U.N. Security Council Nominates S. Korean as Secretary General

By Colum Lynch and Joohee Cho
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 9 -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Monday for South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon to be secretary general, endorsing a discreet political survivor for the world's top diplomatic job. A formal vote by the 192-member U.N. General Assembly is expected to confirm Ban's selection, perhaps within a week.

The soft-spoken, patrician Korean functionary -- some call him "the man with no enemies" -- will take charge of a United Nations that is struggling to contain conflicts around the globe. Ban, 62, has expressed a desire to play a far more active role in resolving the nuclear standoff with North Korea than current Secretary General Kofi Annan, who will step down on Dec. 31 after a decade in the job.

Although he may lack the star power of Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate once dubbed the secular pope, Ban is by most accounts a polished and patient diplomat who could help smooth over differences among the United Nations' most powerful members.

Japan's U.N. envoy, Kenzo Oshima, said Ban's intimate knowledge of North Korean affairs would make him an asset in the campaign to persuade Pyongyang to back down. But some question whether Ban may be too diplomatic to take on powerful governments, including the United States, if they violate international norms, or to publicly scold noted human rights abusers, including North Korea, Burma and Sudan.

"He will not ruffle feathers," said Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation in the Clinton administration, who has worked closely with Ban. "He is very diplomatic in the traditional sense of the word."

The U.N. body has never opposed a previous council choice. If approved, Ban will lead a $5 billion-a-year organization that carries out functions in virtually every corner of the world, ranging from the publishing of U.N. postage stamps to operating the world's second-largest expeditionary force, which will top 100,000 blue helmets in 18 conflicts by the end of the year.

In a series of interviews and public speeches, Ban said his chief priority will be to restore public confidence in an institution that has been buffeted by political squabbling among its members, mismanagement of a massive humanitarian program in Iraq, and sexual misconduct scandals involving U.N. peacekeepers.

But Ban sought to dash expectations that he would submit to U.S. insistence that the next secretary general devote most of his time to administrative tasks, saying he was eager to mediate conflicts in Sudan, the Middle East and North Korea.

"I intend to be more visibly engaged as a secretary general in addressing the regional conflict issue while trying to delegate the significant portion of my day-to-day managerial duties" to subordinates, Ban told an audience at the New York-based Asia Society.

His selection has already established Ban as something of a political lightning rod. James Kelly, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said Ban's successful campaign for the top U.N. job may have played a role in the timing of North Korea's reported nuclear test. Pyongyang has long resented its southern neighbor's power and prosperity and may have been looking to overshadow Ban's election, Kelly said.

Some human rights advocates are cautious about Ban, saying he has taken a low-key approach to abuses in North Korea. But they credit Ban with backing key institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, that hold rights abusers to account.

"He says the right things when you speak to him," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The big open question is, he is studiously bland. He seems determined not to give offense, and sometimes to effectively promote human rights you have to give offense."

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