Thant Loses Temper over Correspondent’s Question on Withdrawal of UN Force in 1967

Secretary General U Thant lost his temper at a press reception here yesterday when a free-lance reporter asked whether he might have acted incorrectly when he removed the United Nations peace force from the Middle East in May, 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War. Mr. Thant’s action, at the request of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, was believed by many diplomats to have precipitated the war. It has been the subject of widespread criticism.

Obviously angered by the question from a British reporter, Edwin Roth, Mr. Thant retorted, “Only a nincompoop or a malicious distortionist would still maintain that I had other alternatives to the action I took.” He added that he had “never made a more correct decision” and that his remarks were on the record.

The exchange between Mr. Thant and Mr. Roth occurred during ceremonies at the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) club rooms just after the Secretary-General blew out the candles on a cake in observance of his eighth anniversary in office. The occasion is an annual event. But Mr. Roth, who later described himself as a free-lance newsman representing nobody but himself, pressed Mr. Thant with questions on whether the Secretary-General felt he had made any mistakes during his tenure, Mr. Thant replied that he was “not conscious of any mistakes.” He abandoned his usual composure however when Mr. Roth asked if he thought he had acted correctly in May, 1967.

UNCA officials apologized to Mr. Thant and called a press briefing to explain the incident. After a heated debate between UNCA members and Mr. Roth who is not a member, UN guards were asked to escort the free-lancer out of the building. Roth insisted that he had asked Mr. Thant legitimate questions and that if anyone had been aggressive it was the Secretary General.

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