Secretary-General's press stakeout on Afghanistan (full transcript)
New York, 6 January 2010SG: Ladies and Gentlemen, at the outset, I would like to extend my sincere and best wishes to all of you for a Happy New Year. And I hope that New Year 2010 will bring to all of you, and your families, much happiness and prosperity, and good health. And you can count on me for continued cooperation and friendship.
As you know, I have just presented my latest report on Afghanistan to the Security Council. The report focuses, in particular, on the elections, political developments and the deteriorating security situation. My Special Representative,
Mr. Kai Eide, also has made his own report and update.
2009 was another critical year for Afghanistan. I saw some of the challenges first-hand when I visited Kabul, after the terrorist attack against our colleagues.
Afghanistan faces a challenging post-electoral agenda. The situation will also be the subject of international conferences, which will be held on the 28th of this month in London, and a subsequent meeting to be held in Kabul in a few months' time.
There is an urgent need to translate the renewed determination of the international community into a concrete roadmap for better security, improved governance and economic development.
This will place increased responsibilities on Afghans above all. But it will also call for greater support from the country's international partners and from the United Nations.
We are determined to do our part in meeting this challenge. In this regard, I have been talking over the phone with leaders of the world, starting with [UK] Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, French President [Nicolas] Sarkozy and many other world leaders, and I will continue to do that. We are there to assist the Afghan Government find more firm footing, and to better coordinate the international civilian aid and development efforts.
I am encouraged by the understanding and strong support shown by the members of the Security Council and other Member States today.
Thank you. Now I am ready to answer briefly your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on Afghanistan, I just want to know – yesterday, the President of the Security Council also said the same thing, that he believes, and many other Security Council members believe, that in Afghanistan, there should be all-inclusive talks with even elements of the Taliban, who are now willing to come into the fold. Do you think that will eventually resolve some sort of a problem or the confrontation that is going on will again result in the quagmire that it is now?
SG: Addressing the Afghan issue will require a comprehensive strategy. And this is exactly what we are going to discuss. From the point [of view] of the international community, we need to give a certain sense of hope, with some medium- and long-term commitments, for security support and development support. We need to help them so that they can also improve their relationship with neighbouring countries. On the part of the Afghanistan Government, I expect that President [Hamid] Karzai will come to London, to meet with world leaders, with a strong compact on how he can ensure and enhance good governance, and how he can reach out to his own people, and neighbouring countries, so that he can promote national reconciliation.
Q: Thank you, Secretary-General. On the sidelines of the London Summit, there is going to be a meeting on Yemen. Are you going to be taking part in that meeting? And what do you see as a way forward in Arabia's poorest nation?
SG: The situation in Yemen is also a source of great concern. Two days ago, I discussed this matter with Prime Minister Gordon Brown again, and I am going to take part myself in that meeting, just one day before this 28 January Afghanistan meeting.
I sincerely hope that, again, considering that this situation in Yemen has much broader regional implications in our common struggle to fight against international terrorism, and we are going to discuss broader aspects of the situation in Yemen. As far as we are concerned, we have several areas of concern. First of all, stability and security are deteriorating in Yemen, and there is a serious question of how we can fight against international terrorism. And for the United Nations, we are also very concerned about this deteriorating humanitarian situation. There are at least 150,000 displaced persons who need immediate humanitarian support. On all these matters, we will have a comprehensive review, on how the international community [will] address these issues.
Q: Mr. Karzai gave an interview to Al Jazeera English this morning, and he said that as long as civilians continue to die in Afghanistan, there's going to be a major problem with the credibility of the entire mission, so I was wondering what is your reaction to that. And my second issue, Sir, can you tell us a little bit more detail on what happened with Senator [George] Mitchell yesterday? Is there a new American peace plan? Thank you.
SG: I have been raising this issue of civilian casualties since a long time ago. And I am relieved that countries providing political and security support to Afghanistan, particularly President [Barack] Obama, they are now seeking an optimal balance between military and civilian contributions to Afghanistan. I think we need to take all necessary measures to reduce civilian casualties. In my report, I have reported to the Security Council that [most of] the civilian casualties, in fact, have been largely caused by the anti-government forces. Seventy-eighty per cent of civilian casualties have been done by the anti-government forces. But from the point [of view] of military operations, from the point of the ISAF forces, I understand that military commanding officers, they are taking extreme care and precautions not to cause any civilian casualties.
