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UN chief says sustainable development top priority

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JOHN HEILPRIN | July 19, 2011 05:41 AM EST | AP

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GENEVA — Global development that reduces poverty but preserves the environment for future generations will be the top priority during Ban Ki-moon's second five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he said Tuesday.

Ban, whose second term at the helm of the United Nations starts Jan. 1, laid out his overarching theme for his next administration during a speech to the World Trade Organization.

He told trade officials and diplomats that "the United Nations' top priority for this year and many years beyond will have to be sustainable development" – lifting people out of poverty while working on environmental concerns.

The 67-year-old South Korean diplomat, who became U.N. chief in 2007, described sustainable development as a theme that would "tie together many other goals" such as addressing climate change, global health, women's issues and food, water and energy shortages.

His remarks on sustainable development – improving people's lives while minimizing harm to nature – were the only point at which he strayed from his scripted remarks to a WTO conference aimed at helping developing countries expand their trade.

"If you look at all these goals, they are all very closely interconnected," Ban said. "That is what I'm really going to focus on, what I'm particularly going to focus on, for five years."

The U.N. General Assembly unanimously elected Ban to a second term in June. He had faced no opposition, and all the U.N.'s regional groups endorsed him.

During his first term succeeding Kofi Annan as secretary-general, Ban made a priority of tackling climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and women's issues.

He won praise this year for coming out strongly in favor of pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East and supporting military intervention in Ivory Coast and Libya.

But some of his early goals for a new global climate treaty and peace in the Middle East and Sudan's Darfur region remain elusive, and his critics say he lacks charisma and should strongly condemn human rights abuses in countries such as China and Russia.