As you know, I submit a lot of reports in the course of the year to the General Assembly and the Security Council, but this one is different. It attempts to present a comprehensive account of the challenges facing humanity as we enter the twenty-first century, combined with a plan of action for dealing with them. That may seem absurdly ambitious, but if the United Nations does not attempt to chart a course for the world's peoples in the first decades of the new millennium, who will?
The world's political leaders have agreed to meet here in New York in September in the largest-ever gathering to be held at such a high level. Their peoples would be gravely disappointed if they simply came here, made a few speeches and went away again. They need to agree on the most urgent tasks we face together and to adopt a strategy for carrying them out. They are the only ones who can decide, but they need a set of proposals to decide on, and it is my job, as Secretary-General, to provide them. So here it is; the report is in your hands. I will not attempt to summarize its contents for you. I think that you all have copies and have probably read them already. Let me just say a few things about the general approach.
First, this is a resolutely forward-looking report. It contains some pretty alarming facts, particularly in the chapter on environment, and some pretty shaming ones regarding poverty. It shows that the world has been far too tolerant of gross injustice and human misery, and it argues that we have to change that.
But this is by no means all gloom and doom. The report stresses the amazing progress we have made in the last half century on many fronts and also the fact that new technology puts many things within our reach that previously were not. That is especially true of information technology, which can be used without having vast amounts of hardware or financial capital. What you need, above all, is brains, which are the one common commodity that is equally distributed among the world's peoples. So for a relatively small investment, in education, for example, we can bring all kinds of knowledge within the reach of poor people and enable poor countries to leapfrog some of the long and painful stages of development that others have had to go through.
The second point is that, while governments do have to work together to make these changes possible, governments alone are not going to be able to make them happen. Much of the heavy lifting will be done by private investment, and partnerships with philanthropic foundations will also be very important.
Probably, the best ideas will come from outside government -- from academic researchers, from voluntary organizations, from businessmen and from journalists like you. All of you, together, make up what we call "civil society", and you have an absolutely vital role to play.
The overall message is that these are problems we share and that we have a common interest in solving. They are problems we can deal with if only we summon the will.
Question: This report goes across an incredibly broad spectrum. For those of us who spent some time reading it, you cover a vast amount of territory. I wonder if you could give us some sense of what you consider the most important actions that need to be taken by the Summit and by the international community.
The Secretary-General: Let me say that I have indicated that today we live in a globalized world and there are many challenges facing us. I have set out to identify those challenges and encourage the leaders who are going to meet here in September to confront them and agree on some line of action we can collectively take and pool our efforts to confront.
Poverty, of course, as you know, stands out very clearly, as does the fight against AIDS, but sustaining our environment and handing it over to our children is equally important. I do not want to choose and pick. We have a set of very important issues and challenges that I think we can confront across the board if we have the will. We do have the means, but what we need is to marshal the will and work together.
Question: You mentioned the role of the United Nations in the twenty- first century. I cannot help recalling the two places where the United Nations was circumvented by the United States and its allies, in launching military strikes against Iraq and Yugoslavia. I wonder how confident you are today that the United Nations may maintain its status as the most authoritative organization in the world.
The Secretary-General: I hope we have learned some lessons from the past. I believe that, starting with my own statement to the General Assembly last year, this issue is very much on the agenda and lots of discussions are going on. I think the primary role of the United Nations and the Security Council when it comes to peace and security is accepted by all. Yes, we have had instances where the Council has been bypassed, but I hope that they will turn out to be the exception rather than the norm and that, collectively, we will agree that, in some of these situations, it is best that the entire world, working through the United Nations, should come together to put pressure on those whose behaviour we want to change and work together to resolve conflicts. I think the fact that those things have happened should not mean the end of the Security Council.
Question: I am under the impression that, in this report, you have pushed Security Council reform forward on the agenda in a much stronger way than before. What motivated you?
The Secretary-General: I have always maintained that the Security Council is in need of reform and that we should bring it in line with today's realities. So what I have said in the report is consistent with my long-held view, and I hope the Member States will move forward and reform the Security Council. The argument that the Council should remain small in order to be effective is one group's position, but the position of the others that the Council should be expanded to be made more democratic and, therefore, gain greater legitimacy is also important. I believe it ought to be possible to reform the Council and give it that greater representation while keeping its effectiveness.
Question: You have put the United Nations way out ahead on the digital age in some of these proposals. But, often, it is a matter not just of economy, as you know, but also of politics in access to the Internet. What is your message to those countries that would be tempted, as the Internet spreads, to limit it, even if it is to the detriment of their own people?
