June 7th, 2006 16:23 EST
U.N. Official's Remarks a "Grave Mistake," U.S.'s Bolton Says By Judy Aita
United Nations -- U.S. Ambassador John Bolton called comments about the United States by a senior U.N. official a "very, very grave mistake" that could adversely affect Americans' perceptions of the United Nations, and harm the organization itself.
Bolton said, June 7th, that the "condescending and patronizing tone" of a speech by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown was "a very serious" affront to the American people.
"To have the deputy secretary-general criticize the United States in such a manner can only do grave harm to the United Nations," the ambassador said. "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations."
Speaking at a global leadership conference of the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation, June 6th, Malloch Brown warned of "serious consequences" from a decades-long tendency by "U.S. administrations of both parties to engage only fitfully with the U.N."
Malloch Brown, who became Secretary-General Kofi Annan's deputy in March, said the United Nations’ ability to respond to major challenges-- such as bird flu, human rights abuses and peacekeeping in Darfur-- "is being weakened without U.S. leadership."
Public discourse in the "U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors," the U.N. official said, naming widely listened to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and a top news broadcaster, Fox News. Thus, the U.N. role in international affairs is "a secret in Middle America," Malloch Brown said.
Bolton responded by saying that criticism by an international civil servant of a U.N. member state "is just illegitimate." He said he thought about the speech "a good deal" before calling Annan early June 7th to protest what he considered "the worst mistake" by a senior U.N. official in 25 years.
"The only way, at this point, to mitigate the damage to the United Nations" would be for Annan to "personally and publicly repudiate the speech at the earliest possible opportunity," the ambassador said. Otherwise, Bolton continued, he feared "the consequences not just for the [U.N.] reform effort, but for the organization as a whole."
The United States has been in the forefront in pressing for management reform at the United Nations, backing many of Annan's proposals on personnel management, budget oversight and reorganization.
Bolton said that he is "gravely concerned . . . at the very wounding effect" that the criticism will have on U.S. reform efforts.
Nevertheless, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the secretary-general "stands by the remarks" of his deputy and did not see the speech as anti-United States, but rather as a call for greater U.S. engagement in the United Nations.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "has been at the forefront of pushing the president's agenda for reform of the United Nations, as well as working to support Secretary-General Annan's reform measures" and "would be most surprised" by Malloch Brown's comments.
"We've worked hard to explain what we're doing to the Congress. We've worked hard to explain that to the American people. And the fact that there may be people in the United States who have a different point of view, we think that that's healthy," the spokesman said.
Some U.N. issues "came to view because people were willing to speak out about them in public and to say there's a problem, and it needs to be fixed," McCormack said.
Speaking with journalists at the end of June 7th, Malloch Brown said the speech was "very, very carefully worded" and intended as "a very pro-U.S. speech in which its central point is an appeal for more consistent public leadership by the United Stated in the United Nations."
For additional information, see United States and U.N. Reform.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)