TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN
ON HIS REFORM REPORT AT HEADQUARTERS, 23 SEPTEMBER
The Secretary-General: Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I think most of you know that one of my chief aims, ever since I took over as Secretary-General, has been to make the United Nations more useful –- to its Member States and to the peoples of the world -– by making it more efficient and effective. And I always say that, in order to do that, we must be prepared to change with the times -– constantly adjusting to new conditions and new needs.
That was the objective of my Reform Report that I introduced in my first year, and subsequent initiatives -– and it is the object of the new Report, which I am publishing today.
The object is not to reduce the budget, or to respond to any pressures or conditions imposed from the outside. It is my own initiative, and I am making it because -– like the heads of State and government who adopted the Millennium Declaration two years ago -– I intend to “spare no effort to make the United Nations a more effective instrument” for pursuing the priorities that Member States have set.
This new set of changes will build on the improvements we’ve already achieved. The United Nations has changed a lot in the last five years. But the world continues to change, and we must change with it.
What I am putting before you today is a package of very pragmatic improvements. Taken individually they may not strike you as very dramatic. But taken together, they amount to a very different way of doing business. If all of them are successfully implemented, we may really begin to feel that this Organization is up to the job the world has given it.
Let me mention just a few of the proposals I am making:
-- First, a thorough review of our work programme -– to make sure we are doing what matters, and not wasting time or money on out-of-date or irrelevant tasks.
-- Second, more detailed proposals for improving our performance in the areas of human rights and public information. In particular, our network of United Nations information centres is going to be reorganized around regional hubs, starting with Western Europe.
-- Third, a reduction in the number of meetings, and of reports that the Secretariat has to produce. I think we can help the General Assembly and the other decision-making bodies to do a much better job if we concentrate our efforts in fewer reports and meetings, and avoid duplication.
-- Fourth, some important changes in our budget and planning system. At the moment we have three different processes, covering different time scales, and there are three different oversight and review mechanisms. This is unnecessarily complex and labour-intensive.
-- Fifth, I am proposing a review aimed at finding better ways to organize relations between the United Nations and civil society, in all its aspects. For this I shall appoint an independent panel, composed of people from different backgrounds –- governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutions, parliaments, and so on –- as well as from different regions of the world.
-- And finally there are proposals aimed at making life better and more rewarding for our staff, as well as further improving their quality and performance -– notably by making it easier for them to move, between locations, between functions, and indeed between organizations.
Let me stress that this is an agenda for change. It will take time to implement. And while I can and will make some of the changes on my own authority, there are many that will require the approval of the General Assembly. The whole package will only work if it is enthusiastically supported –- by the staff, by governments, and by the general public.
That’s why I am anxious to come and present it to you in person –- and why I shall now be happy to answer your questions.
Question: My first question has to do with something very close to the press’s heart: the DPI [Department of Public Information]. Would you elaborate on your plan for rationalizing the information centres, starting with Western Europe? For example, would that mean that there would be a single hub in Vienna, Geneva or some place, and that all the other national centres would be closed?
The Secretary-General: What we intend to do is to take a look at our operations around the world and, as I said, beginning with Western Europe, try and see to what extent we can restructure –- as we have offices in many countries -– and develop a regional hub that will link up with the region. At that regional hub, we will have the critical mass of talented people who can work with the region, using information technology and ensuring that we do get our message out. We do not believe that the current system, where we have one or two persons in small offices dotted around the world, is doing the job. Regrouping them and having a critical mass, I think, will make much better sense. That is the direction in which we will be moving.
Question (interpretation from French): For some time now, we have seen many documents and reports issued mainly in English. In recent years, we have found that they have all been in English. First, in the context of the reorganization, do you think that we will have more documents in French, which is, after all, the second language of the Organization? Secondly, do you intend to attend the Francophonie summit in Beirut in October?
The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): On the first question, we have a duty to produce documents in the two working languages, English and French. If we are occasionally unable to issue them on time, it is not that we do not want to, but that we are under pressure. We will do our best, however. We must produce these documents in both languages. I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues and DPI in saying that we will do our level best to issue them in both languages.
As for the Francophonie summit, I have been invited. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend because my schedule is very full and I have a longstanding commitment on that date. I will be represented there by our Deputy Secretary-General.
Question: Activists and non-governmental organizations have been telling The Final Call of two areas of their concern along the same lines. The first concerns print-by-demand, which means that hard-copy reports will now be limited to 16 pages and on-demand. Basically, reports will have to be accessed electronically. Secondly, there is an accusation on the table by some activists and non-governmental organizations that the whole issue of conferences could begin to reflect what they feel is a lack of access to the United Nations. In other words, maybe Western Europe and North America get most of the conferences, while the third world would not. Could you respond to that?
