(unofficial transcript)

Press conference with Kofi Annan and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi
Teheran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 26 January 2002

FM: [Unofficial Translation from Farsi] We have had excellent talks with His Excellency, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The talks were for the most part focused on problems in Afghanistan. Considering the complicated nature of Afghanistan's problems, the visit by the Secretary-General to Iran is an opportune moment for us to discuss Afghanistan's problems closely and help the process which has begun and today the interim government is established in Kabul. So far the Islamic Republic of Iran has done its best to support the initiatives of the Secretary-General and his envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. In the Bonn Conference, Iran's contributions played a significant role in bringing about the success of the conference. At the Tokyo Conference, on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Iran tried to play an appropriate role to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. From now on too, Iran will work towards strengthening and buttressing the interim Afghan government and bringing about security and stability throughout Afghanistan.

We have discussed different dimensions [such as] security, establishing the government all over Afghanistan, the formation of a national army and a national police force in Afghanistan. We explored different problems related to Afghanistan. We hope that due to the cooperation that exists between the United Nations on the one hand and the central government of Afghanistan on the other we will see more solidarity between the government and the nation of Afghanistan, and that the reconstruction of Afghanistan would begin as soon as possible, and that stability, tranquility and security would return to Afghanistan.

SG: Thank you very much, Minister. As you heard from the Minister, we have had a very good discussion this morning and he has taken you through the range of issues we discussed. In addition to that, I have had a very good meeting with President Khatami, where we discussed the situation in the Middle East, the dialogue among civilizations and the President commented on the irony that last year, which was the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, was also one of the most brutal years. But of course that dialogue will continue. It did not end when the Year for Dialogue ended. If anything, we need more dialogue among civilizations and cultures to be able to deal with the messy world that we live in.

I have also been able to thank the President and the Government and the people of Iran for the great support they have given to the people of Afghanistan, the generous contribution that was made in Tokyo during the pledging conference and of course the support that has been given to me and my Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi throughout this process. We have had a good beginning but we have many hurdles ahead and we will continue to count on the support of the neighbors of Afghanistan and the international community as we move forward. We will take your questions now.

Central News Bureau (CNB): My first question is about the possible U.S. attacks against Iraq, Somalia and other countries. Would the United Nations agree with such attacks within the framework of the fight against terrorism? The other question is about the Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees in Guantanamo. Do agree with the whole situation?

SG: I think on the fight against terrorism, the UN has been very active. And I think the Security Council resolutions, particularly its 1373, which demands that countries do not give the support, or finance or give logistical support to terrorists, I think this is a very good basis of global fight against terrorism. In addition, we have about 12 conventions which have been approved under the auspices of the General Assembly, which also provides all of us a common legal framework to fight this scourge. Obviously, the Council also indicated that those who were responsible for the attacks of 11 September should be brought to justice and that explains to some extent what is happening in Afghanistan, because the actions by the countries involved has been set in that context. I believe that the fight against terrorism can only be won through international cooperation and all governments should take measures to contain and to fight terrorism.

With regard to those who are detained in Guantanamo Bay, I have made clear in my own public statement to the Security Council that while we need to take effective action against terrorism, there can be no trade off between effective action against terrorism and protection of human rights. I think all those detained must be treated in accordance with internationally accepted norms of law. And I hope that, I trust that is what will happen. Of course, the case is in court in the United States and I would prefer not to go beyond the fact they shall be treated humanely and in accordance with accepted norms of international law.

CNN: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I think that Iran has stated this opinion before. But two days ago the FBI Director said in neighboring Afghanistan "we are worried about Al-Qaeda operatives sneaking out of Afghanistan through Iran". Is this possibly true in any way and has the Iranian government in any way taken any new steps to ensure that this is not occurring?

FM: This of course has repeatedly been said that we have closed our borders, [not] allowing any movement by Al-Qaeda people or the Taliban people toward Iranian territory. We are very serious about that and we will not allow anyone to misuse Iranian territory for those purposes. If it happened that someone from Al-Qaeda or the Taliban would enter the territory, he would certainly be arrested.

Iran News Network: [translation] I want to pose my question to His Excellency Mr. Secretary-General. Considering that the talks in Teheran mainly revolve around Afghanistan, what sort of status does the UN think that Iran must have? If you will allow me, I will also like to ask what sort of role does the UN play in the selection of the Loya Jirga to ensure the security and stability of Afghanistan in the future?