The Secretary-General: I think my message to them is that they are depriving their nation and their people of a great opportunity by trying to limit access to these technologies. Besides, they are going to fail, so they should not really waste resources trying to block it. They should allow their people and open up their countries to participate in this great new era of technology and information. I know it is frightening for those who want to control everything, for those who would want to control information in their society and what happens in their countries, but it is simply not going to be possible. I would urge them to be forward-looking for the sake of their people and their nation.
Question (spoken in French): In your report, you have recommended that the AIDS infection rate be reduced among young people by 25 per cent by the year 2010. Would it be possible for the United Nations to recommend that pharmaceutical laboratories relinquish their intellectual property rights to medications used to treat HIV/AIDS?
The Secretary-General (spoken in French): I think work is already under way on this question. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS is in contact with quite a few pharmaceutical corporations, and discussions are under way between the Government of South Africa and United States corporations in that respect. I hope that a solution will be found in the very near future, as such medicine is sorely needed by third-world victims of the disease.
Question: Next week you will be travelling to Havana for the South Summit. I would like to know if some of these proposals can fit as a message for that Summit, or if you have any specific proposals for the less developed countries that are gathering in Cuba.
The Secretary-General: I hope I will have the chance to discuss these proposals with many of the heads of State who will be in Havana. I would also hope to be able to address some of the issues in the report during the plenary session. My discussions with the heads of State will strongly focus on the Millennium Summit and the proposals I have put on the table. Of course, with some of them, in individual and private conversations, I will discuss some of the issues confronting their particular nation or issues that exist between them and the United Nations, but my message will be for them to really join me in this millennium year in reforming the United Nations and repositioning it for the twenty-first century.
Question: On the issue of targeting sanctions, you say that the Security Council should draw on recent research on how to make sanctions smarter in designing and applying sanctions in the future. Why does this not apply to the case of Iraq, the only case of comprehensive sanctions today? Why wait for a case in the future to apply these?
The Secretary-General: First of all, the word "future" does not figure in my report. I did indicate that the Council should bear in mind the studies that have been done by such countries as Switzerland, Canada and others in designing and applying sanctions. I would also want to say that, even on the Iraqi situation, the Council has had to review it periodically. In fact, since its inception, there have been various attempts by the Council to improve the "oil- for-food" scheme, the latest coming in its resolution 1293 (2000). I think that attempt to improve the lot of the Iraqi people, to make sure that they get the assistance they need, must be an ongoing challenge for the Council.
Question [faxed from Lebanon]: The Middle East has suffered because international law has not been applied -- specifically Security Council resolutions relating to southern Lebanon and Palestine. In the new millennium, how can the United Nations act to promote implementation of its recommendations regarding the security agenda, to strengthen respect for international law, as well as the United Nations capacity to conduct peace operations?
The Secretary-General: I want to thank our friend in Lebanon for the question, but let me say that the United Nations is all of us, the United Nations is your Government, my Government and the other governments. If we all determine that Security Council resolutions should be implemented and that we will apply ourselves to their implementation, I think we will make progress.
Coming to your specific question regarding southern Lebanon, let me say that there seems to be considerable movement and discussion on this topic, and that tomorrow in Geneva I will be meeting Foreign Minister Levy of Israel to discuss this specific issue. I cannot say anything about it until after the meeting, but I think there is some movement on your issue.
Question: Some of the points mentioned, particularly regarding the reduction of poverty, education and so forth, have come out of conferences and have been a goal of the United Nations for quite a few years. Do you have any reason to hope they will be accelerated and more resources will be donated for them at the Millennium Assembly?
The Secretary-General: I hope so. We are now meeting at the highest level, and we have heads of State or government coming here, and I hope they will commit themselves. Those from the developing countries will commit themselves to the programme of poverty alleviation, education for the young, education for young girls, in particular. I hope those from the North will also buy in and agree to support the developing countries in moving in this direction.
I think we need to accept that the sort of inequality and exclusion we are seeing in the world as globalization rolls along is not going to be sustainable in the long term. We need to pool our efforts and do something about it. I hope the heads of State or government coming here will agree with me and will find the inspiration to do something about this problem.
Question: Quite a number of parties have been expressing fear about a unilateral withdrawal by Israel from southern Lebanon. Of course, this is where the United Nations is involved with troops. Have you in mind to discuss this with Mr. Levy and encourage him that it should be through a negotiated settlement, that you might not be able to really do it, you are worried about your troops in southern Lebanon? Or do you think you have enough contingency plans for an implementation of Security Council resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978) without any concern? And what is your assessment of the post-Geneva summit between Mr. Assad and Mr. Clinton? Do you share the view that it was a failure, or do you still hope there will be solution?
