Secretary-General's press conference with UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (revised)
London, United Kingdom, 19 October 2004Straw: It's my very great pleasure to welcome to London my good friend the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. As a permanent member of the Security Council and current holder of the Council Presidency, the United Kingdom takes its responsibilities to the United Nations extremely seriously, and we greatly value the strong leadership which Kofi Annan has brought and continues to bring to the Organization.
We talked about a wide range of issues. The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of reform to strengthen the United Nations and make sure that it acts earlier to prevent conflict and to deal with other threats of international peace and security. And I told Kofi that we look forward very much to the recommendations in this area that will be made by the High Level Panel which he established, which I think is going to report in December.
The breadth of the issues which we discussed today underlines the central importance of the United Nations. We discussed Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel and Palestine, and on all those issues and many others the United Nations has a strong role to play in building consensus in preventing conflict and in making the world a safer place.
On Sudan, Resolutions 1556 and 1564 make clear that the government of Sudan must have to do a great deal to deal with the crisis in Darfur. Although progress has been made, Kofi's Special Representative, Jan Pronk, has made clear that the security situation remains unsatisfactory, and we both discussed that and what further action could be taken and what further support we might be able to provide to the African Union, both bilaterally and with the European Union.
In Afghanistan, there is a better picture. The first ever elections took place ten days ago. Given the situation in Afghanistan three years ago, it's a very remarkable achievement, and the United Nations was instrumental in registering more than ten million voters and if I may say so, deserves very great credit for that registration and for the generally satisfactory progress of those elections.
The United Nations expertise and leadership is equally essential with respect to Iraq's elections, which are due by the end of January. I visited Iraq a fortnight ago, and as I told Kofi, I was very greatly impressed by the work of the United Nations chief electoral adviser, Carlos Valenzuela and all his colleagues. And I must say, my judgement was that they had got the elections well-organized with the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq and that in terms of the administrative arrangements, things are on course. But of course the key issue there is that of security, ensuring a security environment in which the elections can take place satisfactorily, and we discussed that. The people of Iraq have waited a long time for the chance to elect their leaders and we are determined that they should be able to do so.
SG: Thank you very much, Jack. I think that the Foreign Secretary has given you a very clear idea, an exhaustive list, of the issues we've discussed. Let me say that it's also been my pleasure to be here in London and to be able to discuss these crucial issues with him, and later on in the day with the Prime Minister.
Let me say that in Afghanistan we were extremely pleased that we were able to play the role we have, and of course this the first major election; we have another one, presidential and parliamentary elections coming up in the spring, which we are preparing for, and I hope it will go equally smoothly.
I was very happy to hear the Foreign Secretary on the efforts that the European Union and other governments are making to support the African Union to send in their troops, because that is absolutely essential that we get the troops in as quickly as possible. And I'm also pleased that the Sudanese Government is willing to cooperate and to work with them.
It is also important on Sudan that we press the parties to go ahead with the political negotiations, both between the north and the south and between the government and the rebels in Darfur. In the meantime, all sides must respect the cease-fire and take measures to protect civilians, even before the troops get in there.
On the Middle East I, as a member of the Quartet, agree with the Foreign Secretary that we should do whatever we can not only to assist the Palestinians in reforming their institutions and their security, but we should also monitor the Israeli plans for withdrawal and see how the international community will work with them. And in my judgment, it should be in accordance with the Road Map. But of course, the decisions have not been taken yet, and once that is taken, the international community will have a lot to do.
Thank you very much.
Straw: Thank you very much. We will take your questions please.
Q: [Foreign Secretary was asked about the request by for redeployment of UK troops by the US]
Q: If I could ask a question to both of you gentlemen, it is related. Number one, from your tone Foreign Secretary, I do get the impression that the redeployment of British troops to support the Americans is very much a done deal. And if I can ask you Mr. Annan, given your publicly expressed concerns about the war and its generality, I would imagine you think that's not a particularly good idea.
SG: I think this is something that is for the command and the governments at this stage of the operation to decide. What we are interested in is to see successful efforts to create a secure environment that will allow all the essential things we want to do for the Iraqis to go on, because without a secure environment you cannot have effective reconstruction. You cannot have the kind of smooth elections that we have talked about, the early successful elections in Afghanistan, we would want to see that in Iraq in January. And therefore to pacify the environment would be extremely helpful.
Q: My question is on Darfur for both of you. We have talked about Darfur and several states have visited Sudan and the killings, rape and displacement goes on. What further action can be taken to sort out Darfur, or is it a lost cause now?
Straw: I don't regard Darfur as a lost cause. It cannot be a lost cause. What's happened there is terrible. What has to happen has been properly set out in two successive Security Council Resolutions, which imposed obligations on the government of Sudan but also on the rebel groups as well. What has to happen ultimately if there is to be a political solution in terms of the north-south dialogue, not directly related to Darfur, but certainly indirectly, there are more hopeful signs there of agreement being reached between vice-president [Ali Osman] Taha and John Garang, then we've got the talks taking place in Abuja in respect of the situation in Darfur.
