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Cablegate: Foreign Minister Ban's Unsyg Campaign Weathering

VZCZCXRO1854
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHUL #2399/01 1991041
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 181041Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9164
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 6141
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 0714
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 0553
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0520
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0273
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 SEOUL 002399
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
NSC FOR CHA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/18/2015
TAGS: PREL UN KS KN
SUBJECT: FOREIGN MINISTER BAN'S UNSYG CAMPAIGN WEATHERING
DPRK STORM
REF: A. SEOUL 2000
B. SEOUL 1329
C. SEOUL 969
D. SEOUL 166
E. SEOUL 1034
F. SEOUL 509
Classified By: Amb. Alexander Vershbow. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).
SUMMARY
-------
1. (C) Five months into his official campaign for UN
Secretary General, FM Ban continues to seek international
SIPDIS
support for his candidacy and to demonstrate his commitment
to human rights and UN management reform. He reports no
major opposition at this point, but is worried that without a
sign of encouragement from the U.S., his candidacy could
still falter. Ban hopes to gain from the perception that it
is "Asia's turn" to fill the SYG post. Remaining hurdles
include whether the North Korean issue further deteriorates
on his watch, whether other Asian candidates enter the race
and receive backing from P-5 members, and whether
ROK-Japanese tensions play a significant role in blocking or
undermining a regional consensus on his candidacy. COMMENT:
A consummate diplomat, Ban finds himself at the top of his
chosen career largely because of his ability to get along
with others. While his staff emphasize his "reform"
credentials, Ban has not had to deal with large-scale
restructuring at the Ministry. However, Ban is among the
most recognized of MOFAT's American experts, and seems
naturally sympathetic to all things American. We have no
doubt Ban's relations with the USG would be same if he were
the UNSYG. END COMMENT AND SUMMARY.
.
MAKING THE ROUNDS
-----------------
2. (C) Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon has visited 14 of the 15
UNSC member countries this year and reports that he has
received generally favorable results. The one remaining
country is Japan, which is scheduled to chair the Security
Council in October (see para 10). On multiple occasions, Ban
has told the Ambassador that he perceived or heard strong
private support from several UNSC members: Argentina, Congo,
France, Ghana, Greece, Peru, Slovakia, and Tanzania (refs
A-D). He recognized, however, that he needed to distinguish
between "diplomatic niceness" and genuine shows of support.
Most of his interlocutors have strongly supported an Asian
for the next SYG, he reported.
3. (C) While Ban was accompanying President Roh Moo-hyun to
Africa in March, Seoul announced that the ROK would increase
its Overseas Development Assistance to the continent from $31
million to $100 million by 2008. According to our Foreign
Ministry contacts, President Roh also used the occasion of
his visit to Africa to request support for Ban's UNSYG
candidacy (ref E). Ban probably hopes that South Korean aid
would increase African receptivity to his campaign.
.
STRESSING HUMAN RIGHTS AND UN REFORM
------------------------------------
4. (C) In late June, Ban attended the inaugural session of
the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, to which South
Korea was elected a member, and gave an address that
emphasized a few themes representative of his UNSYG
candidacy. As a South Korean whose country was defended
during the Korean War by the UN Command, he was particularly
committed to the ideals of the United Nations, namely peace
and stability, development, and human rights and democracy.
Seoul supported the establishment of the HRC as an
improvement over the UN Human Rights Commission. He
emphasized his and Seoul's focus on UN modernization and
reform. Finally, despite private demarches to avoid
country-specific motions in order to make this first session
procedural, Ban publicly took the surprising step to directly
criticize North Korean human rights practices and called on
Pyongyang to engage in a human rights dialogue with the
international community. In the past, Seoul had gone out of
its way to abstain or avoid UN votes on North Korean human
rights. Ban's HRC speech may have been an attempt for Seoul,
and Ban, to take a step toward addressing the criticism that
Seoul had turned a blind eye to the human rights situation in
North Korea.
5. (C) In other fora, Minister Ban and Foreign Ministry
officials have insisted that Ban attaches special importance
to UN management reform. Ban has told the Ambassador that
since his days as First Secretary at the ROK Mission to the
United Nations in 1978, he has believed that the UN needed
management reform. He pointed to ROK efforts that, he said,
were instrumental in strengthening the role of the President
of the General Assembly, as another example of his and South
Korean efforts to support UN reform.
6. (SBU) Key aides to Minister Ban in conversations with the
Embassy (ref F) have pointed to Ban's accomplishments in
reforming the ROK Foreign Ministry to show his commitment to
management reform. Ban strengthened term limits for South
Korean ambassadors by reducing the number of missions they
could head to two from three or four. He implemented a
retirement age of sixty for Ministry officials. He reduced
the time allowed foreign service officers returning from
posts abroad to look for a new job in the Ministry to four
months from the previous one-year period. These, his aides
said, were strong decisions that were unpopular among senior
MOFAT officers. In addition, Ban initiated weekly press
conferences, the only South Korean minister who did this, and
this showed confidence in his ability to manage a range of
issues, they said. Ban's media presence reportedly earned
him a nickname akin to Mr. Teflon (the "slippery eel"),
because journalists could ask Ban anything and he was so
unflustered.
7. (U) In June, the Foreign Ministry sponsored a two-day
conference in Seoul titled, "International Seminar on the
United Nations in the 21st Century: Challenges and Reform" at
which Ban expressed concern over the obstacles to UN
management reform. His view was that the key to healing
political rifts was genuine dialogue among all the
stakeholders. In May, he delivered a speech to the Council
on Foreign Relations titled "Restoring the Vitality of the
United Nations" in which he insisted that the UN was
"overstretched and fatigued" and urged more action to
strengthen transparency and accountability. He said the next
UNSYG should be a harmonizer who demonstrated leadership by
example, as his career demonstrated.
