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Policy differences over eastern Croatia and Israel's shelling of a U.N. camp in south Lebanon were the last straws in Washington's decision to block a second term for the U.N. secretary-general, U.N. officials and Western diplomats say.

In each case, the U.N. position threatened to cause problems for the Clinton administration on three priorities: Middle East peace, the NATO operation in former Yugoslavia and the budget battle with Congress.Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's five-year term ends Dec. 31. The 15-member Security Council is expected to nominate a new secretary-general in November, and the 185-member General Assembly would ratify the choice.

According to the sources, U.S. officials had long been dissatisfied with the Egyptian diplomat, who succeeded Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru. The Bush administration had backed former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

U.S. officials said the discussions on a successor began in December and by March the decision had been made to veto a second term for Boutros-Ghali, who turned down a face-saving U.S. offer for a one-year extension. The five permanent members of the Security Council - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - have veto power.

The discussions appear to have begun about the time of a major public flap between the U.N. and the Clinton administration over former Yugoslavia.

NATO agreed to replace U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, but there were still U.N. troops in eastern Slavonia, the last part of Croatia held by rebel Croatian Serbs.

Washington felt it would be hard enough to win approval in the Republican Congress for the Bosnia operation. So the United States and others involved in the NATO operation agreed eastern Slavonia would remain in U.N. hands.

U.N. officials, angry over what they perceived as unfair criticism of the U.N. mission in Bosnia, felt NATO should undertake the job. A December report by Boutros-Ghali's staff recommended the mission be put under NATO com-mand.

That would have played into Republican charges that Clinton was putting U.S. troops in a dangerous operation full of chances of "mission creep," expansion of the mandate that had plagued the U.N. operation in Somalia.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright urged Boutros-Ghali to withdraw the report. U.N. sources said he agreed, but it was released to the media anyway in what U.N. officials say was an administrative error.

Furious, Albright called Boutros-Ghali's position "misguided and counterproductive." The U.N. leader in turn called Albright's criticism a "vulgarity."

Ultimately, the United Nations kept responsibility for eastern Croatia, but the Americans began discussing dumping the secretary-general.

In April, Israeli troops shelled a U.N. base in south Lebanon, killing at least 91 civilians. The attack occurred during Israel's offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas who had been rocketing Israeli settlements.

Israel said the attack was a mistake, but a U.N. team, made up of officers from Britain and the Netherlands, concluded it was probably intentional.

U.S. officials urged the U.N. to amend the report's conclusion that the Israelis likely shelled the camp intentionally. Boutros-Ghali refused.