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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 20:52 GMT 21:52 UK
Profile: Ban Ki-moon
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon has become the first Asian in more than 30 years to be elected secretary general of the United Nations.

Supporters of the South Korean foreign minister, who in January 2007 takes over from Kofi Annan, say he is a consummate mediator and a world-class administrator.

The world's top powers seem to agree, casting aside concerns he may be too low-profile and too uncharismatic to lead in difficult times.

In his own words, Mr Ban sees himself as a "harmoniser, balancer, mediator".

During the long selection process, he talked much of reforming the UN - how the organisation must promise less and deliver more.

But there has been little on specifics - which commentators say may have been a deliberate move not to tread on toes as his candidacy progressed.

They say it is a strategy honed through his tough, high-wire act of negotiations with North Korea over its development of nuclear weapons.

And it is a strategy that has succeeded - the man who seemed to be many people's second choice winning a post that Mr Annan, the current secretary general, has called the "world's most impossible job".

World Trade Center attack
Mr Ban took a UN role straight after the 11 September 2001 attacks

The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Seoul says Mr Ban would keep his consensual style at the UN - avoiding controversy and favouring the back-room deal over the grand public gesture.

But our correspondent adds that since Mr Ban became foreign minister in January 2004, South Korea has become isolated, with its diplomacy in disarray, and this has fuelled questions over the strength of his leadership and his ability to stand up to US.

Other analysts point to the support Mr Ban has received from China - with which he has had many tough negotiations - and suggest Beijing has seen something in him that may counter US influence.

As Mr Ban himself says: "I may look soft from the outside, but I have inner strength when it's really necessary."

Mr Ban says he draws confidence from recent Korean history.

"We Koreans have quite literally risen from the ashes of war," he says.

"We have done so through hard work, commitment, dedication and the help of friends, particularly the United Nations. Now we stand ready to pay back what we have owed."

Al-Qaeda attacks

Mr Ban says he first dreamed of becoming a diplomat when as an 18-year-old student in 1962, he met US President John F Kennedy at the White House on an American Red Cross programme.

His home town of Chungju in Chungcheong province was so proud of him that a local girl's school sent him on his way with traditional symbols of luck. One of the students presenting him with the bamboo strainers, Yoo Soon-taek, would later become his wife.

Korean War protest in San Francisco
South Korea's approach to rights in the North has drawn criticism

Mr Ban has had a long affiliation with the UN, dating back to his time as a staff member of the UN division of the South Korean Home Office in 1975.

He worked as chairman of the preparatory commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation in 1999 while he was South Korean ambassador to Austria.

He also played a role at the heart of the South Korean presidency of the 56th UN General Assembly.

The assembly opened on 12 September 2001 - a day after the al-Qaeda attacks in the United States.

As chef-de-cabinet to the president, his first role was to see through the prompt adoption of the assembly's first resolution - condemning the attacks.

Mr Ban then oversaw procedural changes which, his government says, allowed assembly sessions to proceed smoothly in a time of crisis.

Human rights

Mr Ban was born in Chungju on 13 June 1944.

He graduated from the Department of International Relations at Seoul University in 1970 and later worked at the South Korean mission to the UN in New York.

Mr Ban became national security adviser to the president in 1996 and took the office of vice minister in 2000.

He has played a leading role in six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. But during his tenure as foreign minister, his country has also been criticised for its non-committal approach to North Korea's human rights record.

Mr Ban and his wife have one son and two daughters.

Listen again to Radio 4's Profile on Ban Ki-Moon for the next seven days by clicking here.

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