- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

NEW YORK — Ban Ki-moon is off to a rocky start after one month as U.N. secretary-general, with diplomats complaining that his transition is progressing far too slowly and member states resisting his early proposals for restructuring.

U.N. insiders have questioned his early appointments, saying he is not striking out boldly with his own team, but relying too much on insiders from predecessor Kofi Annan’s tenure.

The criticisms, which threaten to overshadow a well-received speech at the African Union summit last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, have frustrated members of the transition team and worried Mr. Ban’s early supporters.

“He has had a long transition period, and we are a little concerned that we still don’t know what he is thinking,” said one Western diplomat of Mr. Ban’s first month in office. “They haven’t briefed us on appointments or priorities. Everything is still a priority.”

Some diplomats, U.N. elder statesmen and pundits say that Mr. Ban’s team of handpicked aides — many who came with him from the South Korean Foreign Ministry — has been slow to reach out for advice from seasoned hands.

Permanent U.N. staff members acknowledge that they should have done a better job of explaining the first two planks of Mr. Ban’s restructuring plan, which called for folding the U.N. disarmament department into the political-affairs department and splitting the peacekeeping department in two.

Both proposals received a chilly reception from member states last week. And until the structure of those departments is sorted out, officials say, it will be impossible to choose people to lead them.

A coalition of developing nations and Japan already has forced Mr. Ban to back away from his plan to merge the U.N. disarmament department with political affairs and is resisting a plan cut the disarmament agency’s staff and have it report directly to Mr. Ban.

In a letter circulated last week, Mr. Ban said there is a “need for a greater role and personal involvement of the secretary-general in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation.”

The letter noted that the existing department has produced little of significance.

“The department needs energizing,” one senior U.N. official told The Washington Times, noting that a recent conference to review the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty collapsed because no one could agree on substantive steps.

But that is not the way U.N. delegations are hearing the message.

Developing countries resent Mr. Ban’s insistence on acting immediately on the proposal, and in a letter to the president of the General Assembly last week, they insisted that changes be discussed in the assembly’s budgetary and management committees, “in a manner that is smooth and nondivisive.”

Regional groups will continue to discuss the proposals this week and will meet with senior members of Mr. Ban’s staff.

The backlash against the disarmament proposal “was so predictable,” said a frustrated U.N. official, who noted that Mr. Ban had been repeatedly counseled to consult with key players to prepare the General Assembly for change.

“There has to be a plan, and you have to ready the battlefield, and this plan was launched before it was ready,” the official said.

There is also concern about Mr. Ban’s proposal to split the $4 billion peacekeeping department in two, with one side handling political and military affairs and the other administration and support of 18 peace missions.

Setting up a separate department will mean new high-level posts and increased spending that will either be borne by richer governments or gouged out of other budgets. Neither option has gathered much support, despite an acknowledged need to improve the management of the logistically complex peacekeeping department.

Within Mr. Ban’s inner circle, there is a sense of disappointment that their message was not better-received. In conversations this week, several senior officials acknowledged that they should have held earlier consultations with key figures and done a better job of explaining their ideas.

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