Analysis: Clinton eyes U.N. post
By ROLAND FLAMINI, UPI Chief International Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has set his sights on becoming U.N. secretary-general. A Clinton insider and a senior U.N. source have told United Press International the 56-year-old former president would like to be named leader of the world body when Kofi Annan's term ends early in 2006.
"He definitely wants to do it," the Clinton insider said this week.
A Clinton candidacy is likely to receive overwhelming support from U.N. member states, particularly the Third World. Diplomats in Washington say Clinton would galvanize the United Nations and give an enormous boost to its prestige. But the former president's hopes hang on a crucial question that will not be addressed until after the presidential elections: can he get the support of the U.S. government -- a prerequisite for nomination?
The political wisdom is that a second George W. Bush presidency would cut him off at the pass. The notion of Clinton looming large in the international arena from "the glass tower" in New York would be intolerable to the Bush White House. If Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., wins on Nov. 2 the prospect of Clinton as secretary-general won't exactly be welcome either, but Kerry would find it much harder -- if not impossible -- to go against it.
After a Middle East U.N. Secretary General (Boutros Boutros Ghali) and an African (Kofi Annan) it is generally considered Asia's turn to fill the post, U.N. experts say. No announcement has been made, but behind the scenes China is already pushing the candidacy of Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who also seems to have U.S. support. If Clinton does emerge as a candidate, however, China would most likely shift its support, the experts say.
No American has ever been U.N. secretary-general, but the United States is both host country to the United Nations and the major contributor to its budget. A hostile U.S. Congress held up its dues for years -- until the Clinton administration negotiated a payment plan for Washington's arrears. Clinton also revived U.S. membership of UNESCO though the Americans did not actually move back into their offices at the Paris-based scientific and cultural U.N. agency until after the start of the Bush presidency.
President Reagan had taken the United States out of UNESCO in protest against alleged corruption by former top agency officials.
Clinton is currently recovering from the heart bypass surgery he had to undergo last month, and this has kept him away from the Kerry campaign after a few initial support appearances. The former president has told friends and Kerry staffers he plans to resume campaigning for Kerry, but on a limited scale because his recovery has been gradual. He has talked of his interest in taking over at the United Nations since the publication of his commercially successful autobiography, which he recently said had sold 1.9 million copies. Writing the book kept him busy after leaving office in 2000, but he is now ready to channel his considerable political skills and energy into another role in public life.
There had been rumors that he would run the Third Way organization, the world Social Democratic movement he had talked of launching together with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. But the political alliance had come unstuck and the idea ran out of steam partly because Blair and Schroeder found themselves on opposite sides in the Bush-led Iraq war.
Putting Clinton in charge of the United Nations would be a real test of international intentions, observers say.
"Critics of the U.N. complain that it's an organization without the muscle and will to put its decisions into effect," the U.N. source observed. "There's a good chance that Clinton could significantly change that situation, and then we'll see if the critics mean what they say."