Secretary-General's remarks to the press following his briefing of the Security Council
New York, 8 February 2011Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to see you again. As you know I came back last Sunday afternoon, after a two weeks long trip to four countries, six stops.
I have just briefed the Security Council on my recent visit to Switzerland, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom and Germany. Let me give you just a few highlights; then I can take your questions.
In Geneva, I met with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders. They cleared up some of their differences. But much more work is needed.
At the African Union Summit Meeting in Addis Ababa, my talks focused on Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and Somalia.
On Côte d'Ivoire, as you are already aware, the African Union has established a High-level Panel composed of five Presidents, representing five regional African [areas] to formulate a political solution to the crisis within a month. We will continue our work for a solution that upholds the expressed will of the Ivorian people.
On Sudan, now that the referendum has taken place peacefully, our attention is focused on post-referendum issues and resolving the question of Abyei. Peace in Sudan also depends on peace in Darfur.
On Somalia, I emphasized the ongoing importance of support for Transitional Federal Government, from battling piracy to providing basic services.
In London and Germany, I had productive meetings with Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Merkel and other senior government officials, and also parliamentarians and opposition leaders.
In Munich, I participated in the Munich International Security Conference. At the Quartet meeting in Munich, the Quartet decided to step up its search for comprehensive Middle East peace, including through dialogue with the Palestinians and Israelis. The Quartet will meet again in mid-March. Later today, after this meeting, I will brief the Permanent Representatives of Arab League's Follow-up Committee on the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Quartet met against the backdrop of dramatic developments in the region. While the Quartet did not discuss Egypt in detail, we are all conscious that it remains a crucial partner for both the Palestinian Authority and for Israel, and for the peace process.
With respect to Egypt, I trust you have seen my various comments. Let me reiterate a few points.
First, as protests and discussions continue, I call on all parties to avoid violence and to ensure freedom of expression and information.
Second, the Egyptian people are clearly frustrated, and are calling for bold reforms. It is incumbent on the Egyptian leadership -- and that of any other country in the world -- to listen attentively to the legitimate concerns and aspirations of their people.
Third, an orderly and peaceful transition is crucial. I hope that a genuine dialogue between the leaders and the people will lead to the beginning of such a process. The details of that process – and indeed the future course of their country -- are entirely for the Egyptian people to define. The United Nations stands ready to provide any assistance.
Finally, a word on the hostilities between Cambodia and Thailand. This morning I spoke through telephone with both leaders, I urged Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to end violence, to exercise restraint, and find a lasting solution to the dispute through established mechanisms and arrangements. The United Nations remains at their disposal to assist.
Thank you very much. Now I will be happy to answer your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on Egypt. The Egyptian Ambassador to the United Nations has criticized your remarks as going over the line with the parameters of the Secretary-General's position should be in calling for an immediate transition. Also the Russian Ambassador has questioned your comments, saying they verge of going against, of overcoming the sovereignty principle. How do you answer those allegations?
SG: I met in person with the Ambassador of Egypt and we clarified each other's positions. I think that there was some misunderstanding about my statement. I hope that there will not be much misunderstanding on that. What I said was that the Government leaders should listen more attentively to the genuine aspirations of the people and there should be a transition, and the sooner the better. And the future of their country and transition process should be something which should be decided by the people. This is what I clearly [said] at a later stage of my press conference to clarify my position.
Q: The Egyptian Government announced several steps to meet the cause by their people. Are you satisfied by the steps taken by the Egyptian Government? Thank you.
SG: Again, it is important that the Government leadership and the people who have been asking for changes should sit down together and engage in genuine dialogue, what would be the best for their future.
Q: On Egypt. You have been saying that the people want bold reforms but that the transition should be orderly. And as you are probably aware, there is a deep dispute about who should lead this transition which will depend on how bold it actually is. Many of the protesters have been calling for the constitution to be suspended, for President Mubarak to step down and for a national unity government to lead the transition, which could take some time. What is actually happening is that President Mubarak's right hand man, Omar Suleiman, has stepped into place. He has said that President Mubarak will not leave at the moment and he has made proposals which protesters have called piecemeal and cosmetic. Where does the UN stand on this? Who do you think should be leading the transition, and can you actually support both, because they seem to be asking for very different things?
SG: We need to address the situation in Egypt or elsewhere in a comprehensive way, particularly when it comes to Egypt. As you know, Egypt is one of the very important countries. They have been playing a very important role in the Middle East peace process. President Mubarak himself has been playing a key role in this process, and therefore, while I would urge that Egyptian Government leaders and people discuss their reform measures and transitions, according to their own rules and regulations and political situation there; at the same time, the very strategic role which Egypt has been playing in the overall Middle East peace process should also be preserved. That is why I am asking that this transition should be orderly and peaceful, so that there should not be any negative sudden impact.
