- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NEW YORK - U.N. Secretary-General-designate Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that he remained ready to travel to North Korea as U.N. chief next year but lamented that Pyongyang had taken the “wrong path” in spite of numerous generous offers from the international community.

“Our goal is to help North Korea transform into a more open society so they can enjoy a better future for their people,” the South Korean foreign minister told The Washington Times in an interview at his New York hotel suite yesterday.

“We have offered economic assurance, security assurance, and a very good prospect of establishing normalized relations between the United States and North Korea, Japan and North Korea. To our disappointment, North Korea has taken the wrong path instead of taking those opportunities.”

Speaking slowly but candidly, Mr. Ban said his and other governments “are frustrated and upset at what they have done, including the test-firing of the missiles and the nuclear weapon.”

The Korean diplomat was widely quoted before last week’s missile test as saying he would like to travel to North Korea as secretary-general, something the outgoing secretary-general, Kofi Annan, did not do.

Asked yesterday whether that was still his intention, Mr. Ban said, “I will discuss the matter with and the Security Council. After that, I will take the necessary initiative, including my own visit.”

The participants in the six-party talks are the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas.

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday imposed tough sanctions on North Korea, seeking to prevent it from obtaining additional nuclear-weapons parts or technology and to punish its governing elite. The sanctions were carefully crafted to avoid harming an already impoverished populace.

Mr. Ban said the unanimous resolution was an appropriate response to North Korea’s nuclear test last week, but “it is necessary and desirable to leave room for dialogue to deal with the country.”

Mr. Ban, who assumes the secretary-general position on Jan. 1, said that he would stay in close contact with the Security Council and the participants of the six-party talks but that he would consider his own initiatives even without their endorsement if he thought doing so would help.

Mr. Ban is a lifelong diplomat with a deliberately mild demeanor and a developed sense of cautious realism.

Part of his new job, he said, will be to remind other nations that the United States is the most important of the 192 member states.

“They are the largest in terms of assessment. They are the sole superpower in the world. You cannot just totally disregard this simple fact, so I am a realist rather than an idealist,” he said.

“If you want to achieve long-term vision, your feet should always be firmly on the ground. I have been trying to harmonize and regain confidence and trust among the United Nations.”

He said South Korea’s rise from a Third World country to one of the world’s leading economies enables it to play “a bridging role” between developing and industrialized nations.

That peacemaking role probably will be necessary when he takes office after another anticipated round of bruising management and reform marathon sessions that will consume diplomats before the Christmas recess.

Mr. Ban has been characterized in the press as mild-mannered, and several observers have suggested that he is not strong enough to criticize a member state or use his weight behind the scenes to compel a decision.

“Sometimes, I was annoyed by this unfair description of my leadership,” the diplomat volunteered yesterday. “I may look soft and I may look mild, but that doesn’t the level of commitment.

“Modesty in Asia and Korea is regarded as the highest virtue,” he said. “I seek excellence without arrogance. Just pounding on the table with a shoe doesn’t necessarily mean leadership.”


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