Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Austria from Greece on Monday, 21 April 2003.
Before beginning his official visit on Tuesday, the Secretary-General went to United Nations headquarters in Vienna, where he met with Director-General Antonio Maria Costa, and then with his senior staff to review progress in their programmes over the past year.
The Secretary-General then addressed hundreds of United Nations staff, gathered in the giant rotunda to hear him. “The events of the last few months kept us all on our toes”, he remarked, referring to Iraq. On the post-conflict role of the United Nations in Iraq, the Secretary-General said that he expected “in the not-too-distant future we should be able to come to some understanding as to how collectively we pool our efforts to work with the Iraqi people to establish a peaceful, stable Iraq, run by and for the Iraqis”.
He reminded the staff that Iraq is not the only thing happening in the world and urged them to press ahead with the fight against poverty, HIV/AIDS and degradation of the environment.
A staff member said that the Iraq crisis had put them through a tough test. What should we do, he asked, “to show that we still deserve the Nobel Prize”? “The United Nations has been through crises before”, the Secretary-General reassured him, “and I hope and trust we will come through this one”. In this interdependent world, he went on, “we need to cooperate to be able to make this world a peaceful and harmonious place, and if we fail to do that I think we’re all going to pay a price”.
He urged the staff to continue to do their work, respecting the ideals and principles of the Charter. But looking ahead, he said that the Iraq crisis had raised many questions that the international community would have to address. “There is lots of talk about new threats”, he said. “What are these new threats? How do we deal with them?” He questioned whether the existing instruments for dealing with such threats are adequate, or do we need new ones, and if so who decides and how do we make the necessary adjustments? “There are questions that we are going to tackle as we move into the future”, he stated.
He then left United Nations headquarters to travel to Hofburg Palace, where he met one-to-one with Austrian President Thomas Klestil. At an encounter with the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said that they had discussed the post-conflict role of the United Nations in Iraq, the need to implement the “road map” to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the requirement for strengthened international cooperation “to be able to cope with issues of common concern”.
Asked what he is planning to do to heal rifts within the Security Council over Iraq, the Secretary-General said, “what is important for us as we look forward to the future is that we try to focus on what can be done to help the
people of Iraq, and to help Iraq return to normalcy”. He then went on, “we should also bear in mind that we have other major challenges that require us to work together”. He mentioned Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism and the battle to reduce poverty. “So I hope we will all realize that we do need each other”, he concluded, “and that we need to come together and focus on what needs to be done”.
Later that afternoon, he agreed to meet with Kurt Waldheim, former President of Austria and the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations, at Mr. Waldheim’s request.
In the evening, he and his wife Nane were the dinner guests of Austria’s Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Earlier that day, Mrs. Nane Annan was briefed by experts from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on alternative development programmes for farmers involved in the cultivation of illicit crops in Central Asia and the Andean region of Latin America.
In the following morning, the Secretary-General met with Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner. She described an initiative Austria hopes to take to help Iraqi children traumatized by war. They discussed the future United Nations role in Iraq, efforts to form a Palestinian Government under Prime Minister Abu Mazen, the prospects for reviving Cyprus peace talks and the United Nations relations with the city of Vienna, home of the third United Nations headquarters.
At a press encounter afterwards, the Secretary-General commented that serious attempts were being made to heal the divisions in the Security Council so that the international community as a whole can help the Iraqi people rebuild their State.
In response to a question on the “oil-for-food” programme for Iraq, he expressed confidence that procedures for the delivery of goods would be streamlined, which would facilitate shipments. “I think we will be seeing some considerable improvement in the coming weeks”, he predicted.
Asked whether United States opposition to United Nations weapons inspectors returning to Iraq represented a setback, the Secretary-General replied, “No, I think it is the Council resolution [that] does require certification from the inspectors”. The Council is free to amend that resolution, and may well do that, he said, but until they do, that is the resolution that the inspectors should follow.
Asked about United States threats against Syria, the Secretary-General said he was encouraged that the US had indicated that Syria is cooperating and that “there has been a change in tone, which I welcome”, he said. He added that he expected this issue to be solved peacefully, “through dialogue and diplomatically”.
The Secretary-General then went to Parliament, where he met first with the President of the National Council, Andreas Khol, and then with leaders of all the political parties. He briefed them on Security Council deliberations on Iraq, and emphasized that Council unity is essential. He then took their questions on a variety of issues, including Parliamentarians’ relations with the United Nations, the relationship between the war in Iraq and the search for peace in the Middle East, pre-emptive action and the rule of law, and the managing of the oil-for-food programme in post-conflict Iraq.
In the early afternoon, the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl, paid a courtesy call on the Secretary-General at his hotel.
Mr. Annan then went to the Federal Chancellery, where Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel hosted a luncheon in his honour. After lunch, he and the Chancellor met for half an hour for a discussion of European Union enlargement, Iraq, the Balkans, the Middle East and Cyprus.
The Secretary-General left Vienna late on Wednesday afternoon for Geneva, where he would address the United Nations Human Rights Commission the following day, 24 April.