TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN AND SPECIAL
REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAQ, SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, 27 MAY
The Secretary-General: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Last week the Security Council came together in Resolution 1483 to chart the way forward for post-conflict Iraq. The Council has called on the United Nations to assist the Iraqi people, in coordination with the Authority, in a wide range of areas, including humanitarian relief, reconstruction, infrastructure rehabilitation, legal and judicial reforms, human rights and return of refugees, and also to assist with civilian police. These efforts are going to demand a lot from us and from the international community.
I have asked Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello to serve as my Special Representative. He will lead the United Nations effort in Iraq for the next four months.
You saw him at work in Kosovo and in East Timor, running a complex mission there. I don’t think he needs an introduction. He has an exceptional and unique experience in running these operations and is also known as a good team builder and a consensus builder. I think he is someone who will hit the ground running.
Obviously, I have to admit it was a rather difficult decision for me to name a sitting High Commissioner as my Representative in Iraq, even on a temporary basis, particularly as human rights has been on top of my own agenda and it is absolutely important to this organization. It was not an easy decision, but it also reflects the important challenge that we need to take on.
No one has more experience in this area than Sergio Vieira de Mello, and I think for us to really get organized and become operational and effective immediately I needed someone who can hit the ground running and help us set up the operation at its early stages, so Sergio will be there for four months and will then return to his assignment in Geneva. In the meantime, Bertie Ramcharan will serve as Acting High Commissioner. I hope Sergio will have the support of all the Member States, and I am confident he will work well with the coalition Authority in Baghdad and with all the other groups in Iraq.
I will now invite Sergio to say a few words.
Mr. Vieira de Mello: Thank you, Secretary-General, for your kind words and for your renewed confidence in me.
The people of Iraq, as we know only too well, have suffered and have suffered enough. It is time that we all -– the Iraqis first, the coalition Authority and the United Nations –- come together to ensure that this suffering comes to an end and that the Iraqi people take their destiny into their own hands, as the Security Council resolution calls for, as quickly as possible. We must not fail.
It will not come to you as a surprise, as the Secretary-General just indicated, that I consider the development of a culture of human rights in Iraq as fundamental to stability and true peace in that country. You may have read me in recent weeks, writing to that effect in the media. I believe, on the basis of my experience, that respect for human rights is the only solid foundation for durable peace and for development. I shall place particular importance, as agreed with the Secretary-General, on the need to ensure women’s rights and their full participation in the consultative processes –- not least the political one –- that lie ahead.
As the Secretary-General said, the decision to appoint me to this relatively short-term assignment was not easy for him and for me, which is why we kept it to a relatively short duration, in order to lay the foundations of the United Nations role in that country. But I will leave behind, as he pointed out, a very strong team in Bertie Ramcharan and the senior management in my Office, and I will remain in very, very close touch with them.
I think I will stop here, and we will take your questions.
Question [UNCA President]: Thank you, Secretary-General, for coming here today, and Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, as well.
I would like to abuse my role, if I may, Sir, by asking a question about housekeeping before I ask a substantive question about Iraq. The housekeeping question has to do with a briefing that the United Nations Correspondents Association wanted to have on Friday of last week, which we were prevented from having because of pressures by one of the Member States.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands solidly in defence of the principle of freedom of the press. I was hoping to get an assurance from you, Sir, that in the future you would be able to rely on this Article in defending our right to meet with whoever we choose. If I could get your answer to that, and then I will ask you a question about Iraq.
The Secretary-General: Let me say that we have always respected that right. And I think you in this room are very much aware of the practice and my own approach towards that issue. While we respect your rights, I think as an Organization we also have certain principles. I think you have to respect those principles just as much as we have to. I think the explanation you got was that the event you planned conflicted with the “one China” policy, that you had an individual who was coming here to discuss with you Taiwan’s relationship with the World Health Organization and its efforts to become an observer. That, quite frankly, you will have to admit, was not in line with the United Nations policy. So, this was an exceptional and unique situation. In the past, we have not interfered, and in the future we will not interfere.
Question: Obviously, this is not the place for a debate on the issue, and we will be taking this up in the future. I thank you for your answer.
To move on to the issue of Iraq, resolution 1483 (2003) is silent on the issue of human rights, silent on the proposals by the occupying powers to establish military courts. I was wondering if you are distressed or upset in any way by that omission.
