Deputy Secretary-General's press conference at the Japan National Press Club
Tokyo, 28 February 2013
DSG: Thank you very much. I am very glad to be here in Japan and glad to meet you, ladies and gentlemen of the media. I am spending almost four days in Tokyo and in Japan. I have had meetings with the Government and I have had meetings with the Diet or with the parliament. I also have plans tomorrow to go to Ishinomaki to the area of the earthquake and tsunami, to show solidarity with those who were afflicted, but also to learn from the reconstruction efforts and the disaster relief efforts, in which I have a particular interest. I was the first under-secretary-general responsible for emergency relief operations. I preceded Japanese colleagues like Ambassador Akashi and Ambassador Ushima who were my friends and colleagues. I am going to see some of them during this visit and also Sadako Ogata who is a dear friend of mine since our times of dealing with disasters in Africa and the Balkans.
Let me first express and convey my deepest condolences to the victims of the terrible air crash in Egypt that occurred, where Japanese lives were lost, and also my condolences to the Japanese who died in the terrorist attacks in Algeria. The Secretary-General made very a strong statement against terrorism in this context and we want to pay respect to the families and to the nation of Japan.
I also want to tell you that my responsibility in the United Nations, serving directly under the Secretary-General, is to deal with the political issues that dominate the headlines. There are issues related to Syria and to Mali, and of course to the DPRK, North Korea, as you certainly know in this region.
Apart from the political sector I also have responsibility for development issues, primarily the Millennium Development Goals and the road ahead for the agenda for development after 2015. In this context I would like to express my thanks to the Government and to the people of Japan for its support of the United Nations. You have wholeheartedly supported the organization, both when it comes to the work for peace and security, for development, for human rights, and the rule of law. Your contributions to peacekeeping, to peacebuilding, to human security, which is very much a Japanese issue and idea – you have given considerable support and we hope very much that this support will continue and that Japan will continue to be an active partner with the United Nations. We face huge global problems, we face many conflicts, we face challenges in the area of rule of law, and we need a strong partner like Japan in this work and I want to convey to you again the thanks also on behalf of the UN Secretariat and Ban Ki-moon for this support.
Let me say a few words about the title of this press conference, “East Asia and the United Nations.” Before I came to Japan I spent three to four days, first in China, then in the Republic of Korea (ROK). In all three countries, as you know, there is a transition of leadership. Therefore, to me and to the United Nations, it has been very interesting to take stock and meet with the representatives of the new leadership in these three countries and discuss issues related to security, stability and prosperity in Asia, and particularly in Northeast Asia.
Security and stability in this part of the world is not only important for the citizens of the countries in this part of the world; it is also important for global security and global stability. There has been a clear geopolitical and geoeconomic shift in the world to Asia and particularly to this part of Asia.
Therefore, security, peace, and stability in this region takes on a truly international and global dimension, and is of great interest to the United Nations.
With this background, you understand of course how concerned we are at the rising tensions and deteriorating security situation on the Korean peninsula and in this region as a result of the recent DPRK launch and nuclear test.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and I have made clear statements in this regard that this recent nuclear test is in violation of the non-proliferation regime and also in violation of Security Council resolutions, and in fact, the authority of the Security Council.
The reactions go beyond the Security Council. You may know that 183 nations have signed onto the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and that shows the revulsion around the world around the spreading of nuclear arms and nuclear weapons. The Security Council is now discussing the resolution to be followed after the tests and it is not for me or the Secretariat to pronounce answers on this resolution. We hope that there will be a clear and unified response from the Security Council.
There is a serious responsibility now resting on the Government of North Korea to show restraint. We also think in this period of rising tensions that it is important to call for calm and resolve, while we work together with other countries towards finding ways to bring Pyongyang to reverse its course and reengage with the international community towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
In today’s situation, the role of the United Nations is basically and mainly limited to humanitarian action. We have a huge program to sustain decent and reasonable living conditions for about 6 million people out of 24 million people in DPRK. The World Food Programme has one of our largest programs in the world in North Korea. It is important that we will be able and have the resources to continue this important program, which is important for the next generations of North Koreans.
Here I would just like to add that in my talks here in Tokyo, several times the issue of the abductions and abductees have been brought up. I share these concerns and understand the seriousness of this violation of human rights. We hope that this issue will be resolved as soon as possible and the United Nations stands ready to help to the degree that is possible.
