Secretary-General Kofi Annan selected former President Bill Clinton to be the United Nations’ point man for tsunami reconstruction Tuesday, saying no one could better ensure that the world did not forget the needs of the countries devastated by the disaster the day after Christmas.
Clinton said in a statement that he looked forward to serving as Annan’s special envoy starting next month and would have more to say about the job at that time.
Soon after the disaster, President Bush named Clinton and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, to head a nationwide private fund-raising effort to help countries devastated by the earthquake off Indonesia that triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean to Africa. The disaster killed more than 157,000 people and displaced millions of others in 11 countries.
Clinton said he would continue to focus on his work with Bush “to urge people to contribute to this cause, and the two of us hope to visit the region together later this month.”
Fred Eckhard, a spokesman for the United Nations, said Annan wanted to appoint a special envoy not only to focus on the cleanup and reconstruction but also to make progress on resolving conflicts with rebels in the two worst-hit countries — Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Eckhard said.
This would give Clinton a chance to use his political skills to tackle the longstanding conflicts between rebels in Indonesia’s Aceh province who have been fighting for independence since 1976 and Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka who have been fighting for a separate homeland since 1983.
“The secretary-general is confident that president Clinton will bring energy, dynamism and focus to the task of sustaining world interest in the vital recovery and reconstruction phase following the tsunami disaster,” said the announcement of Clinton’s appointment from Eckhard’s office.
“He believes that no one could possible be better qualified for this task,” the statement said.
Annan and Clinton have decided that a formal announcement and joint appearance will take place after the former president returns from the region later this month.
Clinton already hard at work
The two ex-presidents have been traveling throughout the country raising money, and Bush said last week that they hoped to go to the tsunami-ravaged Indian Ocean region to illustrate the need for continued financial help from Americans to rebuild the area.
In mid-January, Clinton said that more than one-third of a billion dollars had already been donated to U.S. charities and that he expected the United States in the long run to contribute billions of dollars to rebuild the devastated areas.
A celebrity tennis match Monday night featuring Andy Roddick, Tommy Haas, John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Jim Courier helped to raise more than $518,000 for the Bush-Clinton Fund for Tsunami Relief.
In addition to the fund, Clinton launched a $45 million appeal with the U.N. children’s agency to provide clean water and sanitation to tsunami victims.
The joint project of the Clinton Foundation and the United Nations Children’s Fund will be used by UNICEF, working with other relief organizations, “to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people alive and to prevent the spread of disease,”
Clinton said at last month’s launch.
Clinton has praised the outpouring of support for the tsunami victims, most recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which ended Sunday.
“This tsunami may illustrate the fragility of human life, but the response to it represents the strength of the human spirit,” Clinton said last month.
Appointment may have political implications
News of Clinton’s appointment surfaced as The Associated Press obtained a letter in which former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., predicts that Clinton will try to become the next U.N. secretary-general.
In a fund-raising letter for his senatorial library, Helms invokes the specter of Clinton’s leading the United Nations after Annan retires next year.
“I’m sure you might agree that putting a left-wing, undisciplined and ethically challenged former President of the United States into a position of such power would be a tragic mistake,” wrote Helms, 83, who left office in 2003 after five terms.
The letter includes a petition asking President Bush to “rebuke all efforts by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and every other liberal in Congress to push for Bill Clinton to become Secretary-General of the United Nations.”
Clinton has said nothing publicly about wanting to lead the United Nations.