American officials say the decision to block Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term is aimed at encouraging Congress, which has little confidence in his leadership, to pay more than $1 billion the United States owes the world body.
The leadership debate has thrown the United Nations into crisis, but U.S. officials say the decision to veto another term for the 73-year-old Egyptian diplomat was irrevocable."New leadership is needed in the United Nations," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Thursday. "It's quite clear that Boutros Boutros-Ghali lacks confidence within the United States Congress - and we must go to Congress to request the funding."
The Republican-dominated Congress believes the United Nations needs reform, "and to carry that out, you're going to have to bring in fresh blood," said Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.
The 15-member Security Council must agree on a candidate and forward the name to the 185-member General Assembly for ratification before Boutros-Ghali's term expires Dec. 31. As one of the five permanent council members, the United States can block any candidate.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, the likely Republican presidential nominee, said through his staff that Clinton was following Dole's lead in opposing Boutros-Ghali's candidacy.
Congress has withheld funds to the United Nations to press for reform in the bureaucracy and prune expensive programs, agencies and operations which the U.S. legislators argue have outlived their usefulness.
Most U.N. member states, on the other hand, blame the organization's bankruptcy on the United States' failure to pay its bills.
U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi described Boutros-Ghali as "the greatest reformer in U.N. history" and denounced critics for spreading "lies" about the organization.
"If you count the number of reform procedures undertaken during the past three or four years, you will find that no U.N. administration has undertaken such massive reform steps," Fawzi said.
He cited a "no growth" budget, a hiring freeze, staff reductions and the appointment of an auditor to oversee reform.
But U.S. officials said Boutros-Ghali had been slow to initiate reform and that he only accepted changes under pressure.
"For better or worse, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has been identified with a lack of action on reform," U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright told CNN. "We would like to see a U.N. that puts all its energy behind reforming, so we would like to see a new leader."
Diplomats from Britain, France, Russia and other leading countries said they were caught off guard by the U.S. announcement and refused to comment on the situation.
France had been Boutros-Ghali's strongest supporter among the five permanent members of the council, which also includes the United States, Britain, Russia and China.
Boutros-Ghali is popular among the Africans as well as many Latin American and Asian countries. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Elaraby said Boutros-Ghali could count on Egypt's "unlimited support."
But U.S. officials were gambling that in the end, most member states would conclude that it was better to choose another secretary-general than risk a battle with Washington that could destroy support for the United Nations among its strongest member.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Albright initiated discussions within the Administration late last year to determine whether to support Boutros-Ghali.
Once the decision was taken to block him, Secretary of State Warren Christopher offered him a one-year extension as a face-saving gesture and to give member states time to find a suitable successor.
Boutros-Ghali rejected the offer this week, and the administration decided to make its opposition public, the official said.