The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Door ajar for Indian UN chief
- Global game begins for No. 2 and No. 1 slots

New York, Jan. 8: With Japan virtually writing an obituary to the present efforts by the Group of Four (G4) to get permanent membership of the Security Council, the chances of an Indian succeeding UN secretary-general Kofi Annan have suddenly brightened.

Two Indian names were doing the rounds in the corridors of the UN last week as the world body’s new deputy secretary-general: former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and India’s ambassador to Moscow, Kanwal Sibal.

The number two job at the UN fell vacant three weeks ago, when Louise Frechette unexpectedly resigned as part of a shake-up that the UN is going through after several scandals such as the findings of the oil-for-food investigation in Iraq.

Frechette, Canada’s former deputy minister for defence, was appointed to the newly created number two post at the UN in 1998 as part of an overall effort to strengthen the world body’s secretariat.

Ironically, neither Singh nor Sibal is yet being proposed for the deputy secretary-general’s job by India, which is still caught up in efforts to push through the G4 plan to gain permanent membership of the Security Council.

China and the US are said to be backing the idea of Singh’s candidature, albeit for very different reasons, several diplomats at the UN said.

Russia, on the other hand, is behind Sibal’s name.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to have been impressed by his tenure as envoy in Moscow, although it has been short and despite the fact Sibal has never served in Moscow before and does not speak Russian.

Chinese diplomats here have told several of their counterparts that “the appointment of a distinguished Indian to the UN’s number two slot would recognise India’s emerging regional importance and growing international standing”.

But in South Block, China-baiters suspect that Beijing's strategy is to get an Indian into Frechette’s shoes so that another Asian ' any Asian, for that matter ' cannot be nominated to the number one job as well when Kofi Annan retires on December 31, 2006.

The Americans are being extremely careful in choreographing any move by Singh from national politics to the UN. At this stage, they are anxious to avoid the impression of any official US backing for the BJP leader, lest it annoy Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

They are, therefore, letting non-officials do the initial groundwork on his possible nomination. It is clear the Americans would like Singh to be among the candidates to succeed Annan next year.

But their preference would be if he stepped into Frechette’s job in April so that they will have about six month to rate his performance before deciding whether to throw their full weight behind his nomination to be secretary-general.

There are other Indian candidates for the top job at the UN, although none of them has so far thrown the hat in the ring.

A credible UN insider to succeed Annan is the current under secretary-general for communications and public information, Shashi Tharoor, who has been with the UN for 27 years.

In South Block, there is said to be growing support for nominating Montek Singh Ahluwalia if and when the time comes to decide whether India has to put forward a candidate as secretary-general.

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