5 September 2000


Press Release
SG/SM/7525



TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL AT HEADQUARTERS, 5 SEPTEMBER

20000905


- 2 - Press Release SG/SM/7525 5 September 2000

Mr. Eckhard: The Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Secretary-General: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to see so many of you here today, and I believe your presence is testimony to the worldwide interest in the Millennium Summit. It is also, and more important, testimony to the hopes and the expectations of millions of people around the world -- expectations that can be met only by their leaders, who gather here this week.

This is a defining moment for world leaders and for the United Nations. As the unique forum for global debate, and as an indispensable instrument for global progress, the United Nations must rise to the moment. This Summit offers a real chance for the leaders of the world to make the United Nations a more effective servant of the world’s peoples.

I have no illusions that a single summit in itself can change the world, but I believe that this meeting provides a unique opportunity for leaders to renew our mission and our purpose.

And we have done our best to provide them with an agenda for action, a forum for taking decisions and the means to assess progress as we move ahead.

When I suggested this Summit, as far back as 1997, my intention was to harness the symbolic power of the millennium to the real and urgent needs of people everywhere. In the past three years, global events have only reinforced my belief that it is critical for Member States to come together at the highest levels to give direction for a new century.

Conflicts in Africa and elsewhere have highlighted the need to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping operations and enable them to succeed in places where no other organization is able or willing to act. The Brahimi report has offered powerful ideas for change, and I have already begun to implement those recommendations that fall under my authority. The peoples of the world are looking to their leaders to do the same.

Poverty -- even in the age of globalization -- is a terrible reality for billions of people. Enabling them to escape from poverty remains our highest priority -- on a level with, and inseparable from, the task of keeping the peace. We have proposed new ideas for halving extreme poverty by the year 2015, and we are rethinking our own development strategies to focus on governance and growth. The peoples of the world are looking to their leaders to turn past commitments into concrete action.

These are but two of the many challenges that this Organization was founded to address. How we do so, and with what means, is in the hands of the leaders who will gather for the Summit. They will determine whether we are able to answer the world's call, and whether we will do so imaginatively, effectively and successfully.

Let me now take your questions.

Question: Welcome, Mr. Secretary-General, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. It is my pleasure to congratulate you and to wish you all the best for the beginning of the Millennium Summit.

My first question is that, bearing in mind all the efforts of world leaders and the United Nations bodies, and your significant personal contribution in leading those efforts and in trying somehow to move the United Nations from the periphery back to the epicentre of world politics, what will you do to make those efforts even more transparent?

The Secretary-General: Ever since I became Secretary-General I have tried to open up the Organization. I have tried to create transparency within our own house and to allow the various departments and other parts of the system to work much more closely together. Over and above that, I have also tried to open our doors to civil society, to the private sector and to foundations and universities, and have encouraged them to make a contribution and to work with us in tackling some of the issues that we face today. I think that as we move forward, we are going to see greater opening up by this house -- this Organization -- to the outside world. Of course, we will also continue to be more open ourselves. I think we give you much more information -- there is much more dialogue going on, and we are going to keep it that way.

Question: I am here with a non-profit organization, based in New York. I also write for a newspaper.

You had a meeting on information technology. May I know how the United Nations plans to close the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots? The way I see it, it boils down to economics: people who can buy computers can do the computer thing. How does the United Nations plan to close this digital divide?

The Secretary-General: In the millennium report we offered very concrete proposals. We have also established UNITeS -- a United Nations volunteer corps, where we will send young people from the developed and the developing nations to the third world to try to share their knowledge in IT (Information Technology) with developing countries. Over and above that, we are encouraging governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to work with us in making this available. We are also encouraging governments to support the transfer of this knowledge, because we do believe that it can make a difference. Not only can it make a difference, but it may help these third-world countries leapfrog some of the painful development processes and phases that others have to go through.

Question: I am from the Earth Times; we cover the social development agenda. We have a world forum going on across town. All across the world there are so many forums that say "We are bringing together stakeholders in the globalization debate".

