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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is visiting our member station KWMU in St. Louis today. Im Renee Montagne.

The secretary-general of the U.N. is in Washington, D.C. today, making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Ban Ki-moon wants to make sure the U.N. won't be a major victim of U.S. budget cuts. He's lobbying at a time when the U.N. is taking a more assertive role, both in Libya and the Ivory Coast.

The secretary-general sat down with NPR's Michele Kelemen to discuss all that.

MICHELE KELEMEN: This week, U.N. and French helicopters bombed weapons depots in Ivory Coast, as a way to neutralize forces still loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the man who lost last years elections. But as I met with Ban Ki-moon in Washington last night, Gbagbo was still holed up in his presidential compound in Abidjan and the U.N. secretary-general was sounding frustrated.

Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): Why the 10 million people of Cote d'Ivoire should suffer from insistence and persistence of this - just one man who is sticking to power? It's not acceptable.

KELEMEN: It was surprising to see U.N. and French helicopters, really, on the offensive in Ivory Coast this week. And I wonder if this signifies a new assertiveness by the United Nations.

Sec.-Gen. KI-MOON: We did exactly, as mandated by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1975. The United Nations headquarters were under constant threat and attack, and there were many civilian people who were killed. That is why I have authorized to take necessary military measures in full support of French troops, Licorne.

KELEMEN: A lot of analysts are looking at the actions in the Ivory Coast and comparing it to Libya, saying the U.N. seems to be emboldened to take stronger action now. Is there - are there some similarities there?

Sec.-Gen. KI-MOON: It's not the matter of whether the United Nations has been emboldened or not. We are doing our proper work, mandated by the Security Council. At the same time, we have learned the great and very tragic lessons in the past. Look at the cases of Rwandan massacre and also the massacre in Srebrenica. All these are very tragic lessons which we have learned.

The leaders of the world have introduced and adopted a very important principle. That is responsibility to protect.

KELEMEN: And Libya, he says, is the first sign that member-states are taking that notion seriously stepping in when a government fails to protect its own citizens.

Secretary-General Ban is here in Washington to meet with U.S. lawmakers, including U.N. skeptics like the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Florida Republican declined an interview request but she's holding a hearing today, and has been calling for cuts to U.S. payments to the United Nations as a way to force management reforms.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, told a House subcommittee hearing yesterday that the U.S. is pushing for reforms, and she defended the Obama administrations more friendly approach to the UN.

Ambassador SUSAN RICE (United States to United Nations): As we well know, Americas resources and influence are not limitless. And thats why the United Nations is so important to our national security. It allows us to share the costs and burdens of tackling global problem, rather than leaving those problems to fester or the world to look to America alone.

KELEMEN: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says hes called on all his managers to trim budgets by three percent and hes been promising other reforms. The U.N., he says, counts on U.S. support.

Sec.-Gen. KI-MOON: United States is the largest the financial contributor, and thus we need such a strong support; political, financial and all other developmental support.

KELEMEN: He will also need the Obama administrations support to win another term as secretary-general, but he wouldnt say in our interview when he will formally announce his bid.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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