TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN
AT HEADQUARTERS, 22 MARCH 2001
The Secretary-General: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am here mainly to answer your questions, but let me start by mentioning three or four things that are particularly on my mind.
My most immediate concern is the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is very serious. If it is not brought under control, it could destabilize the entire region.
What is more important is that the whole international community has come together to reaffirm the unity and territorial integrity of the Republic. Even those who have taken up arms against it accept that. They should understand that the methods they have chosen are neither an acceptable nor a credible route by which to reach their stated objective of better representation for their community within Macedonian institutions.
They should heed the call of the Security Council, which yesterday unanimously condemned extremist violence, including terrorist activities, and appealed for dialogue among all legitimate parties.
No less worrying is the situation in the Middle East, where I shall be going next week to attend the Arab summit. There, too, it is important for all to understand that there is no solution to be found in violence and no sense in postponing the day when they return to the negotiating table.
There is actually somewhat better news coming from Africa. The peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia is being implemented, and there is now a much more hopeful atmosphere in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a good prospect that we shall at last be able to deploy our observer force.
Of course, the continent still faces the most daunting social and economic problems, of which HIV/AIDS is the most dramatic. But I believe African leaders and the whole international community, including the pharmaceutical companies, are at last beginning to respond in a way that fits the urgency of the situation.
But we must not forget that Africa’s underlying problem is extreme poverty, or that the most hopeful route out of poverty for all countries is through trade and investment.
That is why I was so pleased by the European Union’s decision to remove tariffs and quotas on all products [except arms] coming from the 48 least developed countries. I still hope that other industrialized countries will follow this lead in time for the May conference on Least Developed Countries in Brussels.
That would be an important first step, but the real difference could come with the World Trade [Organization] meeting in Qatar. The developing countries must go there well prepared to defend their interests, and to insist on a true “development round” of trade negotiations, focusing on giving free access to their products.
Finally, there is another matter on my mind, which I know you are all keen to ask me about. For some time, in fact, you and others have been asking me whether I would be prepared to serve a second term as Secretary-General, and I promised to give you an answer in the course of this month.
Indeed, I have been touched and gratified by the numerous expressions of encouragement and support I have received from many governments -- most particularly from the African Group, whose Permanent Representatives last week issued a public appeal for me to stay on.
It has not been an easy issue for me to consider. On the one hand, I have devoted most of my professional life to advancing the values and work of the United Nations, which I firmly believe embodies humanity’s highest aspirations. I am also sensitive to the call of duty; And I am inspired every day by the sacrifices made by the staff of the United Nations -- particularly those in the field, in peacekeeping missions or refugees camps -- on behalf of peoples we serve. Whatever I achieve, or hope to achieve, as Secretary-General can come about only thanks to their dedication.
On the other hand, I had to ask myself, am I willing and able to do this job for five more years, with the same level of energy and commitment I have brought to it during the last four? This has been a very demanding and challenging responsibility to carry, which inevitably has made exhausting claims on my family and my personal life.
After careful thought and close consultation with my family and my wife Nane, who has been my strongest support in times both good and bad, I am pleased to tell you today that my answer is yes. If the Member States decide to offer me a second term as Secretary-General, I shall be deeply honoured to accept.
There is a great deal still to be done to make the United Nations, this indispensable organization, into an effective instrument humanity needs, in this new century, to fulfil the hopes for peace, development and human rights. If asked, I am ready to serve. Thank you very much. I will now take your questions.
Question: Sir, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), I welcome you to this briefing. The first question we would like to know is what kind of reaction did you get from the Permanent Five [P-5] members of the Security Council to your plans for a second term?
The Secretary-General: I think I will leave the P-5 and others to speak for themselves. They have very effective and active ambassadors here and so I will let them speak for themselves. But I have worked well with them for the past four years and I think we get on very well.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, why do you think you deserve a second term?
The Secretary-General: I don’t know if the question is one of deserving. As I said first of all, it will be up to the Member States to decide. But I think over the past four years I have done my best to bring new energy to this organization. I have pursued aggressively a reform programme; and have worked with the Member States to define a new agenda for the United Nations, and I think the Millennium Declaration is something we can all be proud of. I have also opened up the Organization to the peoples at large and the private sector, arguing that the United Nations cannot tackle some of the issues we are dealing with alone, and that we need to work in partnership with all stakeholders. There are other things I have done that you all know about. I don’t think we have time -- that is another press conference, another debate.
