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U.N. Security Council Backs Former Portuguese Leader For Secretary General

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

U.N. Security Council members have agreed on who they want to be the next secretary general. He's a former prime minister of Portugal. He ran the U.N.'s Refugee Agency until last year, at a time when the U.N. was struggling to cope with the world's worst refugee crisis since World War II. NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: All 15 Security Council ambassadors stood together in a show of unity, a rarity these days as Russia's Vitaly Churkin announced their pick.

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VITALY CHURKIN: We have a clear favorite, and his name is Antonio Guterres.

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CHURKIN: And we have decided to go for a formal vote tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock, and we hope it can be done by acclamation.

KELEMEN: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, calls Guterres a candidate with experience, vision and versatility. Activists who campaigned to get a woman at the helm were disappointed, though, saying it appears that female candidates were never seriously considered. Others argued it was Eastern Europe's turn for the top job. While Guterres often joked that he couldn't meet either of those criteria, he did promise to hire as many women as men in top U.N. jobs. He also spoke earlier this year about his other priorities.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Prevention, prevention, prevention. We are spending 70 percent of our resources in peacekeeping - and in peacekeeping where there is no peace to keep. We are seeing the impacts of climate change. You are seeing the problems of inequality and lack of inclusivity in development in many parts of the world.

KELEMEN: If endorsed by the General Assembly, as expected, Guterres is set to replace Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires at the end of this year. Guterres takes over at a time of deep divisions, especially over the conflict in Syria. When asked whether today's consensus in the Security Council is a sign of possible U.S.-Russian cooperation, the U.S. ambassador said simply this was a day of unity. Power says she's still aspiring to that sort of cooperation when it comes to ending the carnage in Syria. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.