UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Ban Ki-moon has received preliminary pledges of support for a second five-year term as U.N. secretary-general from the United States and other key members of the Security Council, U.N. diplomats said.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, has yet to publicly declare his candidacy for the election, which is expected to take place in the coming months. But he has privately made clear he will seek re-election, diplomats said. Ban's first term ends on Dec. 31, 2011.
Officially, U.N. secretaries-general are elected by the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.
In reality, however, it is the five permanent veto-wielding council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- who decide who gets the top U.N. job.
The decision by the five is then rubber-stamped by the full 15-nation council and the assembly, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
"Ban's already received preliminary shows of support from (U.S. President Barack) Obama and the leaders of Britain and France," a diplomat told Reuters. "Russia and China won't oppose him. I think it's safe to say that he'll keep his job."
The council is hoping to make a recommendation in May so that the General Assembly can vote on it in June, envoys said.
According to an unofficial agreement among the various geographic clusters of U.N. member states, it is Asia's turn to hold the post of secretary-general for another term. No country has proposed a candidate to run against Ban, diplomats said.
NOT 'LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE'
Ban's understated approach and less-than-perfect English set him apart from his more outspoken predecessor Kofi Annan, who ran afoul of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush for declaring the 2003 invasion of Iraq "illegal."
But diplomats praise Ban for his energetic support for the fight against climate change and push for nuclear disarmament.
Over the last four years, Ban has been accused by human rights groups of putting too much faith in quiet diplomacy. They have also criticized him for not taking China and other countries to task for what they say are rampant rights abuses.
The secretary-general was hit with a barrage of criticism last year when he failed to mention human rights or the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in China.
Ban never congratulated Liu or called for the dissident's release.
The head of New York-based Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said in January that Ban has been "notably reluctant to put pressure on abusive governments." Despite his continued silence on China, some envoys say Ban has grown tougher and more self-confident in recent months.
He has openly called for the incumbent leader of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down after the results of a U.N.-certified runoff election last year showed he had lost to rival presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of the country but Ban refused to budge.
In Egypt, Ban called on now ousted President Hosni Mubarak to heed the demands of pro-democracy demonstrators, prompting public rebukes from Russian, Chinese and Egyptian diplomats.
U.N. officials told Reuters in 2008 that Moscow had threatened to block Ban's second term for allegedly siding with the United States, Britain, France and others in supporting Kosovo's secession from Serbia. Diplomats say Moscow got over it and the permanent members of the Security Council now have no serious problems with Ban.
"It's not as if he's lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him," a senior Western diplomat said.
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