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Right sees red at prospect of Clinton for UN

Washington, Feb. 6: More than four years after he left the White House, speculation that Bill Clinton harbours ambitions for a return to high office is raising the blood pressure of his long-standing foes on the Republican Right.

His appointment last week as the UN special envoy for tsunami relief and reconstruction in Asia, coupled with praise from secretary-general Kofi Annan for his 'energy, dynamism and force', has triggered alarm among his political enemies that he has an even grander goal in sight: taking over from Annan as the head of the world body.

Rumours that Clinton has expressed interest in succeeding Annan when his term ends in December next year ' or earlier, if the oil-for-food scandal forces him from office ' have been circulating in the American media for months, and the former Democrat President has done little to end the conjecture by instructing his office not to comment on the reports.

Last week, the former senator Jesse Helms invoked the spectre of the former Democrat President heading the UN as he solicited financial support for his new library in North Carolina. Helms, the outspoken 83-year-old Republican who left office in 2003, clearly takes the prospect seriously.

In his letter seeking contributions to expand the Jesse Helms Centre, he wrote: 'I'm sure you might agree that putting a Left-wing, undisciplined and ethically challenged former President of the United States into a position of such power would be a tragic mistake.' He also urged President George W Bush to 'rebuke all efforts' to have Clinton installed in the role.

At the opening of Clinton's presidential library in Arkansas in November, Bush reportedly joked to his predecessor about his UN aspirations. Despite their political differences, the two men appear to get on well and President Bush last month made his father, the former President George Bush, and Clinton joint US envoys to the tsunami zone.

By tradition, no previous UN secretary-general has been drawn from among the five permanent members of the Security Council, but there is no rule to prevent it.

The greatest opposition to an American secretary-general at the UN is likely to come from within the Security Council, where China is pushing for the appointment of an Asian candidate.

Clinton's candidacy is a long shot, in contrast to his wife's status as an early front-runner for the Democrat presidential nomination for 2008, but that has done nothing to dampen speculation in Washington.

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