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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shaky UN Faces Fractious Leadership Fight

LONDON -- The United Nations, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and struggling to define its role in the world, is now heading for a potentially damaging row over who should be the next secretary general.

Washington signaled Wednesday that it would block Boutros Boutros-Ghali after the 73-year-old Egyptian diplomat made known he would seek a second term in office as UN chief.

European diplomats said U.S. opposition was driven by a need to show Washington was getting tough with the United Nations, as President Bill Clinton fights to win a second term himself in November presidential elections.

Following the disastrous intervention in Somalia and the failure of UN peacekeeping in Bosnia, the world body is widely perceived in the United States as weak and even as a threat to U.S. interests. Clinton's Republican opponents have made Boutros-Ghali a particular target of their scorn.

The problem, diplomats say, is that Washington will have to convince other key UN members to drop their support for Boutros-Ghali and to find a suitable replacement for him.

"This is going to be a tough one to crack," said one European diplomat. "The last thing the UN needs at the moment is a major row about who should have the top job."

Diplomats said European Union leaders might discuss the problem at a summit Friday in the Italian city of Florence.

The issue is also likely to come up at a summit of the world's richest industrialized nations next week in the French city of Lyon, which will bring together four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Diplomats said Washington had raised the stakes by making it known that it would reject Boutros-Ghali so soon after he had made clear he wanted a second term -- although they noted there had been no official U.S. announcement so far.

The UN chief knows that he has some strong supporters and said on Thursday he hoped the United States would change its mind before his five-term expires at the end of the year.

Key UN members expected to support Boutros-Ghali -- France, Russia and probably China -- may now have to declare openly in his favor, risking a row with Washington.

Britain is prepared to back the United States in seeking other candidates, possibly Irish President Mary Robinson. Diplomats say Washington, which argues that a more vigorous reformer is needed to take the United Nations into the 21st century, would find it hard to back down in an election year.