October 2, 2006

Korean Virtually Assured of Top Job at U.N.

By WARREN HOGE <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/warren_hoge/index.html?inline=nyt-per&gt;

UNITED NATIONS <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/united_nations/index.html?inline=nyt-org&gt;, Oct. 2 — Ban Ki-moon, the foreign minister of South Korea, was virtually assured of being selected as the next secretary general of the United Nations Monday after winning overwhelming support in a final informal poll of the Security Council.

The council scheduled a formal vote for next Monday to make its verdict official, a decision that should lead to Mr. Ban’s being elevated to the position of the world’s most important international civil servant on Jan. 1.

Secretary General Kofi Annan <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/kofi_annan/index.html?inline=nyt-per&gt; steps down Dec. 31 after two five-year terms in office, and under United Nations procedures, the 15-member Security Council selects one name and sends it to the 192-member General Assembly <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/g/general_assembly/index.html?inline=nyt-org&gt; for appointment.

Mr. Ban nailed down his bid today by winning his fourth straight informal poll, this one designed with separately colored blue ballots to show whether any of the five veto-bearing permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — opposed him.

In a contest in which the ambassadors had the options of voting “encourage,” “discourage” or “no opinion,” Mr. Ban won 14 positives, including from all five permanent members, and one “no opinion” from one of the 10 rotating members.

There were objections from permanent members signaling potential vetoes of all five other candidates.

Mr. Ban will be inheriting the leadership of a global organization with 9,000 workers, $5 billion in annual spending and tasks ranging from education, health care and emergency assistance to areas hit by natural disaster to peacekeeping in nations emerging from conflicts.

He also takes over at a moment when the United Nations has been shaken by management lapses and scandals and faces continuing demands for overhauling its procedures. At the same time, it is a moment when the United Nations finds itself back at the center of many of the world’s most intractable problems in places like Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Kosovo and North Korea.

Mr. Ban has said in interviews and speeches that he would devote particular attention to efforts to broker a settlement in the Middle East.

Mr. Ban is a soft-spoken man who has in six months of campaigning around the world had to learn the Western art of self-promotion after early audiences complained they found his laid-back self-presentation underwhelming. He still frequently cites his own “humility” in exercising responsibility but argues it is an asset that should not be confused with indecisiveness.

In response to worries about whether he has the strength and presence to be secretary general, Mr. Ban has pointed to his leadership in the weighty and sensitive talks aimed at ending the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Mr. Ban is familiar with the United Nations, where he served as first secretary at the South Korean mission from 1974 to 1978 and was chief assistant to Han Seung Soo, the General Assembly president, in 2001. He also has served as director of the United Nations division at the foreign ministry in Seoul.

His election will carry great resonance in South Korea, a country created by the United Nations in 1948 and defended by United Nations-authorized troops in the Korean War.

In his lifetime, South Korea has been a model for development, transformed from a war-torn impoverished country into one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Mr. Ban has been a top official in the Korean embassy in New Delhi and ambassador to Austria. He became foreign minister in January 2004.

Mr. Ban says he first dreamed of becoming a diplomat when as an 18-year-old student visiting Washington in 1962 he met President John F. Kennedy <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/k/john_fitzgerald_kennedy/index.html?inline=nyt-per&gt; at the White House.

He has had extensive experience with the United States and is considered politically close to Washington.

Mr. Ban won all four informal polls. Five of the six candidates were Asian in a year seen as Asia’s turn at the top job. The last Asian secretary general was U Thant of Burma, who left office in 1971.

As in the previous three votes, the second finisher was Shashi Tharoor, 50, the undersecretary general for public information. He ended up with 10 positives, three negatives and two no opinions.

The other four, who trailed far behind, were Vaira Vike- Freiberga, the president of Latvia, the only woman and non-Asian in the race; Ashraf Ghani, 57, a former finance minister of Afghanistan and current chancellor of Kabul University; Surakiart Sathirathai, 47, the deputy to Thaksin Shinawatra <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/t/thaksin_shinawatra/index.html?inline=nyt-per&gt;, the prime minister of Thailand deposed in a military coup last month, and Prince Zeid al-Hussein, 42, Jordan’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Jayantha Dhanapala, 67, of Sir Lanka, a former undersecretary general for disarmament, withdrew from the race on Friday after drawing only three positive votes in balloting on Thursday.