US to back Thai Muslim as UN chief

US calls former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan a "strong candidate".

india Updated: Sep 28, 2006 21:07 IST

Former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, a Muslim with wide international respect, emerged on Thursday as a possible last-minute candidate to replace Kofi Annan as United Nations Secretary-General.

Citing "informed sources", Thailand's Nation newspaper said Surin was about to receive backing from the United States, who felt he was a "strong candidate".

"He is an Asian, a moderate Muslim and a former foreign minister who is well-known and respected in the international community," the paper quoted an unidentified source as saying.

Surin, Thailand's top diplomat for four years in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, did not deny the report.

"I can only say that one feels honoured for having his name being mentioned in such a positive light," he told the agency.

"At this moment, I am not a candidate but the international community has been aware of my keen interest in an international position."

Asked if he had been approached by Washington as a possible candidate, he said: "Not personally, not directly."

UN Security Council members conduct a third informal vote on Thursday on their preference for the seven declared candidates. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon has emerged top of the two previous polls.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton is pushing for a quick resolution to the race, saying Annan's replacement needed a decent transition period before taking up the reins on January 1.

Thailand's declared candidate, Surakiart Sathirathai, a deputy prime minister in the government ousted in a coup last week, has come third in the previous votes.

Analysts say the coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cannot have helped his cause.

First Published: Sep 28, 2006 16:09 IST