With Senator Mitchell, I had in-depth discussions on how we can help those parties concerned return to the Middle East peace process track. First of all, we would like to see Palestinian and Israeli leaders return to the negotiations table. And we are committed, I myself as Secretary-General, and as a member of this Quartet, are committed to work with the parties concerned to help this Middle East peace process restart. Again, I understand that the United States' special envoy, Mr. Mitchell, is now going to visit the region, and we agreed to review the situation after his visit to the region.
Q: Is there a US plan, a specific one he discussed with you yesterday, ideas?
SG: A full, specific US plan -- I think this what Senator Mitchell and the US administration will have to say.
Q: Mr. Ban, on Afghanistan, over the holiday there was an editorial in the New York Times that said you are selecting between Mr. [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, and Mr. Ian Martin. They were critical of de Mistura, saying he has a low-key style, and bureaucratic instincts, and favoured Guéhenno. What do you think of that editorial?
And also, I wanted to ask you, if I can, on Sri Lanka. Right now the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, there are still people inside them. There has also been a failure to do any investigation of the events of May, and most recently, it seems like you have decided not to send electoral assistance to the country. Can you say how the first of those are consistent with the commitments made to the UN, and your commitment to stay on top of this issue?
SG: As Mr. Kai Eide has made his position known that he's not going to seek an extension of his appointment, I am now in the process of identifying a good candidate who will replace Mr. Kai Eide. I have read that New York Times editorial, but you should know that this is the prerogative of the Secretary-General, who should appoint the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. My position is that, whoever one may be, the [choice] should be the one who can really understand the situation in Afghanistan, who can really work as a leader, and [implement] team work, who can harmoniously and effectively coordinate with all international partners, and particularly with the Afghan Government. And when I am ready, you will be able to know.
On Sri Lanka, their promise, President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa's promise is that by the end of January this year, his Government will have all the remaining displaced persons in the camp resettled, reintegrated into their native homes or some other place. I am going to discuss this matter with the Sri Lankan Government. I hope that they will keep their promise.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, follow-ups on two of your questions. There have been some reports that there might be a Quartet meeting as well, at the end of January, around the time of the Yemen and Afghan meetings. Is this a possibility? Is this something the United Nations would support? And on Afghanistan, Kai Eide was critical of international interference in Afghanistan, both before and after the elections. Is this something that you yourself are concerned about, and that you will be looking to avoid with the next SRSG?
SG: About the possible future Quartet meeting, in principle, I am in support of such a Quartet meeting anytime. We had the Quartet principals teleconference during the month of December, but we are now discussing when would be appropriate timing for the principals of the Quartet to meet together. It may not happen during this month, but this is the subject of continuous consultations. I'll be happy, always, and prepared to participate in such a Quartet meeting.
On the second question, as I understand that Mr. Kai Eide will have an opportunity of meeting the press; then I think this question maybe addressed to him directly.
Q: Secretary-General, a question on Myanmar. You have left open for the moment Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari's position as your Special Representative for Myanmar. Why have you decided to leave that position open instead of filling it?
SG: On this issue, I am also in the process of identifying a candidate who can take Mr. Gambari's responsibilities. I am not leaving this position open. Even during this time, either Mr. Gambari, or some other senior officers within the Secretariat, are taking this job, and the responsibilities. You should not worry about a gap, or vacancies, of our responsibility and our commitment to see the democratization process of Myanmar.
Q: A follow-up. Do you support the announcement by the Government that they will carry out elections, even though it is without a date yet?
SG: I have taken note of that report, and this is an encouraging one. But at the same time, I expect that there should have been a clear and firm date when this election would be held. As I have made it quite clear in my meetings with Senior General Than Shwe, and other senior Government officials of Myanmar, I have urged them to first of all make it clear about all the electoral systems, and there should be clearly set deadlines for the election. I will continue to discuss and monitor the situation on this issue.
Thank you very much.