Czech Foreign Minister to get important United Nations job

Jan Kavan, photo: CTK

For the first time ever the United Nations General Assembly is to be headed by a Czech. Following Friday's decision by Belarus to withdraw its candidacy, the outgoing Czech Foreign Minster, Jan Kavan, is now the only candidate for the job. He is to be officially appointed next Monday and will take up the post as General Assembly president in September, a diplomatic triumph for Mr Kavan after over a year of tough worldwide lobbying. David Vaughan reports.

Jan Kavan (right), photo: CTK
Although decisions taken by the Assembly are not legally binding for governments, and the president does not have any direct powers, the one-year appointment will be a boost to the international prestige of the Czech Republic. The Assembly is the United Nation's key debating chamber, and carries the diplomatic weight of world opinion.

Mr Kavan does not intend to stand down as a member of parliament back home. During the autumn session of the General Assembly he will often be in New York, a situation that could complicate the work of the new Czech government, given that it will probably have the slimmest of parliamentary majorities. He has replied that - if necessary - his commitments in the Czech Republic will take priority.

Some of Jan Kavan's opponents claim that he collaborated with the Communist secret police. This is something that Mr Kavan vehemently denies, and a Prague court in 1996 supported his version of events. Jan Kavan is bilingual in Czech and English, born to a Czech father and English mother. After the Soviet invasion of 1968 he went into exile in Britain, but returned to the country immediately after the fall of communism at the end of 1989.