ACTIVITIES OF SECRETARY-GENERAL IN RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 4 - 6 JUNE
Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Moscow from Kiev early in the afternoon of Tuesday 4 June.
His first appointment was with members of the Federation Council, which is the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, and its newly elected Speaker, Sergei Mironov.
They reviewed a wide range of international issues –- the fight against terrorism, the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, peacekeeping, human rights and social and economic development. In addition, the Secretary-General raised the Georgia/Abkhazia issue.
On HIV/AIDS, he said that “all leaders must speak up” on this critical matter. The Speaker acknowledged that HIV/AIDS was an acute problem in Russia.
Finally, the Secretary-General mentioned the current debate over the definition of terrorism, stalled over whether freedom fighters should be considered terrorists. This is a false problem, he argued. “I can’t accept that the murder of innocent civilians can be part of the fight for freedom,” he said.
At the end of the day, the Secretary-General met with Avi Gil, Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who happened to be in Moscow. They discussed the situation in the Middle East, and specifically plans for the convening of a peace conference.
On the second day of his visit to Moscow, the Secretary-General awoke to the news that a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown up a commuter bus in northern Israel. He and issued a statement through his Spokesman, saying that he was appalled and that the brutal and willful killing of innocent civilians can never be justified, no matter what the political objective. Every effort must be made to bring to justice those responsible for this cruel act, the statement said. "It comes at a time when there is a concerted international effort to convene a peace conference on the Middle East."
The Secretary-General urged those committed to finding a political solution in the Middle East to stay the course. "The enemies of peace should not be allowed to derail this process."
The Secretary-General extended his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Israel. (See press release SG/SM/8260.)
The Secretary-General then traveled to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, outside the walls of the Kremlin, where he laid a wreath.
He then met privately with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. After that, he and the Prime Minister addressed a conference on urban development in Russia. “Strong cities can be a key factor enabling a country to thrive in the global economy,” Mr. Annan argued. And cities must no longer be seen as administrative extensions of central government, he added. A State that treats local authorities as partners, and allows public tasks to be carried out by those closest to the citizens, will be stronger, not weaker, he said. (See SG/SM/8261.)
On Wednesday morning the Secretary-General also visited the SANAM clinic, which works at preventing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases among vulnerable populations in Russia, including street children. He listened to presentations on their work by different young people, most of them HIV-positive. They reported a dramatic rise in HIV infections in Russia, with nearly
200,000 registered cases, suggesting an actual figure six times higher. He thanked them, saying he was really happy that there are so many young people involved in the struggle against HIV/AIDS. Young people, he added, listen to their peers much more than “old ones with gray hairs like me.”
In the early afternoon, he returned to the Kremlin to meet with President Vladimir Putin, who had just returned from the Asian security conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The President reported on his meetings with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had also been at Almaty, and on his efforts to defuse the tensions between the two countries.
President Putin indicated that he was prepared to continue in a peacemaking role between India and Pakistan, with the Secretary-General’s help.
The two men also discussed in some detail the situation in Afghanistan, which is preparing to choose a new government through a traditional council meeting, or Loya Jirga. And they assessed efforts to convene a Middle East peace conference.
In closing, the Secretary-General described to the President his visit earlier in the day to the SANAM clinic and said he encouraged people at all levels of Russian society to "speak up" about the threat of HIV/AIDS.
During the photo opportunity at the beginning of the meeting, the Secretary-General joked that the media were treating the President the way they always treat the United Nations. “I tell them: the failures are always ours, but the success belongs elsewhere,” he said. “I was amused to hear them say: President Putin fails to make peace in Almaty,” he added. “But the actual situation was that the two leaders failed to seize the opportunity offered by the conference and the efforts you and other leaders made to help resolve the conflict.”
The Secretary-General then had a working lunch with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, during which they reviewed questions on India/Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Their talks also focused on Iraq, terrorism, Georgia/Abkhazia, Chechnya and Kosovo.
The Foreign Minister then presented the Secretary-General with a commemorative Prince Gorchakov medal, making him the first international recipient of that honour. (See press release SG/SM/8262.)
The Secretary-General later went to the Duma, or Parliament, where he met the Speaker, Gennady Seleznev, and a few members of the International Relations Committee. They discussed the role of parliamentarians and a proposal by one of them to convene parliamentarians from key countries to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
He told the press afterwards that the role of the parliamentarian "is not only important, but has also become rather complex". In our globalized world, he explained, parliamentarians have become "the bridge between the local, the national and the global.”
In the evening, the Secretary-General had dinner with the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Valentina Matvienko.
He departed for Geneva, Switzerland, the following morning, Thursday 6 June.
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