Alongside that, further action must be taken to improve the conditions of the displaced persons in Darfur and that's been a matter that the Secretary-General and I have talked about at length. We've already put in, the United Kingdom, a great deal of aid. We are the largest cash donor into Sudan and we stand ready to put in a great deal more aid. And let me make it clear, this is not a crisis, a humanitarian crisis, we or the world is going to forget.
SG: Let me add, say that we need to provide humanitarian assistance in the quantities that are required. Not just give them food and shelter, but also the non-food items; health, sanitation and other aspects. Here we are short of about 200 million dollars that we've asked for and we haven't got and I hope that the donor countries will do everything to provide the resources we need for us to be able to carry out our humanitarian effort.
On the security side, every effort is being made to send in the African monitors and protective force and I think their presence will also make quite a lot of difference. In the meantime we are sending in additional humanitarian workers and I think the eyes and ears of the international community, that many people would also help dissuade the attacks. So, I think on the security side we need to do everything and give the African Union the support to go in there. And we should press the parties, the government and the rebels, to go back to the table and discuss seriously, in the spirit of compromise, to find a political solution.
Q: There are two questions, Mr. Annan. Could you tell us whether you share the Foreign Secretary's optimism that elections will be able to be held in Iraq in January in a way that would make them effective and suitable for the political process for the future. And secondly on Darfur, in the light of UN reform, could you both tell me what you see as the principle lessons from the Darfur crisis, the slowness of the international response, the inability, despite agreeing on Security Council resolutions, to bring real pressure on the Sudanese Government. What lessons do you draw that must be changed in the future?
SG: On your first question, we have a team in Iraq working with the independent electoral team to set up the elections. We are giving them good support, we are assisting and advising their efforts. And for the moment, we believe we are on track and if things go well and everyone does what they are supposed to do, and the environment holds, we should be able to have the elections. And Prime Minister Allawi who was in New York last September told me that they are determined to go ahead with the elections in January and it is their call. Iraqis will run the elections, they have ownership and we will support their efforts.
On your second question about Darfur. Obviously Sudan is a very complex situation. You have a complex political environment; you have various political groups and parties; you have the situation itself in Darfur which is causing conflicts. The Security Council has taken several measures and decisions. My own envoy [Jan] Pronk is down on the ground working very hard with the government and the humanitarian agencies.
I know that there has been some concern with the word genocide, that we should declare it genocide. I have made it quite clear that regardless of the label you put on it, serious crimes are being committed and essential help is required and we should try and do it as quickly as possible. The impression which has been gained in some quarters that if you were only to label it genocide things would fall in place, I'm afraid, is not really correct. We know what needs to be done; we need to have the will and the resources to go in and do it. For the moment the decision has been taken that the best force to go in and do that would be the African Union forces and they themselves have offered to do it. What we need to do is to give them the necessary logistic and financial support to be able to do that as quickly as possible.
Straw: Could I just add support to what the Secretary-General has just said there. There are many lessons to learn from the situation in Darfur. The whole of the international community, I include the UK in this, could have acted more quickly. However, we have acted now together and our aim is to give the maximum support to the African Union, who are quite properly are in the lead. And I also support what the Secretary-General has said in respect of genocide.
Q: A question for Mr. Kofi Annan regarding Western Sahara. Where does the settlement plan for Western Sahara stand two days before your report to the Security Council? And what does the United Nations plan to do to encourage the parties, Morocco and Algeria, to find a solution to this conflict?
SG: This is a long standing conflict. As you know my Special Envoy, Mr. Jim Baker, resigned a couple of months ago, and I have appointed a new envoy, Mr. Alvaro de Soto, to work with the parties and try and bring the issue to a solution. It is not easy, in that the parties have disagreed as to the choice between autonomy and self-determination, but the original agreement was for self-determination and we are trying to find common ground between the parties to be able to move forward. I will not have anything dramatic to report in my next submission to the Council, but our efforts do continue and will continue.
Q: Question for Kofi Annan. Two parts; first of all given what you said about the consequences of the international war on terror and the illegality of the war in Iraq, do you think Iraq now is a better place than it was before the fall of Saddam Hussein. And secondly, in particular on Fallujah, with American plans to finally push the rebels out of that town. What concerns do you have about that action, given American's tactics in the past, about their track record and about complaints from civilians in that town, that far too many civilians are killed in that kind of action?
SG: On your first question, let me say that today we are all focused on Iraq, and I think as an international community we all have an interest in the stability of Iraq. Regardless of where you stood before the war or what we think about the reasons for the war, I think all our efforts should go into stabilising Iraq and helping the Iraqis take charge of their own destiny, economic and political, and move forward. I think no country, regardless of its political philosophy, its position on this, can afford to see a problematic Iraq in the middle of that region. So all hands on deck, let's do whatever we can to support the Iraqi people.
On the question of Fallujah, obviously this is a question for the Iraqi Government and the Multinational Force to make. But I think in these kinds of situations, you have two wars going on; you have the war for the minds and hearts of people, as well as efforts to try and bring down the violence and the two have to go together. And it has to be calibrated in such a way that you are able to move the people along with you, whilst at the same time you improve the security environment. And I hope that that approach is the one that is being pursued by the government and others in Iraq.
Q: [Foreign Secretary was asked about the request for redeployment of UK troops by the US].
Off-the-Cuff on 19 October 2004