US’s No. 2 UN Rep. chastised for going off script

By Saul Hudson

The United States sharply rebuked the No. 2 U.N. official on Wednesday for his repeated criticism of Washington after he said America should allow others to share the lead in solving the Lebanon crisis.

"We are seeing a troubling pattern of a high official of the U.N. who seems to be making it his business to criticize member states and, frankly, with misplaced and misguided criticisms," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

McCormack’s complaint about Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown deviated from the typically measured diplomatic exchanges between the State Department and the United Nations.

Malloch Brown’s criticisms of U.S. policy in the last few months have been unusual too. Senior U.N. officials normally refrain from overt public censure of member states.

McCormack’s remarks were in response to an interview published in the Financial Times on Wednesday, in which the U.N. official also told Britain to adopt a lower profile to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

There was an immediate defense from the United Nations of Malloch Brown — a Briton known for his blunt remarks who finishes his term at the end of the year when Secretary-General Kofi Annan leaves office.

"I think that the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations does have a responsibility and a duty to speak out on issues that are of grave concern to member states," said Ahmad Fawzi, a U.N. public affairs director.

In June, Malloch Brown drew U.S. ire after he accused the Bush administration of failing to stand up to domestic critics of the United Nations.

In that instance, Annan resisted U.S. calls to repudiate his deputy.

The controversies over Malloch Brown have reignited tensions between the United Nations and the Bush administration that had gradually eased since officials on both sides repeatedly clashed during the buildup to the Iraq war.

Wednesday’s dispute also reflects international strains over the Lebanon crisis, where the United States has few backers other than Britain for its refusal to demand a quick cease-fire from Israel, its top Middle East ally.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations)

© 2006 Reuters