01/04/2007, 00.00
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North Korea and the Middle East, Ban Ki-moon’s top priorities

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
In his first news conference, the new UN secretary general calls for greater collective involvement in solving crises like the North Korea stand-off, Sudan, Middle East, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. He states his first policy goals as the UN calls on the Iraqi president to suspend death sentences.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Ban Ki-moon, the new United Nations secretary general, said on Tuesday, his first day on the job, that the North Korea’s nuclear issue and the crises in the Middle East and in Sudan are his top priorities.

He told reporters that he started his duties at a daunting time in international affairs, with challenges in Sudan’s Darfur region, the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, but was confident and hopeful in his new post.

The former foreign minister of South Korea called however for a collective response to those challenges, noting that no single country, however powerful, can deal with them.

“Not a single person, including the secretary-general of the United Nations, not a single country, however strong, powerful, resourceful it may be, can address this” on its own, he said.

Touching on the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, he said he would use his office to facilitate the smooth progress in the six-party talks (United States, Russia, Japan, China and the two Koreas).

The genocide in Darfur is also “very high” on his agenda, said Ban who met on Wednesday with the UN special envoy to Sudan, Jan Eliasson.

He insisted that all states ought to pay due respect to international humanitarian law in the wake of the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

None the less, Ban said Saddam's execution was Iraq’s choice to make. “The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide,” he explained.

“Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against his people, and we should never forget the extent of his crimes,” he said. However, “as the secretary general, at the same time, while I am firmly against impunity, I also hope that members of the international community should pay due respect to all aspects of international humanitarian laws”.

“During my entire tenure, I will try my best to help member states, the international community, to strengthen the rule of law,” he noted.

Today the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour made a plea to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to stop the execution of two close collaborators of the Iraqi dictator, Barman Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar, both sentenced to death along with him.

A UN spokesperson said that Ban strongly backed Arbour’s appeal.

Ban, who was elected on October 8 of last year, is the eighth secretary general of the United Nations and the second Asian in 35 years after U Thant from Myanmar (ex Burma).

After walking to the UN headquarters from his temporary residence, he stopped at a chapel to pay his respects to fallen peacekeepers. He later met with his undersecretaries, held a meeting with the UN staff and talked with Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy who holds rotating presidency of the Security Council for January.

His first overseas travel is expected to be to Ethiopia later this month to attend the African Union summit and also meet the Sudanese president there for consultations.

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