213. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State 1

1196. For the Secretary. Subj: Successor to U Thant.

I have reluctantly concluded that our preferred candidate, Jakobson, cannot be elected because of Sov and Arab opposition and because of current Afro-Asian preference for U Thant. I am persuaded that unless we move promptly: to decide on an alternative candidate who has a chance of being elected, and to eliminate the possibility that U Thant could be drafted again, we will wind up at the 26th GA with U Thant reelected to a full five year term.
Malik on several occasions has raised the succession problem with me. Although I have been non-committal, he has confirmed what Timerbayev told us at the SALT talks—Jakobson is definitely not acceptable to the Sovs. Malik was less blunt with me in stating the Sov position, rather he noted Arab opposition to Jakobson and the preference of Francophone Africans for U Thant. However, we have other reliable reports of clear Sov opposition to Jakobson and their present preference for U Thant, views which they are making known to other dels. At present, Jakobson is building his campaign on the premise that he is the only candidate acceptable to the PRC, a tactic which we do not believe will work.
We have not approached the Arabs directly on this matter for obvious reasons. When the subject arises, Arabs usually say Jakobson is unacceptable but are not precise as to reason. They note Sov opposition to Jakobson and some are effusive in their praise for U Thant. At least in New York they are inhibited from revealing the true basis for their opposition which is religious prejudice.
Although U Thant has repeatedly stated his intention not to serve beyond his present term he has carefully not closed the door on a possible draft. There are reliable stories that some of his close associates on the 38th floor have been at pains to point out the liabilities of other announced candidates. Moreover, at a luncheon organized by De Pinies of Spain at which Malik, several Africans and some LA’s were present, and in response to OCAM approach (USUN 1044)2 the SYG [Page 383]did not adopt a clearcut stand when hope expressed for his continued service after 1971. Few doubt that he is available for a draft if not covertly pursuing one.
I think I should point out that this support for Thant is not so much positive as it is a combination of essentially negative factors: (A) the Sovs and the Arabs for different reasons do not like Jakobson, (B) many Africans do not want another European yet they cannot unite behind Makonnen or another African and U Thant’s strong views on apartheid and colonialism are appreciated by them, (C) LA’s have not been able to come up with outstanding candidate of their own.
I am personally convinced that another term for U Thant would be unfortunate for the UN. If absolutely necessary, we could probably live with his substantive differences with us on such issues as Indochina. However, his lack of interest or ability in administering and coordinating something as complex and important as the UN system is, in my judgment, a disqualifying disability. Among other things, he has taken no effective action to help meet the UN’s desperate financial plight nor has he attracted and utilized strong lieutenants.
Therefore, I believe we must promptly:
Find an acceptable and electable alternative to Jakobson and U Thant. In doing so, we must take into account the possibility that the PRC will be in the SC and in a position to cast a vote when the new SYG is elected.
Consult with others to obtain geographically balanced core of active support for the alternative.
Inform Thant frankly that we have taken him at his word when he said he had no intention of serving beyond his current term and that we are actively seeking an acceptable alternative. In this process we would make it clear that we would not under any circumstances support him for a third term. (In order to provide an incentive, I believe we should generate an attractive employment offer for Thant here in New York. I would be happy to help on such a project.)
At the appropriate time, we should have a frank talk with the Sovs, make our position on Thant clear, and try to agree on a successor.
As to alternatives, Amerasinghe of Ceylon is the only active candidate who now appears to have both the necessary qualifications and the possibility of obtaining widespread support. He has overcome a major hurdle in obtaining his government’s endorsement. Our experience with him on the seabeds committee has been good. He is an activist chairman who has maintained the respect of all. He is not anti-Western or anti-US and has been willing in the past to take our views into account. His background as a Ceylonese civil servant and permanent sec of the Finance Ministry has given him experience in the field of management and administration where U Thant is notably weak. In addition, he is not European which is a major asset in task of winning [Page 384]the support of the Afro-Asian majority. Although he is fundamentally conservative, he is the nominee of a leftist govt which has good relations with the Sovs and the PRC.
If for any reason we should not wish to back Amerasinghe, there is no dearth of capable men who might be induced to run. Other possibilities include:
Adam Malik of Indonesia who will be president of the 26th GA. (While the FDVS would not be happy about Malik they are interested in improving their relations with Indonesia. Unfortunately, Malik does not have a reputation as an outstanding administrator.)
Gunnar Jarring of Sweden. (Given Afro-Asian sensibilities, there is doubt that any European could get the necessary support.)
Former President Frei of Chile. Here the difficulty might be in getting the support of Allende. However, were he to do so, the Sovs would have a hard time opposing him because he is a LA.)
Majid Rahnema, former Iranian Minister of Science, scientific research and advance training. (Iranians are willing to run Rahnema provided his prospects are good. We might keep him in mind as a dark horse.)
Former Mexican FonMin Carillo Flores. (It is not known whether Carillo Flores could obtain the backing of President Echeverria. If he could, he would be a strong candidate.)
Prince Sadruddin Khan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. (Prince Sadruddin has done an excellent job, but he is largely untested in the political field.)
I would appreciate your views on the above.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 300, Agency Files, USUN, Vol. VI. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to the White House for Kissinger.
  2. Telegram 1044 summarized a motion made at the Heads of State Conference of the Central African, Malagasy, and Mauritian Organization (OCAM), at Fort-Lamy, Chad, on January 28, 1971, which congratulated Secretary-General Thant “for his untiring action in favor of peace and justice in world and notably for his initiatives toward underprivileged countries,” and expressed the hope that he would remain in office in order to continue his work. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 8–3)