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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New UN boss vows to resolve impasse

SOUTH Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon vowed yesterday to help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis after the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the quiet diplomat as the eighth chief in the world body's 61-year history.

The Security Council formally nominated Mr Ban to succeed Kofi Annan yesterday. A formal vote by the 192-member UN General Assembly is expected to confirm his selection, perhaps within a week.

What would have been an event of major significance - Mr Ban will become one of the world's best-known and most influential diplomats over his five-year term - was overshadowed by North Korea's claim that it had conducted a nuclear test.

"This should be a moment of joy. But instead, I stand here with a very heavy heart," Mr Ban said in Seoul. "Despite the concerted warning from the international community, North Korea has gone ahead with a nuclear test."

Mr Ban, who participated in six-party talks with the North last year, said he would work to resolve the crisis.

Japan's UN ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, asked the General Assembly to act promptly to give final approval to Mr Ban so he could have a sufficient transition before taking over as UN chief on January 1, after Mr Annan's second five-year term ends.

"I think the fact that the candidate is currently Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea is an asset in dealing with the situation in the Korean peninsula that we are now facing," Mr Oshima said.

Unlike those of previous years, Mr Ban's selection was marked by an absence of rancour or political infighting. He was the frontrunner in all four informal polls the Security Council conducted, never getting fewer than 13 votes in favour of his candidacy.

The final straw poll last week revealed he had the support of all five veto-wielding members of the council. The remaining five candidates quickly left the race.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that Mr Ban was "the right choice to lead the United Nations at this pivotal time in its history".

US ambassador John Bolton called Mr Ban's selection "a very significant event".

"It's really quite an appropriate juxtaposition that today, 61 years after the temporary division of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II, we're electing the Foreign Minister of South Korea as secretary-general of this organisation and meeting as well to consider the testing by the North Koreans of a nuclear device," Mr Bolton said.

Mr Ban's selection will give him more than two months to prepare to lead an organisation that has 92,000 peacekeepers deployed around the world and has an annual operating budget of $US5billion ($6.7 billion). Fighting hunger, assisting refugees and slowing the spread of HIV-AIDS are all programs that fall under the secretary-general's purview.

Mr Annan "warmly welcomes" the decision to nominate Mr Ban, whom he has the "highest respect for", UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Mr Annan, who won the Nobel Peace Prize as Secretary-General in 2001, urged the assembly to make a decision on Mr Ban as soon as possible.

Mr Ban has been South Korea's Foreign Minister for more than 2 1/2 years and served as national security adviser to two presidents - jobs that focused on relations with the North.

He has served as a diplomat for almost 40 years, including previous stints at the UN and in Washington.

He had courted Security Council nations aggressively during his campaign and gave numerous speeches to make himself better known and counter the impression that he was too quiet or humble to inherit the job.

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