Obama, U.N. chief to discuss concerns at White House

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are seeking a stronger relationship between the world body and its single biggest backer.

Obama invited Ban to a White House meeting today to discuss a range of global security and development issues, the first meeting of the two leaders since the inauguration. Also scheduled to attend is Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who emphasized the meeting’s symbolism as an example of a new U.S. multilateralism.

Obama sees the U.N. “as an important venue and vehicle for the advancement of our national security and foreign policy goals, and as a venue in which we can seek to enhance cooperation on a wide range of international security, development and other issues,” Rice said at U.N. headquarters in New York before heading to Washington.

Among the major concerns is the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where the Sudanese president kicked out aid groups after an International Criminal Court arrest warrant charged him with war crimes. Other issues on the agenda are the global financial meltdown, an international climate treaty, poverty and human rights.

Ban, who became secretary-general in January 2007, has promoted a good working relationship with the United States.

A month into his new job, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, met Obama by chance aboard a shuttle flight to New York. It was the same month Obama declared his candidacy for president.

During much of President George W. Bush’s tenure, the United States had a difficult relationship with the U.N., particularly when John Bolton was U.S. ambassador to the world body for 16 months in 2005-2006. Bolton pressed for sanctions against Iran and North Korea and an overhaul of the United Nations, antagonizing many U.N. member states.

But during the last two years of the Bush administration, Bolton’s successor, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, became known as a gregarious and affable diplomat who improved relations somewhat.

The United States has agreed to pay nearly a quarter of the U.N.’s $4.86 billion operating budget, but is perennially late with its dues.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had her first meeting with Ban last week in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, on the sidelines of an international donor conference for rebuilding Gaza. The two, along with the European Union and Russia, also work together in a so-called Quartet of international mediators seeking to forge progress toward peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Ban used that occasion to press for additional cash for U.N. peacekeepers who have been stretched thin worldwide and for the United States to set an example in tackling global warming.

Clinton assured Ban he could count on U.S. leadership to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other industrial gases that trap heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

The U.N. chief’s top priority this year is to encourage global leaders to adopt a new international climate treaty at a conference in December in Copenhagen.

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