.
DEEP EXPERIENCE WITH ALLIANCE AND UNITED NATIONS
--------------------------------------------- ---
8. (SBU) Since entering the Foreign Ministry in 1970, Ban
has held key positions focused on the U.S.-Korean
relationship and the United Nations. His U.S.-related posts
include: Counselor and Consul General in the ROK Embassy in
Washington (1987-1990); Director-General of the North
American Affairs Bureau (1990-1992); Minister of the ROK
Embassy in Washington (1992-1994); Deputy Minister for Policy
Planning (1995); Senior Secretary to the President for
Foreign Policy and National Security (1996-1998); Vice
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2000); Adviser to the
President for Foreign Policy (2003); and finally Minister of
Foreign Affairs and Trade starting from 2004. His UN
experience includes: First Secretary to the ROK Mission to
the United Nations (1978-1980); Director of the UN Division
at the Foreign Ministry (1980-1983); Ambassador to Austria
(1998-2000) during which time he also served as Chairman of
the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive
Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (1999); and Ambassador
to the United Nations (2001-2002) during which he also served
as Chief of Cabinet to the President of the 56th General
Assembly of the United Nations (2001).
.
DPRK TENSION COULD RAIN ON BAN'S PARADE
---------------------------------------
9. (C) North Korean nuclear and missile activities have
complicated Ban's attempt to share credit for improving
inter-Korean reconciliation. In early July, Ban canceled a
visit to Mexico and El Salvador, just a day prior to the DPRK
missile launches, due to "outstanding diplomatic issues,"
that unnamed Ministry officials told reporters was code for
DPRK missile launch preparations, deadlocked Six Party Talks,
and increased tension with Japan over maritime surveys in the
disputed waters near the Liancourt Rocks. UN Security
Council internal deliberations over a response to the DPRK
missile launch have also cast Ban in an unfavorable position
of being involved but not central to UN action because Seoul
is one of the few relevant parties not on the Council.
.
JAPANESE POSITION UNCLEAR
-------------------------
10. (C) The increased level of political sparring between
Seoul and Tokyo over North Korea and the Liancourt Rocks has
intensified the question whether Japan would support or not
work against a Ban candidacy. Ban admitted to the Ambassador
in April that leaving Japan as the one country he had not
visited since declaring his UNSYG ambitions was
"conspicuous," especially because Japan was slated to chair
the Security Council in October. The appropriate
opportunity, he said, had yet to present itself. Some of
Ban's senior aides have opined that Japanese leaders might be
reluctant to take a public stand against Seoul's candidate to
avoid exacerbating anti-Japanese sentiments in Korea. The
aides assessed that it would also be hard for Tokyo to vote
against Ban, especially if he emerged as the leading Asian
candidate.
.
BAN: USG AND CHINA ARE THE KEYS TO UNSYG
----------------------------------------
11. (C) Ban has emphasized to the Ambassador that all of his
interlocutors assessed that the most important voices were
from the United States and China. Ban believed that China
still wanted an Asian UNSYG, but may have switched its
strategy from seeking a consensus candidate to multiple
candidates, in case the consensus candidate failed and Asia
lost its chance. Therefore, China's official position,
according to Ban, was that all four major Asian candidates
were qualified and acceptable. Ultimately, Ban opined, the
race would hinge on the position of the United States and
China. In a July 18 conversation, he for the first time
voiced concern that, if the U.S. stayed non-committal much
longer, his candidacy could falter (details septel).
COMMENT
-------
12. (C) "Harmonizer," "consensus-seeker," and even "Mr.
Teflon" are the most common descriptions of Ban Ki-moon. A
consummate diplomat, Ban now finds himself at the top of his
chosen career largely because of his ability to get along
with others. This is not to belittle his intellectual depth
or his obviously sophisticated understanding of the issues.
Rather, it is to point out that Ban is a very skilled
diplomat, excellent at forging compromise solutions and
maintaining good control over his organization--all in the
service of his political masters. In the Blue House, Ban has
worked, got along with and been rapidly promoted by three
very different presidents: Kim Young-sam, a hot-tempered
conservative with very limited knowledge of most policy
issues; Kim Dae-jung, a global political figure, very
comfortable in all aspects of foreign policy; and, finally,
Roh Moo-hyun, a high-school graduate, newcomer to the
international scene, but with strong views and firm
conviction.
13. (C) A product of elite Korean education, Ban has not
held a job outside of the ROK Foreign Ministry system. While
Ban's staff emphasize his "reform" credentials, we doubt that
he's ever had to face a serious cut in the Ministry's budget,
because given the enormous growth in the Korean economy,
there has not been a need to trim expenditures or personnel
in the Korean Foreign Ministry. Simply put, Ban has not had
to deal with restructuring, or have to seriously think about
getting rid of large pieces of his organization.
14. (C) However, on one credential we have no doubt. This
is Ban's view of the United States in general and the USG in
particular. Among the most recognized of MOFAT's American
experts, Ban has completed three tours in the United States,
two in Washington and one in New York. He has also worked on
U.S. issues at the Ministry and the Blue House. Ban
understands completely American people, values, and
government. More important, he is naturally sympathetic to
all things American. This is quite typical of well educated
Koreans of his age. Their formative experience was the
Korean War, and they remain convinced that the U.S. is a
benign power, with shared ideals and goals for the region and
the world. When we need something from the South
Koreans--ranging from sending Korean troops to Iraq to
resolving base issues for USFK--we turn to Ban. He has
always been sympathetic and helpful. We have no doubt Ban's
relations with the USG would be same if he were the UNSYG.
VERSHBOW

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