Red tape ploy could save UN chief

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose hopes for a second term as Secretary- General of the United Nations have been all but crushed by the threat of an American veto, could yet be saved by a procedural precedent that was engineered - and herein lies the potential for rare irony - by Washington itself.

The scenario, if it were played out, it could render extraordinary damage to the UN at a time when it is already in frail health. But as Mr Boutros- Ghali tours world capitals looking for support to defy the United States - he is currently in London - it is increasingly being discussed in the corridors of UN headquarters in New York.

What diplomats are pondering is the possibility of replay of events in 1950 when the Soviet Union resolutely opposed the re-election for a second term of the UN's first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, because of his stand against the Communist invasion of South Korea. The Security Council, which under the UN Charter must recommend a Secretary-General to the full General Assembly, became deadlocked after Moscow blocked Mr Lie with a veto.

What followed was on the urging of Washington, even though it was in clear contravention of the Charter. In a rushed vote, the General Assembly approved the re-appointment of the Norwegian by a large majority. Mr Lie resumed his duties in January 1951. Moscow and the Communist governments refused to recognise him, however, and he resigned in 1953.

Mr Boutros-Ghali, who met the Prime Minister, John Major, last night before holding talks this morning with the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, appears determined to thwart the American decision to oust him. With little chance of Washington changing its mind, the Trygve Lie formula appears to be his only route to salvation.

"He might just try and do it," one ambassador to the UN privately conceded yesterday. "Buthe must know that a fight like that could cause the most appalling damage to the institution."

Indeed, the diplomatic fall-out from such a manoeuvre would seem almost inconceivable. It could lead to an American boycott of the sitting Secretary- General of the UN which, in turn, would virtually guarantee a complete shut-off of further US funding for the organisation. "You must remember that 1950 was a different era," the ambassador said.

Economic considerations aside, however, there is a deep well of anti- American sentiment in the UN, particularly among developing countries, that makes re-enacting the 1950 script more believable. There is outrage over the perceived arrogance of Washington in seeking to block Mr Boutros- Ghali at a time when the US is mostly responsible for the UN's parlous financial state. Nor is it forgotten that it was Washington that orchestrated the precedent that prolonged Trygve Lie's tenure.

Mr Boutros-Ghali, meanwhile, is giving the impression of striving to amass support on his side. He was endorsed for a second term by last week's Arab summit in Cairo and is expected to be given a warm reception at the summit of the Organisation of African Unity in Cameroon next month. France has expressed surprise at Washington's antipathy towards him.

So far the British Government has declined to take a stance but few expect that it will attempt to stand in President Bill Clinton's way.

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