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South Korean Diplomat in Lead For Top UN Job

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea's foreign minister has emerged as the front-runner in the contest to take over the top job at the United Nations later this year. Many South Koreans look forward to seeing one of their own in such a prestigious post.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon emerged Friday as the decisive leader in a United Nations straw poll of candidates to replace U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later this year.

As in the two previous votes, Ban received an overwhelming show of support among the 15 members of the Security Council who took part in the poll. However, Ban says it is too soon to celebrate, and says he is waiting with a "humble heart" for the final results.

It has been 30 years since an Asian held the top U.N. post and there is strong sentiment among members that the new secretary-general should be from the region. But Ban says it is more than just geography that has helped him take the lead.

He says that South Korea's longtime commitment to U.N. ideals has been a key factor in his favor, and he hopes his personal abilities have also helped convince U.N. members he is the right person for the job.

62-year-old Ban is a seasoned diplomat who served as South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2003.

Fluent in English, Ban has degrees in government and international relations from Harvard's prestigious Kennedy School in the United States, and from South Korea's top school, Seoul National University.

He has spent more than three decades in South Korea's foreign service in senior posts such as ambassador to Austria, and advisor to President Roh Moo-Hyun.

After Mr. Roh elevated him to foreign minister in 2004, Ban became one of Seoul's key players in negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. Experts say those multinational talks have helped Ban forge strong ties in China, Russia, and the United States, which are all permanent members of the Security Council.

Ban's U.N. candidacy enjoys broad support here in South Korea, with most citizens describing his potential victory as a national honor.

The next step in the secretary-general campaign comes on Monday, when a fourth and final straw poll will be held. A final vote of the full U.N. General Assembly will be held before Mr. Annan steps down on December 31.

Ban was born in South Korea's mountainous North Chungcheong Province in the center of the peninsula. He is married to Yoo Soon-taek, whom he met in high school. They have one son and two daughters.

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