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In San Francisco, Ban Ki-Moon Offers UN Vision


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has finished a two-day trip to San Francisco, a city he first saw as an 18-year-old student in 1962. Mike O'Sullivan reports from San Francisco that 45 years later, the U.N. leader has made the city a platform for a message about the organization's future.

In two busy days, Ban Ki-moon spoke at the San Francisco sites where the United Nations was born in 1945: the Fairmont Hotel and War Memorial Opera House, where international delegates hammered out details of the U.N. Charter in both formal and informal settings. He also met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to about talk the state's aggressive efforts to combat global warming.

Beyond the policy discussions, this was a personal homecoming of sorts. In the audience as Mr. Ban addressed the San Francisco World Affairs Council Thursday was 90-year-old Libba Patterson. She was a housewife, mother of three, and Red Cross worker when she opened her home to Ban Ki-moon, then an 18-year-old student who arrived as a winner of a Red Cross speech contest. They have kept in touch through the years, and she says he still calls her his American mom. She has marveled at his progress, from South Korean diplomat to top U.N. official.

"I thought it was pretty fabulous when he became foreign minister of South Korea. That was quite an honor. And when he told me that he was going to campaign to be the UN secretary (general), I just encouraged him because that is what I did when he was 18. I encouraged him. He had such high ideals for himself," he said.

A young Ban Ki-moon found more inspiration when he traveled to Washington to meet then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy, a meeting arranged by the American Red Cross.

Seven months into his job as secretary-general, Mr. Ban responded to critics who complain of the organization's slow and sometimes inefficient bureaucracy, and its lack of transparency.

As he spoke with reporters Thursday outside Mrs Patterson's home, Mr. Ban said many Americans also support the organization, and that he is committed to making it transparent and effective. He says he working to re-energize the body and update its culture.

"I know there are some mixed perceptions of the United Nations among American people. Still, a lot of American people believe in the relevance of the United Nations and effectiveness, and contribution of the United Nations," he said.

Mr. Ban points out that the U.N. is composed of 192 member-countries, and says it is sometimes slow to act, but that no other international body exists to take its place. "Therefore, it is very important for the world community to nurture and support the United Nations' activities for the promotion of human rights, for development of the economy. There are still billions of people who are suffering from abject poverty," he said.

Today, he says, climate change, nuclear proliferation, the killings in Darfur and conflict in the Middle East are added to the problems that need collective global action.

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