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S. Korean Diplomat All But Certain to Assume UN Top Job


South Korea's foreign minister is quite likely to be answering to a new title soon - United Nations secretary-general. Seoul's chief diplomat has cleared what is widely viewed as the last major hurdle to winning the post. Reaction in South Korea and beyond is positive.

South Koreans are enthusiastic about the prospect that Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon will soon replace United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is retiring.

On Monday, Ban won support from 14 members of the U.N. Security Council in a straw poll, including from all five permanent council members - Russia, Britain, France, China and the United States. He is widely expected to win an official council vote next Monday, and later to be approved by the broader U.N. General Assembly. The career diplomat is expected to take office on January 1.

Ban said Tuesday he feels relieved and grateful for the votes. He added he feels a burden of responsibility for addressing the U.N.'s structural problems. He says he will work hard to make the U.N. more transparent, and restore trust in the organization's credibility and effectiveness.

President Roh Moo-hyun telephoned to congratulate Ban and the president's Uri Party issued a statement calling Ban's election a "happy event that will enhance the prestige of South Korea."

The opposition Grand National Party called Ban's victory a "welcome event for all the Korean people."

Former lawmaker Limb Thok-kyu, now chairman of Diplomacy Magazine, says the timing of the latest vote is auspicious. He says he views it as symbolic of South Korea's global emergence that the victory came on Tuesday's National Foundation Day holiday.

In the streets of Seoul, Ban's good news was one more thing to celebrate.

While enjoying the holiday, a number of South Koreans expressed support for Ban.

Lee Tae-gun says it gives him great pleasure to see Ban become the first Korean to head the United Nations.

Jeong Dong-il says South Koreans are happy about Ban's success, but adds they now must keep an eye on him to ensure he works truthfully and according to U.N. rules.

In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso indicated his government's satisfaction with Ban's apparent victory. He says Japan has always indicated it wanted an Asian in the position, and described Ban's imminent selection for the job as "good."

There has not been an Asian U.N. secretary-general since Burma's U Thant stepped down in 1971, and tradition calls for the next U.N. chief to come from Asia. Ban defeated six other candidates, including Indian Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor, who withdrew from the race after Monday's vote.

The United Nations played a key role in South Korea's early years, after Japan's defeat in World War Two ended Tokyo's colonial rule over Korea.

The peninsula was divided into half - North Korea, with a communist government linked to Moscow, and South Korea, which had ties to the United States. In 1950, North Korea invaded the South. U.N. forces, commanded by the United States came to the South's defense in what became a bitter three-year war.

There has so far been no official reaction from neighboring North Korea, which is often hostile to political developments in the South. On Tuesday evening, however, the North announced it would test a nuclear explosive device.

In his campaign, Ban said his experience in trying to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs has honed his skill and sensitivity to a broad range of global security issues.

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