Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press conference, held in New York today:
Ladies and gentlemen of UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association], good afternoon.
It is a great pleasure to be with you today as we are getting ready to welcome world leaders for the opening of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly. I know that you are also very much excited for the General Assembly.
This year’s high-level week at the United Nations comes at a critical time.
We will seek progress in resolving protracted conflicts and rising tensions in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. We will strive to continue the momentum towards implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which is our plan of action for peace and prosperity on a healthy planet. We will highlight emerging issues, as well as situations that demand more attention.
But, amid the whirlwind, three challenges stand out.
First, the international community must come together in a spirit of shared responsibility for the world’s refugees and migrants. More countries must resettle more people who have been forced from their homes. More countries must recognize the benefits of migration. And everyone, everywhere, must stand up against the animosity that so many refugees, migrants and minority communities face.
The declaration to be adopted at next Monday’s summit on refugees and migrants marks a major step forward. We will also welcome the International Organization for Migration (IOM) into the United Nations family. And we will launch a global campaign to fight xenophobia. The refugee and migration challenge is one we can and must tackle together.
Second, climate change. I am using every opportunity to push for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement before the end of this year. Last week, the world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, joined the Agreement. This was a major step forward.
Now we need just 28 [more] countries, representing 16 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, to cross the necessary threshold. One week from today, on 21 September, as you are well aware, I will host a special summit event at which countries can deposit their ratification instruments with me, as required by the Paris Agreement. I urge all countries to show the world their commitment without delay.
Third, while many conflicts are causing enormous pain, none is causing so much death, destruction and widespread instability as the worsening war in Syria. I welcome the reinstatement of the Cessation of Hostilities following the understanding reached between the Russian Federation and the United States. The United Nations is positioned to utilize this crucial opportunity to immediately deliver vital humanitarian assistance to Aleppo and other besieged and hard-to-reach locations throughout Syria.
It is essential that intra-Syrian negotiations resume so that Syria’s long-suffering people feel a real change in their daily lives. Major countries with influence have a duty to use their influence and seize this latest opportunity to pursue a political solution to end this catastrophic conflict.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce two official visits that I will undertake in the coming days.
On Saturday, 17 September, I will travel to Montreal to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and others at the fifth Replenishment Conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I call on all donors to be generous and enable the Fund to continue its outstanding work.
On 26 September, I will visit Cartagena, Colombia, for the signing of the historic peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army [FARC-EP] to end the decades-long conflict. The United Nations will be there to help implement the agreement and will give the people of Colombia our full support as they chart a new path for the country. This achievement shows what is possible through patient and painstaking diplomacy. I hope other parties to conflicts around the world will take inspiration and action to stop needless bloodshed.
Finally, let me say that I am keenly aware that this year’s high-level week will be my last time as Secretary-General. It has been a decade of progress and setbacks alike. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change and the establishment of [the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women] UN-Women have been among the high points. The inability to resolve several protracted conflicts has been a source of tremendous pain. On a more personal level, I am saddened that soon I will no longer serve side-by-side with the dedicated staff of the United Nations. I will even miss the hotseat in this room!
At the same time, I intend to make the most of every minute of the months ahead, right through the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. I am sure there will be opportunities to reflect on the past decade with you. But, in the time still left to me, I am focused entirely on the work at hand and on what I know can be achieved by Member States, civil society, the private sector and others working in partnership to serve the Charter’s “we the peoples”.
Thank you for your attention.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, good afternoon, and on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, thank you for this full press conference that we have been waiting for for a long time. I have a question for you on North Korea. The situation is getting worse and international attention is very high. At this point, do you totally exclude a trip to Pyongyang before the end of your mandate? And don’t you think that this could be a courageous and significant move from your part to de-escalate the tension and to open a new channel of diplomatic communication also in view of your possible candidacy as president of your country next year?
Secretary-General: Thank you for your question. But, there are some incorrect parts in your question! Therefore, I will try to focus on the correct part of your question. First of all, the situation on the Korean Peninsula caused by the continued provocation by the DPRK, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, either by launching ballistic missiles or, most seriously, the nuclear tests, the fifth time during the last 10 years, since 2006. Unfortunately, it mostly happened during my time as the Secretary-General, even though the first one happened before I took office.
