Secretary-General's joint press conferences with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero of Spain
Madrid, Spain, 2 September 2008S-G: Muchas gracias señor Presidente, señor Ministro, señora Ministra Bibiana Aído, señor Embajador, señoras y señores, buenos días.
This is my fourth visit to Spain since taking office as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I keep returning to this country not only because I admire your country, but because you are continuously exercising, demonstrating your leadership for the global agenda, the development agenda.
Yesterday, upon my arrival in Spain, I visited Zaragoza, and I had very good meetings and visited many pavilions in Zaragoza EXPO 2008 under the theme “Water and Sustainable Development”.
I was extremely pleased that the Government of Spain has taken such a leadership role in addressing water scarcity and helping bring into sharper focus the devastating effects of climate change and the importance of implementing measures which will enable the attainment of the Millennium Development goals. Let me say also how impressed I was when landing in Zaragoza to see the substantial number of mills being used to harness alternative energy through wind power.
Today, Prime Minister Zapatero and I had a very constructive meeting, as he outlined. We discussed many regional issues, from Georgia to Western Sahara, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, but also global issues that affect us all, from the surge in food prices to climate change and the Millennium Development goals.
On Georgia, the President of the Government Zapatero briefed me on yesterday's EU Summit meeting outcome. For the United Nations part, I expressed my concern over the complex and unpredictable humanitarian situation on the ground, Teams from the United Nations refugee agency continue to closely monitor the movements of displaced people, and to provide material support to them. At the political level, I have repeatedly indicated that my good offices remain available in order to support the necessary dialogue among the parties.
We also discussed Western Sahara. I recognize the importance of maintaining the momentum of the negotiations as long as the parties are committed to the process. In the meantime, I welcome the parties' agreement to expand the programme of confidence-building measures. It has a direct impact on the quality of life of Saharans and it can help build trust, which could help break the impasse in other areas. I called on Spain's generosity to help support this very important programme and ensure that it is not discontinued for lack of funding.
We also discussed Spain's increasing role in peacekeeping. Spain is now one of the top 10 contributors to the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets. Spain's military contributions to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as well as the UN-mandated international force in Afghanistan are particularly important. In that regard I am happy to have Lieutenant General Diaz de Villegas as the new Force Commander of our peacekeeping mission in Congo. I count on his leadership in bringing peace and stability in that region.
And when leadership was needed in the advancement of women inside the UN and around the world, Spain has been and is going to continue to give leadership by example.
Spain is also showing truly exemplary leadership as we pass the midpoint in the race to reach the Millennium Development Goals. I am very pleased to know that the President of the Government Mr. Zapatero is coming to attend the High Level meeting on MDGs in September, and also an evening event where a limited number of Heads of State and Government will have strategic discussions on this matter.
Providing access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are among these goals. You have contributed a remarkable 528 million euros towards this end. If all countries showed the same level of commitment as Spain, it would greatly strengthen our progress towards the Goals.
In the fight against hunger, Spain's athletes are lending their celebrity to the cause. Raul Gonzales, captain of Real Madrid, is working as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN food agency. Even Spain's famous chef Ferran Adria is supporting the UN World Food Programme, and I thank you very much for that.
We can each individually, and together, make a difference.
Finally, allow me to express again my profound condolences to the people and Government of Spain on the tragedy of the plane crash which claimed so many lives. I wish the Spanish people courage and fortitude at this difficult time.
I am all the more grateful to the Government and President of Government Zapatero for receiving me so graciously in this period of mourning.
Q: (in Spanish about Georgia and about Western Sahara?)
S-G: About the United Nations role and in response to the recent conflict in Georgia, I have issued at least five or six statements in which I made quite clear many important principles of the United Nations Charter. And I hope you will read my statement again thoroughly and carefully. As for the specific question of independence I would like to also remind you that this is something to be determined by individual member States. The United Nations is not in a position to recognize or not recognize any State in this regard.
I have taken many measures and I have been involved myself from the beginning of this conflict discussing this matter with many world leaders including President Medvedev of Russia, of course with many European leaders and the American Government and I have offered my willingness to provide goodwill offices. At the same time I have sent the High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Antonio Gutérres to South Ossetia, Georgia and Russia to discuss as well as to assess the humanitarian situation. As recently as yesterday and today I am making it quite clear that I am considering dispatching a humanitarian assessment needs team to South Ossetia in coordination with the parties concerned.
On the situation in Western Sahara, I am equally concerned, as you are, over the lack of progress of this very important and serious issue. It is a matter of political will and commitment of the parties to this issue. As you know I have convened through my Personal Envoy Mr. Van Walsum four rounds of negotiations among the parties concerned. There was some progress, up and down, and particularly as I stated in my earlier statement, there was some agreement to alleviate the humanitarian sufferings of the displaced and separated persons by allowing family reunions through land in addition to air. Now, on this political issue I sincerely hope that the parties concerned would demonstrate their political leadership and flexibility. I am now in the process of finding a new Special Envoy who will be the successor of Mr. Van Walsum who has made a great contribution with a sense of creativity and flexibility. But unfortunately he found himself that his role should be taken up by some other person at this time, when he has done four rounds of negotiations. And I am going to discuss and consult very closely with the Spanish Government on this issue.
Thank you very much.