My last remarks will be brief. I will not be able to develop this theme too much, but it is of course the issue of increasing concern surrounding the tensions surrounding the maritime problems between the countries in the region. We know that these problems have a long history, complexity, and sensitivity. We hope that solutions will be found in an amicable manner through dialogue. We encourage all states concerned to refrain from any steps that may lead to the escalation of the tensions.
In closing, positive solutions to the issues that I have raised on the nuclear test of North Korea and on the maritime issues relate to the need to maintain and strengthen stability and security in this part of the world, again, for the safety and prosperity of the people of this region, but also because of the importance of this region for world security and world stability. Therefore, if the United Nations can play any role in this regard, we will of course do so. But we hope very much that the governments and the parties of the different issues will have a dialogue that will produce positive results, in the interest of the citizens of the nations and of the world.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Q: The Security Council is discussing matters pertaining to North Korea and Iran, but I think the situation is worsening, much less making progress from the Security Council’s deliberations. Don’t you feel the limits or the constraints of the Security Council?
DSG: Well the Security Council has the responsibility to maintain international peace and security and I am hopeful that the council will present a clear and unified message to the Government of the DPRK. I hope also that we will not see a continued escalation. This is a concern that many entertain – rightly so – that we can see a continued escalation. Therefore there has to be a strong response which relates to the principles of non-proliferation and Security Council resolutions. But there is also a need to give thought to how one avoids escalation. Therefore I think the efforts have to be conducted, not only the Security Council as a body of members of the Council, but also individual nations taking contact. Also other nations that are involved and affected, like Japan and the ROK, need to also be a part of this dialogue, so that we avoid an escalation. I think there is, apart from a strong reaction by the Security Council, a need also for creative diplomacy.
Q: You have mentioned that you would like to encourage dialogue so that the maritime problems regarding Northeast Asia can be mitigated. You have said that you would like to encourage countries concerned not to take steps that would lead to the escalation of the situation. In concrete terms, what do you mean by steps that might lead to further escalation of the situation? What are the steps that you are encouraging the countries not to take?
DSG: I don't think I can go much further than what I have already stated. I would hope that the clearest message from my side is for calm and restraint, and avoidance of escalation. I am sure you can all imagine what kind of escalation steps can be taken, but it is not for me to speculate on this.
Q: A related question, could there be a possibility where the United Nations takes the initiative in providing a forum for consultation or dialogue for the countries concerned, so that the tension could be mitigated, relating to the maritime security of Asia?
DSG: The United Nations needs to be approached by both parties or all parties concerned if we are to play a role. This is not the case on this issue. As you know the issue is considered by most participants to be an issue of national concern and where there is no need for international mediation. For the time being there is no role foreseen for the United Nations.
Q: My question is regarding the Chinese role regarding the nuclear test by North Korea. Do you think that China has played a certain role on this question of nuclear tests by North Korea and if you expect further roles to be played by China, what will they be going forward?
DSG: I discussed the issue of China’s role extensively with my Chinese colleagues and friends during my visit. It is of course, a great hope from the side of the United Nations and also from many others that China would play an active role. It is a very important neighbor, it is a country that has strong economic relations with the DPRK and we hope very much that China will exert its influence in the direction of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese side, I think, underlined several times that the outside world may sometimes exaggerated expectations on China’s role, but I would hope that China, with its relationship with the DPRK, would exercise this influence that they have and play a constructive role. I was assured by my Chinese colleagues that on the issue, as a principle, there is no hesitation. The non-proliferation regime, the Security Council resolutions, and as you recall they were also behind the resolution in January, which was 15 to 0. So they are working, they told me, constructively with their colleagues in the Security Council about the resolution.
The other issue is of course to what degree China also, like other countries in the region and also the United States and Russia, will exercise or will maintain the dialogue that I mentioned earlier about this issue about the road forward. Unfortunately the Six-Party Talks have not taken place since 2008, but this is one diplomatic venue to be considered. For the time being it does not seem realistic but I think there is a need again for China and other countries to exercise this diplomacy that I mentioned earlier.
