UN Chief Says Climate His Top Priority

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday his No. 1 priority is persuading the world - and most problematically, its biggest polluter, the United States - to agree to new controls on global-warming gases before the end of 2009.

"First priority will be addressing this climate change," he said in an interview with Associated Press editors. "We will have to work very hard to be able to agree on a universal, global agreement before the end of 2009."

Ban did not hesitate when asked to name the biggest obstacle to a new treaty.

" U.S. absence has been the most serious one, in fact," he said. "Now our target should be one global framework, one global agreement, with the United States and everybody participating in that agreement."

Ban, who leaves for Asia on Saturday, was focused on Bali, Indonesia, where he will attend the final two days of a major U.N. climate conference next week. He said it was critical to lay the groundwork for a new climate treaty, chiefly among industrial nations, within two years.

"This will be one of the most crucial points for the United Nations and for the international community, how we come out from this Bali meeting," Ban said.

"The single-most important agenda and topics of my engagement with leaders these days has always been this climate change," he said. "My target is to launch official negotiations, with a target date of end of 2009 with a concrete agenda."

If nations agree, it would take effect at the 2012 expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, which has been rejected by the Bush administration.

With a new agreement from Australia to formally adopt the U.N.-backed Kyoto pact and its caps on greenhouse gas emissions, Ban talked as if he had a major new negotiating weapon.

Ban said he spoke with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday about his reversal of a decade of Australian resistance - a shift that left the United States as the only industrialized country to refuse to sign on.

"That's very encouraging," Ban said. " Australia, like the United States, has been staying outside this framework. ... That will have a very big, important impact to the delegations in Bali."

Ban said the most he got from the United States is that it will "constructively engage" in negotiations for a new climate treaty.

The U.S. and other nations want firm but less stringent commitments from China, India and other developing nations to slow the growth of emissions from their booming economies.

Ban said he has been making the rounds of world leaders, starting with President Bush and his counterparts in Russia, China, India and Brazil, rallying support to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol calls for industrial nations that signed to cut emissions of such gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels before the pact's expiration. Bush rejected Kyoto in 2001, contending it would slow the U.S. economy too much and should have required reductions by poorer but fast-growing nations such as China and India.

Ban said rich, industrial nations bear the biggest "historical responsibilities" to reduce greenhouse gases, because those mainly European and American countries have been most responsible for contributing to the phenomenon of global warming.

But he doesn't view that as a useful negotiating point. "This time I don't think it would be wise and desirable to speak about these historical responsibilities," Ban said. "We need to speak about historical responsibilities for the future, after maybe 50 or 100 years."

After climate change, Ban said he will focus on some of the most intractable political and humanitarian crises, along with fixing the scandal-plagued U.N. organization.

"The Darfur situation and, again, this ongoing process of United Nations reform will be high up," he said.

Ban said he was sending high-level envoys to press Sudan's president to accept non-Africans in the 26,000-strong peacekeeping force planned for Darfur and to get critically needed helicopters and heavy trucks for the new U.N.-African Union mission.

He said he was "deeply concerned and disappointed by this foot-dragging of the Sudanese government" in reaching a final agreement so the Darfur force can start deploying in January.

But Ban said he was also concerned over the lack of material support from European countries and other nations with well-equipped militaries.

"I have not gotten one single helicopter," Ban said. "If there is political will, I think that can be resolved."

On other major issues, Ban said:

He expects a team of mediators from the United States, Russia and European Union to report to him next week that they have been unable to broker a deal between Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians on the territory's future status. Kosovo is a province of Serbia but has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war in 1999. "The report is highly likely to say they have not been able to agree," Ban said.

After a new U.S. intelligence estimate that said Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, he will still urge Tehran to comply with U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment and work with the International Atomic Energy Agency to answer all questions about its nuclear activities. ( NV )

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