Q: Secretary-General. You met the two Cyprus leaders in Geneva and you had intensive talks with them. Are you satisfied with the progress so far reached in the negotiations? And in your concluding remarks after the talks, you didn't mention any dates that you are going to meet them again. Are you going to meet them in March here sir?
SG: I will be satisfied when both leaders will agree completely on all the core issues, but I was reasonably satisfied with, first of all, their commitment to address all these issues through negotiation – that I appreciated very much. The negotiations in Geneva were much more productive and much more lively in terms of their exchange of views and also I participated myself, providing certain comments. I really appreciated that kind of positive atmosphere between the two leaders and I will continue to have another round of negotiations soon. The detailed timing and agenda and place will be decided as Mr. Alexander Downer is continuing to assess the situation on the ground. In the meantime, I urged the two leaders to continue their bilateral negotiations, so that they can bridge the gaps and to have as [many] convergences as possible.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General. You had, when you were in Munich, of course you had this meeting of the Quartet and it seems that the Middle East peace process, so to speak, has been almost dead, but now you are trying to revive it. Although, now I believe Ms. Ashton in the morning said no, it's very much alive, but it doesn't seem it's moving, and that is echoing. The Middle East/Palestinian question is echoing in everything that is happening in the Middle East, whether it is Tunisia, whether it is Egypt. So how are the leaders in Munich [coming up] with any new ideas to push this process forward?
SG: I am also concerned by the very slow process, almost an impasse now of the Middle East peace process. That is why the Quartet principals met in Munich. This Quartet meeting was convened against a backdrop of [?] very difficult situations in the region. As I said, even though we did not discuss in detail the current situation in the region, but the very fact that this Quartet meeting was held against the backdrop of that situation was very important. And secondly, the Quartet principals decided to step up our efforts. The Quartet and the Arab Peace Initiative can have a very important role to play to facilitate the peace process in the Middle East. We will continue to do that. Thirdly, we agreed as a sign of commitment, to meet again some time in March, on the occasion of the G-8 Foreign Ministers meeting. The detailed time and venue should be decided. In the meantime, we have instructed our envoys to continue their negotiations and roles, first of all among envoys with the parties concerned. As a part of this process, I am going to meet Arab partners this afternoon, right after this meeting. And also our envoys will continue to meet with the parties. This is quite an important sign of our commitment, that the Quartet should be more visibly engaged in the future process.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, this is a follow up to Barbara's question, which I'm afraid that you did not answer in detail. Let me put it bluntly. When you called for bold steps on the part of the Egyptian leadership, does it mean the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak?
SG: I have answered [these] questions many times, when I said bold reforms, bold changes – the Government have proposed many ideas, as I understand, including the Constitutional amendment and there may be many areas where they can make changes. All this future of Egypt and process and case of this transition should be decided by the Egyptian leadership and the people, who are now calling for changes. I understand that the Egyptian Government has already initiated such talks. I hope these talks will bring, first of all, a calming down of the situation and reflecting the wishes and will of the people.
Q: Sri Lanka – I need to ask you this. In both of your two last monthly press conferences, you said that your Panel was going to travel to the country, you praised President Rajapaksa's flexibility. It now appears, and I've now heard from people on both sides that the Panel is probably not going to go, that they've offered a video conference. I just wondered what happened. Who did you speak with before you said that they could go and how do you read this now, with their failure to go, as the deadline approaches?
SG: I can tell you that there was an agreement and that my Panel will visit Sri Lanka and they are still discussing about the format and their role in Sri Lanka. And whenever it is decided, I will let you know. I didn't say that they [wouldn't] go. They will try to go anyway.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, today you met with a member of the Bosnian Presidency, Mr. Bakir Izetbegoviæ. Can you tell us what did you talk to him about? And I have to ask you a follow-up regarding tomorrow's talk on the name of Macedonia, what can you tell us again on that?
SG: First of all, it was a great pleasure for me to meet him and I congratulated him for his election and we exchanged views about the prospect of the formation of a government. As I believe that the situation in the Balkans is very important, I have strongly urged him to promote reconciliation, engage in dialogue among the different parties. I think it was quite a productive and useful exchange of view. We will continue to do that. Mr. Nimetz is continuing to meet with the parties to have a mutually agreeable solution of this name issue. I have been urging both government leaders that this name issue should be resolved as soon as possible, [for] their own national government aspirations and also their agendas to join the European Union and NATO. There are many important issues, therefore all these issues should be addressed as soon as possible for peace and stability in the region. I am sure that Mr. Nimetz will continue to discuss this matter with the two government leaders.
Thank you very much.