Han Seung-soo Takes Over U.N. General Assembly Presidency

South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo takes over the presidency of the General Assembly at the opening of its annual session Tuesday, replacing former Finnish president Harri Holkeri who completed his duties Monday with a call for fewer U.N. conferences.

Holkeri presided over the 55th session of the General Assembly the global gathering place for the 189 member states of the United Nations.

The 56th session formally opens Tuesday. The plenary session, where international leaders address the organization, begins Sept. 24 when President Bush appears before the world body for the first time.

The United States owes the United Nations more than $1 billion and has had a shaky relationship with the world body in recent years.

Holkeri's one-year term began with the Millennium Summit last September and was followed by special sessions on urban living conditions and AIDS. Under Han, the General Assembly will hold a children's summit Sept. 19-21.

But after last week's racism conference in Durban, where the Middle East and slavery overshadowed dozens of issues, Holkeri joined growing criticism of U.N. gatherings that he called expensive and ineffective.

Holkeri said many of the topics can be covered in General Assembly committees where diplomats meet on a regular basis and then taken up by the Security Council if necessary.

He welcomed a more open atmosphere to Security Council meetings but said he regretted that he was unable to move forward reform measures for the powerful council, whose resolutions are legally binding, unlike those in the General Assembly.

Holkeri led a movement for increased transparency and a more balanced representation on the council.

Like Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Holkeri said he would like to see the organization become less bureaucratic and he predicted that the U.N.'s membership would increase, indicating that East Timor and other emerging states could "join in the foreseeable future." Under his stewardship, the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu became the 189th member of the world body.

Holkeri plans to return to Finland next month and begin work on a memoir. His successor, Han, will hold the job while he continues to be his country's foreign minister, a decision several U.N. officials privately complained about Monday.

Holkeri's predecessor, Namibian foreign minister Theo-Ben Gurirab also juggled the two responsibilities.

The role of General Assembly president rotates annually and is less well-known than the higher profile position of secretary-general, currently held by Annan, who was just re-elected to a second five-year term.

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