SG: You started by saying you wanted to ask me one question. You asked 3 questions (laughs). On the first one, I think Iran has an important role to play in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. And it has demonstrated that through the generous contribution that it made. Obviously we are going to require expertise and technicians, and Iran, which has had traditional commercial relations with Afghanistan, would want to see good road links and reconstruction of the roads would be essential. The government has also indicated that they will reduce port duties and other charges by 50% to facilitate the reconstruction in Afghanistan. These are very important contributions.

With regards to the refugees, first of all, let me thank Iran for the generosity it has shown to the Afghan refugees over the past two decades and more. And now that peace is returning to Afghanistan we have established a plan. The High Commissioner of Refugees has a plan for managed and organized repatriation of all the refugees to go back home. Obviously, the repatriation and the return has to be voluntary. But we intend to get them back home over a period of two-and-a-half to three years. So we have a plan to manage the return of the refugees.

On the question of the Loya Jirga, the Afghan factions and the Interim Administration requested that the UN takes the lead in consulting all the Afghans, and setting up of the 21-person commission which will prepare the Loya Jirga and that is what was done. Mr. Brahimi consulted widely and he established a list of 300 names and out of that 21 names were culled and the group was established. In establishing the group, he was looking for people who had integrity, who were independent, who could act impartially in the interest of all Afghans and charge them collectively and individually to work for effective and efficient organization of the Loya Jirga on June 22 this year.

NHK TV: I would like to follow up on a previous question. Mr. Kharrazi, how do you respond to the US allegations? Another allegation [is that] Iran has been meddling in the internal affairs, sending weapons to one of the armed forces, in Afghanistan. I remember, the Defense Minister Mr. Shamkhani once admitted that Iran has been, and also will be, providing weapons to the Northern Alliance. Have you finished, have you stopped, sending weapons to Afghanistan? And if Mr. Annan has some information to support U.S. allegation on this matter?

FM: Yes, certainly the sending of arms to Afghanistan has been stopped. During the period of resistance of Northern Alliance against the Taliban, they received assistance from us. But now that the Interim Authority is in place in Kabul, certainly it is the duty of everyone to support the Interim Authority. Therefore, this report is totally baseless. One should consider that there are disputes between some of the governors in Afghanistan, and we should not be trapped by these sorts of differences or disputes that exist between these governors. We have traditional contacts and trade with the provinces which are close to our border in the north and in the south, and that is in coordination with the central authority in Kabul.

SG: I have no independent information regarding the allegations you refer to. What I should say is that in my discussions with the Government, they have confirmed just what you heard from the Minister. That they will work with the central government and are working with the central government, and are determined to do everything to strengthen and support the central government. I got the same assurance also from Pakistan. Of course the role and support of the neighboring countries are absolutely essential for the success of the Interim Administration and new government that will be installed in Afghanistan.

AP: My question is addressed to Minister Kharrazi. Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi was quoted as saying yesterday that Iran was prepared to send troops to Afghanistan. I just want to know if Iran has officially demanded to send troops to Afghanistan as part of the multi-national forces and I would request the Secretary-General what the UN position would be on that.

FM: No, we do not have such an intention to send troops to Afghanistan. This morning I asked my colleagues to contact Mr. Abtahi to see what the basis of that report was. I think that there has been some misunderstanding, because it is not the policy of Iran to send troops at this stage to Afghanistan.

SG: The force in Afghanistan is a multinational force. Obviously it was mandated by the Security Council, in that it has Security Council approval before its deployment. But this is a coalition of the willing, a group of countries that came together to assist the Afghan government on security issues, with the United Kingdom in the lead. Normally the countries that wish to participate, often get in touch with the lead nation and discuss it. Until this morning I have had no information Iran had indicated that it wanted to send troops to join the force.

Iran News daily (Translation) My question is addressed to Mr. Annan. The situation in Palestine has become more critical, and it seems that the United Nations does not take serious initiatives in this area either and it is the United States that is making decisions on Palestine. I would like to ask your opinion about this issue and what sort of explanation you have in this connection.

SG: I take it that your question relates to Middle East, not Afghanistan. I think the situation in the Middle East is rather tragic and very, very serious. And I, like leaders around the world, we are all extremely concerned about developments there. And I think what needs to be done is for collective international action to try and break the impasse and bring the parties back to the table. For the moment it looks hopeless, but I don't think we should give up hope, given the fact that people are dying every day and we need to really find a way of ending this tragedy which has gone on for far too long and we are going to continue our efforts.

