WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister who is now a senior U.N. official, announced Tuesday she is running for the top position at the United Nations, saying she would bring nearly 30 years of leadership skills to the job of secretary-general in a world of increasing challenges.
Clark is the eighth candidate, and the first from outside Europe, to enter the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon, whose second term expires at the end of this year. Some in the U.N. are pushing for a woman to take the top role for the first time and some, including Russia, are arguing that Eastern Europe has never had a secretary-general and it's their turn.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he had personally raised the possibility of her candidacy with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials when he was in Washington last week and didn't get any pushback. Key said he will make the case to President Xi Jinping when he visits China later this month.
The New Zealand government has formally nominated Clark.
"I think the position is open," Clark said in an interview with The Associated Press in New York. "The New Zealand government is responding to that saying they think Helen is the best person for the job. So I go into it believing that at this time the critical thing for member states to look at is: What are the challenges?"
The U.N. secretary-general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council, which means it's crucial to get support from its five veto-wielding members known as the P5: the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France.
"I could make a very strong case to you that Helen Clark's credentials are far better than any other candidate that is currently on the list, or anyone that I'm aware that might put their name forward," said Key.
"But unfortunately, in the world of multilateralism, things aren't quite as simple as that. There is a lot of horse-trading that goes on. It will depend enormously on the views of the P5 and ultimately if they feel it's the turn of the Eastern Europeans or someone else."
Clark was prime minister for nine years until 2008 and has headed the U.N. Development Program for the past seven years. In the AP interview, Clark said she thought the position was open.
"I think on the basis of what I've done in my life I've got the skills to do this," she said. "I have led a small country in the South Pacific for nine years. I've been in leadership positions really going back close to three decades."
She said that if she were to win the post, a top priority would be dealing with conflict caused by civil wars and violent extremists, something which would call for taking another look at the U.N.'s toolkit. She said she thought she could bring a modernizing touch to the organization.
"I think it's probably fair to say that as an administration it can be a little clunky and a little old fashioned," she said.
She said she came from a diverse region of the world and wasn't campaigning as a woman but rather as the best person for the job.
"So I know a lot about working with diversity and embracing diversity, and seeing whether it's possible to find some unity and consensus," she said.
Key said New Zealand's current role as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for a two-year term probably helps Clark's candidacy because its diplomats are mixing in those circles.
The U.N. General Assembly will begin preliminary meetings with candidates in New York from April 12-14 but there is no closing date for nominations and more are expected.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.