UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A former Nicaraguan leftist foreign minister who has been a sharp critic of U.S. governments was elected on Wednesday as the next president of the U.N. General Assembly.
But within hours of his election, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann said he wanted to turn a page on his past comments and work with the United States and other countries. Washington’s U.N. envoy said he had similar assurances and would wait and see.
D’Escoto was elected by acclamation by the 192-member assembly after standing unopposed as candidate of Latin American and Caribbean countries, whose turn it is to hold the post. He will assume the year-long job in mid-September.
The assembly president has little power but chairs an annual gathering of world leaders in late September. He or she also presides over regular assembly debates, many on development issues, and oversees a long-running drive to expand membership of the powerful U.N. Security Council.
D’Escoto, 75, was foreign minister in the left-wing Sandinista administration that ruled Nicaragua from 1979-90, during which time it fought against an insurgency by U.S.-backed Contra rebels.
He succeeds Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia in the U.N. post.
In an acceptance speech, D’Escoto made no direct criticisms of the United States but made a barbed reference to “acts of aggression” in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are fighting insurgents.
“The behavior of some member states has caused the United Nations to lose credibility as an organization capable of putting an end to war and eradicating extreme poverty from our planet,” he said without elaborating.
But he also said he was not trying to retaliate against any country for past actions, warned against “sterile recriminations” and urged reconciliation “to prevent memories of the past from becoming obstacles to our unity from now on.”
The son of a diplomat, D’Escoto was born in Los Angeles and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He espoused the left-wing liberation theology movement within the Catholic Church and backed the Sandinistas in the late 1970s, earning a reprimand from Pope John Paul II for involvement in politics.
He has been a long-time supporter of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who returned to Nicaragua’s presidency in 2006. Ortega harshly attacked the United States and expressed support for Iran at last year’s General Assembly gathering.
In a 2004 interview, D’Escoto called Ronald Reagan, who was U.S. president in the 1980s, an “international outlaw” and “the butcher of my people.”
“Because of Reagan and his spiritual heir George W. Bush, the world today is far less safe and secure than it has ever been,” he was quoted as saying.
At a news conference on Wednesday, D’Escoto stood by those comments but said he now wished to move on.
“I do not want to turn this (General Assembly) presidency into a place to take it out on the United States,” he said, adding that he loved the United States as a country.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters D’Escoto’s past comments were unacceptable, but added: “We have been assured that a page has been turned and that he understands his new responsibilities ... We will wait and see.”
Among D’Escoto’s expected tasks will be to invite Bush to the podium during this year’s General Assembly summit.
Latin American diplomats said that under a routine practice in which some U.N. posts rotate among members of the regional groups, this year’s assembly president could have come from Nicaragua, Bolivia or Paraguay. But Bolivia and Paraguay had offered no candidate, they said.
Editing by David Wiessler