Ban is sworn in as next U.N. chief

S. Korean diplomat, who takes office Jan. 1, pledges to rebuild trust and bridge divides

December 15, 2006|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- Ban Ki Moon of South Korea took the oath of office yesterday as the U.N.'s eighth secretary-general.

Ban, 62, pledged that after he officially assumes office Jan. 1, he would try to restore trust in the institution tainted by scandal and management lapses, and to bridge divisions between rich and poor nations.

"I look forward with a mixture of awe and enthusiasm to taking up my duties as secretary-general of the United Nations," the former foreign minister said after being sworn in yesterday morning.

Before Ban's swearing-in ceremony in the vaulted General Assembly hall, representatives from 192 countries gave a thundering ovation to outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 68, who will step down after 10 years in office.

While Annan brought the international spotlight to the United Nations and insisted that human rights and development deserve as much attention as matters of war and peace, his tenure was blemished by findings of corruption and mismanagement in the oil-for-food scandal.

Annan's grand vision to reform the institution was scuttled by developing countries, which viewed the changes as a power grab by U.N. bureaucrats, and by the United States, which proposed a more stringent plan.

While praising Annan's "high ideals, noble aspirations and bold initiatives," Ban hinted at a shift away from Annan's approach.

"The time has come for a new day in relations between the secretariat and member states," he said. "The dark night of distrust and disrespect has lasted far too long."

He also said he would strive to "lead by example" to set high ethical standards at the world body, a statement also seen by diplomats as a subtle swipe at Annan and the scandals that have been exposed at U.N. agencies under his watch.

Ban, whose career as a South Korean diplomat kept him largely out of the spotlight, has said that his modest and unassuming demeanor should not be mistaken for weakness or indecision. He told the news media that he would not evade questions, as he was reputed to do as foreign minister.

"Your colleagues in Korea may have dubbed me the `slippery eel' because I was too charming for them to be able to catch me," he said. "But I promise today that I can be a pretty straight shooter when I need to."

Addressing concerns that he will be more of an administrator than a leader, Ban said that he was willing to be "directly engaged" in finding solutions to conflicts in Darfur, Iran and North Korea.

"The suffering of the people of Darfur is simply unacceptable," he told reporters. He said he would personally push leaders in Sudan to allow U.N. peacekeepers to protect the people of Darfur if the government can't halt the violence.

He also said he would meet with Iranian leaders "wherever and when" to discuss their denial of the Holocaust, an attitude he called "not acceptable." He told a news conference that among the many crises in the world, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian authorities is at the core of tension in the Middle East and "the most serious issue with which we must deal." He said he planned to revitalize the "roadmap" to peace and to speak soon with leaders in the region.

But Ban left most of his concrete plans and policies vague, saying he would like to resolve issues in the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq in each case "in a peaceful way through dialogue."

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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