Question: As you know, there has been some concern expressed from Asian and Eastern European quarters that if you get the second term, Africa will hold the top job here at the United Nations for 15 years in a row. I am wondering if you could address that. And given that your supporters make the argument that you are the right man for the job and that it should go to the man with the necessary skills, in the future could we see a United Nations where all jobs are given out on a meritocratic basis rather than having to rotate between regions, as often happens with other jobs lower down in the structure?
The Secretary-General: I think we should try and do as much as we can on merit, and in my own recruitment and appointment of colleagues I have tried to go for merit. But going for merit does not mean that you cannot find them all around the world. So the principle of appointing staff on as broad a geographical basis as possible is acceptable, but that does not mean that you have to look for mediocrity. You can find good people all around the world.
I think on the question of whether a Secretary-General from a particular region should do only two terms -- or a particular region should be offered two terms -- is something that the Member States will have to decide. But when you look back into the history of this organization, that has not always been the case. When you look at the history you will discover that Trygve Lie, Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim did not follow this sort of pattern that we are discussing here today, and I hope the Member States, in making their judgement, will make the wise and the right judgement.
Question: Getting back to the question of a candidate from Asia, did you speak to a member of the region in your deliberations, and did that affect your decision to make yourself available for a second term at all?
The Secretary-General: I have been approached by a permanent representative from Asia -- I am sorry, I did not answer that question -- but not on the basis of whether they are going to put up a candidate -- nor have I gone to them to plead for support. I think that I have worked well with them, they know what I am capable of. I know that there have been some possible questions that there may be Asian candidates coming up, which is also normal and natural -- the world is full of people who are ready to take on challenges of this kind, and I would not be surprised if other candidates come up. Then it would be up to the Member States to decide. I am not particularly concerned about other candidates coming up. I think it is in the normal scheme of things.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you have logged more miles and visited more countries than all your predecessors involved …
Secretary-General: You’ve been keeping score, have you, and checked their record too…?
Question: Do you think this organization might be effectively run with a some-time absentee Secretary-General? That is my first question. The second question is: what’s going on in Cyprus? Do you have any rapprochement?
The Secretary-General: On your first question, you seem to imply that the world is very sedentary; it was the sedentary world that we knew 100 years ago, without communication, without ability, to stay in touch wherever you are. In fact, those who travel with me are often amazed; they think I work several shifts because not only am I doing what I’m on the ground to do, but my Office travels with me and I’m in touch with New York all the time. I think modern communication, my dear man, has changed our lives.
On Cyprus, my Special Representative is in touch with the Cypriot [parties], both Greek and Turkish, and also with the Turkish authorities and the Greek authorities. My good offices are still open. We are in touch with the parties, and I hope, in the not-too-distant future, we will have some indication as to when we will have another round.
Question: The Security Council is weighing whether to send observer forces to the Middle East. Given the fact that Israel has clarified that it will not accept such force, is it your view that this makes the United Nations an effective instrument if such forces will be decided on?
The Secretary-General: Yesterday I met Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and he reaffirmed to me his Government’s position that they will not accept an observer force. The Council is still in deliberation and I don’t know what final decisions it will take, but you are right, they are discussing this issue. Of course, for any force to go in, it would need the cooperation of both parties to be effective. If it does not get the cooperation, the question is should it go in, and if it does, what can it do?
Question: You said that your wife is one of your strongest supporters. How did she react to your decision to continue? My second question is regarding [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia. Do you see any difference in the role of the United Nations and [Carl] Bildt and others working in the whole region?
The Secretary-General: To the first question. She says she would support me. I shouldn’t say more than that.
As to the second question, I think Carl Bildt [Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Balkans] has been very active working in the region with other organizations –- with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the governments trying to coordinate the international efforts and for us to come up with the same message and pool our efforts. He will continue his efforts; in fact, yesterday the Deputy Secretary-General joined him and others in Brussels, for a meeting where some of these issues were discussed, and I expect Carl Bildt to continue his efforts in the region.
Question: One point of clarification first. You did mention the five years when you were considering whether you wanted to do this for another five years. Have you and Mrs. Annan or your staff discussed the possibility of a shorter term when you are ready to run again? Do you have in mind the possibility of a shorter term, or are you seeking the full term?
My second question is with regarding your trip to the Arab summit. You know that there is a lot of disappointment in the Arab world, with where the United Nations has not been active enough, not forthcoming enough in the point of view of many Arabs on the issue of the Palestinians. Are you ready to really take a clear position in holding Israel responsible as an occupying Power for whatever it is doing in the occupied territories, and not only the economic side? This is an occupying Power, and there is the Fourth Geneva Convention and Israel is violating that. As Secretary-General, can you take a position [inaudible] going to the summit?
