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Incoming UNICEF Head Promises to Change Direction

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has indicated she will shift the focus of UNICEF, the United Nations children's agency, when she becomes its director in May. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has formally nominated Ms. Veneman to the senior U.N. post.

The secretary-general introduced Ms. Veneman at a news conference Tuesday, calling her an outstanding candidate to head the agency charged with advancing the welfare of children.

“Ms. Veneman's extensive experience, as well as her personal commitment to UNICEF's values and mission, make her an eminently suitable person to lead UNICEF,” he said.

But Ms. Veneman, a Republican chosen for the job by President Bush, suggested she might take a different position on sensitive social issues. When asked about U.N. policies on reproductive health that are at odds with the Bush administration, she indicated her focus would be on child advocacy.

“I don't come with any agenda with regard to those or any other social issues,” she said. “I come with an agenda of helping children, particularly in the areas of education and health and to address the issues of hunger and malnutrition. I don't have a position with regard to… I don't believe that these issues are relevant to the missions of UNICEF.”

Ms. Veneman resigned as agriculture secretary after President Bush won re-election. She also served in the administrations of two other Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

She replaces Carol Bellamy, a Democrat and former New York city council president chosen for the job by former President Bill Clinton.

Secretary-General Annan interviewed Ms. Veneman for the job last month while in Washington to patch up strained relations with the Bush administration. Her appointment to the senior U.N. post is seen as part of the effort to get the relationship on track.

Mr. Annan said her ties to the Bush administration would be of real value.

“Obviously, relationships and contacts in Washington will be helpful,as we have in the past used contacts and relationships of others,” said Mr. Annan.

For her part, Ms. Veneman said she would try to serve as a bridge to Washington in working toward the world body's ambitious set of Millennium Development Goals. The Secretary-General's strategy for reaching those goals would require the United States to nearly triple its development aid budget.

The United States has been the biggest financial supporter of UNICEF since it was founded in 1946. Every UNICEF director has been an American.