Boutros Boutros-Ghali faces almost certain termination as Secretary- General of the United Nations at the end of this year following confirmation yesterday that President Bill Clinton will not support him for a second term.
Mr Boutros-Ghali has simultaneously made it clear that he intends running as a candidate none the less, setting the stage for a potentially bruising struggle between governments sympathetic to him and the United States at a time when the UN is facing an array of delicate problems.
The former Egyptian foreign minister, who will be 74 in November, is well liked by most of the developing world. On the Security Council, at least China, Russia and France are believed to favour him for a second term. Britain yesterday refused to take any public position on his future.
The White House spokesman, Mike McCurry, indicated that the President had decided several weeks ago to block Mr Boutros-Ghali's re-election. Mr Clinton has come under intense domestic pressure to find a new candidate for the post, notably from Republicans on Capitol Hill. In the history of the UN, however, no previous Secretary-General has been denied a second term.
"The President now believes it is very important to get new leadership of a very vital international organisation that has many challenges," Mr McCurry said. "It is important to have leadership that is capable of reforming the UN bureaucracy and decreasing the cost of financing the United Nations."
The struggle to agree on a candidate for the post now begins in earnest and will culminate in an informal election, by a show of hands, inside the Security Council towards the end of this year. Because the US will be in a position to exercise a veto in the council, Mr Boutros-Ghali's prospects must be bleak indeed. Any change of heart by Washington seems unlikely.
Mr Boutros-Ghali, who is on an official visit to Germany, said yesterday: "I still hope that the US will change its position. We still have six months until the election." He is scheduled to visit London next Wednesday for talks with the Prime Minister, John Major, and the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind.
In a non-committal statement, the Foreign Office praised Mr Boutros-Ghali as a "distinguished statesman who has served with honour in one of the world's most difficult assignments at a very testing period in the United Nations' history". Britain was not a supporter of Mr Boutros-Ghali when he was appointed in 1990 and is unlikely to oppose the US by supporting him now.
There was undisguised disgust from Mr Boutros-Ghali's inner circle in New York at the American decision.
"Because one member state says one thing, that should not necessarily be the rule of law. This is a democratic institution," said Ahmed Fawzi, a spokes-man for the Secretary-General. He suggested that Mr Boutros-Ghali had been undermined by an unfair campaign against him in the US media. "It is disheartening to see lies being said about this organisation. I am really sick of it. …