In a rare speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Secretary-General Kofi Annan laid out his new agenda Monday, with his proposed reform plan as an essential first step.
Exercising his prerogative as the U.N.'s chief executive, Annan moved himself to the head of a long line of speakers at the opening of the 52nd session of the General Assembly, something no secretary-general has done before. His address alternately chided and implored the organization's 185 countries to endorse his vision of a sleeker, cheaper U.N. "that will express the highest moral aspirations of humankind even as it delivers practical benefits to men, women and children in cities and villages around the world."
Since assuming office in January, Annan has been building toward the moment in the next few weeks when the U.N. membership will vote on his reforms, and by implication on the new direction in which he wants to take the organization.
Annan, who has survived the fires of the U.N. bureaucracy for 30 years, has crafted a plan balanced between the interests of the Western industrialized democracies--who have the political muscle in the U.N. and pay most of the bills--and developing nations--who make up a numerical majority in the General Assembly, which must approve the reform measures.
Monday's speech reflected that balance. Annan reminded his audience of his efforts to step up the U.N.'s battle against terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal arms trading and of its new commitment to setting international standards of human rights, including his appointment of former Irish President Mary Robinson as U.N. high commissioner for human rights. All are popular with the United States and its allies.
Annan reiterated his determination to increase U.N. economic aid to the world's poorest countries and to channel to that cause any administrative savings resulting from his reforms. That is intended to please developing countries.
Annan's reform proposals include eliminating 1,000 positions in the bureaucracy, holding the U.N. budget at current levels for the next five years, reorganizing the management and budget structure and appointing a deputy secretary-general.
Although the reform measures have been criticized in Congress and elsewhere as too timid, there has been broad general support within he U.N. membership for the plan, and President Clinton repeated his endorsement of it in his speech to the General Assembly on Monday. The U.S. has made reform and downsizing of the U.N. a condition of partial repayment of the $1.5 billion in dues it owes the world body. The Clinton administration is negotiating with Congress to pay between $800 million and $900 million of that total.
In his speech, Annan urged all countries that have fallen behind in their payments to "liquidate your arrears and . . . pay your future assessments in full, on time and without conditions."