S. Korean Strongly Backed to Lead U.N.

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 2 -- The U.N. Security Council's five permanent members on Monday unanimously backed South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon's bid to become the United Nations' next secretary general, making it likely he will be endorsed next week by the 15-nation council as the world's top diplomat.

The Korean diplomat secured 14 votes in favor of his candidacy, including from all of the council's five veto-wielding powers -- the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain. Only one non-permanent council member, voting anonymously, expressed no opinion.

Key senior council members said it is all but certain that Ban will become the eighth secretary general, replacing Kofi Annan of Ghana when he steps down at the end of December.

But the council decided to wait until Oct. 9 to formally recommend Ban's candidacy to the 192-member General Assembly so that his competitors can withdraw from the race. The General Assembly has never rejected the council's nominee.

"It is quite clear from today's vote that Minister Ban Ki Moon is the candidate the Security Council will recommend" to the General Assembly, China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters.

Ban would take charge of an organization with a budget of more than $5 billion a year and operations in virtually every corner of the world, including a peacekeeping army of more than 70,000 "Blue Helmets."

Ban's selection would place a seasoned, cautious diplomat in the job of restoring public confidence in an organization that has been buffeted by political divisions over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, U.N. mismanagement of the oil-for-food program and a series of sexual-misconduct scandals in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

During his campaign, the Korean diplomat has pledged to play a role in smoothing differences between the developing world and the United States and other Western powers, which have clashed over U.N. reform priorities.

He vowed to pursue some key objectives of the United States, a close military and political ally of South Korea, saying reform of the United Nations' management and financial practices would be his "job number one." He also intends to play a more active role than Annan in urging North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

"We are very pleased with the outcome here, very pleased," said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after the vote. Bolton said he could not "rule out the possibility" that a new candidate might enter the race to mount a final challenge to Ban. But, he added: "I don't think there's much doubt what the outcome is at this point."

Some of Ban's rivals had privately complained that the South Korean government ran a costly political campaign, involving trade deals and pledges of aid for Security Council members, to secure Ban's victory.

But some of Ban's competitors rallied behind the Korean diplomat.

Shashi Tharoor of India, who placed second in today's ballot, conceded defeat after the vote, saying that he had written Ban to congratulate him on his victory. "It is clear that he will be our next secretary general."

"It is a great honor and a huge responsibility to be secretary general, and I wish Mr. Ban every success in that task," Tharoor said. "The U.N., and the world, has a stake in his success."

The emergence of Ban as the likely new U.N. leader ended a rare public campaign for a post that has been traditionally selected in secrecy by the world's major powers. But the campaign followed past practices of limiting the field of viable candidates to a single region, in this case Asia.

Although one candidate hailed from outside the region, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, China made it clear that it would block any non-Asian candidate from reaching the top job.

China's U.N. envoy said his government is confident in Ban. "I think that he is experienced. He's low-key but very firm, and he's decisive," Wang said.

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