Thank-you letter hints at Ban’s possible presidency bid

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Thank-you letter hints at Ban’s possible presidency bid

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s possible presidential ambitions are again drawing attention after it was revealed that he sent a letter to former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil following their meeting in May.

Ban expressed thanks to the former statesman for his hospitality during his visit at his residence in Seoul and also asked Kim for his “continued guidance,” reported various media on Wednesday.

The secretary general was also said to have expressed hope to meet again with the 90-year-old Kim when he returns to Seoul in January, after the end of his UN tenure.

He was also said to have enclosed a photo they took together during that meeting, which came in the midst of Ban’s visit to Korea to attend various international conferences. The meeting garnered immense attention, sparking speculation into whether the UN chief has plans to run for presidency next year, likely for the conservative Saenuri Party.

It was reported that Ban sent the letter through a diplomatic pouch, which cannot be opened by third countries, likely to ensure the confidentiality of the letter.

But the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on Thursday downplayed the significance of these reports, saying Ban sent letters of gratitude to all his hosts and people he met with in May, as is proper decorum.

“Secretary General Ban recently asked the Korean mission to the United Nations to send thank-you letters to people he held meetings with, the hosts of events and hotel personnel during his visit to Korea in May,” the spokesman said in a statement. They were sent out in a diplomatic pouch by the mission according to its guidelines, to the Foreign Ministry, and then conveyed to the respective recipients.

“An international leader sending a thank-you letter to a leader after a visit is an international custom,” the spokesman added. Ban’s 10-year tenure as UN secretary general comes to a close at the end of this year.

In May, the 71-year-old UN chief made a closely watched trip to Korea, which included speaking at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, the UN Department of Public Information/Non-Government Organizations Conference in Gyeongju in North Gyeongsang and the Rotary International Convention in Goyang, Gyeonggi.

Ban also squeezed in a meeting with Kim and they held one-on-one talks on May 28 at the two-time prime minister’s residence in Sindang-dong in central Seoul for 30 minutes.

Both Ban and Kim are natives of the Chungcheong region, which has long been considered a crucial swing region in elections. Ban has also consistently ranked first in polls for presidential contenders.

Ban placed first in a Realmeter poll released on Thursday with an approval rating of 38 percent, compared to 31.8 percent for Moon Jae-in, the former chairman of the main opposition Minjoo Party and 19.6 percent for Ahn Cheol-soo, former head of the minor opposition People’s Party.

While Ban has consistently emphasized his focus is on his role as UN chief until his term comes to an end, he has left wording ambiguous, leaving future options open.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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