This game has already been running for several weeks though we, the public, knew nothing of it. President Bill Clinton, it transpires, decided to ditch Boutros Boutros-Ghali in late March and the Secretary- General was told as much by Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, in mid- May. An attempt to offer the Egyptian an exit with dignity, by way of an extension of just one year, fell flat because he himself did not care for it.
So who does the White House want in his place? Apparently, it has no name in mind. It is widely believed, moreover, that were the US openly to nominate someone, it would be akin to a kiss of death for that candidate, so widespread is the disdain for Washington inside the organisation.
The qualities President Clinton would seek are easier to discern. Above all, he wants a person with a record of organisational skills who will pledge to transform the UN into something resembling less a world bureaucracy and more a modern corporation.
If that candidate happens also to have a phone book full of high political contacts, a feeling for the developing world and an ability to talk in television soundbites, so much the better.
But there are other considerations. France will insist on a person who speaks French. Meanwhile, there is a tradition of geographical rotation within the UN. Mr Boutros-Ghali, though Egyptian, is considered to be from continental Africa and, in theory, the second term that was to be his should also be given to an African. If no African is forthcoming, then the next continent in line for the Secretary-General is Asia.
Denials from potential candidates should be treated with caution. Only when a show of hands inside the Security Council, probably in December, settles on a new Secretary-General will there be any certainty about the race. Between now and then, the game to find that person will be joined intensely by London, Washington, Paris, Moscow, Peking and other capitals and it will all be behind tightly closed doors.