The Secretary-General: I think on your first question, the procedure here has been five-year terms, and the next term, I think, will be the same as it’s always been, unless the Member State decide to change the duration of terms.
On your second question, I think the United Nations has been quite clear, and I think the Council and myself have been very active in getting the message across that there has to be an easing of the economic sanctions against the Palestinians. There has to be a return to the negotiating table. The violence must stop, and both parties must work in accordance with the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement to bring the violence to an end. The United Nations has always been there from the resolutions which are often quoted. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) which are the basis for the discussions, are United Nations resolutions and I think that recently the United Nations has also been physically actively involved in the search for peace in the Middle East, and we will continue to do that. I will continue to make my good offices available to the parties to the conflict and work with others concerned to try and bring the parties to the table.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you mentioned Macedonia – you met a Macedonia representative. Have you talked with any other high officials from Skopje, President Rakovsky maybe, and what do you really make of all these recent developments? How dangerous is this for the regional security?
The Secretary-General: You may recall that the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was here –- I think it was a week ago or 10 days ago -- to see us. I had a long discussion with him as well as with other leaders in Europe, including the NATO Secretary-General, and I think, as I implied in one of my earlier answers, there is a concern that if we do not bring this under control it can have an impact on the regional stability and it may draw in other countries and spill over in a manner that we would not want to see.
Question: We know you are heading to Washington tomorrow to meet with President Bush and Secretary of State Powell. It has already been said around here that you have a good working relationship with the Secretary. Can you tell me how much, for example, the decision in Washington to pay America's dues and the fact that there is a new Administration that you can seemingly do business with, how has this affected your decision to run again?
The Secretary-General: Yes, I will be going to Washington tomorrow night to see the President, Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Obviously, it is always helpful when you are looking at these things, you don't look at them in isolation. You have to consider your relationship with governments, with Member States, how well you work with them, how well you are likely to work with them, how much support you are going to get from them and what sort of cooperation. All these factors do come in, and once you are certain that you will get the cooperation from the Member States to make your work meaningful and your life liveable, then of course you will be ready to take your decision. And so these factors are important elements in a decision of this kind.
Question: Do you think your life would be more liveable if the United States paid its dues?
The Secretary-General: I think not only my life, the Member States will be very happy too, particularly those we owe.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you have spoken about the things that you think that you have accomplished during your first term. Could you tell us what you saw as the failures of your first term and the challenges -- the major challenges -- that you would see in a second term and, as a quick follow-up to Linda's question, could you give us some idea of the agenda that you have for the talks tomorrow with President Bush?
The Secretary-General: I think it is always difficult for one to talk about one's achievements, and to talk about one’s self, but I think on the negative side of what we have not been able to do, I had hoped that at this stage in the game we would have got all the support we need for the peacekeeping operations and that we would have been able to do much better in places like Sierra Leone and succeed in a faster manner, but of course that requires will and resources. We are now determined, based on the Brahimi report, to work with the Member States to strengthen the operations and to give it the backing and the resources that it needs, and I hope the Member States will be with us. Now that we are re-engaged again, or beginning to re-engage in peacekeeping, we cannot afford to have the failures of the past. That is why I am quite keen to get the operations in shipshape.
On the question of what I hope to achieve in the next term, I think this is an organization of States and, as I indicated earlier, we now luckily have an agenda which places the fight against poverty at the top of the agenda, respect for the environment, the issue of girls' education and, of course, we have the peacekeeping operations which I referred to. But I think, for the first time in many years, we have a clear agenda which the Member States have set which I intend to follow aggressively during my next term working, with Member States, of course, because they have work to do too.
As to the agenda for tomorrow, obviously there are many issues and many trouble spots of common interest from the Middle East to the Balkans, to the Congo. We will discuss the United States-United Nations relationship, including the budget and the recent agreement on the scale of assessment and the payments due from the United States, and there will be many other issues which, I am sure, we will raise.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, there has been a lot of criticism against you about job discrimination within the United Nations system, particularly the section on race in a report published recently. Could you give us, during your first term, since you are seeking a second term, could you give us an accountability of recruitment and promotion within the United Nations system, particularly from the African continent and also for gender discrimination? Since you are looking for a second term, we would be happy if you could give a full account, with the help of the Department of Information, about promotion -- as I said -- and recruitment within the African continent?
