9 September 2005

All indications are that Kofi Annan will not resign. He should not. He has made an oath to service his full term. And he should. He should seize the opportunity and mobilize his staff -- his truly main resource -- to deliver a performance to remember. Some adversaries have him where they want him. Weak, beleaguered, almost paralyzed. He may believe he will be appeasing them -- for his own survival -- if he just floated about. That'll be a fatal mistake. Instead, he should take charge, working with his Deputy, his Chef de Cabinet, Under Secretary General for Administration and Management, Under Secretary General for Political Affairs and all key members of his cabinet to respond to the urgent needs of the moment and bring back the U.N. (and himself) from the brink. He may be tempted, indeed encouraged, to leave himself in the hands of self-appointed handlers in the illusion that they were building up his legacy. An intelligent man of his experience knows better. With two or three exceptions -- who have their own bases of support -- some of those burning incense around him or already looking over his shoulders for the next regime.

Now resignation time is over. If he did before all those negative reports eroding his credibility, he may have come out as a hero and requested by consensus to stay. However, leaving now will look like he may be in on it, if not admission of guilt.

However, there are those who predict that Annan will be leaving by this year's end - a year before his full term. "Those" are well-informed, well-connected thoughtful people who are not at liberty to explain their reasoning but insist on their prediction. That leads some veteran insiders to suspect that some deal is in the offing - and some of those claiming closeness to Annan may be on it.

Briefly stated: instead of awaiting a possible Secretary General from Asia by the end of next year, why not turn the tables and create an unusual situation requiring an exceptional action.

Normally, if -- and it's a big IF -- the Secretary General resigns (there is no mechanism forcing him to leave) the Deputy will take over. That may have been why, when that likelihood flashed briefly last December, Annan's "private Board of Directors" (meeting at Richard Holbrooke's house, as publicly reported in the N.Y. Times) swiftly acted to replace a feebled Chef de Cabinet with a trusted Mark Malloch Brown.

In case the Special Assembly Session did not prepare grounds for a desired "legacy" and the regular session fails to obtain a certificate of achievement, things may be edging in an undesired direction. There may also be other investigations than that of the U.N.-appointed Mr. Volcker. In the best of cases, questions will linger around a lame duck Secretary General whose fawning incense burners will be quietly crossing the corridor.

As it happens, in the corridor across from the vertical glass house is the office of the General Assembly President of the next session, Jan Eliasson. He will start with a bang: a fanfare unprecedented gathering of heads of state and governments. Regardless of an agreed or not agreed to platform, the historic group photo and an unique opportunity to meet key decision-makers will provide valuable ground work. If -- again a big if -- the Secretary General is persuaded to resign when the condition is judged ripe, Mr. Eliasson could be advanced as the most appropriate candidate for an "interim" role of Acting Secretary General. A supportive team would argue that no one from within the Secretariat could pull enough weight to take charge at these delicate times (note the campaign against Louise Freschette and a different, more subtle, one to undercut the Chef de Cabinet by someone seeking to replace him). Meanwhile, Ambassador Eliasson is being built up as a dynamic internationalist with a long-standing commitment to help the poor of the world. (Remember that "clean water" story in the Times interview arranged via you know who.) Also as someone who would arrange a gracious exit for the incumbent, pointing out that their wives had gone to school together in Stockholm.

Like any true-blooded Swede, the General Assembly President will be thrilled to take over such a task and, if it worked smoothly, to carry on in a full capacity. He is a very capable and determined man, though sometime excitable, particularly when things don't go his way. Like most Scandinavian diplomats, his commitment to the principles of the charter is unflinching.

However, those weaving this Plan B may find it not feasible. The Asian countries insist it is Asia's turn. The selection is really made by the Security Council whose five permanent members, particularly the United States and China, will have to evaluate even interim candidates. Kofi Annan is not about to resign. And Mr. Eliasson will not want to dive into an empty pool. However, as they say in the New York Lottery: Hey, you never know!