Q: Reading from your curriculum vitae, I know that you have a wealth of experience with affairs of the United Nations in relation to international conflicts as a mediator and so forth. I ask this question based upon your background. In the past, the UN showed its rather strong presence in areas of conflict like Iran or Iraq situations, or Cambodia peace work, or the former Yugoslavian conflict situation on the Balkan Peninsula. The UN was rather positive and proactive in trying to mediate the situation as well as leading into the possible solution. The United Nations used to play an important role and I am sure that Mr. Eliasson has has made a great contribution in this context of great efforts by the United Nations. However, in recent times, we do not feel the great presence of the United Nations in situations like Syria or Mali or North Korea. I guess the situation is the same. So my question is why is there not much presence felt by the United Nations these days? Is that the fact that because of the major countries as well as the countries concerned, parties concerned, do not like the intervention by the United Nations? Is that the reason for less presence? Or does the United Nations itself have some problem about having a presence?
DSG: This is my favorite subject. I am a proponent of Chapter 6 in the UN Charter. Chapter 6 is peaceful settlement of disputes. Anything between negotiation, inquiry, and conciliation, mediation, Article 33 on the UN Charter, so if we can play a role, depends on, I would say, two factors. One is that we are requested to play an active part by both sides in the conflict or both sides if there are several parties. The second condition to be really effective in today’s world is that we have full support of the Security Council.
I have mediated in several conflicts: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Darfur, and other conflicts. I have always been supported in those negotiation efforts by the consent of the parties and Security Council resolution. In the case of Syria, we do not have a strong Security Council resolution – or rather, we don’t have a unified Security Council resolution which makes the possibilities of the UN efforts much weaker. You have seen the efforts of former Secretary Kofi Annan, and now the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi and the difficulties that we meet, mainly because of the lack of interests of solution by the parties but also by the lack of unity in the Security Council.
Also on Korea, there is not a request of the United Nations by the parties to play a role. There is no Security Council that brings up the issue of mediation. There are already existing mechanisms; of course the basic mechanism of the non-proliferation treaty at the Security Council resolution, but also the potential diplomatic instruments like the Six-Party Talks. Of course we are ready to make contributions if we can, but for the time being we are limited to the humanitarian area, and contacts where the authorities and leadership of Korea on that issue.
Q: My question is related to the previous question announcer. You have mentioned that for the time being there are more requests coming from both parties on the issue of North Korea, then situation will be just like matters referred to ICJ, a problem will never see a solution. When it comes to the matters of North Korea, Security Council has not really been functioning in its proper role for the past 20 years. From the point of view of responsibility for results or accountability, the Security Council has not been able to fully function as the council should be. That’s only the Security Council because the Security Council will find it rather difficult to go deeper into the area of Chapter 7 so are there any ways that the United Nations can make its willingness and intention clearer? For example, the Security Council can liaise and has a better connection with the General Assembly – and also totally mobilizing other UN functions in total so that they can be closer to the solution on North Korea, which has been neglected for 20-some years. Can’t there be any mechanism or means to show a stronger will and intention for resolving this problem?
DSG: It's a very important question. It is difficult for the Secretary-General and me and our colleagues when we don’t have that full support from the Security Council. There is a sense of sadness and even frustration on our side to see the continued killing in Syria for instance. And seeing that there is no movement towards a united Security Council, that would give us the tool to work with so the Security Council members, particularly the P5, hopefully will realize that they have the responsibility for international peace and security. And the crisis in Syria is growingly an international crisis since it also risks spreading into neighboring countries.
Our negotiator, Lakhdar Brahimi, has worked very hard to bring the parties to negotiations so that we could have a negotiated transition in Syria, and I would hope now that the Security Council would support this effort to bring about negotiations on a negotiated transition, that could be a contribution that will also help improve the image of the Security Council as supporting these talks together and without showing the lack of unity that they have in the past.
You are right that the General Assembly can play a role, but as you know, the General Assembly resolutions are not binding and they do not have, as the Security Council, the clear responsibility to maintain international peace and security. But twice already, the Syria issue has been up with very large majorities supporting the road towards a negotiated solution.
Of course if we see any opening that could lead to positive results, we of course would be ready to do so. But I think in this situation, both in regards to Syria and in regards to the DPRK, there rests also an important responsibility on the individual nations to exercise their influence and develop what I would call creative diplomacy to make sure that we do not have continued war, in the case of Syria, and rising tensions and dangerous escalation in this part of the world that so much needs stability and prosperity, and which has been very much the hope for the world in both economic terms and political terms. That’s why there’s so much at stake now, and there is need for also diplomatic action, but also principled stand so that we maintain the basis for the international order, namely respecting international agreements, and respectively binding resolutions.