Secretary-General's press encounter following the ground-breaking ceremony for the Capital Master Plan [renovation of United Nations Headquarters]
New York, 5 May 2008SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to see you again. It took me two weeks to visit many countries in Africa and Europe.
I have just come from the groundbreaking ceremony for the Capital Master Plan, known as CMP, marking the renovation, even the rebirth, of UN Headquarters. Over the next five years, we will make our facilities safer, greener and more modern and efficient.
As you know, I spent the last two weeks in West Africa and Europe. Topic A at most stops was the global food crisis.
I won't repeat what you already know and what I have already stated during the last several days. Let me simply emphasize the gravity of the emergency and the need for an urgent response. The first thing I will do, back here in New York, will be to get our Task Force on the Global Food Crisis moving at full speed.
I am going to have a first Task Force [meeting] on Monday next week.
At the UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development) trade conference in Ghana, I described the stakes very bluntly. If not properly handled, this crisis could cascade into multiple crises affecting trade, development and even social and political security around the world. The livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people are threatened.
We have made promising steps in recent days to address emergency needs. But the longer-term challenge?and the realm in which the broader UN family must lead and act as one?is to boost agricultural development, particularly in Africa and other regions most affected. I have called on leaders not to take measures that distort trade and push up prices. We need immediate action to get seeds, fertilizer and other agricultural “inputs” to the world's small farmers. This crisis did not come out of the blue. It grew out of more than a decade of neglect and ineffective development policies. We need a new start.
My Task Force will study the root causes of the crisis and propose solutions?to be executed decisively through coordinated global action?at the upcoming food summit in Rome early in June. I call on world leaders to join me there in Rome. Please come with fresh ideas. It is time for real commitment and real action.
You know, too, that the UN has major peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions in West Africa. In Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, leaders warned me explicitly that the food crisis could derail their efforts to recover from years of conflict. Côte d'Ivoire, especially, has scheduled elections for November 30.
These must succeed. In Abidjan, I got the parties to sign a code of good conduct so that their campaigns can be held freely and without violence, and to abide by the results. I also witnessed the signing of a Protocol of Understanding whereby international donors agreed to underwrite the elections and help finance Côte d'Ivoire's steps toward political stability. As in everything we do, peace and development go hand in hand. There cannot be one without the other.
On the way home for today's groundbreaking, I stopped in London for the meeting of the Quartet last Friday. In fact, I chaired the Quartet and the “Quartet plus Arab Partners” meetings. We agreed that there must be urgent progress, if there's to be any reasonable prospect of building a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
I repeat today what we set forth in London: Israel must halt settlement building in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority must fulfill its commitment to fight terrorism. The rocket attacks on Israel must stop. The humanitarian suffering in Gaza must end. I am committed to work with the Quartet and with our Arab and Israeli partners toward these goals.
A final note: the Capital Master Plan effort will bring considerable inconvenience to how we function, both in the conduct of conferences and meetings, and the way we carry out our office duties day to day.
It is important that we all work together -- Member States, Host Country, Secretariat, staff, and the media - all of you. We need your continued support and cooperation so that we will be able to see this building in five years time – refurbished - a greener, more efficient and effective and more comfortable place to work in.
Thank you very much. I will be happy to answer your questions.
Q: On Myanmar, if I could. Now that the Myanmarese/Burmese government has said it will accept UN assistance, are you able to detail exactly what kind of assistance the UN can now provide?
SG: I am very saddened [that] the Myanmar people have been struck by this cyclone. The United Nations will do whatever it can do to provide urgent humanitarian assistance. Because of the lack of communications and information we are not quite sure what would be the total extent of damages and casualties. But I am very much alarmed by the incoming news that the casualties have risen to more than 10,000 people already, according to the Myanmar Foreign Ministry announcement. Now, my Chef de Cabinet is meeting the Myanmarese ambassador at this time, to discuss what [we can do]. I have already mobilized the UNDAC – the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team – to find out what we can do. The United Nations is very much committed to actively assisting the Myanmarese people.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the President of Senegal, President [Abdoulaye] Wade, has called for the Food and Agriculture Organization to be abolished. He says it's been useless, and that better efforts need to be taken to deal with this whole issue of improving agricultural production, and today, also there were food riots in Somalia. I would like to know whether you agree with the President?
SG: In view of the gravity and seriousness of the situation, I can understand and sympathize with the frustrations of many African leaders, including President Wade of Senegal - particularly the people in many least developing countries. But I would like to underscore that since its founding in 1945, the FAO has been leading the international community's efforts to help promote the production and productivity and provide necessary humanitarian assistance to many people affected by food shortages. I have been working very closely, particularly these days, with the Director General of the FAO on how we can address this issue in the short-term, mid-term, and longer-term, and I am going to attend myself this FAO summit meeting in June, and I am going to send out my own invitations, letters to all Heads of State and Government, today and tomorrow, as soon as possible, inviting them to come to Rome and to sit together with me to work out a strategy to address and overcome this crisis.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, your special Envoy, [Terje] Roed Larsen, will be presenting his report on the implementation of [Resolution] 1559 on Thursday to the Security Council. How much is the UN seeking speedy implementation of 1559, after reports that Hizbollah is monitoring Beirut's airport?
