Secretary-General's press conference to introduce Ms. Ann Veneman
New York, 18 January 2005SG: Good morning.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to meet you this morning with Ms. Ann Veneman.
As most of you probably know, at the end of April Carol Bellamy will complete her second five-year term as Executive Director of UNICEF. And as I'm sure you can imagine, she is not an easy person to replace.
The search for a suitable successor has taken several months, and several candidates of very high standing have been considered. But one of them emerged as clearly the strongest.
I wrote to the President of UNICEF's Executive Board, informing him of my intention to appoint Ms. Ann Veneman of the United States as the new Executive Director so that he could undertake the necessary consultations with the Board. I now have the great honour to present Ms. Veneman to you.
Her qualifications are outstanding. She has served since 2001 as Secretary of Agriculture in the United States government, and has achieved a great deal in the area of agricultural development and food security.
She has focused strongly on new ways of feeding the hungry around the world – thus making an important contribution to the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals. And she has been a long-term and steadfast supporter of programmes to advance the welfare of children, both at home and abroad.
In particular, she established the “Leaders of Tomorrow” initiative to strengthen education programmes, with a view to fostering the next generation of agricultural leadership. And she has also worked to share American expertise with other nations, to help them improve their own nutrition.
Ms. Veneman's extensive experience, as well as her personal commitment to UNICEF's values and mission, make her an eminently suitable person to lead UNICEF. I am confident that she will prove to be a worthy successor to Carol Bellamy.
Ms. Veneman will take up her post on 1 May 2005, which means that Carol still has more than three months in the job. And I'm sure she'll be a Director till the last day. There will be other opportunities to thank her for the outstanding contribution she has made in the last ten years to UNICEF, to the United Nations, and to the welfare of children all over the world.
Let me just say now that Carol's record speaks for itself. She has led UNICEF into the 21st century with exemplary skill, determination and conviction, facing numerous challenges along the way. Her legacy must inspire us all – as I'm sure it will inspire Ann – to do everything we can to make the world a safer and better place for children everywhere.
Now I'm sure Ann would like to make some brief remarks herself, and then we will take your questions.
Ms. Veneman: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General, for those kind words and for putting your confidence in me, and I very much look forward to working with you and the rest of the team here in New York and around the world.
Before I begin, let me commend Carol Bellamy for a decade of service in leading UNICEF and for all her tireless work on behalf of children around the world. Ms. Bellamy and I have had the opportunity to meet, and I look forward to working with her as this transition takes place.
It is an immeasurable honour to be selected as the fifth Executive Director of UNICEF. It is also a responsibility of immense importance and one that I take with the utmost seriousness. I come to this position with a deep and abiding belief in the mission and work of UNICEF. I also come with a commitment to an approach that will yield for the world's children results, not rhetoric; benefits, not banalities.
The plight of children around the world is enormous. Children today must face issues that no child – no human being – should have to confront: malnutrition and hunger, illiteracy and disease, especially the scourge of HIV/AIDS, exploitation and suffering, wars and natural disasters. The challenges are imposing, but there is also a vast reservoir of will to solve them. I am committed to tapping into that potential.
It has been an honour for me, over the last four years, to play a role in the search for solutions. As the US Secretary of Agriculture, I have joined with President Bush in making international development and assistance among our highest priorities. Many of our activities have been supportive of the Millennium Development Goals. A year and a half ago, I hosted a ministerial conference attended by representatives of 120 nations. Our purpose was to find ways to harness the power of technology, from the very basic to the advanced, in order to accelerate agricultural productivity around the world, ultimately bringing us closer to the goal of reducing world hunger by half by the year 2015 and addressing poverty in some of the world's most desperate regions. We have also initiated follow-on activities with the promise of science and research as a solid foundation for progress.
The US Department of Agriculture has been vital not just in the battle against domestic hunger, but in feeding those around the world. Our Department administers the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education for Child Nutrition Program, which now supports projects in 21 countries reaching 2.3 million school children, mothers and infants. In addition to providing much-needed nutrition, the programme is a powerful incentive to draw children, especially girls, to the classroom. We have also worked to share our expertise with other nations to help them improve their own nutrition assistance programmes. I saw many of those activities at first hand in November 2003, when I visited Iraq and Afghanistan, witnessing mothers who were permitted to work for the first time, in bakeries, using food aid, or taking their children to health clinics.
