Ban safe choice of veto-holding powers

UN chief Ban Ki-moon may have almost blown his chances of re-election by antagonising Moscow over the Balkans in 2008 but he has since focused on pleasing the US, Russia and other big UN powers, making his re-election tomorrow a certainty.

Ban has won warm praise from most of the big powers in his campaign. He is running unopposed and is expected to win handily, after Russia and the other 14 members of the UN Security Council endorsed his bid on Friday. His new term would start next January 1, 2012.

Ban’s re-election would come in spite of a certain amount of dissatisfaction with him in the developing world.

Some diplomats complain the former South Korean foreign minister has a tendency to echo the positions of the White House or US State Department, and they interpret this as a sign he may be co-ordinating his moves with Washington.

Arab envoys say Ban’s statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are often similar to America’s. “You might want to call him a US ‘yes man’,” an African diplomat told Reuters.

But Ban has won over the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council.

UN officials deny that the secretary general co-ordinates with Washington, though they acknowledge that his views often sound similar to America’s.

They say this stems from a shared world view; that the 67-year-old diplomat believes in Western bedrock principles of democracy, freedom and human rights and watched the US rebuild his country after the Korean War.

In a speech announcing his re-election bid this month, the Ban touted his record in brokering compromise: “Throughout my time in office, I have sought to be a bridge-builder.”

Ban has his public detractors. Sri Lanka has been furious with him about an investigative panel he set up that suggested government forces might have committed war crimes as they finished off the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009. Tehran has said Ban is “under the influence of some powers” and accused him of interfering in internal affairs.

And Ban has had run-ins with some of the veto-wielding powers. Russia went so far as to threaten to veto Ban’s second term because Moscow was unhappy with what it saw as his support for an independent Kosovo.

Russia denies this and joined the rest of the council on Friday in recommending the General Assembly give Ban a second term. The assembly is expected to confirm it on Tuesday.

Soon after taking office, Ban suffered a PR blow when foot- age of him ducking behind a podium after an explosion in Baghdad in March 2007 was shown for days. Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki didn’t flinch.

Then there was a scathing internal memo from Norway’s deputy UN ambassador, Mona Juul, who described him as a “spineless and charmless secretary general”.

Late last year, Ban was accused by human rights groups of failing to bring up the issue of detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

To date, Ban hasn’t publicly congratulated Liu for receiving the award or publicly called for his release. A senior UN official said during Ban’s China visit: “We brought it up with everybody else... we brought it up very, very strenuously.”

Ban’s image in the democratic world improved this year with his support for the Arab Spring demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.

He also took sides in Ivory Coast after Alassane Ouattara won a UN-certified presidential election in November 2010 that incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo rejected. Gbagbo ordered UN peacekeepers out of the country but Ban refused to budge. Gbagbo was ousted in April after months of civil war.

Among Ban’s successes, UN officials say, are focusing greater attention on climate change and peace, security and poverty in Africa and elsewhere, and creating a UN women’s agency. They acknowledge thought that climate talks are stalled and there are unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, Western Sahara, Cyprus and elsewhere.

“The SG (Secretary General) is the first to say that there’s unfinished business,” a senior UN official said, adding that Ban prefers quiet diplomacy to “podium-pounding”.

* Reuters

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