(photo credit: )
Ban Ki-Moon, who was the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Israel and is considered a friend of the country, appears headed to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem welcomed indications that he would win the upcoming election, terming him a most suitable candidate.
Aug. 30 Editorial: Whither Annan?
On Tuesday, several permanent members of the Security Council praised Ban after a straw poll overwhelming backed his candidacy. He received four affirmations, one "no opinion" and no objections from the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, the veto-wielding nations. The 15-member council is set to hold a formal vote next week, probably on October 9, after which the General Assembly has to give its approval, which it usually does without protest.
If elected, Ban would succeed Kofi Annan of Ghana, who has had a rocky relationship with Israel during his 10-year leadership of the UN.
Ban, in contrast, comes from a country that has strong ties to the West and is facing the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea on its doorstep.
"[Ban] is from a friendly country and he's a friend of Israel," said Uzi Manor, who served as ambassador to South Korea until last year. "He's a statesman and he behaves like a statesman. He's a very capable man, a very honest one, very polite."
Manor hosted Ban on his visit here last summer and said the career South Korean diplomat "got acquainted with the different faces of Israel and I think he was very much impressed." Manor called his moving tour to Yad Vashem one of the "most momentous" experiences of his visit.
Manor described South Koreans as generally admiring and even identifying with Israel as a small country surrounded by hostile elements that excels in technology and education.
Still, he noted that it would be hard to predict how Ban would behave as secretary-general, as he would be pulled by all sides.
The new UN chief will have to deal with reforming the 192-nation organization following the oil-for-food scandal and charges of inefficiency.
But Ban has said that if elected he would delegate most day-to-day operations to a deputy in order to focus on being the world's top diplomat.
Former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold stressed that the secretary-general, regardless of personal opinion and policy objectives, would be heading a large bureaucracy with entrenched views.
"Clearly having a democratic ally of the United States is a good start for reinvigorating the office of the secretary-general," he said. "[But] I'm just very aware of how much of the secretariat has been infused with anti-Israel attitudes based on the political weight of the non-aligned movement."
Some observers have criticized Ban as too closely tied to the US and have suggested he might move to distance himself from these perceptions upon taking office. Annan steps down on December 31.
The other six candidates include Jordanian Ambassador to the UN Prince Zeid al-Hussein and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the only female in the race. But the UN custom of rotating the top post among continents means an Asian is in line for the job. The perceived second-runner, career UN official Shashi Tharood of India, has already indicated he would be stepping aside because of Ban's presumed victory.
UN Watch, an organization sharply critical of the assembly's often one-sided attacks on Israel, described this year's selection process as "the most open and transparent ever."
AP contributed to this report.