The Government has no regrets about the time and money spent on Helen Clark's unsuccessful bid to become next UN Secretary-General.

"You've got to be in to win," Prime Minister John Key said.

"It's not every five minutes. It might be a very long time before New Zealand gets another serious candidate of the calibre of Helen Clark," Key said.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the bid had "certainly been worth it."


"If you can't back a former Prime Minister and head of a UN agency for a role like this, then it's a pretty poor commentary on New Zealand's approach to multilateralism."

McCully said the challenges facing the incoming Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, would require some "real force of character".

Asked if her candidacy had affected New Zealand's work as an elected member of the Security Council, he said: "There is not a single position that we have taken on the Security Council that would have been different had she not been a candidate. We wouldn't have it any other way and I'm sure she wouldn't either."

Guterres is a former Portuguese Prime Minister and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Speaking from Brussels today, McCully said with Europe facing significant challenges there had been an overwhelming sense there that "it would a great tragedy if Europe did not provide the next Secretary-General for the UN."

Referring to the challenges for Guterres, McCully said there was "a very unhealthy culture within the Security Council ."

That was evidenced by the breakdown in relations over Syria in recent weeks.

"And I think the challenge for the next Secretary-General is to be able to provide some leadership out of that stalemate.

"That is going to call for some real force of character and an ability to build alliances and partnerships among some reluctant parties."

Guterres is poised to become the next Secretary-General after an informal Security Council ballot early this morning showed no objection to him from any veto-wielding member of the council: Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States.

Clark improved her position from eighth to fifth but out of 15 votes secured only six in favour, eight against and one abstention. Three Security Council members voted against her, thought to be Russia, France and the United States.

A formal recommendation on Guterres is expected to be passed by the council about 3am Friday (NZ time) although there may be some discussion about whether to make it a renewable five-year term or non-renewable seven-year term.

The only formality left will be the formal acceptance of the recommendation by the UN General Assembly, possibly next week.

A total of 13 candidates joined the contest, one as recently as this week, European Commissioner Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva.

Among them were seven women, and nine Eastern Europeans but a male from western Europe won the day, and in fact all of the five preceding Security Council ballots.

Clark arrived in New York this afternoon after a flight from Dubai and has issued only a statement at this stage congratulating Guterres and thanking the New Zealand Government and supporters.

She and Guterres have similar credentials on paper: they were both social democratic Prime Ministers, he of Portugal, and both successfully led United Nations agencies.