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South Korean Diplomat Takes Helm at the U.N.

New U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the international organization faces many challenges, but that he plans to push for progress in conflicts in Sudan and North Korea.

At the same time, he is "deeply concerned about the Iranian government's very defiant refusal to engage in talks" and about its decision to proceed with uranium enrichment.

He says he will urge the Iranian authorities to engage in talks on the nuclear issue.

In January, the former South Korean foreign minister became the new head of the international body, replacing Kofi Annan, who served for 10 years.

On Iraq, Ban says he appealed to Iraqi authorities to postpone the executions of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants and was "appalled" by the manner in which the executions were carried out.

Despite criticism that Khartoum is not interested in diplomatic solutions, the U.N. chief says he expects "progress, not promises" during his next meeting with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on the conflict in the Darfur region.

A three-stage plan for enhancing peacekeeping operations in Darfur is already being discussed and implemented, Ban says. That plan entails preventing further civilian killings, providing necessary humanitarian assistance, and promoting further political dialogue.

Ban is more optimistic about progress on the North Korean nuclear issue. He says that despite North Korea's nuclear weapons test in October 2006, Pyongyang has said publicly it is committed to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

He also cites the 2005 joint statement agreed upon by countries involved in the six-party talks on North Korea.

The other countries — South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States — should be ready to provide the necessary incentives, Ban says. Those would include economic assistance, security assurances, and other diplomatic initiatives.

"This may take some time, but at the end, through dialogue, consistent dialogue, I am confident that we will be able to resolve this issue," Ban says.

Ban met with President Bush on Tuesday to discuss regional conflicts and the U.N.-U.S. relationship.

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As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.