US defies the world to block Boutros-Ghali

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Without a single friend at its side and abandoned even by Britain, its closest European ally, the United States finally confirmed to the United Nations Security Council last night that it will carry out its threat to block the re-election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali to a second term as UN Secretary-General.

In a behind-closed-doors meeting of the Council yesterday - so secret that reporters were barred by armed guards from entering their own broadcast booths in the chamber - the US finally found itself in dramatic isolation a full six months after announcing its intention to oppose Mr Boutros- Ghali.

Members are expected to move this morning to a formal vote on a resolution calling for Mr Boutros-Ghali's reappointment with every delegation, Britain included, predicted to support it in defiance of the US. The US will then be obliged to excercise its veto. "There is only one delegation opposed to Boutros," the British Ambassador, Sir John Weston, told reporters, adding that the British Government considered Mr Boutros-Ghali to have been a "conscientious and competent servant of the UN".

Far from the settling the dispute, the vote will only mark the beginning of the end of the affair. With Mr Boutros-Ghali telling aides that he has no plans simply to step aside, the ensuing diplomatic maneouverings appear set to be highly contentious. Betraying not a scintilla of humility, the US last night implied that some delegations - Britain presumably among them - were deliberately playing a game to cast America into a corner.

"There were always going to be countries that will try to hide behind the American veto and we expected that," James Rubin, the US spokesman, insisted tartly.

Mr Boutros-Ghali was described by aides last night as being in "buoyant" mood. "There is reason to celebrate because the fact is, fourteen out of fifteen states have come out to support him," remarked one, ostentatiously chewing on a Havana cigar.

The loneliness of America reflected the widespread anger in the organisation at the perceieved arrogance of Washington in attempting to dictate the choice of the UN's most senior official to the rest of the world, while at the same time being responsible for half of the organisation's budget shortfall.

US officials insist, by contrast, that such is Mr Boutros-Ghali's poor reputation on Capitol Hill that only his removal will provide the catalyst for Congress to ease its hostility to the UN and pay all outstanding dues. "The truth is we are the ones standing up for the UN," Mr Rubin suggested.

"If the othre countries really care about the UN they should have looked at what happened in the US elections and understood that only this way can we increase the chances of support for it from Congress".