This has risen as one of the top serious issues and the level of tension on the Korean Peninsula has grown much, much higher. I have been dealing with this matter in my previous capacity in the Republic of Korea and now as Secretary-General. Never in the past have I ever seen such kind of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, so it is very important that the United Nations Security Council should be united and take urgent actions to prevent, first of all, further provocative actions by the DPRK and try to take necessary measures to send strong messages to the authorities of the DPRK.
I have, a few days ago, expressed my serious concern and condemnation of what they have been doing. As Secretary-General, as you mentioned, I have been really trying to do my best in any way I could to contribute to, first of all, the reduction of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and also bringing North Korea into an open international community. Unfortunately, all my initiatives have not been able to be materialized because of the, I think, the circumstances were not mature enough because of rising tensions.
Of course, I will continue to do, until the last day of my term as the Secretary-General, as much as I can to reduce, first, tensions, and resolve this issue. But, practically speaking, I have just three months and a half to go as my mandate will end by the end of this year, so we will see what I can do. But, I do not have any plan, at this time, of taking any initiative. Thank you.
Question: James Bays from Al Jazeera. It’s a question about Syria following on your comments about Syria and that ceasefire, which is in place. We know it’s shaky. You say the United Nations is positioned to provide aid and yet no aid has gone to those besieged areas. Can you explain to us the reason for that and what the obstacles are at this stage?
Secretary-General: As soon as this agreement on the cessation of hostilities was made, I had talked with [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry and also I met with the Russian representatives here. Of course, you know, I highly commended and appreciated their initiative and diplomatic efforts. The United Nations expressed that we are fully ready to use those seven days of cessation of hostilities to deliver humanitarian assistance to needy people. In fact, we have been delivering [aid] to 5.7 million people average per month and even the airdrops have been able to deliver to 1.2 million people.
Now, immediately after that, we made everything ready. I talked to the Executive Director of the World Food Programme yesterday. We talked to Staffan de Mistura, my Special Envoy. All these 20 truckloads are ready, and they were supposed to deliver them today. But, unfortunately, because of all these arrangements for making sure the security and safety of the people, humanitarian workers, including drivers, have not been made yet, so they are now at the border of Syria. They are still there. And another 20 truckloads are ready to immediately deliver humanitarian assistance.
A lot of people are dying from poverty and disease and because of lack of sanitary support. So it’s crucially important that the necessary arrangements — security arrangements — should be [made] so that they can be allowed to cross the lines. I have been urging the Russian Government to make sure that they exercise influence on Syrian Government and also the United States side to make sure that Syrian armed groups, they also fully cooperate. We are working very hard. We are very much committed.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, Kahraman Haliscelik with TRT World. This September, do you expect any breakthrough in intra-Syrian talks or anything to do with Syria considering that there hasn’t been any gains, diplomatically or politically, so far? Thank you.
Secretary-General: First of all, there should be confidence and trust restored. Immediately, we have to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to many people in besieged or hard-to-reach areas. Millions of people are still starving. On the basis of that and evaluating the circumstances, the Special Envoy de Mistura will try to see when would be the most appropriate timing to initiate the political dialogue. Nothing can replace the importance of this political solution of this Syrian situation. Yesterday, we had in-depth strategic discussions with Staffan de Mistura. We are working very closely with the United States, Russia. The Special Envoy and I will have an opportunity of making my report to the Security Council when the Security Council will be held next week at the summit level.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting. When you leave office, you will very likely be remembered for being a champion on climate change. You will also be remembered for spearheading the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals to historic intergovernmental negotiations that were concluded last year. But, observers, though, could reasonably argue that they’ve not seen the same level of enthusiasm on the question of Security Council reform from this Secretary-General. So my question: Why is reform a matter best left to Member States and yet other intergovernmental processes have seen you weigh in regularly and with persistence that is largely absent from the reform debate?