How do you convince all the world leaders here that they should channel funds for social development through the United Nations? In other words, how do you tell them that the United Nations remains a pre-eminent forum and an implementation agency for social development?

The Secretary-General: First of all, let me say that the fact that so many of them are coming here this week is an indication that they accept this Organization as an indispensable forum and the pre-eminent forum that you referred to.

I think we are making efforts to encourage governments. We are pressing governments to give more for development assistance. We are also encouraging direct private investment. We are encouraging the strengthening of institutions at the local level. But I would want to state here that I do not believe that the United Nations should be seen as doing everything, or that it should attempt to do everything, by itself. The issues we are dealing with -- from the elimination of poverty to the fight against AIDS to protection of the environment -- are issues that require all hands on deck.

Governments cannot do it alone, and the United Nations cannot do it alone. This is why I have tried to get people to work in partnership -- international organizations, governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and foundations -- for us to bring our collective impact to bear on these problems we are dealing with. I think people and governments are beginning to understand that. And it is everyone’s responsibility. We will play our catalytic role. We will press. We will advocate the issues. We will use the little money we have to help, but everyone has to do their bit.

Question: When the bell was rung earlier today you said, “Let it ring out a century of cruelty and destruction and ring in a millennium of hope and peace”. What do you say to the cynics who say that since the time of Isaiah we have talked about ringing in peace and ending cruelty and that we have not succeeded? What do you say to the cynics?

The Secretary-General: I think I would tell them that it proves we have to keep trying, and try harder, and that the fact that wars and cruelty have been with us does not mean that we should not try. The fact that the poor have always been with us does not mean we should not try to improve their lot and their conditions. Yes, you may think I am a dreamer, as some have called me. But without the dream you do not get anything done.

I think these are big issues. This is also why I am challenging everyone to make a contribution. This is why I am telling the world leaders not only to come here and approve a plan of action, but that I would expect each and every one of them to go back home and begin to do something about it.

Question: You think that dreams are, in this case, realistic?

The Secretary-General: It is a beginning. But I would not say they are utopian. They are not utopian because we do have the means and the capacity to tackle these issues, if we can only muster the will. So in that sense it is realistic. It is not utopian. The only thing lacking is the will. I hope you will all help me get that message across.

Question: I have a two-part question. I say two-part mainly because I know the second one you will not answer too well.

The first part of the question has to do with the draft declaration of the Summit. Obviously, it brought support for your initiatives. How close are they to action, and how much will it cost?

The second part of the question is, in your consultations with governments, has the question of a second term come up? If so, in what direction is it leaning?

The Secretary-General: Let me deal with the first question.

I think they have offered broad support, and I am happy that they based their recommendations on the report I submitted to them. Most of the recommendations I made have been embraced, and they have added additional suggestions. I would hope that, as I said earlier, they will also take very seriously the plan of action that they will vote on here on 8 September when they go home. Because there is no point in agreeing here on fighting poverty and then going home and thinking it is for the United Nations to do. This is why I said it is for each and every one of them to come up with a programme to deal with poverty, a programme to help alleviate poverty, a programme to get greater assistance for poverty eradication and a programme to accelerate debt relief so that the poor are not overburdened with debt payments. Everyone has a responsibility here. I hope we will all do something about it.

As to your second question, quite frankly, I didn’t expect it so early in the press conference. But now that you’ve asked it, let me first say that it is not the question that is paramount in my mind at this stage; it’s not my major preoccupation. But, in all fairness, at an appropriate time, I will have to indicate to the Council and to the membership at large whether I will consider a second term or not. And you must understand this is not an easy decision. It is a difficult personal decision that I will have to discuss with my wife, my family and my friends. But at the appropriate time I will signal my intentions. Thank you.

Question (interpretation from French): Mr. Secretary-General, the Brahimi report advocates extremely severe measures. If you apply them, many Member States could be far from pleased. How do you plan to deal with this?

