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Power of veto re-emerges in battle for top U.N. post

December 11, 1996

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A battle between the United States and France over U.N. leadership appeared to be shaping up today during secret voting for a successor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The 15-member Security Council met again today to search for a new secretary-general after the United States vetoed the Egyptian incumbent for a second term last month. Diplomats expected the council to take at least one unofficial ballot during the session.

During two secret, unofficial ballots Tuesday, the chief of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Kofi Annan of Ghana, won 10 votes, one more than required for election.

Three other candidates from French-speaking African countries fell short of the required nine votes. They were opposed by two permanent members, believed to be the United States and Britain.

Permanent council members _ which also include the France, China and Russia _ have veto power in a formal vote. There was one abstention in voting for Annan.

France is believed to favor the foreign minister of the Ivory Coast, Amara Essy, who finished second with seven votes in favor and four against. Former Niger Prime Minister Hamid Algabid was third at 5-7, with three abstentions, and former Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah trailed with 3-7, with five abstentions.

France was angry when the United States blocked Boutros-Ghali’s re-election and has insisted the next secretary-general speak fluent French. Annan speaks French but comes from an English-speaking country.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jacques Rummelhardt refused to confirm that France voted against Annan.

``We want a good secretary-general, and a good secretary-general has the ability to express himself in the two working languages of the United Nations,″ he said.

Diplomats believed France’s opposition was based mainly on the perception that Annan is Washington’s favorite. The United States has refused to endorse anyone publicly.

Tuesday’s vote was secret, and the names of the countries did not appear on the ballots. But the permanent members used red ballots to identify them. Council diplomats agreed not to disclose how they voted.

A U.S. official said the council decided to hold unofficial votes in part so that members could change their position without embarrassment. He said it was premature to say whether any candidate would be vetoed in an official vote.

But if France cast the vote against Annan and sticks by its position, that could lead to a protracted battle during which other candidates could emerge.

After the U.S. veto of Boutros-Ghali, the council agreed to give preference to Africans so that Africa can have a second term in the top U.N. post, following tradition.

In principle, Boutros-Ghali could revive his candidacy if the council is deadlocked.

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