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In the News
Last Updated: 11/16/2008
Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama
Neil MacFarquhar

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, habitually a taciturn diplomat in his public statements, bordered on effusive in talking about the president-elect. While careful to highly praise both candidates, he called Mr. Obama’s election a “historic opportunity’’ for a stronger working relationship between the United Nations and the United States.

“I am very optimistic that we will have a very strong relationship, a renewed partnership under his administration,’’ said Mr. Ban. The secretary-general quoted from several campaign speeches in which the president-elect voiced support for diplomacy, development and even the United Nations itself, often considered a radioactive issue for the American electorate.

“He values highly the resolution of all the conflict issues through dialogue,’’ Mr. Ban said. “He has expressed publicly that he is willing to meet anybody, any country, so that will provide good opportunity not only for the United States, but also the United Nations as a whole to resolve all issues through dialogue.’’

Relations between the Bush administration and the United Nations have been notably tense, although the hostile surface rhetoric often masked a working rapport on numerous issues, particularly development in Africa.

Still, Mr. Bush did not appoint a United Nations ambassador until nine months into his first term and one of his envoys, John Bolton, once suggested that nobody would notice a difference if the top 10 floors of the Secretariat building were lopped off.

The Bush administration disparaged numerous treaties advocated through the United Nations, including the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the International Criminal Court and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. His administration also withheld funds from the United Nations Population Fund and worked against a treaty limiting small arms trafficking, among others.

Mr. Ban suggested all that might change. “I also expect the United States will take a more active participation in all United Nations organizations and activities,’’ he said.

The secretary general noted that in February 2007 he and Mr. Obama met by chance on a shuttle flight from Washington to New York. The senator asked him many questions, particularly about nuclear proliferation issues involving Iran and North Korea as well as the challenges of reforming the United Nations itself.

“He was very engaging and he knew a lot about the United Nations and I was very much encouraged,’’ Mr. Ban said.