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The President’s joke: Bill Clinton shouts ‘Fire’ at the United Nations

Last year, I spent some days in the UN archives in New York to find out more about the topic of my current research on budgeting in the United Nations.

As I am going through the material (hundreds of photos of archive documents), I stumbled over a document that is only incidentally relevant to my research: a summary of a meeting of then-US-President Bill Clinton with then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (who died while I was in New York last year). The meeting took place on 27 September 1993, so in the first year of Clinton’s first term, and the second year of Boutros-Ghalis single term.

This is how the 4-page meeting summary (written by the UN Secretariat and now archived) starts:

ThePresidentsJoke27Sep1993Well, starting a meeting that goes on afterwards with topics Somalia, Bosnia, UN reform and the Middle East – this sounds like a classic Bill Clinton, doesn’t it?

I guess today, it would rather be on the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, to make the “hopefully nobody shouts ‘Fire'” joke.

Today, the USA threatened to leave the UN Human Rights Council, which will probably not the last time the Trump administration will start laying actual fire.

But, to be fair to Trump: looking through the archive material on budget politics in the UN during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, this administration and the present Congress would not be the first who try to mess with the United Nations – it’s actually a pretty common patterns coming from the US.



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