- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday pledged to complete much-needed reforms at the United Nations and urged all nations to make efforts to secure Iraq, saying the war-torn nation “is the whole world’s problem.”

Meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office yesterday, the South Korean vowed to tackle the world’s most pressing issues — Iraq, the Middle East, Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia and North Korea.

Afterward, speaking with reporters, Mr. Ban promised to revamp the troubled organization, which has been a sore point with the Bush administration.

“The United Nations should change with much more efficiency and effectiveness and mobility, and highest level of ethical standard,” he said. “I’m very much committed to carrying out this reform and I need strong support of all member states and staff of the United Nations in carrying these reform measures.”

The Bush administration has long complained that U.N. bureaucracy has compromised the once-effective organization, and dispatched staunch critic John R. Bolton to New York to address its concerns. During the run-up to the Iraq war, Mr. Bush said the body was teetering on the brink of irrelevancy, but in more recent times has effectively pressed member states into action on several issues, including Lebanon and Iran.

While neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Ban mentioned Iraq in their brief Oval Office comments, the new secretary-general sounded a far more agreeable tone than did his predecessor, Kofi Annan. Before departing his post, Mr. Annan called the Iraq war “illegal” and declared the country safer under dictator Saddam Hussein, who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during his rule.

The secretary-general’s long day in Washington ended with a dinner for “120 of his best new friends” at the Kalorama home of Esther Coopersmith, Washington’s reigning “hostest with the mostest.” Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, saluted him with an emotional toast to the United States as a partner with the U.N. “Had it not been for the United States I would not be here,” said Mr. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, “and had it not been for the United States your country would not have survived. You and I have a special bond. We do not believe the United States to be the ‘great Satan.’ ”

Mr. Ban answered in kind, taking note of South Korea’s debt to the United States and the U.N. In a lighter vein, he quipped that if the New Orleans Saints should oppose the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, “I’m glad that as a diplomat I won’t be forced to choose between God and country.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush appeared pleased to be starting with a clean slate, and smiled often as he assured Mr. Ban that he planned to continue to work with the world body — although he stopped mid-sentence to change a word he may not have meant to use.

“The United States is willing — wants to work with the United Nations to achieve a peace through the spread of freedom,” Mr. Bush said. “I appreciate so very much how you opened up the discussion with a strong commitment to democracy and freedom,” he told Mr. Ban.

For his part, Mr. Ban expressed hope that the United States would continue its role as a U.N. leader as he urged continued support for the organization.

“I would need strong participation and support of the United States in all activities of the United Nations. In fact, I believe that the United Nations and United States have shared objectives — peace and security, freedom, democracy. All these important goals and ideas are what the United States is also trying to achieve,” he said.

While neither leader spoke of Iraq after their meeting, Mr. Ban spoke freely afterward with reporters on the White House driveway.

“Iraq and elsewhere needs an urgent attention of the international community,” he said. “Particularly when it comes to Iraq, the international community should have all possible assistance to help Iraqi government and people to restore peace and stability and recover from economic devastation.”

He expanded on the topic in a speech later in the day, delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Iraq is the whole world’s problem. I pledge my best efforts to help the Iraqi people in their quest for a more stable and prosperous Iraq. The U.N. role can assist in building an inclusive political process, helping to cultivate a regional environment supportive of a transition to stability, and pursuing reconstruction,” he said.

During his speech, the South Korean spoke of his first visit to Washington 45 years ago, when, at 18, he visited the White House and met President Kennedy.

“That was a magical experience for a young person like me. It gave me something even more significant than the thrill of the moment. It offered me a personal connection to this country, and to the ideas and principles it stands for,” he said.

Mr. Ban laid out four areas he plans to focus on in his new post: the genocide in Darfur, the Middle East, North Korea, and Kosovo, where he said the world must continue “working for a conclusive resolution to the uncertainty that still hangs over Kosovo’s status.”

On North Korea, Mr. Ban said he would “try my best” to facilitate six-party talks, which seek to discourage the communist state from pursuing nuclear weapons.

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