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North Korea expected to be high priority for likely next U.N. chief

North Korea expected to be high priority for likely next U.N. chief

The first serious test facing the South Korean diplomat who is the front-runner to become U.N. secretary-general could be an issue that Ban Ki-moon has grappled with for 40 years: North Korea.
The communist regime in Pyongyang has emerged again as a top global concern after declaring Tuesday that it plans a nuclear weapons test. The announcement came less than a day after Ban was virtually assured of the top U.N. job in a straw poll of Security Council members.
Ban, South Korea's 62-year-old foreign minister, began his campaign to succeed Kofi Annan in February, saying his election would help resolve the long-running nuclear standoff. After this week's council poll, he said he would put the pledge into action.
"If I'm elected, I will make the best use of the authority given to the secretary-general to further facilitate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation and a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue," he said Tuesday.
Ban didn't specify how he would proceed if elected to assume the U.N. job on Jan. 1.
The U.N. has played little role in efforts so far to resolve the crisis, leaving the problem to the United States and North Korea's neighbors _ China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. They have tried to persuade Pyongyang to disarm in exchange for economic and political benefits.
A July council resolution that condemned North Korea for test-firing a series of missiles was the first concrete action the world body has taken on the communist state since the latest nuclear standoff flared in late 2002.
Annan sent his special adviser on North Korea to Pyongyang a couple of times, but those trips produced no breakthrough.
It's unclear what kind of role Ban could play in settling the nuclear crisis, but one possibility would be for him to visit North Korea for the first time.
"Secretary-General Kofi Annan has never visited North Korea during his 10-year term," Ban said Tuesday in an interview with the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo. "I plan to go to North Korea as soon as I get the chance."
North Korea has not mentioned Ban's bid to become U.N. secretary-general. But it previously has accused him of blindly following the U.S. line by urging the North to resume negotiations and give up the atomic weapons program.
"After he takes office, dealing with overall North Korea policies, including the country's human rights, will emerge as a difficult task," said Soh Chang-rok, a professor of Seoul's Korea University.
"His experience and position as South Korean foreign minister is quite different from his position as secretary-general. The most important thing is to act as a global public official with a neutral stance."
The professor was referring to Seoul's reluctance to openly criticize North Korea for its human rights record out of concern that might anger Pyongyang and complicate efforts to resolve the nuclear issue. That has drawn strong criticism from human rights groups at home and abroad.
Ban has defended the approach, but he said in recent media interviews that his position as U.N. chief would require a different tack. "In the future, (I) will have to make (decisions) as secretary-general," he told Chosun Ilbo.
Another key task awaiting the next secretary-general is reforming the United Nations, which critics complain is ineffective in dealing with global problems.
Ban expresses confidence he can carry reforms through, citing his career in senior managerial posts in the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
One of the main reforms Ban enacted at the ministry was mandatory retirement for senior diplomats without postings. That ended a highly criticized practice allowing diplomats to wait up to one year on the payroll if they did not have an assignment.
"I think Ban's problem-solving ability is extraordinary," said Lee Seo-hang, a professor at the state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. "I think he can deal well with other issues, too."
The Middle East _ Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and other problems _ is another key interest for the United Nations, but Ban has had few chances to talk about that region.
South Korea's government backs the U.S.-led war on terrorist groups and sent the third-largest contingent of troops to Iraq after the U.S. and Britain.


Updated : 2021-05-14 21:01 GMT+08:00