Secretary-General: Thank you for your kind remarks about my commitment on climate change and on other issues. When it comes to reform of the United Nations, particularly Security Council reform, I have been stating many times — I don’t know how many times, repeatedly — that it is high time that the Security Council must be reformed and changed in a more democratic and representative way. Considering there have been tremendous circumstances which have been taking place since the founding of the United Nations, there was only one time when the Security Council was changed, but there’s a heightened awareness and urging by the Member States. But, it is, after all, up to the Member States who will be responsible for the reform of the Security Council.
They have been meeting to negotiate this reform process, I think, for longer than two decades. Most recently, during the last six, seven years, they have been meeting in a negotiating forum, rather than an open-ended one. The open-ended session has been over and the General Assembly has taken it into informal negotiating sessions. Many proposals have been proposed and they have been reviewed and discussed.
Unfortunately, not a single issue has been able to see any convergence of opinions among the Member States. Each and every country or each and every group of countries brings their own proposals which have not been able to get the support from others. So it’s important that the Member States should look at this issue. After a two-decades-long consultation and negotiation process, it’s high time to discuss this matter.
As I’m just about to leave my position, I’m urging that they should reflect the voices and aspirations of the Member States and the rapidly changing, deteriorating security challenges of the international community really make it imperative that the Security Council should be changed.
Question: It’s Pamela Falk, Mr. Secretary-General, from CBS News. My question is, you said, on the United Nations refugee summit that it’s a great step forward and you have spent much of your tenure focusing on refugees and migrants. There are several United Nations agencies — [United Nations Children’s Fund] UNICEF, [the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] UNHCR, and others — who have said that this document in particular does not go far enough and this summit will not go far enough on the education and detention of children where there are millions, as you mentioned, in Aleppo, around the world, and that there’s not enough focus on children. Can you comment on that? And do you think the United Nations is doing enough on that? Thank you.
Secretary-General: This is the first time that United Nations is taking up this issue at the General Assembly upon my strong recommendation and urging. I am grateful to Member States that they have taken my suggestion, recommendation, that they are meeting at summit level for the first time in the history of the United Nations.
I appreciate the European leaders who have been really dealing with these Syrian refugee issues. But, at this time, as you are well aware, we have 65 million refugees or displaced people around the world. This is the highest number since the end of the Second World War. So it has become a global issue and global threat unless we address this issue at global level. That is why the United Nations is addressing this.
After many long months of negotiation and discussions on this matter, I am encouraged that the Member States have initially agreed upon a very good outcome, which will be adopted on Monday, 19 September, which will ask and give a mandate for a continuing negotiation to work out a global compact. There will be another negotiation process for the coming at least one and a half years to have a global compact, which will address these migrant and refugee issues on a basis of the principle of global responsibility sharing. This is a very important one. No one country can address this issue. Therefore, there should be global responsibility and global compassion on addressing this issue.
Question: And on the children? And on the children in the refugee, it sort of means…
Secretary-General: Yes, everybody is included. After all, the children and women and girls, they are the most vulnerable group of people who are suffering at the forefront of these tragedies.
Question: Majeed Gly, Rudaw Media Network. Secretary-General, thank you for this opportunity. I hope this will not be your last press conference with us. I want to have a follow-up on my colleague’s question about the refugee conference. Many critics say, Secretary-General, that the outcome document is going to be too vague, that there will be not specific goals addressed at that refugee summit as you mentioned. And with the intensification of conflict in Iraq and Syria, especially with the fight against [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] ISIS, there are more people getting, who are being displaced and becoming refugees, lack access to food and medicine. This not just due to lack of funds, but also a big problem in the humanitarian system. My question is: What specifically do you hope to achieve as far as reform in the global humanitarian system? What can be done to avoid a vague document as an outcome of the summit? Thank you very much.
Secretary-General: While we all wish it could be a stronger outcome document, I’m aware of some criticism by some [non-governmental organizations] NGOs on the nature of the outcome document, but all 193 Member States had to agree on their commitment. As you will see, my report was a strong one and provides the basis for the Member States’ commitment. This is going to be a decision by the General Assembly.
I hope that, as the two compacts are adopted over the coming year and a half, some stronger language and commitment and elements from the report will reappear in the course of this negotiation. And, as far as all these mechanisms and institutions are concerned, it’s encouraging that the IOM is going to formally join the United Nations as a family member and there will be a signing ceremony on Monday between me and Ambassador [William Lacy] Swing, who is the Secretary-General of IOM, will join officially the United Nations family.
Therefore, UNHCR – the High Commissioner for Refugees – and IOM will work very closely together with all humanitarian agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations. So, as far as institutions and mechanisms are concerned, I think we are beefing up our strength.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, according to a joint press statement issued today in Nicosia on behalf of the two Cypriot leaders, President Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci are planning at the meeting with you on 25 September to request you to intensify your personal engagement in the process in the months to come. What are you planning to do on Cyprus?
Secretary-General: First of all, I’m encouraged that the Cyprus talks, facilitated by my Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide continue to make very good progress with active participation and leadership and commitment of the two Cypriot leaders: Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and also Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. And I really appreciate their leadership and commitment.
And, as you said, I’m going to convene a trilateral summit-level meeting on 25 September. And I’m also encouraged at their strong commitment that they will complete this process within this year. And the United Nations is fully ready to support their initiative. And, as you know, this is a Cypriot-owned and Cypriot-led process. The United Nations is facilitating this one and you can count on us and on me.
Question: I work with W Radio for Colombia. Thank you for confirming, your excellency, your visit to our country on 26 September. About that, particularly, the Colombian people will vote a couple days after your visit whether they approve or not the peace signed by the Government and the FARC. Wouldn’t it be frustrating if the United Nations is doing all this effort to help us out and then the Colombian people decide that they wouldn’t want the accord to take place and to be implemented in our country? Wouldn’t that be frustrating for you and your efforts? What would you say to all the Colombian people in that case?
Secretary-General: First of all, as I said in my earlier remarks, I want to congratulate President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP leader Timoleón Jiménez and their respective negotiating teams for this very encouraging result and I really appreciate their hard work. As you know, the Security Council recently has given a mandate to me to establish a monitoring mission. So we will try to expedite establishing this monitoring mission in Colombia around 40 areas, but exact details will be worked out on that.
For this plebiscite referendum which will be taking place, this is the people’s decision, the Colombian people’s decision. And all these indications and reports suggest that the people of Colombia fully support this peace deal and I sincerely hope that the referendum will be a positive one and I believe that it will be a positive one. But, it is, after all, the Colombian people’s decision. Thank you.
Question: Secretary-General, you have said that you have not seen such heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula, but you have not yet said what you would like the Security Council to do, except in very broad terms. You’ve said they should take appropriate action. Can you be more specific? What do you think is urgent for the Security Council to do to ease those tensions now?
Secretary-General: I understand the United States Ambassador has already begun on the detailed elements of the Security Council resolution with key Security Council Member States, including, particularly, China. It’s urgent and very important that the Security Council not lose any time. They should show firm and resolved commitment to the DPRK that repeated provocation by this way is very disturbing.
The Security Council has met eight times only this year on the DPRK and on these nuclear and missile issues. I don’t remember any other issues the Security Council has been meeting on so frequently, so many times. That means the seriousness and gravity of the situation is real. Again, as I said, the Security Council should unite their voices as soon as possible. But, as for detailed matters, it’s up to the Security Council in close consultation with particularly concerned parties, Republic of Korea and other countries in the region, including Japan.
Question: My name is Ibtisam Azem from Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a video statement some days ago that was published in his Facebook, he compared the requesting of dismantlement of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to ethnic cleansing or calling for ethnic cleansing. So, I would like to hear your comment on this and besides the fact that all parties should go back to the negotiation table. Thank you.
Secretary-General: With my due respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I do not agree to what he said. The United Nations position on the settlements and the occupation has been clearly stated on many, hundreds of times. I, myself, I do not remember how many times I have been stating this position. And it’s not only the United Nations. The whole international community is saying in the same way that settlements are a violation of international law. And the occupation, longer than five decades, should be resolved as soon as possible through negotiations.
And the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, they are the neighbours, and they cannot change this status, relationship, I think, millions of years, as long as they exist. Therefore, it is important that they immediately resume their negotiation for a two-State solution, so that the Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security side by side.
