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South Korea Eyes Top UN Job

It is the first time a South Korean will run for the post of secretary-general. Ban Ki-moon has been South Korea's foreign minister since January 2004. The 61-year-old career diplomat served as South Korea's ambassador to the U.N. for 10 years. Copyright AFP
by Jong-Heon Lee
Seoul, SKorea (UPI) Feb 14, 2006
South Korea has kicked off a campaign to make a native son one of the most influential figures in the international community.

Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who declared his candidacy for secretary-general of the United Nations Tuesday, said his election would help ease the years-long standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which has raised tensions in the region.

He also vowed, if elected, to use his 36 years of diplomatic experience to resolve other pressing global conflicts and reform a U.N. damaged by the mishandling of the Iraqi oil-for-food program and other scandals.

"If I am elected U.N. secretary-general, it is expected (I) play a positive role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue," Ban told a press conference held after the government unveiled its push to install him in the top U.N. post.

"The United Nations must promote a systematic and structural reform. The reform must also be permanent and easily adoptable to the challenges of the international society," Ban said.

"The (Seoul) government has decided to recommend me as a candidate for U.N. secretary-general in order to contribute better to the United Nations with our enhanced national power and public support, and I humbly accept it, and seek continued support," Ban said.

It is the first time a South Korean will run for the post of secretary-general. Ban has been South Korea's foreign minister since January 2004. The 61-year-old career diplomat served as South Korea's ambassador to the U.N. for 10 years.

Ban said he recently sent letters to his counterparts in 190 other U.N. member nations and North Korea to explain his aspirations for the job.

"I have received positive feedback from them. They like the fact that we have approached this in a low-key manner," he said.

Ban was designated as the country's candidate for the U.N. post four months ago, but official declaration has been delayed as part of the government's "low-key" campaign strategy. Officials said an early candidate announcement could trigger mudslinging and harsh media scrutiny.

Hours ahead of Ban's press conference, the government announced that it would present Ban as a candidate to replace Kofi Annan, whose second five-year term expires at the end of the year.

Ban "brings to his candidacy nearly four decades of extensive experience and an untarnished reputation as a diplomat and administrator, much of it directly related to issues of peace and security, development and human rights and democracy, the three pillars on which the United Nations stands," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

South Korea believes Ban would make a major contribution to fortifying and reforming the U.N., it said.

Seoul officials expressed confidence in Ban's nomination. South Korea's unique achievement of building the world's 11th-largest economy on the ruins of the 1950-53 Korean War should help their candidate. However, the divided Korean peninsula technically remains in a state of war as the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

"A U.N. secretary-general hailing from a divided country would send a meaningful message to the world," said Park Su-gil, former South Korean ambassador to the U.N. "South Korea has played a key role in defusing the North Korean nuclear crisis. This will help Ban win the U.N. post."

Ban has been instrumental in the six-country talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Officials said the U.N. tradition that calls for the regional rotation of the post would also help Ban's bid, noting that the successor to Annan -- who hails from Ghana -- is almost certain to come from Asia.

The so-called regional rotation has heightened competition in Asia. Two Asian contenders have already declared their bids for the top U.N. post -- Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Sri Lankan peace negotiator Jayantha Dhanapala.

Among the other likely candidates are East Timor Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs Jose Ramos-Horta, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

The policy of regional rotation has been challenged by the United States and Britain, but is strongly backed by China. On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Seoul reaffirmed its government's stance that the new U.N. secretary-general should be from an Asian country.

Annan also said his successor should come from Asia. "On the question of the next secretary-general, I think it is generally accepted among the membership that it is Asia's turn," he told an earlier press conference.

Source: United Press International

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