More specifically, there have been reports today that the United States is now considering establishing a death row for its camp in Guantanamo, and I am wondering what your reaction to that is.
The Secretary-General: Let me say that the resolution does talk about promoting human rights, so human rights is covered. But on the legal and judicial issue, I think we are going to have lots of work to do. That is one of the areas that I am sure my Representative will have to tackle with the coalition Authority, and discuss this issue on the ground.
Concerning the Guantanamo Bay development, I have not seen the details of it, and I would hesitate to comment on it at the moment.
Question: There are critics in the Middle East who are very strongly criticizing the United Nations, first, for in their eyes legitimizing the results of an illegal war -- which you yourself described as illegal -- in resolution 1483 (2003). Secondly, it has proved once again that the United Nations is unable to stop the unilateral action of a powerful State if it wishes to do so.
My question concerning the special envoy is, why so short? Why only four months? Why not longer?
The Secretary-General: On your first question, let me say that this is an issue that the Council debated and considered for a long period. There have been divisions, and we cannot overlook that. Those divisions and issues -- positions of principle that governments and individuals took -- are a matter for the record. I do not think that the resolution that the Council adopted last week is going to change the history of the recent past. However, the Council has given us a solid and a legal basis for our operations in Iraq, and I think at this stage that all the Council members are focused on what they can do to help Iraq and the Iraqi people -- and I think that should be our focus and our emphasis. I think if we pursue our actions on that basis, we will be able to make a difference.
On the question of the duration of Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello’s appointment, obviously, as I said, he has an important assignment in Geneva. Yet he was uniquely qualified for this, and I have asked him to go and help establish the United Nations presence –- establish a relationship, mount the operation. He will be replaced at the end of the four months. I had to use him in a similar vein in Kosovo, as some of you may remember, and at that time, I limited it to two months. This time it will be four months. Iraq is a much more complex operation.
Question: I think the forthcoming interim Government is going to be an important one for the Iraqi people. People are wondering how the leader of the interim Government, as well as the cabinet members, will be decided on or selected. I hear that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General is going to assist in establishing the interim Government. Are you going to make suggestions, and the Americans will decide who is going to be the head, and the cabinet members? Would you explain the role of the Special Representative?
Mr. Vieira de Mello: I think I will be in a better position to answer your question after I have reached Baghdad and had an opportunity to consult, as I said, with a broad spectrum of Iraqi leaders and opinion-makers, as it were. I am not privy to the intentions of the Authority in terms of establishing this Iraqi interim administration –- transitional administration. I will do my best, however, on behalf of the Secretary-General and the Security Council to make sure that the interests of the Iraqi people come first.
The Secretary-General: And you should also remember that everyone is agreed –- and it is in the Council resolution -– that the Iraqis should be responsible for their own political future. They are going to be very much at the centre of this. We will be there to assist and to work with them; we are not going to impose any leaders on them.
Question: You are apparently reluctant during this process to delineate the role that the United Nations could or should play in Iraq. But after the Security Council has spoken, the United Nations has ended up with quite a broad and long-ranging mandate. How close does the resulting role come to what you think the ideal United Nations role should be? Secondly, since Mr. Vieira de Mello’s appointment is only for four months, are you preparing a successor? Who might that be?
The Secretary-General: Good try. No, let me say that the resolution, indeed, does give us a broad mandate, and each situation is unique. When one refers to an ideal United Nations mandate –- it is difficult to describe an ideal United Nations mandate. First of all, this is a unique situation. It is the first time we are working on the ground with an occupying Power, side-by-side, trying to help the population in the territory. Therefore, there are certain things that we will have to work out on the ground. We have to define and work out our relationship with the coalition Authority or the occupying Power, and also our relationship with occupied Iraq. As he said, we are going to be in touch -– he will be in touch -– not only with the coalition but with a broad range of authorities. Some of the activities are very clear. The humanitarian mandate is very clear. We have a direct responsibility for it and we are going to carry it out as we are doing.
In other areas, we have to work in partnership with the coalition and, of course, with Iraqi civil society and leaders. And, of course, these relationships will have to be worked out on the ground; we cannot decide it here before Mr. Vieira de Mello gets in. As he indicated earlier, most of it he will have to work out on the ground. But as far as the resolution is concerned, I think we can work with it. I think it gives us specific areas of responsibility, and we are going to carry on with it.