The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): Mr. Brahimi has submitted a competent and very clear report, and I hope that Member States will accept it. I will try to convince them to accept the Brahimi report recommendations and to implement them, because the time has come to decide that if we are going to conduct peacekeeping operations, we must do so effectively; otherwise, we just stand with our arms crossed. But we cannot continue to work as we are doing now.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, six years after the [inaudible] of Haiti, the question is still with us, a question which has cost the United States taxpayer $3 billion. President Préval is going to be here. Are you going to be talking to him, and what are you going to say?

The Secretary-General: I expect to talk to President Préval. I expect to talk to him about the situation in Haiti. I expect also to share with him the disappointment we all have that we haven’t made much more progress in Haiti, and the need for us to find ways there of moving forward. I am as disappointed as your question implies, that we have not done more and moved much further in Haiti than we’ve done too, because there was lots of promise and lots of hope.

Question: Can you say a few words in French, Mr. Secretary-General, so that the Haitians who will be listening to you will know that you are serious?

The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): I am somewhat disappointed because a great deal of effort has been made. The Haitian people need peace. They have suffered a great deal, and I hope that Haitian leaders will get together and find a solution among themselves, together with the international community, to bring peace to the country and find a peaceful solution that would allow the society to advance in the economic and social spheres.

Question: Sir, there has been so much talk about democratizing the way the United Nations takes decisions, especially at the level of the Security Council. Do we expect this to happen here?

The Secretary-General: Well, I’m quite confident that the heads of State meeting here will discuss Security Council reform. There have been indications that certain countries would want to push this. The British Government made a statement yesterday; the United States Government, through Ambassador Holbrooke, has also signalled some flexibility. I think the discussions will continue at the Summit, but I cannot be certain that there will be a settlement at this Summit. I think we may make some progress, but we will not get to an agreement at this Summit, and we will need to continue working into the next year.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, two hard questions, because I know you care about both issues. One is the Iranian-American signs of rapprochement, [inaudible] as they may be today in the presence of Madam Albright and [inaudible] organization [inaudible]. And I know that you are keen on playing a role in bringing them closer together. Are you going to have a further role at the level of President Clinton and President Khatami? What do you think of this rapprochement? And, secondly, on the peace process which is going to steal the more important limelight tomorrow, you met with Mr. Barak yesterday; can you fill us in as to how optimistic might you be about a bilateral meeting tomorrow, the solution of the issue of Jerusalem, and do you have a particular contribution yourself to that?

The Secretary-General: I think, on the question of a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, it is something I would want to see. I have always encouraged dialogue among nations. I do not think that isolating nations or nations isolating themselves is a solution to the issues we are trying to deal with. I think it is also appropriate that today we are having a conference on dialogue among civilizations, and it was quite remarkable to see the number of heads of State and different countries participating in that dialogue. As you said, there was President Khatami speaking with Mrs. Albright in the audience and listening to her. I think this is a very good signal.

In the next three days, I think there will be opportunities for all countries, including the United States and Iran, to listen to each other when President Clinton comes here to speak and President Khatami speaks. So I think we are moving forward. Perhaps I would not say that we have made major strides, but let us say that the ice has been broken and things are beginning to move in the right direction.

On the Middle East peace process, you are right. I met with Prime Minister Barak and we discussed the progress on the Palestinian track. We discussed the negotiations that will be taking place this week here in New York, and of course we also talked about Israeli withdrawal in Lebanon and its impact on developments in the region, and that it did represent a significant shift in the region and that, for the first time, a United Nations resolution was implemented and seems to be holding. The region is peaceful, even though there is some sporadic tension at some points.

I think Mr. Barak indicated his willingness and determination for peace and was hoping that there will be movement when they all meet here. From my own discussions with President Arafat, I know that he would also want to see progress. But of course, we need to have a package on the table that both sides find mutually acceptable. I do not think that the two parties have ever been closer than they are today. I read people writing about Camp David as a failure, but I think Camp David made major strides and I would hope that we will be able to capitalize on that progress and reach an agreement.

