weeks, both candidates withdrew, and the council settled on Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru.
U.S. officials say that the decision to oppose Boutros-Ghali was dictated primarily by a desire to overcome anti-U.N. sentiment in Congress, which refuses to pay almost $1.5 billion in dues owed by the United States. Because Boutros-Ghali is a symbol of everything that congressional conservatives dislike about the United Nations, the administration hopes that getting rid of him would encourage Congress to clear up the arrearages that are the principal cause of the U.N. financial crisis.
However, Washington's campaign against Boutros-Ghali angered the Africans, who saw it as a threat to their having a full 10-year hold on the post. Many countries also believed that the veto threat was a ploy to neutralize GOP criticism during the election campaign and would be withdrawn once President Clinton was reelected.
For these reasons, the United States has been unable to get other serious candidates to come forward. And, while Washington's refusal to abandon its opposition has strained its relations with other U.N. members, U.S. officials have not wavered from their position, as one put it, that "Boutros-Ghali will not be secretary general on Jan. 1" and that countries that have a stake in the United Nations' success must begin a serious search for other candidates.
The U.S. strategy is to give a convincing demonstration in the days ahead that it will exercise its veto as long as necessary to make Boutros-Ghali and his supporters recognize that he has no chance of reelection and should step aside. U.S. officials have hinted that if the African nations insist on sticking with him much longer they could run the risk of losing their hold on the secretary general's office to someone from another region.