The Secretary-General: I have said in this room several times that I would prefer to see withdrawal from southern Lebanon be part of an agreement on the broader front -- that is, Israel, Syria, Lebanon. Given what happened in Geneva between President Assad and President Clinton, it looks as if there is a hitch on the Syrian-Israeli track. I refer to it as a hitch, because I hope it will be possible to unblock it and move forward, to resolve the differences and sign a peace agreement between the two countries. But the Israeli authorities have made it quite clear that, with or without that agreement, they intend to withdraw from southern Lebanon by July at the latest. I expect I will hear more from Foreign Minister Levy when I meet him tomorrow in Geneva.
If they have to withdraw, you are right, the United Nations troops are on the ground, and we have resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978), which give the Secretary-General certain responsibilities for implementing the resolutions. I think we will have to talk with the parties and see how we carry out our responsibilities. But we do have responsibilities under the resolutions.
Question: As a follow-up: In the case of a unilateral withdrawal, are you worried about the consequences in southern Lebanon and particularly for the United Nations troops?
The Secretary-General: Well, if the withdrawal comes outside a broader agreement, obviously it is not an ideal situation. But in this world we do not always deal with just the ideal situations. We will have to cope with it.
Question: How would you describe the current state of United States/United Nations relations? And would you care to comment about the unprecedented visit of the Security Council to Washington last week?
The Secretary-General: You had an expression on your face that made me wonder if you expected me to say, "It is now a love affair."
I think things are improving. I think the exchange of visits has been healthy, and I think they should continue. I think the message is important that we may have had our difficulties, but let's get together and work it out, let's get together and find a way of working together. And I think that is great.
I was not there, but from what I have heard the visit went extremely well.
Question: I was wondering whether you had been in contact with any officials from the Japanese Government following the unfortunate stroke that Prime Minister Obuchi has suffered.
The Secretary-General: I have not. I have not been in touch with any Japanese officials, but I am monitoring the situation very carefully. And, of course, I am anxious about the condition of Prime Minister Obuchi, who is a man I have got to know quite well over the years, first in his capacity as Foreign Minister, and then as Prime Minister. He is a great conciliator, I consider him a friend, and I wish him well and a speedy recovery so that he can come back and continue his strenuous efforts to push the Japanese economy out of recession. I think he has done a great job, and I hope he will be able to provide many more years of leadership.
Question: The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone seems to be heading in similar directions to those taken by UNITA in Angola during the disarmament. While the peace process was going on, UNITA was re-arming and resisting disarmament. Now the RUF is doing the same thing. Do you have any concerns at all that this peace process is not going to work, just as it did not work in Angola?
The Secretary-General: I hope we do not repeat the experience of Angola. We are pressing to get in all the troops as quickly as we can. I hope by the end of June or July we will have the full force in -- a force of 11,000 -- with capacity to carry out its mandate, defend its mandate and carry out its work. Efforts are also being made to get Foday Sankoh and the Revolutionary United Front to understand their responsibility under the agreement. We are determined to move ahead and implement the agreement. I appeal to all Sierra Leoneans -- whether they are with the Government or with the RUF or other groups -- to work with us in bringing peace and stability to their country. The people want it, they need it, and they are tired of the senseless war.
Question (spoken in French): The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo seems to have increased in intensity, even though the warring parties are deeply engaged in the peace process. Might it not be considered that the United Nations has been particularly slow in the field? Could you tell us when the troops will be arriving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
The Secretary-General (spoken in French): First of all, I think it is essential to accept the fact that the people who signed the Agreement must support not only the United Nations, but also each other in implementing the Agreement. Right now, I am not convinced that those who signed the Agreement are prepared to respect it. United Nations troops will be in the field to help them to deploy their forces and to respect the Agreement they signed. If the parties concerned are not prepared to do that, then the United Nations must not be blamed.
I believe the United Nations has done everything in its power. Mr. Miyet just returned from the region yesterday. He was in the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. He was given promises, but then some days later the war began. What can a peacekeeping force, that is there to observe the deployment of troops, do under those conditions?
Question (spoken in French): [inaudible] United Nations troops have not yet arrived in the field. You say you are not convinced. But it is true that the Ceasefire Agreement was signed in July of last year ...
The Secretary-General (spoken in French): If the people who signed the ceasefire are prepared to implement it, and if they are really serious, then it is possible to do so even without people there to observe it. If those people are really serious, we are prepared to help them deploy troops. But, simply put, if they are serious, what explains the fact that the war goes on?
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