During his speech in New York on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown gave one of the most astute summaries (pdf) of US-UN relations that I have read in a very long time. It was at once complimentary, prodding and constructive. And as Malloch Brown said at the outset, it was intended as “a sincere and constructive critique of U.S. policy towards the UN by a friend and admirer.” Unfortunately, Ambassador John Bolton did not see it that way.Yesterday, Bolton called Kofi Annan and demanded that he “personally and publicly” repudiate Malloch Brown. But according to Annan’s spokesman, Stepane Dujarric, Annan will not. And rightly so. There is nothing remotely insulting about Malloch Brown’s remarks.

To be sure, he does not gloss over the current hostility between the United States and the United Nations that permeates Turtle Bay, calling it “an unhappy marriage.” But like a good partner, he clearly communicates what the United States could do to make the relationship a more binding one.

For one, he recognizes the centrality of the United States to the United Nations, and calls for more, not less, engagement. He also suggests that the United States be more open to compromise during the on-going management reform push. That does not mean that the Secretariat and Washington have opposing goals for reform, just the opposite is the case. But because Malloch Brown is such a staunch advocate for reform, he understands that it can only be achieved through a process whereby donor countries, most of all the United States, work with the developing world to broker compromise.

So far, Bolton’s zero-sum approach to UN reform has not achieved desired reform goals. Like a good friend should, Malloch Brown says so.

Finally, there is something terribly distracting about Ambassador Bolton’s remarks yesterday. Right now, Britain’s Emyr Jones Parry is leading a Security Council mission to Sudan to cajole Khartoum into accepting a UN peacekeeping force for Darfur. They will visit refugee camps near El Fashir, and witness first hand the destruction that has been meted out just across the Darfur-Chad border in Abeche. That Bolton decided not to join Jones-Parry on the trip, and instead used his perch in New York to launch invectives against the Secretary General is unfortunate. Like Bolton, the headlines ought to be in Sudan right now.

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