SG: I am still deeply concerned about the lack of progress in the implementation of important Security Council resolutions, including 1559, and 1701. The peace and stability in Lebanon has very important implications for peace and stability overall in the region. I have been very closely discussing this matter even over last weekend, and he [Roed-Larsen] has been traveling and meeting many world leaders and senior officials to help facilitate this process - to a more stable and peaceful process. In that regard, the report on implementation of 1559 will also be very important, and you have my full commitment on this issue.
Q: On Zimbabwe, you had urged for the results to be released of the election. Now that they have been released, can we have your reaction, and also, do you see any future role for the United Nations if a presidential runoff is going to go ahead?
SG: I am aware that the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission has now officially announced the results of the Presidential Election which was held on March 29th. At the same time, I am deeply concerned at reports of rising levels of violence and intimidation within Zimbabwe. I have been very closely consulting with African leaders - the AU chair, President [Jakaya] Kikwete of Tanzania, I am going to speak with him right after this press conference; and I am going to speak with the President of Zambia [Levy Mwanawasa], who is now the President of SADC [Southern African Development Community]. I have been constantly following and monitoring the situation and discussing how the United Nations and the African Union together can help the Zimbabwean situation reach a very harmonious and credible way. At the same time, I would urge the Zimbabwean authorities to take care of all humanitarian situations caused by this political and violent situation, and I also hope that the African leaders – the African Union as well as leaders of SADC member states - will take due efforts to bring to an early and harmonious resolution of this issue.
Q: [inaudible] Envoy, there was talk of UN monitors, is that something that you still have in your mind?
SG: These are some ideas which I am going to discuss – what would be the practical possible ways at this time.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, it is good to see you after such a long time. Mr. Secretary-General, on the last leg of the tour, you were in London on the Quartet meeting, a Quartet meeting which has now become even more important given the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Can you give us any assessment on any progress that has been made in the Middle East as a consequence of this Quartet meeting, and do you think that Israel and the Palestinians will move forward to any agreement by the end of this year, which is a goalpost being set up by the U.S. Secretary of State?
SG: First of all, it was good that the Quartet principals met in London after four months since we met last December. I know that this Annapolis [meeting] has not been making progress as one might have wished, but at the same time, it is encouraging that the leaders of both, the Prime Minister of Israel and President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority have been meeting regularly to address all these issues and to make progress, so that they will be able to make a peace treaty by the end of this year. I had good talks with leaders, Arab partners and also Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice of the United States. It would be necessary at this time first of all to manage the situation on the ground in peace and security, and also we need to focus on how to help the people in Gaza on humanitarian grounds, and help the Palestinian people so that they can work on their own economic activities. For that to be possible, it would be very important for the Israelis to ease access and movement by opening the crossings, the closures. This is very important.
At the same time, Tony Blair, the Quartet representative, has been making very significant progress to facilitate investment and social and economic development. All those are what we are doing in a comprehensive way.
I would like to say that it is not desirable to have an overly skeptical assessment in this situation. One needs to have some firm conviction and needs to encourage this ongoing Annapolis peace process. That requires the efforts and cooperation from all the parties concerned. I have mentioned in my remarks that there should be no rocket firing into Israel, and there should be no terrorist activities there. All this requires comprehensive efforts.
Q: A brief follow-up, sir. What about dialogue with Hamas? You said there should be an opening of the crossing points. How are you going to open without having direct contact with the party that's responsible for Gaza?
SG: The unity of Palestinians is very important. Therefore, we hope that the parties concerned will resolve all the issues through dialogue in a peaceful manner.
Q: Sir, the question on the Food Crisis Task Force. You've mentioned that this high-ranking task force is going to have a lot of responsibility. I wonder if you have got any confirmed people on it yet, and when do you expect them to start working?
SG: I have already appointed the Coordinator, Mr. John Holmes, and Mr. David Nabarro as the Deputy Coordinator, who is now working as the special coordinator on avian flu. He has been extremely helpful in coordinating the world's community, consolidating the international community's efforts in addressing the avian flu. Therefore, in coordination with many UN agencies, we have appointed two very distinguished persons who will coordinate all the UN agencies, including Bretton Woods and other member states. Mr. John Holmes will soon meet and establish an advisory board, before I convene the first task force meeting next Monday. We will address all short term and long term and medium term goals.
Q: On the question of the Congo, last week some documents became public about this investigation on the trading of gold and guns by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I'm wondering, you had a letter from Human Rights Watch asking you to take action on it. What do you intend to do about that, about the problems they have raised with OIOS's [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation, and do you think there should be a UN Freedom of Information Law to make documents such as the ones that were released routinely available to the press and to the public?
SG: This has been in fact already investigated, and now with all these new reports and allegations, this is in the hands now of OIOS, the independent body to investigate and to look into this issue. It will be up to OIOS, and if anything new, if new elements are found, we would take the necessary actions. I would like to stress again that DPKO [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has provided all the necessary evidence to the previous investigation and the investigation report has been already released, but since there have been such new allegations, I hope that the OIOS will look at this issue carefully.
Q: Do you think reports such as the one released, should they as part of UN reform, should documents like that be made public – the audit of OIOS?
SG: I first will have to look at how the findings of OIOS will come. Thank you.
Q: One more thing on Congo. If the problem is with OIOS itself, how does one hold OIOS accountable?
SG: I do not agree that there is any problem with OIOS. OIOS is an independent body created by the General Assembly. The head of OIOS, she is independent even from me, so she has full power to investigate any questions.
Thank you very much.