But of course, there is also a question of time. I do not think there is too much time for any of the parties in the process. When one talks of time, one is looking at President Clinton’s own term. One is looking at the Israeli political calendar. One is looking at the issues that President Arafat himself has to deal with. I would hope we will be able to move a step further here in New York this week, but let us not kid ourselves: the issues are very complex. But I think there is a genuine desire and a genuine search for peace, not only by the two parties directly involved and President Clinton, but in the Arab world and the larger world. President Chirac is also very much engaged, as is President Mubarak. I hope we will move forward and I will continue to offer my own support, whatever I can do as Secretary-General of the United Nations, to help the process forward.

Question: You mentioned a few minutes ago the big issues. This Summit has particularly ambitious goals in a very short time span. What sort of pressure can the United Nations exert to achieve them?

The Secretary-General: First of all, let me say that the Summit does have ambitious goals, but we are not starting today. We started the preparations months ago and the heads of State were given a report six months ago to study and help them prepare for the Summit. Having studied the report, they have agreed in a communiqué on a plan of action, which I hope will be endorsed when they are all here.

I think the import of your question is, how do we make sure that these things are implemented? These are yardsticks. Are we going to monitor them? Are we going to issue annual reports? Are we going to indicate who has done what? Who has made progress? Who is taking it seriously and who is not? And I think we are going to try to do that. I think the effort to shine a light on who is doing what and who is not doing what they promised to do may also help us forge ahead.

Let me repeat once again that the problems seem huge. But in today’s world, given the technology and the resources around, we have the means to tackle them. If we have the will, we can deal with them.

Question: My question is on Cyprus. Can you tell us who is responsible for the deadlock in Cyprus?

The Secretary-General: Do you really expect me to tell you that? And sit with them on 12 September?

Okay, let me say that I would hope that when we meet next week, we will press our discussion on the core issues. We would want to get into the substance. I think we have gone beyond the stages where we get together to have talks about talks. I think we really have to push the substance now. That is what we intend to do, and I hope the leaders will come prepared to do that.

Question: You referred to yesterday’s British Government report about United Nations reform, peacekeeping and the Security Council. Can I ask you a couple of questions? First, quite specifically, the British Government is proposing the establishment of a United Nations military staff college to train officers from different countries to try to avoid the misunderstandings and rivalries that have dogged some United Nations peacekeeping missions. Britain has actually suggested that such a college be established in Britain, offering to be the host to the United Nations college. Can I ask you for your reaction to that?

Secondly, more broadly, on Security Council reform, Britain is proposing a radical expansion, both of the permanent membership and of the size of the Security Council as a whole. A report from the Government and the third party in our Parliament, the liberal democrats, calls the present arrangement with only five permanent members unfair and unreasonable. That seems to quite a big gesture, for a permanent member to make that comment. Do you think this implies that there may be a more general willingness for radical change? If the Security Council -- this is really my question -- were to be expanded, and if that would make decision-making fairer, would it also make it more effective? Or is there a danger that by expanding the Security Council, we would make reaching tough decisions more difficult and end up with more consensus, more fudge, and, frankly, weaker decisions and a weaker United Nations?

The Secretary-General: On the question of peacekeeping, I have always maintained that the best peacekeepers are well-trained and well-equipped soldiers. The idea of establishing a training college for peacekeepers is something that I endorse wholeheartedly. There are other regional peacekeeping training establishments, but I think that the British Government’s offer to put up a training centre for peacekeepers is a very positive development, because we would prefer to have men and women deployed to the field who know each other’s ways, who have worked together, who have been trained with similar material, and who, hopefully, have equipment and other material which are inter-operable. I applaud the decision to set up a training college and to open it up to peacekeepers from around the world.

