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S. Korean Contender for U.N. Post Has an Edge

Ban has cultivated good relations with China, Russia and the United States as South Korea's chief negotiator in talks over the fate of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "We've always had the highest professional regard for him," said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the world body.

In a speech Monday to a gathering of representatives from small countries, Ban underscored that fixing the United Nations' administrative culture -- a U.S. priority -- would be his "job number one." He also vowed in an interview to play a more active role in persuading North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program. "I think I can be in a much better position to play an important role," he said. Still, some U.N. observers said the election of a stalwart U.S. military and political ally could exacerbate tensions at the United Nations with developing nations, which have increasingly opposed U.S. efforts to reform the United Nations' financial practices and to reorient it to confront terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The high costs of running a global campaign have handicapped secretary general candidates from some of the United Nations' least powerful countries, who previously fared well in races for the top U.N. post. Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan diplomat and one of the candidates, said it has been "impossible to mount the high-cost, high-budget campaign" that a president, foreign minister or top official from a wealthier country can afford. "I can only assume that some of the candidates have been able to do more extensive travel than I've been engaged in."

Industrialized nations have a "long-standing practice" of using development and trade deals to secure voting support for their nationals in international organizations, said William R. Pace, the director of the Institute for Global Policy, which is monitoring the race.

Ban said that he has proudly guided South Korea, once a poor recipient of international assistance, into the exclusive club of aid donors committed to alleviating the plight of the world's most disadvantaged.

Last week, Ban attended a conference hosted by French President Jacques Chirac to build support for an initiative to use airline taxes to fund programs to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases.

Speaking in French, Ban said South Korea would be the first Asian country to back the initiative. "Korea feels very much proud to have become a donor country from a recipient," he said in an interview, noting that his government will double its aid to poor countries, particularly in Africa, in the next three years.

Some key council members dismissed suggestions that South Korea's trade and aid policies have influenced the race. "Our judgment of the candidates is not based on any kind of deal. It's based on the policies they follow," said Greece's ambassador, Adamantios Vassilakis.

"Politics goes on all the time," Bolton said. "And every candidate has his or her strategy, and they follow it, and everybody can evaluate that strategy" in selecting the next secretary general.

Staff researcher Rena Kirsch in Washington contributed to this report.

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