CAIRO: “As Secretary-General, I will make the most of the authority invested in my office by the Charter and the mandate you give me. I will work diligently to materialise our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of humanity and for the peaceful resolution of threats to international security and regional stability.
With these words of acceptance after taking what former Secretary-General Trygvie Lie termed the most impossible job on Earth , South Korean Foreign Minister and newly-appointed UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon reaffirmed his commitment to the mission of the United Nations as an international body aimed at uniting the global community in promoting peace and equality throughout the world.
In light of the recent crises that have placed the Israel-Hezbollah and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts – as well as Iran s uranium enrichment program – at the top of the global agenda, the selection of Kofi Annan s successor holds special significance for the Middle East.
However, his pledge does not offer much insight into the strategies that will be employed in addressing these issues, nor does it provide clues as to the specific policies Ban will be encouraging when it comes to this region.
Although Ban has been seen as evading questions related to his political agenda for the upcoming years, he has set out a few priorities for the first stage of his leadership. They include: ending North Korea s nuclear weapons program, the possible deployment of peace-keeping troops in Darfur, implementing the Quartet agreement to further the Middle East peace process, and dealing with Iran s nuclear programme.
The attention paid by the UN to Iran s nuclear program and the Middle East peace process will have significant implications for the region, especially given the increasing tensions in US-Middle East relations as a result of the US s consistently pro-Israel policies, the War on Terror, hostility to the Iranian government, and the war in Iraq.
It is difficult to know, at this early stage of Ban s leadership, how he will guide the UN in its policy toward the Middle East but there are a few hints when we look at his career up to this point.
Ban has held numerous UN posts since 1975, including that of Assistant to the President of the General Assembly in 2001. His campaign for the prestigious post of Secretary-General relied on earning the respect of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, thus suggesting that he might have some initial success in obtaining unanimous support for key UN resolutions and initiatives, many of which will pertain to the Middle East.
His focus to date has been internal, working on reform within the United Nations, and he has revealed little of his own agenda for addressing the areas and issues that he has identified as key priorities. The new Secretary-General has received criticism for being too low-profile and uncharismatic to lead the UN at this important time. And many nations worry that he will not be strong enough to stand up to superpower demands which may be at odds with the best interests of the organisation and the international community.
However, he has been praised for his mediation skills as a quiet diplomat which may yet prove to be a much needed skill when it comes not only to working with key players in the Middle East, but also when dealing with the diverse members and internal workings of the Security Council.
Ban will have to exercise leadership when it comes to balancing US interests with those of the international community. Ban can also engage the United States via the process of UN reform which the United States has been advocating.
With regard to international diplomacy, a possible alternative would be to try to involve the Europeans further in mediating the conflicts in the Middle East, and to propose a new path of international negotiation instead of outright confrontation. New diplomatic actors are certainly needed.
Ban must also work to improve relations between Israel and its neighbours and to convince Iran to reconsider its uranium enrichment plans. At the same time he should work to involve US hardliners who have been critical of the UN in past years, while appealing to the Europeans with the hope of fostering workable policies within the United Nations.
This means a careful line must be walked inside the UN, since the failure to reach a satisfactory consensus on Middle Eastern issues could have even stronger implications for the region, possibly leading to a unilateralist invasion of Iran without UN support.
In any case, the new Secretary-General has his work cut out for him – and we hope he can strengthen the position of the UN and lead the international community in the direction of peace as opposed to that of violence and aggression.
Welcome Mr Ban.
Tara Ruttenberg is a senior at Georgetown University s School of Foreign Service, and Asmaa El Gammal is a sophomore at the American University of Cairo majoring in journalism and political science. They wrote this article as part of the Soliya Arab-American intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.