I am also pleased with the British announcement on Security Council reform, and the question you posed really reflects the debate which has been going on in this house. For a long time, a certain group of Member States maintained that the Council needed to be kept small for it to be effective. The other school felt that the Council had to be brought into line with today’s realities, to be made more democratic and more representative; otherwise, it would begin to lose legitimacy. I think the British declaration is an acknowledgement of the fact that we need to make the Council more democratic and more representative. I also believe, and I trust that the British Government also shares this view -- otherwise they would not have put forward their proposals -- that it ought to be possible to reform the Council, to expand it, to make it democratic, more representative and, at the same time, effective. I think it is not beyond human ingenuity to do that. I reject the idea that expansion necessarily will lead to a confused and ineffective Security Council which fudges all issues. I do not think, if there is a problem of that kind, that it is necessarily one of size.

Question: What is happening in this building? What is your vision, along with the men and women who are lined up along that wall? You had a religious summit, you had the peace summit, you have this Summit, you almost cannot legitimately have a meeting after this inside this building, you cannot top this. What is the strategy behind all of these sessions? Can you answer critics of globalization and the United Nations who say that letting business into the United Nations is inappropriate at minimum and opens up disturbing possibilities and diminishes the United Nations.

The Secretary-General: I think we would all agree that this is a rather unique year. This is a millennium year, and a jubilee year. When I suggested that there should be a Millennium Summit, I also suggested that we should have as wide a consultation as possible. As preparation for this Summit, we had regional consultations in Africa, Latin America, Asia and everywhere. We had an non- governmental organization forum in May that also fed into the Summit. We had the religious leaders here, and the parliamentarians, who in fact should be playing a more effective role in this Organization in the era of globalization. They are the ones who are in direct contact with the people. We all go around saying that in today’s world, no one can afford to think in purely local terms. What happens globally affects the local, and what happens locally affects the global, which would imply that legislators and men and women who are dealing with their society and are coming up with laws for society, should be sensitive to these issues. I think they should also play a role in explaining the new era and the globalization that is sweeping the world. So I was very happy that they came here and gave their input, that the representatives of the non-governmental organizations and the parliamentarians would also speak at this Summit, giving their own views to the leaders. I think this is all reaching a climax this week with the Summit. As I indicated, this is a very special year. We do not intend to do this every year, and I hope that this will put some wind in our sails and they will be able to reaffirm their belief in this Organization and give us the support that we need. It is also important that as they do this, they know what the regions have said, and what the views of the religious leaders and the parliamentarians are.

On the question of globalization and the role of the business community, I think I have read several reports about the global compact and my attempts to engage the business community. We all have to accept, whether we like it or not, that the business world and the private sector have enormous power in today’s world. They are the ones who are creating wealth, they are the ones who have the money, the technology and the management to carry forward quite a lot of the things that we are talking about. They are the ones who run the companies that we claim pollute the world. So how are we going to clean up and promote good practices in the environmental field if we do not talk to the key players? They are the ones who employ people and pay, or do not pay, a decent wage. They are the ones who may employ children, so bringing them together and saying “don’t employ children; pay a decent wage” and telling them to respect the rights of their workers, is something that I think we should all support.

I would also add that in the global compact, we have three partners. The three partners are business, the trade unions and the non-governmental organizations, the civil society. It is a very transparent process. Companies are willingly indicating what they are going to do to respect core labour standards and to respect the environment and human rights. Their workers, the trade unions, will be monitoring to see that it is done, and civil society will also be monitoring to see that it is done. It is a very transparent thing, and I think that the more companies that become sensitive to these demands, the better it is for all of us. Some say that some of the companies that have become engaged in the global compact have a bad record. I think that is why you need them. If every company was doing

2

what it ought to do, in protecting the environment, in respecting core labour standards and in respecting human rights, I do not think that the global compact would be needed. If we think simply and sincerely, we will have to come to the conclusion that you cannot do some of the things that we are talking about -- be it alleviation of poverty, be it fighting AIDS, be it education, be it spreading the use of IT -- you cannot do it without engaging the private sector. We have to be real.

Thank you very much, and I wish you a very good Summit.

* *** *

3