Press Encounter with the Secretary-General outside Room S-226 in the UN Secretariat Building
New York, 5 November 2004Q: Mr. Secretary-General, can you give a brief comment on the letter which you have sent to the US, UK and Iraq warning about Falluja?
SG: Well, this is a privileged communication. I don't have a habit of discussing privileged communications. So I would prefer not to comment on a letter that I sent. I know that it has leaked, but I really would prefer not to comment on it.
Q: I would only add that the US and the UK are commenting now publicly because it has been released.
Q: Iraq's Prime Minister has said that he's prepared to give you time to come up with a plan. Has he communicated this to you? To avoid a military offensive in Falluja?
SG: Well, he hasn't communicated that to me.
Q: Sir, you made a decision today regarding the ceiling of UN staffers in Iraq. What was that decision and why do you make it?
SG: You had a briefing from [Kieran] Prendegast and Carina [Perelli] and I think they explained that fully. They had the authority to explain.
Q: But I would like to hear from you, what was the decision and what are the conditions now?
SG: The decision is that we will provide adequate resources to get our work done.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, Yassir Arafat is apparently in a coma. I wondered whether you had any thoughts about his importance to the Palestinian cause and….
SG: I think Chairman Arafat embodied in his person the Palestinian aspirations for the statehood and he has been leader of his people all these years, and obviously, it's going to leave a gap amongst the Palestinians. But I hope, and so far they seem to be handling it well, that the succession will not be a problem. Chairman Arafat is still in hospital. I wish him well, but I think the arrangements they have in place with the Prime Minister Qurei and Mr. Abu Mazen is working well and I hope they will be able to ensure a smooth transition.
Q: Do you have a sense that this will jumpstart in any way the Roadmap or present any new options?
SG: I think when the Quartet met last September, we were hoping and determined to press on with the implementation of the Roadmap, particularly in the new year. And I think that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and with the changes taking place on the ground, I think we should be able to press ahead with the implementation of the plan.
And on your question about Iraq, let me say that we have a mandate from the Security Council, and the United Nations is determined to do whatever it can to assist the Iraqi people, the circumstances permitting. The elections is part of a broader context – it's part of a political process which we hope will be as inclusive as possible and pull in all Iraqis. Of course there are some extremists whom one can never get into the process, but the more inclusive the process, the greater the possibility that it will succeed and the results of the elections will be productive. So we are there to assist and advise on the elections, but we also operate in a context and I think this is important.
Q: Are you optimistic that the elections will be able to go ahead as scheduled at the end of January?
SG: We are giving the Electoral Commission all the assistance, all the support and advice we can. The question of the timing of the elections is a call – the call belongs to the Iraqis and they seem determined to go ahead.
Q: What kind of a threat could a military offensive create for the elections?
SG: I think I have indicated that we need to try and make the process as inclusive as possible. Obviously there are situations, moments where force needs to be used, but it is not -- force alone, I don't think, is enough. It is a process. One also has to try, as I have said before, to win the hearts and minds of the people and to draw them in, so that at the end of the process, at the end of the elections, it is their product and people who have been involved and feel included will be inclined to accept the results rather than have certain groups questioning themselves.
Q: Can we have one last reaction to the US election? We haven't seen you since then.
SG; No, no, let me say that I have worked well with President Bush and his administration in the past four years and I look forward to continuing my work with him. I have congratulated him warmly and our cooperation I expect will continue.