The Secretary-General: We have a very open and transparent system for recruitment and promotion. I have tried to improve gender equality and to bring as many women on board as possible. And I think we have done quite well in the last couple of years. We cannot say it is perfect; there is much more to be done, and we will continue on that path.
In answering an earlier question I indicated that we try to recruit on as broad a geographical basis as possible, and for the junior levels we have an entry exam, where people take exams to get in. And of course we have the transparent promotions procedure, where the appointment and promotion committees review all candidates and make recommendations. I am aware of some accusations that there is racism in the Secretariat in terms of appointment and recruitment, and in fact the General Assembly did ask us to look into it in 1999; and we did set up a group to look into it, and they did not come up with the kind of accusations you are implying here. But, of course, we will be vigilant: if there are elements of racism and gender mistreatment or harassment, we will act very firmly and without pity.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, in your tasks for the next five years you mentioned a number of issues. You did not mention one issue that has been languishing, and that is Security Council reform. I wonder: in the next five years, how do you see that playing out? What do you see as the eventual outcome? And what will you do specifically to allay the fears of certain nations within the United Nations system that there is not equal representation within that body?
The Secretary-General: I did not mention Security Council reform, not because I thought it was not important but because it is something that the Member States will have to resolve themselves. But I support Security Council reform, and I hope that the Member States will find a way of moving that issue forward. My own hope is that the Security Council reform –- or lack of reform –- does not drag on indefinitely. I would hope that the Member States will organize themselves and find a way of dealing with that issue definitively within the next two years. I will do whatever I can to encourage and support, but it is their decision.
Question (spoke in French): The criticism we hear most often is that Africa is forgotten a great deal. Even if there are Security Council meetings, they never lead to anything. You will now have five more years to see to it, I hope, the African Group and that Africans will be more listened to. How will you do this? Secondly, have you had a taste for power now?
The Secretary-General (spoke in French): On the first question, I think that the Africans today realize that the United Nations and the Security Council are getting more involved in African problems. Today there are four peacekeeping operations in Africa. After the Somalia experience, the United Nations had almost left Africa in terms of peacekeeping operations. And economically and socially and in the campaign against AIDS, the United Nations is there with them. We are compelling pharmaceutical companies to help them and governments and donor countries to help. So Africa is not forgotten. I hope that five years from now they will realize that the United Nations is there for them, and that it is their organization.
Regarding the second question, I shall answer in English.
(spoke in English): I think you guys did not get what she said: “Are you beginning to love and enjoy power?” First of all, I am not sure that there is that much power, in that sense, in this position. And also, when I think of power and people in authority I am often reminded of Pope John Paul I, who once said that people in power remind him of his days as a young Bishop in Italy: he used to watch the boys play soccer in the courtyard. When the ball was inflated and full of air, they rushed and kicked it, as if they had the right to kick it. When the ball was deflated and without air, they lost all interest and walked away. He said that this is the lot of those in power, so do not be envious. So I am very realistic about this position. What it brings, how it can distort and what happens when you walk away from it. It has not gone to my head, if that is what you are implying.
Question: Regarding your recent visit to South Asia: on that visit, most of the consultations were on Afghanistan, but there is another issue, the 53-year-old Kashmir issue. You even refused to meet a group of Kashmiri people during your visit. What was the reason? Second, during your meeting with the representatives of the Taliban, did you conceive any idea that this problem can be solved? Are they ready to do something with the Osama [Bin Laden] issue in future and related to a seat -- recognition in the United Nations?
The Secretary-General: On your first question, I did have lots of discussions on the relationship between India and Pakistan. We also did discuss Kashmir. I encouraged both countries to come together and discuss their differences, and resolve their issues at the negotiating table -– in the spirit of Lahore and Simla if you wish —- and that they should focus on coming together. There were references to the United Nations resolutions, which are important because once the resolutions are passed they are there. But they are not self-implementing, as I said; in the end, the parties have to come together to talk, to resolve the issue.
I went on a very quick trip. It was very charged; those who were with me on the trip knew that. I did not have time to see all who would have wished to see me. Lots of people wanted to see me.
On the question of the Taliban, I did not get into the question of their representation at the United Nations and whether they will get a seat here. That is something that the Member States will have to discuss. I did talk to them about the destruction of the Buddha statues, which is world heritage they should not have. I also spoke to them about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the refugee situation on the Pakistan border.
