Jaswant UN hope fades

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By K.P. NAYAR in York
  • Published 15.01.06

New York, Jan. 15: Speculation about an Indian nominee for the number two job of deputy secretary-general of the UN has been temporarily halted with a UN spokesman making it clear that the job will not be filled until the beginning of next year.

Responding to a rash of stories worldwide about former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and Indian ambassador to Russia, Kanwal Sibal, as candidates for the second most important job at the UN, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for secretary-general Kofi Annan, has said the outgoing deputy secretary-general, Louise Frechette, was appointed by Annan, as what the spokesman called “a very personal” choice.

“For the remaining time of his own term”, Dujarric said, “it is the secretary-general’s intention to use, where appropriate, his own executive office team to cover the deputy secretary-general’s responsibilities and functions.”

Frechette, Canada’s former deputy minister for defence, resigned on December 16, 2005, but has agreed to Annan’s request to stay in her post until April this year in order to complete her role in coordinating the secretary-general’s proposals for implementing comprehensive management reform of the world body.

The Volcker report into the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, which led to the exit of K. Natwar Singh from the Union cabinet, has also come in the way of an immediate choice for the number two UN job.

Paul Volcker had recommended the appointment of a chief operating officer for the UN and Dujarric was asked at a press briefing if the deputy secretary-general’s job could be filled by a chief operating officer along those lines.

The spokesman replied that “the proposal put forward by Volcker would have to be studied by member states in the way that it was outlined in his report”.

Annan’s decision to use his existing team to carry out the duties of the deputy secretary-general until the beginning of 2007, is a shot in the arm for the as yet undeclared candidature of Shashi Tharoor to be next secretary-general.

As he is likely to share some of Frechette’s burden between April and December as a key member of Annan’s team, those making the choice of a new secretary-general will have a better opportunity to assess his work, especially in areas which go beyond his present responsibilities as under secretary-general for communications and public information.

Annan’s decision to leave the choice of a new deputy to his successor, who will take charge on January 1, 2007, has also bolstered the chances of an Asian secretary-general.

The early appointment of an Asian to succeed Frechette, even as the search goes on for a new UN chief, would have automatically eliminated candidates from Asia for the top job.

Any role that he plays on management reform at the UN in the coming months will be a crucial factor in Washington’s support for his candidature. The Bush administration has made UN reform a priority of its multilateral diplomacy.

Tharoor has handled many aspects of the UN’s work, including special projects in the office of the secretary-general, the exponential growth of peace-keeping operations, multi-lingualism at the UN and refugee work, including at the peak of the Vietnamese “boat people” crisis.

As the author of eight books and an engaging speaker, his supporters argue that he has the right profile to head the world body.