UN boss: 'I have my own charisma'

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Embattled UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon showed no signs of the hot temper he allegedly possesses when he met reporters in Oslo Monday morning. Instead, Ban calmly addressed criticism leveled against him by a top Norwegian diplomat, defended his leadership style and suggested that perhaps the world expects too much of the United Nations and himself.

“I have my own charisma, my own style,” Ban Ki-moon responded when asked whether he agreed with Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul’s allegations that he’s non-charismatic and hot-tempered. Juul, a Norwegian ambassador to the UN, set off an international incident last month when a confidential report she’d written for the Norwegian foreign ministry was leaked to Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten .

Many have since contended that her report merely reflected what many other career diplomats and international leaders have been saying in private for months: That Ban is a disappointing UN leader, that he’s been ineffective, has kept too low of a profile and hasn’t used the force of his position to address major global conflicts from the dictatorship in Burma to the civil war in Sri Lanka to the Middle East and the global financial crisis.

The report, intended for the eyes of Norwegian government officials only, went public just weeks before Ban’s first official visit to Norway. The agenda was supposed to focus on climate issues. Instead, government officials had to scramble so that it wouldn’t be overshadowed by the Norwegian diplomat’s harsh criticism of Ban himself.Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre tried to smooth things over by calling Ban, apologizing for the leak and making it clear that Juul’s report was written for the government and not by the government. Ban seemed to accept that, claiming on Monday that he felt he’d had a “warm welcome” in Norway, that he’d had “extremely productive talks” with both Støre and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (at right in photo above) and was keen to visit the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard to meet with scientists collecting important climate data. Ban claimed he’s working hard to win global commitments towards halting climate change in the run-up to the international climate conference scheduled to take place in Copenhagen later this year.

The international rumblings about how he’s handling his job as UN secretary general, however, immediately came up at Monday’s press conference and Ban took time to acknowledge them.

‘Doesn’t feel good’

He said that as UN secretary general, “I know I am a subject of scrutiny.” He claimed he welcomes “constructive” criticism but admitted that “it doesn’t feel good to be criticized sometimes.”

Ban declined to say whether he felt Juul’s criticism was constructive, but noted that the UN has been facing “multiple crises” all over the world that are “hitting us all at once.” He said it’s “natural” that the international community is expecting solutions from the UN, but that maybe the international community is expecting “much too much.”

He also noted that the 192 member nations of the UN represent “all different backgrounds,” and that it’s also natural that disagreements arise. “We must be harmonious,” he urged, and “respect each other.”

‘Strong message’ to Burma

As for his progress in resolving conflicts in Burma and Sri Lanka, Ban defended his record, saying he’s “visited Myanmar (Burma) twice” and “laid out a strong message” to the country’s ruling military leaders that the world expects “fair, credible” elections next year, that also will include opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He also claimed he’s been strongly urging Sri Lankan government leaders to resolve its conflicts with the Tamils.

Ban said he felt he had the support of the Norwegian government and hailed Norway’s long-standing support for the UN, which he said is “by any standard” among the strongest in the world. Prime Minister Stoltenberg also stressed that he welcomed the opportunity that Ban’s visit provided to confirm that support.

The UN secretary general, who arrived in Norway late Sunday night, had a full program on Monday that started at 7:30am with a breakfast meeting with Støre at the government’s official guest house on Parkveien, followed by the meeting with Stoltenberg and the press conference. From there Ban was heading to the Norwegian Parliament to greet its president, to a memorial ceremony at the grave of former UN Secretary General Tryvge Lie, and an audience with King Harald and Queen Sonja before leaving for Svalbard around 4pm with cabinet minister Erik Solheim, a former UN envoy himself to Sri Lanka who now handles foreign aid and environmental issues for Norway.