The Secretary-General: I think, on your first question, what we are trying to do is to take full advantage of information technology to expand our capacity by having material on the Web that individuals can access. In those cases where they would want to have a hard copy, they have access to it. We are not depriving them. They can download it or it can be available. And so we are looking after both groups: those who are comfortable with electronics and those who are not.
As far as the conferences are concerned, let me say that we have gone through a whole series of conferences in the past decade and they have made a major contribution to our understanding of economic and social development, to our ability to mobilize the public, to protect the environment on our planet, and to population and women’s issues. So the conferences have really made a difference, not only for this Organization, but for peoples around the world.
When we talk of fewer conferences or of doing business differently, we are saying not that conferences are obsolete and should be abandoned, but that there could be other ways of organizing them. Take, for example, the approach we took with the Millennium Summit, where the Secretariat produced a document six months ahead of the conference and the Member States, using that as a document de base, produced the Millennium Declaration. It was a much smoother process, rather than having a committee of sometimes 60 countries or more drafting a document in a room. That becomes a very complex process and leads to very contentious discussions and, in the end, you come up with a document which is really an agreement on the lowest common denominator and does not always do the job that it is intended to do. I am not saying that we are going that way, but I am trying to explain that we can do it differently and we can do it better.
We are not saying that we should not meet. This is our business. We bring people together, we dialogue, we gain from the exchanges and, I am sure, the Organization will continue to do that. But I believe we can do it better.
Question: From my understanding, there is a strong link between the reform of the United Nations and the situation now in Palestine. Let me try to put my question in order.
While you are talking about the good will of the two sides in the Middle East, at the same time the Sharon Government is destroying the Palestinian Authority from the roof to the basement, and while the President of the hyper-Power is warning that he will use a new kind of international weapon –- a pre-emptive attack with or without the green light of the Security Council –- are you not afraid that your reforms will be merely cosmetic? In other words, are you not afraid that the United Nations will sooner or later face the same fate as the League of Nations?
The Secretary-General: We will take your question under the rubric of the Middle East.
Question: Some of the language that you use in the report, specifically as it relates to the intergovernmental organs –- the Security Council and the General Assembly –- is not particularly rosy. You talk about a diminishing Assembly and an eroding Security Council. I wonder -– to borrow some language from across the hallway –- to what extent you think that this Organization is really facing an existential threat. And if you can answer that in the context of the debate that is happening in some capitals about Iraq, I would appreciate it.
The Secretary-General: I think that what we should do is take several Iraqi or Middle East questions together, because we are likely to have repetition.
Let me start with your question. I think that the language in the report is a bit forthright about some of the intergovernmental processes, about what needs to be done to strengthen and improve human rights, because I think it is important that we identify the problems clearly and frankly so that we can begin to do something about them. That is why I have chosen to use that straightforward language, and I am sure it will be appreciated by those who want to strengthen the institutions that are concerned and those who want to see this Organization become more effective and more efficient. I hope that they will also see it as a challenge for all of us to roll up our sleeves and make sure that we do what needs to be done to strengthen those processes and institutions.
I think it is a bit overstated when people say that the United Nations is facing an existential problem and that it will go the route of the League of Nations. We are nowhere near that, and we should not really oversell that point.
Question: How can we talk about democracy in the United Nations when the will of one country can prevail over the will over 190 other countries? I am talking about the Security Council and the veto, etc.
The Secretary-General: I think the system at the United Nations, whether in the Council or the General Assembly, is reasonably democratic. If one country prevails in a group of 15, then the other 14 have agreed with it. A veto can block a decision; it cannot make a decision. To make a decision, you need nine votes, and other members have to go along with you. So if one country gets its way, then others have voted or acquiesced.
Question: I was very surprised to see only three paragraphs dedicated to the reform of the Security Council in your report. What is really being done to make this reform a reality?
The Secretary-General: Security Council reform is basically a matter for the Member States, and in my report I urged them to move ahead, indicating that the reform of the United Nations will not be complete without the reform of the Security Council. So it was an exhortation for the Member States to move ahead; it was not my responsibility to put out proposals for reform of the Security Council. That is why it appeared like that.
Question: Only last week, Iraq said that it would offer unconditional acceptance of weapons inspectors. Now we are hearing that Iraq says that it will not abide by any new Security Council resolution, but only by the agreement that it made with you. Have they notified you formally of any change in their policy, and are you in contact with them?
The Secretary-General: I have had no notification from them. The only communication I have is a letter released to the Security Council last week. The Council, of course, is free to adopt any resolution that it wants. We, as the Secretariat, and UNMOVIC [the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission], will be guided by the guidance of the Council and any new resolutions the Council adopts, and so should Iraq.
