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September 26, 2006

Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is presently the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea. His election as new UN Secretary-General seems certain following the decision by all the other candidates to withdraw from the race.

This interview with AsiaSource was conducted by Nermeen Shaikh on September 26th, while Foreign Minister Ban was in New York for the UN General Assemby session. The Foreign Minister also delivered a speech to the Asia Society the previous day, The Quest for Peace and Prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Beyond.

Your Excellency, please allow me to congratulate you on your nomination for Secretary-General.

What aspects of your work in the South Korean Foreign Service have best prepared you for the role of UN Secretary-General?

During 40 years of public service, I have spent almost 10 years relating to the work of the United Nations, starting from the staff of the United Nations division in the South Korean Foreign Ministry. Most recently I served as Chef de Cabinet to the President of the 56th Session of the General Assembly. During that time I was able to gain first-hand experience in mediating several different agendas among many different countries. These will be useful and valuable assets for me in discharging my duties as Secretary General should I be elected.

James Traub, who is the author of a book called, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in an Era of American World Power, has argued - and this is a direct quotation from the book - that "the one thing that the five members of the Security Council have in common is they want to see a secretary general of modest dimensions." Could you comment on this?

Of course the members of the Security Council, particularly the five permanent members, are playing a very important role for the maintenance of peace and security of the international community. So we need to fully cooperate with that particular responsibility given by the Charter. Now, the Secretary-General of the United Nations also has a very important task to ensure and help the role of the organs of the UN, including the Security Council. Therefore, it is very important that the Secretary-General of the UN should have very close cooperation and coordination with the members of the Security Council, particularly the permanent five members. Should I be elected, I would use my mandate and authority, as well as play an astute role to have closer cooperation with them, as they are principally responsible for the maintenance of peace with member states of the United Nations. It is desirable to have harmonious cooperation with them.

You have said in an interview elsewhere that South Korea is "positioned to play a crucial role between developed and developing countries." Could you explain why this would be the case for South Korea, and to what extent do you think that South Korea has the trust of both the G-77 and the G-8?

As you know very well, Korea has risen as one of the 10 largest world economies from the ashes of the Korean War. Therefore, we have known the challenges and difficulties of developing countries. We can play a bridging role between developing countries and developed countries. And the Korean government has been providing economic assistance to many developing countries through technical cooperation or other official development assistance. The Korean government's assistance is not mainly monetary assistance. We like to provide the necessary technical assistance so that they can also build their own capacity to develop their own countries. Therefore, the Secretary General coming from the Republic of Korea, a country which has come from the devastation of the war to the prosperity which we now enjoy, can offer much for economic development.

As I am sure you are aware, many in the developing world think that the UN is a tool of rich, Western powers. How might this perception of an increasing North/South divide be altered? And what would you do if you were elected to ensure that this divide does not increase?

Basically, I would not agree to the notion that the United Nations is more for the developed countries. The United Nations is unique, in that it is the only global body whose membership comprises 192 countries. We have many developed countries, but also many developing countries - big and small, rich and poor. They are all family members of the UN.

If you look at the work of the General Assembly, most of the items on the agenda are related to developing countries. The United Nations, during the Millennium Summit Meeting and World Leaders Meeting last year, has adopted a very important document - the Millennium Development Goals - to promote and help the developing countries to have socio-economic development. Many countries have provided the necessary resources. There is a firm commitment of the international community, and this commitment should be implemented. The United Nations will be a very important global body to ensure common prosperity and political stability, regardless of where one is coming from.

As the Secretary General, I would try my best efforts to harmonize the division, if there is any, between these two groups.

There are people who suggest that it is possible that the UN could be divided along North-South lines, as it was during the Cold War between East and West. Do you agree that this is a possibility?

There is, of course, according to countries, a difference of levels in socio-economic development. This is why the United Nations has adopted and has discussed many important agendas and documents, to help those countries in need to ensure their economic and social development and political maturity and democratic institutions. I will try my best efforts again to bridge the differing and divergent opinions among the member states, using my experience as a diplomat during the last four decades as a harmonizer, as a bridge-builder, and also to try to regain the trust and confidence among the member states.

You mentioned the Millennium Development Goals. Those goals are set to be achieved by the year 2015. There are people who argue that, because there are such large inequalities between states, as well as within states, some kind of structural change will need to occur if these goals are going to be met by the target date. Do you agree with that? And if so, what changes would be necessary in order to achieve these goals?

The Millennium Development Goals are the most important and ambitious project which the United Nations has adopted during the Millennium Summit and World Summit on two occasions. This is a firm commitment and promise made among the member states. By 2015 the advanced countries are required to provide 0.7 per cent of their GNI for developmental purposes. And there are many countries who have been keeping this promise. A promise and commitment has been made already. It is very important that this commitment should be implemented. As Secretary General of the United Nations I'll try my best effort to maintain this political commitment, which was generated among the leaders of the world. It is very important to advanced and developed countries to keep this commitment. And on the part of developing countries, they should also be able to have their own national strategy, based on the Millennium Development Goals, ensuring a level of transparency, good governance and legitimate democratic rules.

