The battle over the leadership of the United Nations escalated last night after the United States envoy, Madeleine Albright, pledged that the incumbent Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, would under no circumstances win her government's support and implicitly invited him to step down gracefully.
Making a barely disguised appeal for Mr Boutros-Ghali to resign and clear the field for new candidates, Mrs Albright insisted that there would be no going back on Washington's threat to veto his reappointment when his first term ends this December. "We would hope very much that Mr Boutros- Ghali understands this," she said. "We would hope that we would not have to use our veto."
The Security Council must agree a new candidate for Secretary-General and propose that person to the General Assembly before the year's end. Though the prospect of an American veto would seem to make his re-election hopeless, Mr Boutros-Ghali indicated in an interview with The Independent this week that he intends to fight to the end for his right to stay on.
Mr Boutros-Ghali's principal platform is that he has begun a reform of the UN and that he needs to stay to carry it through. His case appeared weakened yesterday, when it emerged that he had backed down from plans to issue redundancy letters to 37 staff members at the UN. The lay-offs would have been the first involuntary ones in the organisation's history and had provoked furious opposition from some developing countries.
Once more picking a fight with the Secretary-General, Mrs Albright suggested that it was his fault that the sackings were not going to be implemented. "We recognise that these kinds of tough decisions are hard to make, but it is the job of the Secretary-General to make them," she said. "A genuine reform Secretary-General needs to make these kinds of tough decisions."
Clearly rejecting Mr Boutros-Ghali's claim that he has already set the UN on the path to reform, she said: "It is essential for the UN to have a Secretary-General whose main priority, top priority, every-day focus of his job is to reform the UN."
Though Mr Boutros-Ghali has already overseen a cut of almost 10 per cent in his payroll, it has so far been achieved by wastage and voluntary departure. Such is the jobs-for-life culture of the UN that the very notion of sacking an official, regardless of performance, seemed until recently to be outlandish.
By deferring to the developing countries, Mr Boutros-Ghali appeared to have played into the hands of the United States. The issue is certain to be raised by President Bill Clinton, who is to address the General Assembly and meet Mr Boutros-Ghali on Tuesday.
The debacle over the sacking of the 37, who include four US nationals as well as many people from developing countries, is indicative less of his leadership than of the nature of the beast that he and Mr Connor is trying to tame. It vividly demonstrates that while the US and most European governments are ready to embrace radical reform in the UN, many developing countries are not.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies