United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on his first mission abroad in 2008, arrived in Madrid early on Tuesday morning, 15 January, where he opened the first ever Alliance of Civilizations Forum.
He was joined in that launch by the leaders of the two countries that had initiated the Alliance -- Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- as well as the High Representative for the Alliance, Jorge Sampaio.
“You may have different backgrounds and perspectives, but you share a common conviction that the Alliance of Civilizations is an important way to counter extremism and heal the divisions that threaten our world,” the Secretary-General told the politicians, media heads, industry executives, religious figures and grass-roots leaders gathered to talk frankly about cross-cultural concerns and advance new partnership initiatives to bridge divides and promote global understanding. (See Press Release SG/SM/11373)
“Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations,” he said.
He commended the Alliance for playing a catalytic role, forging links with civil society, foundations, the media and business leaders, and he urged them to keep working together as a broad range of partners following the Madrid Forum.
“Fostering dialogue will not produce change overnight. It is not the fast way,” he said. “But it is the sure way. It is the enduring way.”
The Secretary-General welcomed several high-profile initiatives launched on the Forum’s first day, including major projects aimed at promoting understanding among cultures in the areas of media and youth.
He held a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the two-day Forum, including the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey, and with Javier Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union.
He also met with Presidents Tarja Halonen of Finland and Danilo Türk of Slovenia; Prime Ministers Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia and Abdelaziz Belkhadem of Algeria; as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Ivailo Kalfin.
In the evening, he had an audience with King Don Juan Carlos I of Spain.
On Wednesday morning, he had a breakfast meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea. He had two other meetings -- one with Mr. Sampaio, the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilization, and another with the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega and Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé -- before leaving Madrid for New York, where he arrived that afternoon.