On Monday South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was recommended by the United Nations (UN) Security Council as its choice to succeed Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General, the Council's president for the month announced.
The statement by Japan's UN envoy Kenzo Oshima, however, was overshadowed by North Korea's first nuclear test which Oshima called "a very serious matter" and "a threat to international peace and security in the region."
Ban, a 62-year-old career diplomat, was the only remaining candidate for the prized, high-profile diplomatic job after six other contenders withdrew following the South Korean foreign minister's decisive victories in four informal straw polls of the Security Council.
Under the UN Charter the 192-member General Assembly elects the Secretary-General on the recommendation of the Security Council. Oshima said he asked the president of the General Assembly "for prompt steering of the appointment process." The Assembly is likely to schedule a vote later this month.
Ban would then take office next January after Annan, a Ghanaian, stepped down after completing two five-year terms of office.
"It's really quite an appropriate juxtaposition that today, 61 years after the temporary division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II, that we're electing the foreign minister of South Korea Secretary-General of this organization and meeting as well to consider the testing by the North Koreans of a nuclear device," US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said.
"I can't think of a better way to show the difference of the progress of those two countries, the great progress in the south and the great tragedy in the north," he added.
Annan welcomed the selection of his successor. His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, explained in a statement that Annan "has the highest respect for Mr Ban" and "hopes that the General Assembly will be able to reach a decision on this important matter in the near future so the incoming Secretary General designate will have time to prepare fully for his assumption of office on January 1."
Ban surfaced as the favorite in four Security Council straw polls with most UN members agreeing that in line with an unwritten rule of geographic rotation for the post of Secretary General it was Asia's time to lead the world body.
A soft-spoken career diplomat Ban reacted modestly to his win in the fourth council poll last Monday saying, "I'm delighted at the poll results and at the same time I feel heavily burdened with responsibility."
He denied that the perception of him as a strong US ally would impede efforts to resolve burning issues such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. Ban said a good working relationship with Washington was desirable but on specific issues he pledged to act as an impartial mediator.
He also said that his mild-mannered and soft-spoken image belies an inner toughness. "I may look soft from the outside but I have inner strength when it's really necessary. I've always been very decisive," he said.
And according to South Korean Foreign Ministry officials Ban is prepared to travel to Pyongyang to help mediate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
(China Daily October 10, 2006)