238. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State 1
New York, December 7, 1971, 0612Z.
4812. Subj: SYG.
- Summary. First Five Power meeting to consider successor to U Thant took place at French residence Dec 6. Malik (USSR) proposed U Thant be elected to new full term or be asked to stay on for one or two years. He not attracted to names on list and one candidate opposed by regional group. Crowe (UK) said U Thant had repeatedly stated his intention to retire even before his health collapsed, UK took him at his word, and it would be wrong to ask him to stay on against his will. Moreover, lame duck interim SYG could not tackle vigorously UN’s budgetary and administrative problems. Bush said US views closely paralleled UKs’. Huang Hua (PRC) said his del still consulting as many UN dels as possible in order to ascertain their views. He recognized five perm members of SC have special responsibilities under the Charter but their views are not absolute and they must be careful not to have their decision challenged. Huang Hua said he willing to continue Five Power consultations as well as to enter into bilateral consultations with other four on this question. Kosciusko-Morizet (France) noted there no agreement among Five on Soviet suggestion concerning U Thant. Five agreed to let press know they had held meeting on SYG question but would not reveal date and place of next meeting or answer questions as to what was discussed. For atmospherics of Sino-Soviet relations, see septel. End Summary.
- At invitation French PermRep Kosciusko-Morizet (K-M), five perm members of SC, each accompanied by one adviser, met at French residence 10:00 AM Dec 6 to initiate informal private consultations on successor to U Thant. Huang Hua was accompanied only by young French-speaking interpreter. K-M and Malik also had interpreters present (in addition to respective advisers) and Chinese interpreter’s French was translated into English by French interpreter. Group met around dining table with Malik, Bush, Crowe and Huang Hua clockwise around K-M.
- K-M asked if any del wished to make a proposal. After short silence he said in bilateral discussions idea had been expressed that U Thant might extend for one or two years as interim solution. If this not possible, then there would have to be election of new SYG to full term. [Page 425] K-M asked if there were comments. When no one volunteered he invited Malik, immediately on his left, to speak.
- Malik said there was widespread sentiment that U Thant continue either for full or interim term. USSR was flexible and could accept either alternative. If interim solution adopted, he proposed Five literally begin immediately to consult on successor so that by time interim appointment expired, there would be agreement on new SYG. Although it would be immodest to say he knew views of all 131 members and of other four perm members, Sovs had concluded overwhelming majority favored such a solution.
- Two views prevailed: (A) U Thant was well known and there was no opposition to his continuation; (B) none of other candidates on the preliminary list elicited general enthusiasm. As for health, not even those present around table were free from ailments and it naive to expect U Thant to be 100 percent fit as an astronaut. Drafters of Charter made mistake in not providing for two week vacation for SYG. Malik felt silent majority of UN would support annual vacation for SYG which would enable him to recuperate from his heavy schedule.
- Some spread rumors U Thant not strong in dealing with deficit and administrative problems. This was unfair. SYG had heavy schedule dealing with major world problems and administrative and fiscal burdens fell to subordinates. From beginning UN in these two fields had been dominated by British and US so before criticism levelled at U Thant, these two countries should engage in self-criticism. In sum, Malik supported K-M’s considerations concerning U Thant.
- K-M then said he did not intend to follow any rigid order of speakers and asked if anyone wished to take floor. Crowe then spoke. Since Malik raised U Thant, this matter should be settled straight away. After 10 years on the job, there was no doubt he was loved, wise and experienced. In January, May, July and September he had said with increasing emphasis that he would not run again. UK took his words at face value. Ten years in such a taxing job was as much as one man could stand. It would not be right to force him to continue against his will. Moreover, he had had two collapses this year and was suffering and weak.
- As for interim solution, U Thant would be a lame duck as in fact he has been for some time. As such, he would not be in position to deal effectively with staggering budgetary and administrative problems or plan for long term. Although SYG is a political figure, he is also chief administrative officer and is forced to spend a great deal of time on finances and administration. It was not fair to U Thant or to UN not to take him at his word. There was list of present and possible candidates and it would be possible to find well-qualified successor from among them.
- Bush said US views were well known and paralleled UK’s. U Thant told Bush personally that he did not want to continue and US convinced this is the case. US sensed mood among other members that it was time to get on with appointment of new SYG. Many smaller members are so concerned that they are considering submitting GA res urging Five to get on with the job. US strongly supported position of UK. Bush hoped at next meeting the Five could get on with discharging their Charter responsibilities. He also hoped discussions would be kept in confidence.
- Huang Hua said this was first time PRC taking part in UN work. There were many things Chinese del did not know well. After their arrival, they were contacted by several delegations who gave their views on new SYG. PRC then began to consult certain others dels to hear their opinions. Basically, if the 5 perm members have a decisive voice, this right to speak is not absolute. Five should be very prudent in this respect, otherwise their right to speak would be faced with challenges.
- Chinese del desired have contacts with many other dels on this subject. During contacts thus far, Chinese del did not commit themselves or take any stand. PRC would also like to know the views of the other 4 since they are more knowledgeable about the work of the SYG and which candidate could best do the job.
- The Chinese del agreed to continue informal, private, Five-Power consultations. PRC was also disposed, Huang Hua said, to have bilateral contacts with other four permanent members.
- K-M, summing up, said there was a divergence of views among the Five concerning U Thant. For the moment, there was no decision. (Malik interjected there was no final decision.)
- It was agreed to hold next meeting Thursday, December 9, at 9:30 am at French Mission. It was agreed Five would make public fact that they had held their first meeting. It was further agreed they would not reveal date and place of next meeting and would restrict contents of meeting on strict need to know. Five agreed they would not brief any other party.
- Malik then said if US and UK were opposed to U Thant, they should propose another candidate. Names of candidates already in the field did not inspire widespread enthusiasm and it should be remembered a large regional group was opposed to one candidate.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 303, Agency Files, USUN, Vol. IX. Secret; Priority; Nodis. “Eyes Only” was added by hand.↩