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U.S. Ambassador Calls Upon U.N. To Repudiate Critical Comments

By Warren Hoge


John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called on Secretary-General Kofi Annan SM ’72 on Wednesday to repudiate “personally and publicly” the critical remarks a senior official made about the United States, but Annan turned aside the challenge.

Calling the matter “very, very grave,” Bolton said he had made the demand in a morning phone call in which he had told the secretary-general, “I’ve known you since 1989, and I’m telling you this is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen in that entire time.”

The official, Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary-general, took the United States to task in a speech on Tuesday, saying Washington had failed to stand up for the United Nations and had let its harshest detractors go unanswered.

The showdown was provoked when Malloch Brown said that although the United States worked closely with the United Nations in many areas, the American public was kept in the dark about it by Washington’s tolerance of what he called “too much unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping.”

Bolton denounced Malloch Brown’s “condescending, patronizing tone about the American people.”

“Fundamentally, very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, by an international civil servant, and it’s just illegitimate,” Bolton said. He added that “even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I feel, will be the United Nations.”

The confrontation threw into blunt relief tensions between the Secretariat and Bolton, who is known for single-minded assertiveness with ambassadors and disdainful comments about the United Nations.

Malloch Brown did not mention Bolton by name, but in a critique of a working style that many diplomats associate with Bolton, he said, “The U.S. tends to hold on to maximalist positions when it could be finding middle ground.”

Malloch Brown said Wednesday that the point of his speech had not been to provoke the United States but rather to urge Washington to become more involved.

He said he had spoken up out of concern over the polarizing effect on U.N. members of a looming showdown over a six-month budget cap that could theoretically shut down U.N. operations at the end of June.

The cap, agreed to under pressure from Washington, is generally supported by wealthy nations, which want to see reforms in the U.N. management, but is opposed by developing countries, which say such changes would diminish their power.