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Divided Nations: Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the U.N.

June 20, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: That supporter is the ambassador to the United Nations from the Republic of Yemen, Abdalla Al-Ashtal. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. You’ve just heard Nicholas Burns say that the United States believes that the U.N. needs a new injection of energy and leadership for the 21st century. What’s your reaction to that?

ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL, U.N. Ambassador, Yemen: Well, first of all, let me say that this is the first time that the issue of the election of the secretary-general comes up all of a sudden in the middle of the year, six months before the election is supposed to take place, and this is a little strange, and it’s out of style. In the meetings in the general assembly during the 50th anniversary of the general assembly, all leaders from all around the world heaped praise, praise on the secretary-general.

They praised his leadership, his energy, his vision, his resolve, even his resolve to work towards resolving the problems of the bureaucracy and streamlining the bureaucracy of the United Nations. I’m just wondering what happened in the last six months. How have things happened–changed so much that there must be a call right now and in the open and in the way it has been done?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Burns says that the programs that Boutros-Ghali has undertaken to reform the United Nations have not been effective, that the reform, indeed, was half-hearted, that he was not as determined as the United States would like, that these are things that frustrated the United States. There’s no agreement of that–on that position?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: But the praise to the secretary-general for everything, including also the reforms that he undertook, and I am not–I am not here to defend the United Nations or even personally the secretary-general–but there is a record which we can–we can all see. A thousand posts, positions, have been phased out in the last few–in the last year. And next year’s budget will be $117 million less than this year’s budget, and the whole reform process which has been–which has been a call by the–call by the general assembly is in process, and it’s going to take time.

I don’t why this one issue should all of a sudden bring a change of heart and a decision of this magnitude because what, what is, what is really alarming is that the secretary-general has another six months and we will have to work with him for the coming six months, and heaven knows what’s going to happen during the coming six months. Besides the pattern in the past has been to deal with this issue very quietly in quiet diplomacy, almost the, the election of the secretary-general, himself, is almost a secretive process. It’s done in the hall of the Security Council and then, of course, in the general assembly.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, is there a lot of discussion at the United Nations about what the United States has done and the way in which it has done it? I mean, is this view shared by more than you and–

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: Well, I can tell you that we are all struck–we are all very surprised. Many people are surprised, not mainly because of the position of the United States. I mean, it’s up to the United States to take a position regarding the coming secretary-general. After all, the U.S., as has been said, is a big contributor and it’s a permanent member of the United Nations. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the way it has been done right in the middle of the year and in this confrontational way, I think is something that we have never seen at all in the history of the United Nations.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what’s the thinking around the United Nations about why the United States is doing this now, and in this public way?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: I don’t know. I can’t answer for the United States, but all I can say is that there is a lot of surprise about the way this thing has been handled. There is a way that it has been pursued and followed for the last 50 years. The election of the secretary-general is something that has to be done with dignity. It has to be done through consultation with the members of the Security Council, and then it has to go to the general assembly. I’m afraid that a crisis is in–is with us now unnecessarily six months ahead of the expiration date of the secretary-general.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Boutros-Ghali said this week that he believes domestic U.S. politics played a role in the American decision. Is that being discussed at the U.N. at all? I mean, is that a feeling around the United Nations, is that shared by other members?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: I don’t want to comment about internal American politics, but of course the, the fact that this kind of announcement has come at this time has been found to be too, too surprising for many of us, and also the effect of this in the coming few months is something that nobody can anticipate.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You said a few moments ago that you thought this was going to provoke a crisis. What kind of crisis?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: Well, it’s already a crisis because the election of the secretary-general is a very, very delicate process. It has to be done with consultation among the member–among the permanent members and also the other members of the Security Council. Already, there is a very strong position against the secretary-general and it has been pronounced so it is evidently creating a, a–if not a crisis whatever you call it–it’s a problem of certain magnitude.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is there any doubt in your mind at this point that Boutros-Ghali is now out, I mean, that he will not make it to a second term because of the U.S. opposition?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: It’s difficult to say because it’s, it’s easy to block a candidate, but it’s, it’s not easy to appoint one. And other delegations also have the capability of blocking other candidates so–and because of this, because of the sensitivity of the matters, there has been a process that was more quiet and that would take place within the, the United Nations, itself.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you heard–excuse me–go ahead.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You heard Mr. Burns say that the United States wants to work with the other members of the Council and hopes to convince them that–of the rightness of their position. How difficult do you think that’s going to be at this point?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: I think the most important thing now is to cool it completely, to put this thing in the freezer so to say, because if it keeps up and if different, different delegations speak about what’s their preference, the whole process which is supposed to be within the Security Council will go out of hand. So once things are quiet, maybe it would be the right time then to start talking about what to do with the next secretary-general, whether Mr. Boutros-Ghali will be reelected or whether there will be a different secretary-general.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you think it’s still an open question?


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Nick Burns said that he didn’t think that it would get to the point where the U.S. would have to exercise a veto over the, over the nomination. What do you think?

AMB. ABDALLA AL-ASHTAL: Let me say that in the last three or four years, there has been a pattern in Security Council and the U.S. has been leading this process whereby vetoes will not be used. Vetoes were something of the Cold War and resolutions most of the time used to be taken by consensus, so, in a sense, it’s also surprising that to threaten the use of a veto in the press for the election of the secretary-general, it just doesn’t rhyme with, with the smooth operation of the Security Council that has been taking place throughout the last four years.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Ambassador, thank you.