In that regard, the importance of this two-State solution has not been much emphasized all the time because of lack of negotiations. In that regard, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my very deep concern about the health of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. He was one of the leaders who has been strongly advocating this two-State solution and I sincerely hope that his health will improve as soon as possible.
Question: Secretary-General, you’ve spoken of the need to combat xenophobia. I wonder what your response is to Donald Trump’s proposals for a ban on Muslim immigrants entering [the United States of] America and also his characterization of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.
Secretary-General: My position and the United Nations position, whoever and whichever country or wherever leaders may be, is clear that xenophobia, discrimination against any people regardless of their ethnicities and race and religious belief or gender, is unacceptable in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And when it comes to a particularly vulnerable group of people like migrants and refugees who do not have, sometimes, legal status in the place where they reside or in the place where they have fled to, first of all, they should be given immediate support. When they are in need of life support, they should be given it. When they need education or shelter, protection, I think all this support should be given by the receiving countries. And bigotry or xenophobia, discrimination — that’s not acceptable.
Question: Follow-up on that question from before about the situation in the West Bank. There’s an article in today’s Wall Street Journal that documents how, for instance, the word “occupying Power” refers to Israel 530 times as opposed to seven other situations around the world including Crimea, northern Cyprus and maybe you are familiar with the situation in Western Sahara in which those resolutions don’t mention the word “occupation” or “occupying Power”, and there are other instances. In the 10 years you’ve been Secretary-General, do you think there has been any change in what is perceived by many, especially in the United States and Israel, as a one-sided view at the United Nations of Israel? Also, who’s better for the United Nations: Trump or Clinton?
Secretary-General: Each and every circumstance and situation or conflict has their specific mandate, either by the Security Council or the General Assembly, and the United Nations has been trying to deal with in accordance with specific mandates. When it comes to the West Bank and all this occupation by Israeli authorities, there have been many relevant Security Council resolutions and there have been some international court decisions that they are illegal. Therefore, that situation should be resolved as soon as possible.
This situation cannot continue like this way, five decades or six decades, where Palestinian peoples do not have any place to live peacefully. That’s why the United Nations Security Council and the Quartet and European Union and many other concerned, interested organizations, have been involved in this process. And I sincerely hope, again, I urge Israeli authorities and Palestinian authorities to sit down together to resolve this issue. There’s full support, unconditional support from the international community that they want to see the resolution of this issue. Yeah.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. My name is Sylviane Zehil, L’Orient-Le Jour. You just said that in your comments that more countries must recognize the benefit of refugees. I’m talking about migrants and refugees, the upcoming summit on this issue. It does not seem the case in Lebanon because it has put a burden on the fabric, on the society, on religious, on education, on the whole society. And the Lebanese Government ask for the transfer of the refugees to Syria where some areas are more safe. Sometimes the Christians are leaving also — the Syrian Christians are leaving to Austria, to Australia and to Europe. Do you believe that this coming summit will bring new ideas on this subject? And do you have a breakthrough to announce during this summit? Thank you.
Secretary-General: In general, in principle, I already said that not a single country, however powerful and resourceful and rich, maybe cannot handle this refugee issue alone. The United Nations cannot handle it alone. So there must be full support and solidarity. That’s the very important point. That is why the United Nations is convening at the global level, we need a global solution on this.
Specifically speaking, when it comes to the refugee situation in Lebanon, I have visited Lebanon many times and I met refugees there. And I really appreciate the Lebanese Government and people who have been accommodating more than a million people within their society. I know that it is a huge political, economic challenge. Still, the Lebanese people have been accommodating them.
The United Nations has been trying to mobilize support to provide resources to those countries who are accommodating Syrian refugees — 4.5 million Syrian refugees accommodated either in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq and Turkey. The highest number are in Turkey, but there is some bilateral arrangement between the European Union and Turkey that is very much an important one. Unfortunately, for other countries, there is no such bilateral agreement.
Now, the United Nations has been trying to mobilize, to provide the support on this matter. I sincerely hope that, through this summit meeting on Monday, we will have a framework on how we can share these responsibilities. This requires global responsibility sharing, that’s a basic purpose. And we will work for a global compact so that all the countries everywhere, whoever may be, will be able to get support.
Thank you very much.