I discussed with the Pakistani Chief Executive measures to protect and help the refugees in Pakistan while we take measures to help those within Afghanistan.
On the question of the destruction of the statues, I must say I was quite surprised as to the way the Taliban saw it. They were so set about the righteousness of their decision that one could simply not move them. I think it is a great tragedy and a great shame that they went ahead and destroyed the statues in Bamiyan.
Question: About the Osama [Bin Laden] issue, have you discussed anything with them?
The Secretary-General: It came up, but I do not want to go into that.
Question: Before, you mentioned the possibility that, even if Israel is opposed to the observers in the territories, should the United Nations come out with some kind of resolution then it should be studied how and what to do. Could you be more specific? Because if I am not wrong, in December, when there was the first proposal and vote on the peace corps, you had said that, given the opposition of Israel, there was no way that anybody could go in.
The Secretary-General: Sorry, I am not sure I got you. What I had said earlier was that the Council is still discussing this issue of whether to demand that observers go in or not. I do not know what the final outcome of their discussions will be.
Question: Right, but then, should there be any indication, any passing of the resolution, then it should still be open to be discussed how to go in and what to do?
The Secretary-General: If the Council were to decide that observers should be deployed, then the question will be: How do you get them in? What is the attitude of both parties? What will be the attitude of troop-contributing countries? And so forth and so forth. But we are not there yet, because I have not seen the resolution.
Question: Even though Israel is against it?
The Secretary-General: I think I answered that question: that you need the cooperation of both parties, and without the cooperation of both parties you have a real difficulty.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, I remember you mentioned two years ago that some restrictions should be imposed on the veto power of the permanent five and that the Security Council should be enlarged. Do you still support that idea?
The second question is, do you plan to go to North Korea before the end of this year? If so, what kind of role do you think you can play there, other than a humanitarian aspect?
The Secretary-General: Let me start with the second question. No, I have no plans to go to North Korea before the end of this year.
On your first question, let me say that the idea of proscribing the use of the veto is something that was discussed as part of the general reform, and, again, it is up to the Member States to decide that; it is not my decision.
Question: My colleague from the other waiting position country for the Security Council already asked your opinion, your forecasting opinion, so there is just one question left. In general terms, what might be your grade of optimism regarding the peace process in the Middle East? Did it increase or decrease after the talks with Sharon?
The Secretary-General: Do you have a crystal ball for me? Let me say that, obviously, there is a new Government in Israel and a new administration in Washington. The new Government in Israel is also trying to define its own policies and direction. Of course, Chairman Arafat has indicated that he is prepared to go to the negotiating table, but where they left off in Taba. Prime Minister Sharon has indicated that it has to be based on agreed signed agreements and therefore you already have a gap there which will have to be resolved when they come back to the table. But what is important is that both are talking about political process, about resuming talks. How soon they will get to the table, I cannot tell. Even though I am in touch with both parties, it is a bit early yet to say. Would it be easier, would the process go faster? It is difficult to say. But I will wait until they get to the table and see how they begin before I answer your question.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, a follow-up on the Middle East. The United Nations seems to be coming back, if you will, on the Middle East map, with the
Israelis showing an increasing desire to bring the United Nations in. Did you discuss with Prime Minister Sharon the kind of role the Israelis foresee for the United Nations and for yourself in the peace process? And did you hear from him any intention to restart the peace talks from the point they were left off?
The Secretary-General: Yes, indeed, they are working with us -- just us. We are working with Chairman Arafat and the other party. We did not define or discuss what role he would want to see the United Nations play. But he was aware that my good offices are available, as they have been in the past, and he indicated willingness to work with me on the Middle East issue.
On your second question, remind me of that again.
Question: Has Sharon made clear his intention to resume the talks from where they left off?
The Secretary-General: Not where they left off. I dealt with that earlier
-- this is where there is a bit of a difference. Here, let me be clear: before Prime Minister Barak left office, he wrote to me and to other leaders around the world to state that the proposals that were on the table in Taba were no longer on the table. You will also recall that Prime Minister Sharon believes that they will start off and build on agreements which are signed, which will mean that there is a discrepancy between his perception of where the talks would begin and Chairman Arafat’s perception of beginning from Taba, because in Taba they did not sign a document.
Question: Which agreements do you mean -- Oslo, for example?
The Secretary-General: Oslo, for example, or Wye -- I think there was a document.
Question: Will Iraq be settled five years from now?
The Secretary-General: I hope so, I hope so. You will have to help me; we should all work to resolve it. I hope so.
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