- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

NEW YORK - After serving less than one month in office, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began circulating a plan to improve the unwieldy peacekeeping department: He would slice it in two, establishing one office to administer the 18 field missions and another to make political and military decisions.

To the newly arrived secretary-general and his team, the plan seemed sensible and overdue. But some member states saw this as a usurpation of the General Assembly’s power. It was up to member states to decide how to spend money and allocate posts; did Mr. Ban not understand that his administration and the U.N. bureaucracy existed to implement their decisions?

Faced with an unexpected crisis, Mr. Ban deployed his advisers and trusted ambassadors to make amends with the regional and economic blocs that effectively control the world body. After a month of contrition and concession, ambassadors approved his plan.

Veteran ambassadors, observers and even Mr. Ban’s own staff heaved sighs of relief, but they also took note: Unlike his predecessor, Kofi Annan, Mr. Ban who marks his 100th day as secretary-general today is an outsider who still is learning how the United Nations really works.

“This was entirely unnecessary,” said one senior U.N. official. “If he had gone to the troop contributors and the Group of 77 first, they would have agreed. He didn’t pay his respects, so they made him suffer.”

Little more than three months into his five-year term, there is no consensus on what kind of secretary-general Mr. Ban will be.

His detractors acknowledge that he is hardworking, committed, modest and honest. And his supporters concede that he is too insulated and that his public speaking could use some passion.

Typically, no one wanted to be quoted by name talking about Mr. Ban for fear that their comments or criticisms would be misunderstood.

There are many criteria on which to judge Mr. Ban, 62, a low-key former foreign minister of South Korea.

When it comes to running the United Nations the “secretary” part of the job Mr. Ban has emphasized the need for efficiency and transparency, has improved working conditions to boost staff morale and, by all accounts, has reached out to diplomats from countries large and small.

Some U.N. insiders have been disappointed by his appointments. Many say Mr. Ban has distributed important jobs to key nations, possibly in return for political support during his campaign. Some, who had hoped for a fresh start, are disappointed that he has retained so many of Mr. Annan’s people.

The biggest criticism of Mr. Ban’s management style is his decision to rely on comrades from the South Korean Foreign Ministry, rather than enlisting advisers more familiar with the United Nations. This, they say, has slowed his process of acclimating and led to missteps with the General Assembly.

U.N. staffers, about 55,000 people around the world, are generally pleased with Mr. Ban’s priorities. A recent overhaul of the system that adjudicates grievances was a huge victory for the work force. U.N. staffers are also excited by a new emphasis on staff training and mobility, but they are waiting to see what comes of it.

“Kofi Annan said the right things, but he was not a good manager,” said one senior staff member. “We hope that Mr. Ban will do the things he says he wants to.”

On global affairs the “general” part of the job Mr. Ban has started off ambitiously.

In just 100 days, he has met with the most intransigent world leaders and taken on the thorniest issues: He brought global-warming concerns to the Bush White House, spent three hours urging Sudanese President Omar Bashir to accept beefed-up peacekeeping in Sudan’s Darfur region, barnstormed Middle East capitals and paid a surprise visit to Baghdad.

Human rights specialists are frustrated that there has been no action on Darfur, especially after Mr. Ban said he embraced the principle of a U.N. “responsibility” to protect civilians. But Mr. Annan made little progress there, and Sudan’s neighbors and trading partners have declined to pressure Khartoum.

The career diplomat has staked out a noticeably nonconfrontational stance on most issues, deferring to the Security Council on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, avoiding rhetoric on the recent detention of 15 British service members by Tehran and pleading for more time to negotiate conflicts when others call for economic sanctions.

Mr. Ban’s most important and tricky bilateral relationship is with Washington, which as the organization’s host country and largest financial contributor has specific ideas about how the United Nations should be run. Mr. Ban must keep the Bush administration and Congress on board without alienating other member states.

So far, U.S. officials say, Mr. Ban is finding his way and making the right moves. But a sense of impatience is also palpable, with diplomats and lawmakers pining for a splashy victory somewhere to justify their confidence in the organization’s eighth secretary-general.

The job of U.N. secretary-general is “the hardest job in the world because he’s got all of the responsibility and none of the power,” said Tim Wirth, a former Democratic senator from Colorado and now the head of the U.N. Foundation, which promotes U.S.-U.N. relations. “It’s a good thing he’s got a great sense of humor.”

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