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

December 11, 1996

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A search for a new U.N. secretary-general stalled today when the United States and France each blocked the selection of the other’s candidate to succeed Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

The president of the Security Council, Francesco Paolo Fulci of Italy, said the 15-member group failed to reach agreement on a new U.N. chief during three unofficial ballots and would try again Thursday.

Results of the balloting were secret. But diplomatic sources said U.N. Undersecretary-General Kofi Annan, believed to be the U.S. favorite, continued to lead the four-candidate field, winning 12 votes in the first two rounds and 11 in the third.

In each ballot, one permanent council member, apparently France, voted against the Ghanaian, who heads U.N. peacekeeping operations. Permanent members _ the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China _ can veto a candidate during official votes.

France’s apparent favorite, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Amara Essy, won seven votes in the first two rounds and six in the third. Two permanent members _ apparently the United States and Britain _ voted against him.

The totals were similar to those in the first round of unofficial voting Tuesday, during which Annan received one negative vote from a permanent member and Essy two.

Two other candidates _ former Niger Prime Minister Hamid Algabid and former Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah _ appeared to be fading.

In the final round today, Ould Abdallah won three votes and Algabid two. Each had two negative votes from permanent members, also believed to be the United States and Britain.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the race was developing into a standoff between the United States and France. The French were angry when the United States vetoed Boutros-Ghali’s re-election and have insisted the next secretary-general speak fluent French.

Annan speaks French but comes from an English-speaking country. The three others are from French-speaking countries.

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.

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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