Leadership criticism casts shadow over Ban's Arctic visit

Ban Ki-moon can expect a frosty reception when he arrives in Norway this week to assess the impact of global warming.

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NEW YORK // Coming amid mounting criticism of his leadership style, the UN's secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, can expect a frosty reception when he arrives in Norway this week to assess the impact of global warming. Aides have confirmed that Mr Ban will not cancel his planned tour of the Arctic Circle despite the leaking of an internal memo from Norway's foreign ministry that blasted the UN chief for poor helmsmanship.

The secretary general's visits to polar stations had been put on hold after a confidential letter penned by a senior Norwegian diplomat was published in a Scandinavian newspaper. Aftenposten, the Norwegian daily, revealed that Mona Juul, Norway's deputy ambassador to the UN, had written that Mr Ban had "struggled to show leadership" and suffered from a "lack of charisma". In a classified letter to ministry colleagues in Oslo, Ms Juul described the UN chief as "passive" on important security issues, from Sri Lanka and Myanmar to Darfur and Zimbabwe. "At a time when the UN and multilateral solutions are more necessary than ever to resolve global crises, Ban and the UN are notable by their absence," wrote the diplomat, the wife of the UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen.

Ms Juul accused the world's top diplomat of being a control freak, saying "he appears to prefer being always in the spotlight, without the competition from his advisers and he makes it known quite clearly by making sure it is only him that speaks to the media". Mr Ban's supposed personality flaws put off colleagues and he "regularly throws a fit, which even his most cool-headed and experienced collaborators have a problem in dealing with", added the envoy.

Last weekend, Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, sought to defuse tensions between the philanthropic Scandinavian nation and the world body, saying it was unfortunate the memo had been leaked. "I regret that it happened, but let me stress that this is a report to the Norwegian foreign ministry; it was not a statement by the Norwegian government," Mr Stoere told journalists. Last week, Mr Ban's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, told reporters the secretary general would press ahead with his scheduled visit to Norway and would arrive in the capital, Oslo, tomorrow.

On Wednesday, Mr Ban made an unscheduled visit to the regular UN press briefing, during which he made his first public comments on the memo debacle after days of speculation. "As a matter of principle, I welcome criticism. Criticism, when it is constructive, helps me to improve my work, my performance," he told members of the UN press corps. "I will continue to work very closely, not only with member states, but with the media, with journalists.

"You have the right to say what you believe and what you have seen in my job as secretary general." Coming halfway through his first term as secretary general, the letter is particularly damaging to Mr Ban because Norway is a key funder of UN activities and has earned a reputation for even-handedness. The criticism follows a glut of articles in magazines and newspapers that blast South Korea's former foreign minister for myriad failings since becoming UN chief on January 1, 2007.

Under the headline Nowhere Man, Foreign Policy magazine recently made a comical reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in an article that explained "Why Ban Ki-moon is the world's most dangerous Korean". Ranking the secretary general's scorecard halfway through his first term, The Economist awarded Mr Ban only two out of 10 for his management skills and three out of 10 for diplomatic successes in a June issue.

During a press conference in the same month, Mr Ban defended himself against allegations of poor leadership, saying member states were to blame for lacklustre progress during his first term. "Without the political support, without resources provided by the member states, it is difficult, however capable a person may be the secretary general," he told reporters. "It is just impossible." In an interview with The National in May, Mr Ban said he was prepared to follow the tradition of previous UN chiefs and continue for a second five-year term. But the volume of negative publicity has left many in the corridors of the UN headquarters question whether Mr Ban can garner the support he needs from the UN Security Council's permanent members - Russia, China, the UK, the US and France.

The leaked criticisms echo concerns that have been expressed for months on midtown Manhattan's slice of international territory, but are particularly damaging because they are the first to be attributed to a named diplomat. Despite attempts by aides to bolster the image of Mr Ban as a strong and energetic leader, the Norwegian letter has fuelled speculation about whether the secretary general will run for a second term or leave the UN and run for the presidency in his native South Korea.