Mr. Vieira de Mello will be replaced in four months, and I will announce his successor in due course –- but not today.
Question: This might be a little unrelated, but it is in the news. On the Road Map, reportedly one of the 14 conditions or reservations Israel has made is that the only part of the Quartet that will oversee the implementation on the ground will be the United States, and not the other three. Being one of the other three, will you insist that the United Nations will be in it? Also, what do you think of Israel’s acceptance of the Road Map?
The Secretary-General: I think it is a very encouraging development that Israel has accepted the Road Map. The Prime Minister has indicated that he has some questions that he is going to pose later. But the fact that he has accepted it is a positive development. And the Quartet, and the international community, has the basis for moving forward in assisting the two parties to resolve their conflict.
As to the suggestion that Israel will only accept the United States as a party on the ground –- I take it to monitor the Road Map –- it is something that we will tackle as we move forward. But I think that all the partners are concerned to see effective action. We want to see progress; we want to see an end to this painful conflict. And we will, I am sure, accept any arrangement that will help us achieve that objective.
Question: The sanctions were lifted in the name of the Iraqi people, and now Mr. Vieira de Mello has been appointed in the name of the Iraqi people. Who are these Iraqis? Have they been consulted? And secondly, there are 300 million Arabs and 1 billion Muslims in the world. Why not one of them, with all due respect to Mr. Vieira de Mello?
The Secretary-General: Let me, first of all, correct you. I did not say that Mr. Vieira de Mello had been named in the name of the Iraqi people. I said that Sergio Vieira de Mello has been named to go and work with the Iraqi people, to assist them, and it is their interests and their concerns that should be forefront in our minds.
As to your second question, I have a great deal of respect for all religions. It was not a religious factor. I think that, as we move forward and the team is formed, you will see that your question will be answered.
Question (interpretation from French): How does Mr. Vieira de Mello envisage the work that lies ahead with the coalition? Could he tell us something about this four-month mandate?
Mr. Vieira de Mello (interpretation from French): On the four-month mandate, I believe the Secretary-General has just responded. I have other full-time functions in Geneva. It was not easy to reach an understanding on the duration of the mission, so it seemed to us that four months was a reasonable duration that would not put my other functions in Geneva at risk. You are well aware of the importance of those functions, although, my mission in Iraq also relates to the protection of human rights, you will agree to that.
Working with the Authority is part of the rules of the game. They are responsible for the administration of the country until there is a new order. As the Secretary-General has said and as the resolution says, we all hope that that new order will come soon. It is imperative that the Iraqi people take the destiny of their country in their own hands. We will contribute to that, working with the Authority, working with the other components of the international community: the diplomatic community in Baghdad, the neighbouring countries –- because Iraq cannot be dealt with in isolation from those countries –- and with all the representatives of civil and political society in Iraq.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you have said that human rights is at the top of your agenda, and you, Mr. Vieira de Mello, have pointed to the importance of promoting women’s rights. May I ask you what, specifically, do you think the United Nations can do to further women’s rights in Iraq, especially when we hear now about various conservative clerics who want to turn back the clock and limit women’s roles?
Mr. Vieira de Mello: I think experience has shown that an assertive policy in the promotion of the full range of the human rights of women –- be they civil, political, or economic, social and cultural –- can only lead to peace, stability, development and tolerance. So, we will do our utmost –- within, obviously, the limitations of our own mandate –- to bring that about among the components of Iraqi society and to assist the Authority, which is charged to do the same.
The Secretary-General: I think your question also implied that you are concerned that Iraqi women, who have had relative freedom, may lose ground and that one should do everything possible to ensure that that does not happen and, if possible, that their interests and rights are protected. We do share that objective and I think that will be one of the efforts Mr. Vieira de Mello will be making with the Iraqi authorities and with others on the ground.
Question: Mr. Vieira de Mello, when will you actually be hitting the ground running in Baghdad, and with what size of staff? What will be the makeup of that staff? And what is to prevent you hitting the ground running as a lame duck and with people basically saying: “Well, he is only going to be here four months. If we don’t like him, we’ll just deal with his successor”?
Mr. Vieira de Mello: First of all, the United Nations is not absent from Iraq. We already have a sizeable presence in that country that is doing a fabulous job in very, very difficult circumstances. I am speaking of the humanitarian community.
