Boutros-Ghali extols a special relationship: The Secretary-General praised Bill Clinton for his 'positive signals' and commitment to the UN after the two men met last week, writes Adel Darwish in New York

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The Independent Online
THE United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, says he is confident that the Clinton administration will take early action to clear the United States' debts to the UN. After his first meeting with the President last week, Mr Boutros-Ghali said he received 'very positive signals' over the UN budget problem. Its budget deficit stood at dollars 2.4bn ( pounds 1.7bn) on 22 February, with the peace-keeping operation deficit reaching dollars 1.1bn. The US is late with its payment and owes the UN dollars 845.7m, of which dollars 549.5 is owed to the regular budget, while dollars 296.2 is outstanding on the peace-keeping budget. President Bill Clinton said he would like 'to balance the books' as soon as possible.

Mr Boutros-Ghali was 'very impressed' by Mr Clinton and his commitment to the UN's work, whether it was to relief operations in Bosnia - the President's decision to parachute humanitarian aid to Bosnia 'under UN co-ordination' has delighted the Secretary-General - or to the 'new style of peace-keeping in Somalia and Mozambique', or to speeding up payments to ease the UN budget deficit.

He was even optimistic about the resumption of peace talks in the Middle East despite the apparent deadlock. Mr Boutros-Ghali is expecting to meet Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minster, in two weeks' time, when Mr Rabin is also scheduled to meet President Clinton. He expressed optimism that the meeting could 'help continue the search for peace with more vigour'. The Israelis' stance has hardened since the UN passed on 17 December resolution 799, which demands the return of deportees who are stranded in no man's land on the Lebanese border.

'My background,' Mr Boutros-Ghali said, 'makes me personally interested in widening the role of the UN in the Middle East peace process.' His family has dominated Egyptian foreign policy since 1899; it was his uncle, Wassif Pasha, who took Egypt into the League of Nations in 1937. Mr Boutros-Ghali was one of the main architects of the 1979 historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He believes the UN role 'is irreplaceable'.

Mr Boutros-Ghali would not be drawn on whether Mr Rabin's proposed visit was discussed during his meeting with Mr Clinton, but the problem of the deportees as a 'major obstacle to the resumption of the peace talks' was mentioned. The Secretary-General said he hoped that the meeting with Mr Rabin would help solve the problem. 'Communication channels with the Israeli leadership have been open at all times,' Mr Boutros-Ghali said.

The larger part of the peace process which started with the late President Anwar Sadat - and here Mr Boutros-Ghali did not miss the opportunity to mention his role in it - was brokered by the US, he said. 'The involvement of the US,' added Mr Boutros-Ghali, 'not just in the Middle East, but in all conflicts, is of vital moral and psychological importance.'

He recalls how he 'fought many battles' with Sadat because Mr Boutros-Ghali insisted on 'writing several paragraphs to widen the involvement of the UN' in the two Camp David accords and in the peace treaty despite the Egyptian leader's often- repeated phrase: 'Be realistic Boutros - 99 per cent of the cards are held by America, not the United Nations.' In fact, it was the Soviet Union which stopped the Security Council sending UN peace-keeping troops to guard the Israeli-Egyptian borders; this forced the US to send a multinational force to Sinai.

Another area of optimism for the Secretary-General was on the subject of Somalia, 'despite the deterioration over the past few days'. He said work on the report on the country requested by the Security Council was under way. After the Council debates the report it will draft a resolution to 'facilitate the transition . . . to a UN command'. He said this would take a 'matter of weeks'. He also hoped to see further committed American participation in Somalia.

The Secretary-General is seeking participation from all countries, 'because it is more than just troops that we need'. His visits to Germany and to Japan last week highlighted 'the need to alter public opinion in the two countries' about the real nature of the UN mission and so encourage participation.

'The public in Japan thought I was asking them to throw their army into a war zone]' he said. In the event, the Japanese declined to participate in Somalia 'but said they will participate in Mozambique', he added quickly, 'while the Germans will build the police force in Somalia.'

Citing examples such as Brazilian participation 'with one general' and the Swiss medical teams, he said: 'the symbolic participation is very important, since the operation in Somalia goes further than peace- keeping and peace enforcement. (It) includes (dealing with) the return of refugees, rehabilitation, building roads, and supplying electricity and other services.'

This is what he called 'the policy of the second generation of peace-keeping'. He cited Cambodia and El Salvador, where this policy has already begun. 'We clean minefields and rebuild the infrastructure in Cambodia, while in El Salvador we started the purification of the army.' This unprecedented activity of 'the UN intervention and involvement in the internal affairs of a country' could have not been achieved during the Cold War.

He referred to the comprehensive 'integrated mission of the UN' and noted that the post-Cold War era is producing problems and new situations 'with which we must deal. We are sending missions to the Baltic states and Central Asian republics as well as dealing with refugees from Haiti. This is new.'

Perhaps 'new', or new-found, explains the Secretary-General's optimism after his meeting with Mr Clinton, 25 years Mr Boutros-Ghali's junior. Asked about his rapport with the President, he said: 'Chemistry is an old word. Just say I was very, very impressed.'

(Photograph omitted)