MARGARET WARNER: Boutros Boutros-Ghali became Secretary-General of the United Nations five years ago, the first person from the African continent to assume the post. At the time, this multilingual Egyptian diplomat was the consensus choice of the five permanent Security Council members: Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States. Almost immediately, Boutros-Ghali faced a post-cold war explosion of ethnic conflicts and dissolving national boundaries, from war and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia to famine and genocide in Africa. He responded by trying to widen the United Nations' peacekeeping role. He also came under pressure from the U.S. administration and Congress to streamline the large bureaucracy at U.N. headquarters in New York and around the world. At the same time, he faced a serious cash shortfall, in part because many countries, including the United States, had fallen behind in paying their dues.
BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI, Secretary General, United Nations: (February) Let us begin with the first challenge. The financial crisis has brought the United Nations to the edge of insolvency. The organization, as you know, is totally dependent on cash and flows from member states' assessments to provide liquidity. Unpaid assessments now exceed three billion, three hundred million dollars.
MARGARET WARNER: Boutros-Ghali responded by cutting 1,000 positions from the 10,000-person U.N. staff, and his most recent budget allowed for no growth at all in spending, a first in the U.N.'s 51-year history. Nonetheless, the Secretary-General and his peacekeeping policies became political targets during this year's U.S. presidential campaign.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: When I am President, every man and every woman in our armed forces will know the President is commander in chief, not Boutros Boutros-Ghali or any other U.N. Secretary-General.
MARGARET WARNER: Clinton officials also were saying privately that the U.N. needed more aggressive reform than Boutros-Ghali seemed able or willing to provide. And they said it would be hard to persuade a Republican-led Congress to pay off America's $1.45 billion in unpaid U.N. dues as long as Boutros-Ghali was at the helm. In June, Clinton officials leaked the story to several newspapers that it planned to block Boutros-Ghali from winning a second five-year-term even though such second terms are customary. Despite complaints about the leaked story from other members of the Security Council, the administration said it would stick to its guns. Last week, on the NewsHour, Secretary of State Warren Christopher reaffirmed the administration's position.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: (November 26) We'll only be able to command the support of the American people in the Congress if they have confidence that it's a reformed U.N., that it is conducting its business in an efficient way. I'm afraid that perception is not there right now, so the United States, one of the things that President Clinton wants to do in his second term is to provide leadership for a new, more effective and efficient U.N..
JIM LEHRER: And it's going to take a new Secretary General to do it.
SEC. WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER: That's our judgment.
MARGARET WARNER: As promised, when the Secretary-General's bid for reappointment came before the Security Council two weeks ago, the United States vetoed it. Boutros-Ghali's current term expires at midnight, December 31st.
MARGARET WARNER: For an update on what's happened since the U.S. vetoed Boutros-Ghali's reappointment, we are joined tonight by Barbara Crossette, the U.N. Bureau Chief for the "New York Times." Welcome.
BARBARA CROSSETTE, New York Times: (New York City) Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Take us back to November 19th, the day of this veto. How did the other players in this struggle react immediately? Let's start with Boutros-Ghali and the African states.
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, basically, they took they position that, after all, he got fourteen of the fifteen votes, the fact that one vote is a veto was put aside for the moment, and that he simply said he had the support of the majority of nations and certainly of the vast majority of the Security Council. And they decided to hang tough for a while, at least publicly.
MARGARET WARNER: And privately?
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, there was always a question about whether the Africans were really as united as they would like to have appeared for many reasons. Boutros-Ghali is an African by geography but often considered someone from the Middle East, or certainly a different culture, from subsaharan Africa. Also, there are splits between French and English-speaking Africa. There were right from the start African nations that refused to sign on to the kind of unity pledge to support his candidacy.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how did the other members of the Security Council respond, again, right after November 19th?
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, everyone thought it would be--now's the time to give the Africans time, that the U.S. had followed through its pledge, it had vetoed Boutros-Ghali. And now the Americans were going to insist that the Africans come up with other candidates if they wanted to keep this position for Africa for another five years. And they sat by and kind of waited for Africa to act.
MARGARET WARNER: The Europeans did.
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, all the other--except of course, obviously, there are some African members and some members of the nonaligned movement to.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, explain for non-U.N. watchers why the African states are so important in this.
