U.S. trying in Jan. ballot to oust U.N. health chief

The United States and its European allies are mounting a spirited campaign to prevent the re-election of the head of the World Health Organization, the agency that leads the worldwide battle against acquired immune deficiency syndrome and other threats to public health.

The official, Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, a Japanese citizen who has headed the agency for five years, is being strongly defended by the Japanese government. The election is scheduled for Jan. 20.


The United States opposes Dr. Nakajima's re-election with the argument that he is an incompetent administrator and a poor leader and communicator, whose frequent travels leave WHO headquarters in Geneva in disarray.

In response, the Japanese Foreign Ministry asserts that Dr. Nakajima has not been in office long enough for his efforts to bear fruit and accuses Washington of spreading disinformation.


Dr. Nakajima said in an interview that he had not heard any public or private criticism of his record from U.S. officials.

But Tokyo, Washington and some European capitals are raising wider issues. Japanese officials say Dr. Nakajima is a symbol of Japan's attempt to play a greater role in world affairs, as Washington has urged.

A senior U.S. official, on the other hand, cited an internal State Department briefing paper that listed what he described as Japan's intimidating tactics in a diplomatic campaign that for both sides has largely taken place out of public view.

He said the issue could damage Japan's prospects for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council because it raises questions about Japan's conduct in the area of world affairs.

The paper said Japan's "actions -- some reported and others verified -- amount to a pattern of aggressive tactics, including the pursuit of votes in exchange for favors." It listed these actions, among others:

* An official of the Maldives, which has a vote in the WHO election, told U.S. and European officials that Japan had threatened to cut off fish imports from that country if Dr. Nakajima were not re-elected as director general.

* Similar threats were made to cut off coffee imports from Jamaica and purchases from other unspecified countries and to block a pending $250 million loan to Algeria by the Export-Import Bank.

* A Japanese official offered a job to an official of the Agency for International Development on the condition that he work to change the government's position on Dr. Nakajima.


Officials of Japan's Foreign Ministry denied the charges.

"We have never threatened, but we have been threatened," said Masao Kawai, a senior official at the ministry. The Japanese officials accused the United States and other Western countries of undertaking a campaign of disinformation.

State Department officials said Japan was also trying to buy votes in the election by offering delegates from key countries first-class tickets to Japan, $14,000 in traveler's checks and $50,000 contributions to their personal research projects.

U.S. and European officials also say they have received reports from U.S. embassies that Dr. Nakajima offered the single deputy's job to four people from four countries influential in the election.

Dr. Nakajima denied making such pledges. He said it was Dr. Mohammed Abdelmoumene, the leading candidate to replace Dr. Nakajima, who had promised the deputy's position to others.

Dr. Abdelmoumene, who denied the assertion, served as deputy director until August, when Dr. Nakajima dismissed him because he had become a rival for the top post. Dr. Abdelmoumene's candidacy has the support of Washington and the European Community.


The United States is investing considerable effort in trying to unseat Dr. Nakajima, despite the certainty of embarrassing a close ally with whom there are many more weighty issues at stake. The stimulus is the high priority U.S. officials place on the U.N. agency.

The World Health Organization led the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox from the world. With an $850 million annual budget, WHO runs or helps to sustain critical public health programs in many countries, and U.S. officials say they fear that the re-election of Dr. Nakajima would put these efforts at risk.

"We believe it is essential that the organization have the strongest possible leadership," Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, health and human services secretary, wrote in a cable urging other countries to back a new director.