BBC: Mr. Annan, Iran is being accused by the Americans of meddling in Afghanistan, of trying to disrupt the Middle East peace process by sending arms to the Palestinian Authority. There is a strong perception here in Tehran that there is a preparation being made for an eventual American strike or pressure or action of some sort against Iran. What would be your comment or position on that?

SG: I have discussed this issue very frankly with the Iranian authorities that I met today. And I think the first one, you have already heard from Minister Kkarazzi who has indicated that first of all, they have no love for Al-Qaeda or the Taliban and they do not have ideological, religious or political support for either group. And obviously they indicated they find it very odd that given their traditional position that they would be suddenly opening their doors to them and assured me that even though they have long borders they are determined to keep them out. And if anyone of them have slipped in without knowledge of the Government, they will be hunted down and dealt with.

On the question of the ship, again the Government has made it quite clear to me that they had nothing to do with it.

The third part of your question as to whether there is going to be a US strike or not. I consider it to be highly speculative and I prefer not to be drawn on that. Thank you.

Iranian Radio: Greetings to Dr. Kharrazi and Mr. Kofi Annan. Mr. Kofi Annan, what do you think about the targeted assassination of the Palestinian people by the forces of the Zionist Regime or by the helicopters of this regime? What do you think about the lynching of the corpses of the Palestinians? Are these measures defined as terrorist actions or not? Could you please say why the United Nations has shown little dynamism in the Palestinian events?

My next question is as follows: Considering that the interim government has come to power, and the forces in Afghanistan are organized under United Nations, what do you think about the unilateral decision of the United States to continue bombardment of certain areas in Afghanistan and the detention of the individuals as Washington pleases?

SG: I think on what you've referred to, the targeted assassinations, my position on that is very clear. I am on record as stating that it goes against established principles of law and that people who are accused of these things should be given a chance, their day in court. They should be brought to justice but it should be done in accordance with established norms of law.

On your second question, of course the international force is in Afghanistan and the operations are limited to Kabul and the surrounding area. They are not active in the rest of the country. You also referred to the US forces that are undertaking military action in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern part of the country. This, as I mentioned earlier, is seen as part of a Council action that indicated that those responsible for the attacks should be brought to justice. I have no direct involvement with the military operations. I don't know when it is going to end and how long it will take. But it seems as if it is tapering off that is all I can say for the moment.

LBC TV: (Translation) I have a question for His Excellency Mr. Kharrazi and His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan. One of the main problems between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States is the lack of a clear definition of terrorism. For the most part in the Middle East, we regard Hizbullah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad as resistance groups. The Americans say that these groups are terrorists. Can we have a clear definition of terrorism? What is the United Nations' role in this connection. Thank you very much.

FM: (Translation) I think the definition of terrorism should be an international endeavor under the supervision of the United Nations. Each country by itself cannot have its own of special definition of terrorism. Undoubtedly, from our standpoint and the standpoint of other Muslim countries, as has been stressed by the OIC, we have to make a distinction between terrorism and the struggle for liberation. On the other hand, too, we must not use double-standards in defining instances of terrorism. At any rate, as Mr. Khatami, too, has suggested, we hope that a summit of [world] leaders will be held to define terrorism and the way to confront terrorism within the framework of an all-out effort and international cooperation.

SG: I agree with what the Minister has said, but there is one thing I would like to add. I think regardless of the differences between governments on the question of definition of terrorism, what is clear and what we can all agree on is any deliberate attack on innocent civilians, regardless of one's cause, is unacceptable and fits into the definition of terrorism. And I think this we can all be clear on. Thank you.

Al-Manar TV (Translation) My question is addressed to Mr. Kofi Annan. Currently we are witnessing the attacks by Israeli jetfighters against the Palestinian people. So far we have not seen any specific adoption of position by the United Nations, especially since we have heard that the U.S. State Department and Israel plan to destroy the Palestinian Self-Rule Authority. Why hasn't the UN adopted a position against the Israeli crimes?

SG: I think I have been on record each time there has been an attack of that kind, on either side, which has led to killing. I have not condoned any of these attacks as Secretary-General. With regard to the comment you made, as the second part [of your question], that the U.S. and Israel have decided to continue this fight or attacks again, I am not sure the U.S. has decided to attack or join in an attack. What I heard was the U.S. asking Chairman Arafat to do more to stop terrorism.

Thank you.