If I may turn briefly to South Korea, it has been reported in The Financial Times today that Richard Armitage, former US Deputy Secretary of State, has said that North Korea is likely to test a nuclear bomb in the near future. A South Korean intelligence official, in the same article, has been quoted as saying, "If the US continues the financial sanctions and if China also turns up the heat, North Korea will be forced into a corner and will have to resort to a nuclear test." You have suggested that the question of financial sanctions should be de-linked from the six party talks - that is, that North Korea should return to the six party talks without insisting that financial sanctions be lifted. How do you respond to this report?

First of all, we do not have any hard evidence indicating that North Korea may soon conduct nuclear tests. Of course, we are very much alarmed about that kind of possibility. We are now closely monitoring the developments on North Korea, in close consultation and coordination with the countries in the region, and also particularly with the United States. We hope that such a scenario will not happen.

As for the financial sanctions imposed by Macau bank on North Korean banking accounts, this is a part of a law enforcement initiative over North Korea's illicit activities involving counterfeiting US currency. This is a separate issue. It should not be linked to the six party process. We have urged North Korea not to link this to the six party process. They should immediately return to six party talks without any pre-conditions. However, the United States has expressed their willingness and flexibility that once North Korea returns to the six party talks, the US government will be prepared to discuss these financial issues bilaterally with North Korea within the six party process.

Recently President Roh of Korea and President Bush of the United States, in their summit meeting in Washington, D.C., have agreed to have a common and broad approach to energize the stalled six party process. We are now in the process of drawing out detailed strategies to these common and broad approaches. We hope that we'll be able to see some breakthrough in this stalled six party process.

To return, then, to the UN. There has been much talk of the extent to which the UN is in need of reform. You have suggested that UN reform should be made on a democratic, representative basis. Could you elaborate on what such a reform proposal would look like?

When I mentioned democratic and representative, I meant that the reform of the Security Council should be made in a manner to be democratic, representative and in a transparent way. If we consider the dramatic changes in the political environment, it is necessary that the Security Council should be expanded and reformed. However, because of the sensitivities and very distinctively divergent opinions between and among member states, it would be desirable that member states should try to have more debate so that they would be able to draw out the broadest possible consensus. As Secretary General, I will try my best efforts to play an astute mediating and facilitating role to this end.

So you do believe that the Security Council ought to be expanded?

Yes, I do so.

In a speech you delivered at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this year, while enumerating the important issues confronting the United Nations, you said that its work, "in peacekeeping and complex emergencies should be more firmly grounded in humanitarian principles." Could you elaborate on what you mean by this?

Peacekeeping and peacemaking is a very important area of the United Nations' activities. The United Nations should be able to take an appropriate action at an appropriate time. It was very encouraging that the United Nations' member states have agreed this year to establish a peace-building commission. We have seen many local conflicts where people's human rights were abused, where these regional conflicts could have had negative implications for broader regional and global security. The United Nations needs to take appropriate action on this.

There are also some concerns in the operational management of the peacekeeping operations involving some corruption and other scandals. The member states, and particularly the Secretary General in close coordination with the member states, should ensure that there should be proper and efficient management of the peacekeeping operations.

How can the United Nations be empowered so that member states states can no longer disregard its decisions with impunity and humanitarian disasters like the one unfolding in Darfur remain beyond its reach?

I think the Sudanese government should accept without further delay the peacekeeping missions in Darfur. This was decided by the Security Council of the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan also made important and honest efforts in his talks with the Sudanese leadership. It is very important that before it may be too late we need to take necessary actions to deploy a peacekeeping mission in Sudan to save people from tragedy and crimes. It may develop into a genocide if we do not take the necessary actions at this time.

Would you agree, though, that quite apart from the resolution on Darfur, there are many resolutions that are passed in the UN that are not enforced because the UN does not have the power to enforce decisions on member countries?

The concerned parties should first of all fully cooperate and implement the necessary resolutions adopted by the United Nations, particularly resolutions adopted by the Security Council. They have a binding force so there should be no question that there should be full implementation of those resolutions.

Could you tell me what you would identify as the main problems that the UN will confront in the next ten years?

It's unfortunate and regrettable that even after the collapse of the Cold War era the international community has seen many sources of challenges and threats - conventional and non-conventional. Non-conventional includes proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, and international terrorism. Any one country, however resourceful or powerful it may be, cannot deal with all these issues and challenges. They require collective responses. The international community, and particularly the United Nations, should have some collective response with a uniting, determined political will of the member states of the international community. It should have common efforts to address all these challenges we are facing in the 21st Century. That's a very important task and responsibility of the global body and the United Nations.

Thank you very much, Your Excellency.

Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of AsiaSource.

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