Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Austria in the evening of Sunday, 27 January.
After nine days travelling through Japan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, he arrived in Vienna on Monday and began an official visit to Austria the next day. On Monday morning, however, he did meet with his Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, who had travelled to Vienna from Gaza to confer with him urgently about the deteriorating situation in the region.
The Secretary-General began his official visit to Austria on Tuesday morning with a tête-à-tête meeting with Austrian President Thomas Klestil. At a press encounter afterwards, he indicated that their discussions had focused on Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Balkans.
A journalist asked his reaction should the United States sever its relations with the Palestinian Authority. “I hope that will not happen”, he replied, “because we need to engage with both sides”. As the mediator chosen by both sides, he said, the United States, “I hope, would retain its contacts with both parties, because that’s the only way the mediation would be most effective”.
The Secretary-General then walked across the courtyard to the Federal Chancellery to meet with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Foreign Minister. Among the many topics covered in their hour-long talks were Afghan reconstruction and security, tensions between India and Pakistan, the Middle East, Iraq, Central Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans, among other topics.
He and the Foreign Minister then met with the press. Asked what attitude the international community should take towards the Middle East, he said, “I think we have tended to focus too much on security only … I think that security should be linked with improvement in the conditions of the Palestinians and it should also be linked with political prospects of getting the parties to the table and discussing a settlement”.
He was then asked if he was concerned about Yasser Arafat’s physical and diplomatic isolation. He replied:
“Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian people. By being isolated and virtually being under house arrest makes it difficult for him to lead. He is in an extremely difficult situation. He’s being asked to stop the violence. He’s being asked to lead and yet, as a leader, he and his institutions are under so much pressure that I really do not see how that is going to help, how he is going to go about delivering what the international community is asking him to do. And I think we need to be careful how we deal with the situation, because when the leader who is supposed to act is weakened to the point of impotence, we have a real problem on our hands”.
As a follow-up, a journalist asked if he thought the Israelis should allow Arafat more liberty.
“I think if he is to lead, he should have a bit more liberty to move around and talk to his people and deal with them”, he said. “He must be given the space and the political time to act.”
At midday, he returned to the Chancellery for lunch with the President.
After lunch, the Secretary-General went to the Parliament to meet with the leadership, including Parliamentary President Heinz Fischer. The President had visited the Middle East two weeks ago, he said, and he asked the Secretary-General his views of the situation.
The President then asked about Afghanistan, and the Secretary-General briefed him on his recent visit to Kabul. Concerning the Tokyo donor’s conference on reconstruction, the Secretary-General said that while the pledges were generous, “it was as if the Afghans were offered cake tomorrow when they needed bread today”. They also reviewed the security situation in the country.
They talked as well about the fight against international terrorism, the United Nations role in the post-11 September world, Security Council reform, tensions between India and Pakistan and, finally, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s bid for observer status at the United Nations.
At the end of the afternoon, he joined the Foreign Minister to open an exhibition of United Nations posters titled “For a Better World”. The Foreign Minister then hosted a dinner in his honour.
On Wednesday, the Secretary-General began the final day of his official visit to Austria with a meeting with Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
At a press encounter afterwards, the Secretary-General said that Mr. Moussa had shared with him his impressions following his visit to Iraq and that they had also spoken about the troubles in the Middle East, the fight against terrorism and, briefly, the situation in Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General then went to the United Nations headquarters in Vienna, where he met with senior management and then with members of the Staff Council.
After that, he had an informal meeting with about a dozen ambassadors, to discuss government support for United Nations programmes on drugs, organized crime, human trafficking, money laundering, nuclear safety and industrial development.
He then addressed some 3,000 assembled United Nations staff.
“We must put modern management practices in place”, he told them. “We must enhance our enormous in-house talents and provide more and better opportunities for career development, while bringing in fresh, young people and skills that are the keys to the success of any enterprise.”
Referring to his search for a new Director for the United Nations Office in Vienna, he said, “I know that here … the period of transition has been rather unsettling, but I can assure you it will not be for long”.
He then thanked them for their professionalism, their dedication and their loyalty, and assured them that everything possible would be done to ensure that they will have the right leadership so they can carry on their work “and settle down as quickly as possible”.
He and his wife Nane left the United Nations premises and went to the Town Hall for a chat with the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Haupl, after which he had a tête-à-tête with the head of the Austrian Government, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel.
The Chancellor then hosted a luncheon in his honour, to which Secretary-General Amre Moussa was also invited.
Returning to his hotel, he had a number of bilateral meetings in the afternoon, including with the Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Jan Kubic, and, at his request, former Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.
On Thursday, the Secretary-General flew to the Netherlands for a private visit before returning to New York on Sunday, 3 February.