Secondly, I intend to “hit the ground”, as you put it, on Monday morning at the latest, with a relatively small team, because the conditions in Baghdad are still not ideal, both in terms of accommodation and office space, not to speak of security. But that will be reinforced in different, successive waves until we reach the ideal size, which I still need to determine, of our mission in Baghdad.
As far as being a lame duck, I don’t think I was a lame duck in Kosovo when I served for two months in the initial phase. We won’t have time for that. I am going there with my team to do immediate, important and urgent work and you will see that we won’t be lame ducks in any way or fashion.
Question: Mr. Vieira de Mello, could you tell us what you actually plan to do next Monday, next week, when you get there? Specifically, you must have some ideas of what you would like to do. Also, could you tell us what your ideas are about doing a Bonn-style large political conference so that there would really be a great input from the Iraqi people in trying to decide on their political future?
Mr. Vieira de Mello: Your second question is difficult and you will easily understand that I cannot answer that now. Let me get there and let us see how we can contribute to that happening.
Now, as far as I am concerned, as I hit the ground, priority number one will be to establish contacts with the representative Iraqi leaders, representatives of the media, of civil society -– and there are many. Iraqi society is rich and that richness has been suppressed brutally for the last 24 years. But they are there –- they are there or are returning as we speak –- and they are my priority. Number two: establish good working relations with the Authority, with the coalition members. Number three: visit all the provinces, because Iraq is not limited to Baghdad and I think it is important that I pay attention to what Iraqis in all the 18 provinces actually feel and aspire to in terms of their future.
Question: Mr. Vieira de Mello, have you in your long travels with the United Nations ever been in Baghdad and can you compare it to your experiences in East Timor, which certainly put you on the map for the United Nations in terms of nation building? The big difference is that you were like the mayor, governor, first de facto president of that island, and now a quite different situation. Can you compare the experiences?
Mr. Vieira de Mello: I was in Baghdad as a child with my father when he was posted in the region, and I have visited once since, but that was a long time ago.
Secondly, I find it always dangerous to compare one experience with another. Certainly, East Timor, Kosovo, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone have taught us many lessons which can be applied in the case of Iraq, but the two situations are completely different and I’ll have to determine how the lessons I’ve learned and the Organization has learned could apply to this particular mandate in Iraq.
Question (interpretation from French): Mr. Vieira de Mello, could you give us your assessment of the present situation, the problems that seem to you to be most urgent, most difficult to manage in the immediate term?
Mr. Vieira de Mello (interpretation from French): I believe that, in the immediate term, it is obvious that the question of law and order is of priority. Security has not yet been fully restored and it is impossible to deal with the rest and to build what we want to build: democratic institutions, a real culture of human rights and a political process, making it possible for the Iraqis to govern themselves as soon as possible -– it’s impossible without security.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, a lot has been written about the allegedly diminished role of the United Nations pre- and post-conflict. What is your reaction to these kinds of comment?
The Secretary-General: I really will have to say that I obviously don’t know the basis of the definition that before the conflict the United Nations was not active. I think all of us saw the intensive activities in the Council and the debate that led to the divisions we’ve all talked about -– the debate and the divisions that cut across old, traditional lines. So I think the Council, in a way, and the United Nations did before the war what it was supposed to do. The Council acted the way it should have. The fact that they did not come to a common consensus, and the war took place without the Council’s approval, did not mean that the Council did not do its work. The Council did debate; the Council really took the issue very, very seriously. And since the war, the discussions that led to resolution 1483 (2003) were also extremely difficult. But I think that, if I understand you correctly, you are implying -– as others have implied –- that the United Nations should have been able to stop the war, and it was not in the capacity of the United Nations to do that.
Question (interpretation from French): Mr. Secretary-General, there has been a great deal of criticism regarding the fact that, despite your very strong attitude towards the war on Iraq, there was not enough strength to stop the war. What can you say in response to this type of criticism?
The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): Obviously, Security Council members discussed and are still discussing this issue. The Council was fully seized of the matter. The decision was theirs to make, not mine. My position was clear: I would have preferred a peaceful solution. But that was not possible, and I believe everyone knows that. That’s why today we have a mandate to help the Iraqi people, and we will do everything possible to help them.
Spokesman: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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