- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006


When North Korea carried out its first nuclear test at the same time as a South Korean was rising to election as the next U.N. secretary-general, many observers concluded it was no coincidence.

With South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon set to become the “world’s top diplomat,” North Korea used its test in part to detract from Mr. Ban’s triumph, some analysts say, and to remind the world that it won’t be intimidated by any circumstances.

Mr. Ban won’t take the chair being vacated by Kofi Annan until January. But some officials already are suggesting that a Korean secretary-general will make a difference — and could even be helpful — as the world deals with the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear crisis.

Others see little effect, mainly because the power to influence developments in the crisis rests largely with North Korea and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

But even they say Mr. Ban — who has talked of naming a special envoy to North Korea — can have some influence, if for no other reason than that he has had the North on his plate every day as foreign minister. That was evident Thursday when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Northeast Asia to encourage implementation of strict U.N. sanctions on North Korea, met with Mr. Ban on her stop in Seoul.

“The fact Mr. Ban has dealt with the nuclear issue and knows it well is encouraging because he becomes secretary-general at a time when nuclear proliferation is one of the biggest issues,” said Edward Luck, a U.N. specialist at Columbia University in New York.

“But traditionally, the [secretary-general] is not expected to be too close to dealing with his homeland or a country hostile to his homeland,” he added. “When the secretary-general does try to get too involved in an area where he has a track record, it’s very awkward.”

Still, diplomats involved in the Korean issue say Mr. Ban will be helpful because of his knowledge of the conditions and people tied to it. “My sense is that Ban knows the whole case quite well: He knows his counterparts,” said Li Junhua, counselor to China’s mission to the United Nations. “All of this will contribute and be positive for finding a way out.”

China caused confusion after the Security Council resolution was passed by saying that it would not enforce a measure calling for inspections of cargo entering and leaving North Korea.

Miss Rice’s quick dispatch to Asia to secure compliance with the sanctions, not to mention the North’s insistence on direct talks with the United States, only underscores what many analysts say about the Korean crisis: It will be largely the United States that determines the path the North Korean crisis takes. “The North wants to negotiate with Washington, not the U.N.,” Mr. Luck said.

Still, some U.N. officials draw comparisons between Mr. Ban’s case and that of other U.N. leaders. Referring to the term of the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who served as secretary-general from 1992 to 1996, one U.N. official said: “Boutros-Ghali came here when the U.N. was part of the dealings with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and his experience with the issue was widely seen as essentially helpful.”

Requesting diplomatic anonymity because of his contact with Mr. Boutros-Ghali’s dealings, the official said: “If you look back, you see Israel appreciated the work [Mr. Boutros-Ghali] had done as an Egyptian diplomat on the Camp David Accords, so really his presence was seen as a positive precedent.”

But Mr. Boutros-Ghali also ran into a wall of resistance when he tried to get personally involved in Somalia, Mr. Luck said. “His efforts weren’t appreciated by some of the actors in that crisis, and he was rebuffed,” he said.

Where Mr. Ban may be more influential, officials and specialists seem to agree, is simply in keeping the nuclear-proliferation issue on the United Nations’ priority list — especially with the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions about to return to the Security Council.

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