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U.S. pushing Cousin for U.N. food chief

The Obama administration has been pressing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome, as the new head of the World Food Program (WFP), the premier international agency responsible for feeding the world's poor and distressed.

Cousin, formerly president of the Polk Street Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm, has served in various corporate and non-profit jobs, including a stint at Albertsons, the food giant, and served as chief operating officer for America's Second Harvest, a national anti-hunger organization.

The Obama administration wants her to replace Josette Sheeran, the Bush administration choice for the job, when her five-year term expires in April 2012.

Officials say the administration had expected a decision to have been made by now and have grown concerned that Ban may not select their favored candidate. Dan Glickman, a former Democratic lawmaker from Kansas and Secretary of Agricultural under former President Bill Clinton, is also said to be on the U.N.'s short list of candidates. Sheeran is said to be pursuing a second term.

The United States is the world's largest financial contributor to the World Food Program, providing more than $1.5 billion worth of assistance and food in 2010, which accounts for more than 36 percent of all international giving to the U.N. food agency.  The World Food Program's executive director has been an American since 1992, when Catherine Bertini was appointed to the post. The WPF director is selected by the U.N. secretary general and the director general of the FAO, generally on the basis of a recommendation from the United States.

The Rome-based FAO is responsible for feeding more than 105 million people in 75 countries, and employs about 10,000 people.

The eventual winner of the WFP job, though, could potentially be forced to grapple with a Palestinian bid to join the organization's executive board, which is composed of 18 U.N. members and 18 members of FAO. The Palestinians can join FAO if they can get a two-third vote of the membership, which would allow them to mount a bid for membership on WFP's executive board.

So far, the Palestinians -- which have already been admitted as UNESCO members -- have said they are exploring membership bids in some 16 additional U.N. agencies, at some point in the future. They have not yet said, however, whether they would mount a campaign for membership in the U.N.'s food agencies at the next major membership meeting in June, 2013.

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Update: This post has been corrected to reflect an error regarding the nationality of WFP executive directors. The director has been from the United States since 1992, not throughout the entirety of the organization's history.

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