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UN chief sees 'new era' with Obama election
By JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press
2008-11-06 01:06 AM
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called Barack Obama's election to the White House a unique chance to usher in a new era of American cooperation with the rest of the world.

"I am confident today about future relations between the United Nations and the United States. I am confident that we can look forward to an era of renewed partnership and a new multilateralism," he said.

Ban and other top diplomats were optimistic about the prospects for Obama's presidency marking a sharp departure from Republicans' wariness and sometimes disdain for the world body.

"If ever there were a time for the world to join together, it is now: the global financial crisis; the crisis of climate change; the challenge of fulfilling our promises" for reducing global poverty, disease and other pressing U.N. development goals, he said.

Ban said Obama's sweeping victory in Tuesday's U.S. elections represents "an historic opportunity" for the world body and all nations, not least the United States, which hosts the U.N.'s New York headquarters and is its single biggest donor nation.

"No country has a stronger stake in a strong United Nations," he said.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said Obama's ascendancy marks an important turning point and demonstrates to all nations that democracy can work well.

"Clearly an Obama administration will be less ideological," he said. "We just are going to say to him, 'Bring that same spirit to resolving problems in Africa.' So it's a great day. ... We need the U.S. to come along with us _ with more enthusiasm now."

Obama's stated willingness to talk with leaders like those in Iran, Syria and North Korea, nations that U.S. President George W. Bush famously labeled as an "axis of evil," generated much controversy during the campaign against his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.

Ban said he welcomed an increase in diplomatic activity by Obama in these and other areas where the Bush administration initially resisted engagement, including dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I understand that he values highly the resolution of all conflict issues through dialogue. He has expressed publicly that he is willing to meet anybody, any country _ so that will provide a good opportunity for, not only the United States, but the United Nations as a whole to resolve all the issues through dialogue," Ban said. "I also expect that the United States will take a more active participation in all United Nations organizations and activities."

Obama's willingness to engage with world leaders, Ban said, ultimately "will help in accelerating and making progress in the resolution of the issues. That is what I hope."

The two met by chance, Ban recalled, in February 2007 aboard a shuttle flight to New York. Obama and Ban immediately recognized each other, Ban said, and took seats together and chatted for about a half-hour.

Obama, then two years into his U.S. Senate career, had declared his candidacy for president that month. Ban had taken over as secretary-general only a month earlier.

"He asked many questions about what the United Nations' major goals are, issues on non-proliferation, like the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues, and U.N. reforms," Ban recounted. "He was very engaged and he knew a lot about the United Nations, and I was very much encouraged."

Ban said he plans to talk to Obama to congratulate him and would try to arrange a meeting between his policy aides and Obama's presidential transition team "to discuss all the matters of our common interest and concern."

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