Washington, 18 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Kofi Annan, the new secretary-general of the United Nations is a 58-year-old Ghanian with more than 30 years' experience as a U.N. diplomat.
Annan will be the chief administrative officer for the 185-nation organization and will serve a five year term from 1997 to 2001. He will succeed Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
Boutros-Ghali failed to secure nomination for a second term because of opposition from the United States. The administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton opposed Boutros-Ghali because he was allegedly too slow in promoting financial and administrative reforms.
U.S. diplomats have said that without a change in U.N. leadership, it was unlikely the U.S. Congress would pay the $1.4 billion America owes to the United Nations. Since it is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. has the right to block any choice for the secretary-general's post.
Annan is regarded by many diplomats as the exact opposite of Boutros-Ghali in many ways. Where Boutros-Ghali is an intellectual, private to the point of being reclusive, and sometimes prickly, Annan is considered accessible, affable and astute in the public politics of the job. Where Boutros-Ghali is admired, Annan is liked.
Annan is known for candor and clear speaking. He is also considered well-suited for one job that defeated the departing Boutros Boutros-Ghali: selling the United Nations to skeptics, especially in the U.S. Congress. Annan has already said he is prepared and willing to go to Washington to plead the U.N.'s case before the Congress.
"I think it will be necessary, and I am prepared to do so," he said about a possible trip to Washington.
The U.S. provides one-fourth of the U.N.'s annual budget.
"Let me say that the reform is important, as we have all discussed," Annan told a U.S. Public Television interviewer Monday. "But before we move forward seriously with reform, we and the member states of this organization have to decide what sort of United Nations we want -- simply put, what should the business be of the United Nations in a tight financial situation."
He said he hoped to be able to work with the Clinton Administration and the Congress "to get the United States to pay its arrears and to pay its dues, because without a stable financial base, it is extremely difficult to carry on reform."
Annan is an economist by training. He speaks English, French and several African languages. He is the first black African to lead the U.N.
In contrast to Boutros-Ghali, whose experience was mostly in international diplomacy, Annan's career has featured more administrative positions. At the U.N., he has served as assistant secretary general for program planning, budget and finance; head of human resources and security coordinator; director of the budget; chief of personnel for the high commissioner for refugees, and administrative officer for the Economic Commission for Africa.
Annan has also handled difficult diplomatic missions. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, for example, he negotiated the release of hostages and the safe passage of 500,000 Asian workers stranded in the region.
Annan was named under secretary general for U.N. peacekeeping operations in March 1993. He then served as special U.N. representative to the former Yugoslavia and as special envoy to the NATO alliance as the U.N. turned its peacekeeping mission in Bosnia over to the military alliance that was implementing the peace accord between Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs and Croats.
"He is the only top official of the U.N. who came out of the Bosnia experience with dignity and without having harmed the organization or relations with any one of the great powers," an unnamed U.S. official said this week.
Annan is married to Nane Lagergren, a Swedish lawyer and judge. Her mother was the sister of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who helped Jews escape the Nazis in Hungary near the end of World War Two and who reportedly died while in Soviet captivity.