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CHALLENGE TO ASIA. EASTERN EUROPE CLAIMS U.N. TOP POST.

15 June 2005

A claim by the Eastern European Group for the U.N. top post staked by the Ukraine in 1996 has just been revived. At the time, Ambassador Anotoli Zlenko addressed a letter to the President of the Security Council in which he referred to a defacto rotation principle drawing attention that only the Eastern European countries never had one of its representatives elected to the post of Secretary General. When Kofi Annan who was elected that year to continue African representation was expected to renew his mandate in 2001, Ukraine made the point in an official communique. "While recognizing the right of Security General Kofi Atta Annan to seek a second term of office, and which has become a general practice...and fully supporting him in this bid," the note verbale added that the Ukraine "proceeds from the understanding that at the next elections of the Secretary General to be held in 2006 the Security Council will show its consistency and reconfirm the priority right" of its Group.

Now, apparently in response to a reported statement by the Secretary General while traveling in Asia that it was Asia's turn, the Eastern European missions in New York got together to send a letter to Mr. Annan. It "underlined the fact that it is the sole group from among the five existing regional groups in the United Nations whose representation, during the sixty years of the existence of the Organization has never been appointed to the position of the Secretary General."

For all its efforts, Ukraine no more has a ready candidate. With a recent regime change, one of its prominent diplomats, a former ambassador to the U.N., former Foreign Minister and General Assembly President is no more in the running. Other candidates are mentioned but only discreetly; some even coyly. One is the Latvian President who was recently a host to President Bush then was hosted in Moscow for the 60th anniversary of Victory. Another is the Polish President who leaves office end of this year. Still relatively young and keen on an international role, Mr. Kwasniewski is publicly saying he is not seeking the job. He seems popular with the U.S. Administration which hosted him on more than one occasion. President Bush took him to the Midwest to meet throngs of Polish expatriates. However, Moscow may not be keen on him despite a Komsomol background and fluency in Russian, mostly because of his role in the recent Ukraine upheaval. French President Chirac is certainly not among his admirers. China is likely to hold on to an Asian. But where are the Asians? The two declared candidates from Thailand and Sri Lanka are complemented by a number of undeclared ones biding their time. Jordan, Singapore and Malaysia may come up with a name if neither of the first two advances substantially by December. Even former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, now running the International Crisis Group in Brussels would explore his options. While his country officially belongs to "Western Europe and Others" in U.N. groupings, he has maintained that his country is an integral part of "Asia and the Pacific." Its role in East Timor, and involvement in the U.N. Economic and Social Commission is mentioned as supporting evidence.

It is very early to judge. Yet speculation will escalate after the 60th anniversary summit. And unless a "New European" candidate is produced out of a hat in 2006, the tide will remain with Asia.