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, there's been a sort of informal tradition established that a Secretary-General has two terms, and that means it keeps the position in that region, if he's, for example, as Perez DeCueller was from Latin America, Latin America gets two terms. When Boutros-Ghali was elected, he, of course, said he would stand for one term and then wanted two, but the fear is now among Africans--because the United States has made a very explicit threat on this--that if they continue to support Boutros-Ghali and they don't come up with another candidate, then the U.S. and others will go looking elsewhere in the world, and Africa will lose this position, which is a matter of prestige.
MARGARET WARNER: So was that the post-veto strategy that the U.S. followed, to essentially say, you'd better come up with someone else, Africans, or we're moving on to someone else?
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Yes. And it's not--it hasn't failed because, as you know, over the weekend, the acting--the current chairman of the Organization of African Unity really freed the Africans from their pledge, saying that, you know, post haste, you'd better get on with finding other candidates because there is this threat that this seat will go to somebody else. Today, the African nations met with the United Nations and didn't make any nominations public certainly, but the feeling is that tomorrow when the Security Council meets, if there isn't a sign of movement from the Africans, the message will be delivered again that the Security Council can't wait forever and, otherwise, there are other people out there from Asia, perhaps, or Europe, who might want this job.
MARGARET WARNER: But now explain how this happened that just, what, ten, eleven, twelve days ago, the United States stood alone, and even all last week, there were all kinds of quotes in the media anyway from various African countries and leaders, including this chairman of the Organization of African Unity, saying, absolutely, we're behind Boutros-Ghali. What caused this turnaround?
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, the assumption I think for many months has been that this is coming, that the United States is so powerful it has a unique power now in the world, and it certainly has a unique power in the United Nations. But, in the end, no country, including our European allies, is going to want to stand up to the United States on this particular issue. It could be too harmful to bilateral relations between the United States and a number of countries, so the feeling was that it was a matter of time, that if the United States held firm, in-between here we haven't talked about--just a small digression--there were continued rumors that the United States might, after the election, change its mind and reconsider keeping Boutros-Ghali on for perhaps maybe two years or a year and a half, or whatever. That seems to be out the window now too, as of last week. So the United States has stuck with its pledge. Most nations don't simply want to go to the mat over this particular issue, and so eventually, the feeling is the Africans are going to have to come around with a candidate, or there will be someone from some other part of the world.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, going back to what happened today, you mentioned the meeting of the African states in New York. I saw on the wires that the Egyptian president, Mubarak, also made a rather remarkable statement today.
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Yes. He made a statement that said basically that we have done all we can, i.e., the Egyptians, to support Boutros-Ghali, if he wishes to stay in, that's his decision. Boutros-Ghali, after that comment, spoke with Mr. Mubarak and apparently has cleared up what the United Nations official said--here's a little ambiguity--that Mr. Mubarak did not mean to back off publicly but clearly, in Egypt, in the press and in public opinion among commentators, there has been a kind of feeling running that well, he should really step aside with dignity now because the battle is over.
MARGARET WARNER: And so what happens next?
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, tomorrow, the Security Council will meet again to see how things are coming. The feeling is Africa will get the message again that they really must come up with some other candidates, or next week, the serious business of finding a candidate will begin. They would like to finish this job by the middle of December, when the general assembly recesses because the general assembly has to make this election formally, this decision formally, through an election. So that's a kind of deadline right now, and they're hoping in the next two weeks they'll come up with a list. You know, everything there is behind closed doors, behind-the-scenes maneuvering. There are no rules, there are no procedures. It's an absolute mess. But people will start jockeying to keep their kind of unofficial candidates in position, i.e., the Security Council members, particularly the permanent five, and others will start coming out of the wings and out of the shadows to put forth their candidacies or have their governments do so.
MARGARET WARNER: And before we go, one thing we didn't touch on was the role of the French in all this. Now, initially, they tried to, as I understand it from your articles and others, encourage the African states to hang tough.
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Yes. They did.
MARGARET WARNER: And why was that?
BARBARA CROSSETTE: Well, they did. For one thing, Boutros-Ghali was really their candidate, and they supported him quite strongly. But early on, as the standoff grew more tense over the recent months, it's been clear that France--I mean, they began to sort of waver and say things like, well, if we don't have Boutros-Ghali, we want someone who's French-speaking of Franco phone, they really want someone from a French culture. So if it's not going to be Boutros-Ghali, which they do ask the Africans to stand behind, it would be someone--they would prefer someone and they already have some people in mind from French-speaking African countries. And in the next three or four days, it's going to be a very important meeting going on, where some of these candidates may, in fact, emerge.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you so much, and we'll have to leave it there. Thanks for being with us.