A man for all nations

Outside editorial

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

The United Nations has regained a large measure of credibility under the leadership of its secretary-general, Kofi Annan. Friday both the organization and its chief received deserved recognition, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The many agencies of the U.N. work to resettle refugees, put peacekeepers in territories like Bosnia and East Timor and feed the starving in Afghanistan. Each year the organization becomes more necessary. Annan has helped improve its response by cutting bureaucracy with the deft touch of an insider who knows what's superfluous. The Ghana native has crusaded to help AIDS victims and promote education throughout the world and has seen that Africa gets due attention. The Cold War's end has diminished the shouting among nations that echoed for decades through the U.N. chambers on New York's East River. Unfortunately, it has not ended U.N. discord. Last month the United States and Israel rightly walked out of a conference on racism that turned into an attempt to use the two nations as punching bags. To his credit, Annan had warned conference hotheads before the walkout.

Annan became secretary-general in 1997 under a stiff challenge by the United States to cut down on the bureaucracy. After wrongly withholding dues, Washington finally reached an agreement with the world body, recognized Annan's accomplishments and has now begun paying up. Annan has also done a good job of treating Israel and the Palestinians evenhandedly, denouncing violence on both sides. President Bush recognized at his press conference last week that the United Nations could play a key role in rebuilding Afghanistan after the fighting stops and pledged U.S. support for that mission. The Nobel prize often goes to works in progress. Past winners have included some seen as forces for peace in the Mideast or Northern Ireland, areas still far from achieving that goal. The United Nations can accomplish only as much as its nearly 200 member countries agree on. But good leaders set the agenda, balance diplomacy and force and nurture positive change. Annan has done that for the U.N.

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