U.N. Chief Brushes Off U.S. Criticism


Officials in Washington and other Americans have loosed a torrent of criticism at U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recently, but the professorial statesman insists that it does not perturb him at all.

“It is healthy,” he said in an interview with The Times. “It proves that the United Nations is active. It proves that the United Nations takes positions. And I welcome all those criticisms. I may not share their point of view, which is normal, but I welcome them. . . .

“If you take no action at all, certainly everybody will be quite happy with you.”

Boutros-Ghali’s equanimity is sure to irritate critics in Washington who sometimes mutter in their frustration about the need to remove him.


But the secretary general, a 70-year-old former Egyptian diplomat, is clearly unassailable politically. The U.N. Charter has no impeachment process. Moreover, because he has no intention of seeking reelection after his term expires at the end of 1996, he can afford shows of independence.

The attacks from Americans have come in different forms.

State Department officials have complained that he “dragged his feet” on assembling a U.N. force to replace the U.S. troops in Somalia.

In January, U.S. officials were furious when Boutros-Ghali called on the Security Council to punish Israel for ignoring the U.N. demand for the return of Palestinian deportees.

Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, reflecting a current of conservative thought, has written a series of newspaper columns branding Boutros-Ghali as a usurper of power at the United Nations.

And former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, after a year as an undersecretary general, left the United Nations on March 1 with a blast at Boutros-Ghali for losing his enthusiasm for U.N. reform.

Although the secretary general dismisses all these accusations as “unjustified” and “marginal,” he has sometimes moved to placate his critics. Thus, while he waved aside the Thornburgh farewell report by insisting he had already abolished 16 undersecretary and assistant secretary posts, Boutros-Ghali said Thursday that he had accepted Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s demand that he replace Thornburgh as U.N. administrative chief with another American.

But Boutros-Ghali derided Kirkpatrick’s views as contrary to the U.N. Charter. Thumbing through a copy of that document, he quoted provisions that set down the secretary general’s powers. “Don’t forget,” he said with a smile, “I was teaching international organizations for many years in Cairo.”

Denying that he had usurped any powers for himself, he read Article 99 in full: “The secretary general may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

Boutros-Ghali did acknowledge that he has been more active than some of his predecessors. He attributed this to the demands on the United Nations since the end of the Cold War. “Let us be quite modest,” he said. “I was compelled to be more active.”

All the articles and editorials deriding him for his harsh stand on the Israelis, he said, missed the key issue: He had followed the orders of the Security Council.

“I received a mandate,” he said. “I didn’t send the special envoy (to Israel). . . . He was sent because I received a mandate.”

In view of the tough Security Council actions against Iraq, Libya and Serbia during his 14 months in office, Boutros-Ghali said he felt he had no other choice but to demand that Israel be held accountable for its defiance of the United Nations.

The accusations about Boutros-Ghali dragging his feet on Somalia reflected a deep division with the U.S. government on policy. He insisted that the Security Council resolution authorizing the Somalia operation required U.S. Marines to pacify the country. But the United States insisted its paramount task was to deliver the relief supplies.

Most outsiders agreed with Boutros-Ghali; his delays were designed to pressure the Americans into doing as much disarmament as possible before the takeover of the operation by the United Nations.