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Interview Excerpts: U.N. Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-moon

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009; 6:51 AM

Ban's diplomatic philosophy:

As a diplomat I have been engaged in . . . traditional diplomacy which we have learned from a textbook. I believe that it is the human being, it's human relationships which can make a difference through direct and personnel contact between the leaders.

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I have been meeting those countries whose policies have been criticized and not consistent with international practices like international humanitarian law, human rights standards. It has been quite difficult, quite tough. My engagement with them has been quite straightforward. Some might think that I have been quite soft but I have been quite straight, very strong in a sense. I could have [approached it in a] stronger way, publicly issuing statements. But in such cases you may not have another opportunity of meeting or engaging those leaders in person. By doing that . . .I was able to make some progress. Look at the case of Sudan. Before my arrival as secretary general nothing was achieved after five years . . . I'm now able to deploy all 26,000 mandated deployment [of peacekeepers] by the end of this year. We have to work harder but at least we have seen some encouraging developments.

On preserving the U.N.'s moral standing:

I'm a man of principle and I'm a man of integrity. Of course, that does not mean that I'm inflexible. I'm flexible within the limits of all these principles . . . There are certain occasions when you really need to be flexible, you need to make compromises. That is the art of diplomacy but that does not mean you have to bend your principles . . . It's all the better if you can put all these opposing sides together so they can make an agreement and compromise. That's the way diplomacy works.

On his diplomatic mission to Burma, where he pressed Burma's senior general, Than Shwe, to embrace democracy and release political prisoners:

I went there without any guarantee that my mission would be successful. I didn't mind much about whether I would be successful or not. I cared much more about what I could leave behind . . .

[Shwe agreed to let Ban address Burmese notables, which Ban described as:] unprecedented for Myanmar. I told him that I want this one. If you don't agree with me I have to speak out. And if you don't agree with me I will have to speak to the journalists. You should be prepared that I will make very negative statements against your country and your leadership and he said "Ok. That fine." I think I left a very serious strong message to them which he took it very seriously and he even was said that he is committed to take this elections in a credible way. Credible way. He repeated it many times . . .

During my two meetings with the senior general I was very straight forward. He told me as same Asian he liked me and he liked to sit together with me and he really wanted to listen to me. He didn't interrupt while I was speaking. He said go on go on speak as long as I wanted. There was no time limit. I spoke almost one hour.

On Ban's diplomatic mission to Sri Lanka, where he secured a commitment from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure his own troops are held accountable for war crimes:

I pushed him very hard that he should first of all reach out to minority groups and also he should take necessary measure to ensure this accountability . . . They were adamantly rejecting the idea of this accountability. Then I intervened at the last minute . . . Everybody you know opposed this. At the last minute president Rajapaksa said well he's the secretary general of the United Nations; he has something to say so we will have to agree. That's why we were able to include that accountability clause there. I think that should be appreciated by the international community . . . I sent him two letters urging him to commit to his pledges during my visit. I will continue to do that.

Did the agreement undercut a U.N. push for an independent inquiry into war crimes at the U.N. Human Rights Council?

I've been saying that any accountability process should be a credible one with the strong support of the international community. Unfortunately, this human rights council was divided at that time and was not able to agree on that. It's not because of my agreement.

Why did the U.N. not release estimates of the civilian dead in Sri Lanka?

There was no independently verified number at that time. What I said through my statement was that whatever the number might be it was too much loss of civilian population, which was unacceptable . . . As the secretary general I had to rely upon this assessment and observations and reports and judgment so my senior advisors . . . I don't recall any serious disagreement among us . . . about these numbers . . . We were basically relying on these reports from our U.N. country team there.

On the possibility of negotiations with North Korea's Kim Jong-Il:

I'm sure that when the time comes I will have to play a certain role and I'm ready to do that. I have been heavily engaged myself in talking with North Koreans in the past I'm ready to do it. As you may remember we've been working hard to dispatch Lynn Pascoe [UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs]. Good understanding before they launched these [nuclear and missile] tests then they came back and [told us] that the atmosphere [for a visit] was not favorable at that time.


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