Question: Over the weekend there were indications from the Israeli Government that it will engage in the military operations -- should they happen -- against Iraq, and that they will not stand by, in the name of sovereignty and taking care of national security. I am wondering how dangerous that is in your mind, given the fact that Israel is, just like Iraq, a country that has not implemented resolutions, one of which the Security Council adopted unanimously, and several of which are in the peace plan for Arab-Israeli coexistence. Are we having a double standard here, and how worried are you about Israel coming in?
The Secretary-General: I do not want to be drawn into the question of whether, if Iraq attacks Israel, they would respond, because even on the question of what happens –- a military operation in Iraq -- the President maintains that no decision has been taken. So I do not want to move into speculative areas.
But let me say that the point you raised about double standards is something that has dogged the United Nations for a long time. I do not think I have given a press conference in the Middle East or to a Middle Eastern journalist where the question of double standards has not come up. This is an issue that, as an Organization and as a Council, is a tough one to deal with. This question comes up often, and I hope that the work that the Quartet and the Council will do will be able to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue once and for all and put this issue behind us. But it is tough...
Question: But these are different times, Mr. Secretary-General; this is not business as usual. We are talking about a country that has been defying resolutions from one point of view and that may require a major military strike, and another country that goes absolved, with a blind eye turned to its rejection of resolutions. These are not times as usual.
The Secretary-General: I am not indicating that these are times are usual. As I have said, it is a point that has been raised many times, with me and with other United Nations officials, and it is something that the Council itself is conscious of.
Question: You helped draft, compose, negotiate the letter that allowed inspectors back into Iraq. What is your understanding of what that letter means when it comes to the “go anywhere, go any time, unfettered access” that the United States is pushing for. They say there should be no sanctuaries. Does this mean that the presidential sites memorandum which you also helped draft should be honoured? What is your interpretation of that document?
The Secretary-General: I think what is important is that we advised the Iraqis not to hedge their acceptance of the return of the inspectors, that it has to be clear that they are going back without conditions and that they will cooperate with them to do their work, and also indicated that they were prepared to start discussions on practical arrangements. So as far as I see it, it is a commitment by Iraq for the inspectors to go in and inspect and get their work done in an unimpeded manner, and report to the Council.
I have heard reports since then, and also the statement in the Council. But we have nothing in writing. The only thing we have in writing is the letter which was given to me on Friday. As I indicated earlier, the Council is in the process of discussing a new resolution. If it does adopt a new resolution it will guide the work of UNMOVIC, and it should also demand Iraq’s implementation, because it will be under Chapter VII -– it would be a Chapter VII resolution.
Question: To follow up on the 1998 memo, did that memo come in your discussion with the Iraqis when you advised them on the letter? In other words, was this a point of discussion? In the same question, can you tell us what you heard from the Bush Administration since the announcement from the Iraqis last week? Because there seems to be a certain amount of tension between you and the White House, as you appear to be leading the world in a direction that they perhaps they had not wanted.
The Secretary-General: No, that letter did not come up in discussions; that agreement did not come up. We were stressing the implementation of Security Council resolutions and obligations of Iraq to honour. We did not get into sensitive sites or presidential sites.
On the second question, I have read some interesting speculations in the press that there are tensions and difficulties between me and Washington and senior officials in Washington. Let me say that I am dealing with very experienced senior people who realize that they have a role, and I have my role. I think everybody understands that there must be a reason why I am a Secretary-General of the United Nations, and why Mr. Colin Powell is Secretary of State of the United States. We have different roles, and we have played our roles. And I think the President understands that. I am sure they are not bothered by the speculations in the press, as I am not.
Question (Interpretation from French): It is a bit the same question in French. Is there a contest between Washington and the United Nations in New York? Are your relationships quite good, on the same wavelength? Is there any tension between Washington and New York?
The Secretary-General (Interpretation from French): Our relations are good. Of course it is normal to honour the agreements. We understand; for years we have all been doing this sort of work. They know why I do certain things; I know why they do certain things, so there is no problem. If there is tension, it is temporary. There is a dynamic tension of sorts, which is fine.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, we have now heard the view of President Bush on pre-emptive strike, and I was wondering, specifically, about the paragraph on the right to defend oneself using a pre-emptive strike. Does this new doctrine contradict the United Nations Charter, and in particular Article 51, or can the United States argue Article 51 and strike against Iraq, in your reading of the Charter?
The Secretary-General: I think I dealt with that issue in my statement to the General Assembly, when I raised the issue of the country’s right to defend itself when it is attacked, and when it comes to broader peace and security issues
the Council will have to pronounce itself. I think my statement before the General Assembly was very clear on that.
Question: Following up on this question, are you cautioning the Bush Administration about the cares that might come from such a strategy of pre-emptive strikes, like if Russia attacks Chechnya or Georgia, and every country can act on its own? Are you cautioning the Bush Administration about that case?
The Secretary-General: The Administration has an enormous capacity for analysis, and they do very serious analysis before they take any of these decisions. I am sure they will look at all those aspects.
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