UNICEF was created to address disease and desperation at the end of World War II. Modern crises, such as the recent tsunami disaster, show that the needs today are just as great and that the mission of UNICEF is as relevant as it is noble. The humanitarian, Mother Teresa, once said, “If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one. Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.” UNICEF is indeed worried about numbers, but there must also be a concern for the individual. The realization that we must never lose sight of is the human face that is the focus of our efforts - that is the face of a child.
Thank you again, Mr. Secretary-General, for your confidence in me.
SG: We'll take a few questions.
Q: Ms. Veneman, the United Nations in general and UNICEF in particular have long-standing policies on reproductive health and education for girls that are at odds, regularly, with the Bush Administration. I'd like to have a clarification of where you stand on some of these broad issues.
Ms. Veneman: I don't come with any agenda with regard to those or any other social issues. I come with an agenda of helping children, particularly in the areas of education and health and to address the issues of hunger and malnutrition. I don't have a position with regard to I don't believe that these issues are relevant to the missions of UNICEF.
Q: A question for the Secretary-General. Beyond simply replacing an American with an American; that's understood; what is the significance to you of having a high-level member of the Bush Administration now serving as a high-level member of your own administration?
And Madam Secretary, if I can, what challenge would you issue now as a UN appointee or designate to Washington to help meet the goals that you expressed today and that were expressed in this room yesterday relating to the Millennium Development Goals?
SG: First, let me say that this is not the first time that we have had an ex-Cabinet member serve as an Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations. We had Attorney General [Richard] Thornburgh serve here some years ago, and I am very happy that Ms. Veneman has joined us. She comes, as I indicated, with considerable experience that is going to be a real value for the mission of UNICEF and the organization she is going to lead. Obviously, relationships and contacts in Washington will be helpful, as we have in the past used contacts and relationships of others.
On the question of the Millennium Development Goals and the challenge of meeting the Goals by 2015, it is a challenge for all Governments, and I think when we meet in September we are going to ask the Governments to live up to the commitments they made in . I think, having heard Ms. Veneman's own statement this morning, she is very much on the same wavelength. I'm sure that at every opportunity she will encourage the Administration to work with us in that direction.
Ms. Veneman: I would agree with the Secretary-General. The US is very committed to the goals of the Millennium development. I've had the opportunity to meet with the new Director of the Millennium Challenge Account, to talk with him about his goals with regard to assistance that will be given under this programme. We stand ready, I believe, in the US Government to work very closely with the UN and other nations around the world to achieve these goals, and certainly, as a member of the UN team, I will work to facilitate achieving those goals in any way that I possibly can.
Spokeswoman: The Secretary-General, as you know, has to leave in about three minutes to address the General Assembly session on the tsunami relief efforts, so this is the last question.
Q: [inaudible] When you look to appoint the heads of these agencies, such as UNICEF and UNDP, agencies that are directly related with development in the developing world, do you look to derive these officials from the First World, which has the money and influence, or do you look to derive them from the developing world, which is most directly concerned with the policies they run?
SG: Let me say that we have certain practices here, some of which have been [inaudible] and others have not. For example, until six years ago the heads of UNICEF, UNDP and the World Food Programme were all Americans. The change came six years ago with the appointment of [Mark] Malloch Brown, when the post went to another region.
What I look for is a competent individual who can lead the organization and really enhance the programmes and activities that we are embarked upon. Until now, we have tended to look at candidates from the US for UNICEF. UNDP, we have a broader scope since I made the change, and we will be looking for individuals who have expertise and can bring leadership to the programmes. It could be from the North; it could be from the South.
Q: You will make more appointments, Mr. Secretary-General?
SG: Not today.
Q: How do you respond to reports that you might be considering to resign, again?
SG: She did say this was the last question. I think we both have to go.