Secretary-general Kofi Annan's press encounter following Security Council consultations on Côte d'Ivoire
New York, 19 January 2006Q: Just first of all, your general view of the situation, the seriousness of the situation, on the ground in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
SG: I think the situation is critical, but I have had discussions with the leaders in the region working with them and with President [Laurent] Gbagbo himself and the other two leaders who have been very actively involved, President [Olusegun] Obasanjo [of Nigeria] and [South African President Thabo] Mbeki. And we are trying to get the situation under control.
I think it is unfortunate that the population will be incited to take to the streets to criticize the forces that are there to help the situation, the forces that are there to encourage them to make peace, and I believe that the efforts that are being made by President Obasanjo and others and all of us will yield results and the situation should calm down. Those who are behaving this way ought to understand that the time will come when they may have to account for their acts and the disruption they are causing to their own society.
The [Security] Council is discussing the matter, and I suspect at the end of their deliberations they will issue a statement. But I appeal to all Ivoirian citizens to work together with the Government and for the Prime Minister and the President to work together to implement the roadmap, to work together to bring peace in the interest of the people and the interest of the nation. It is their responsibility, it is their duty and the international community is there to assist them. We are not the protagonist, and they should work with us to implement the roadmap.
Q: Vous avez parlé aujourd'hui au president M.Gbagbo. En fait, qu'est-ce que vous lui avez demandé et pourquoi est-ce que L'ONU est prise en parti de ce conflit?
SG: Je lui ai demandé de faire tout ce qu'il peut pour calmer les jeunes. Les Jeunes Patriotes doivent rentrer chez eux, et ne doivent pas continuer d'attaquer les troupes onusiennes ou bien la population. Ils sont là pour aider, et la police, elle doit pouvoir intervenir pour calmer la situation. Le president avait indiqué qu'il est en train de le faire, il a donné des ordres, et décidemment, les choses doivent se calmer. Mais, en tout cas, M. [Pierre] Schori et là, sur place, il est en train de travailler avec tout le monde très étroitement.
Q: Par rapport aux sanctions, est-ce qu'il n'est pas temps aujourd'hui de prendre des actions dures pour arrêter tout ça?
SG: Les membres du conseil de securité sont en train de discuter ça. Evidemment, je suis l'un des gens qui ont toujours insisté qu'au moment venu, il faut âgir, il faut prendre l'action necessaire et le conseil de securité est en train de discuter ça. C'est à eux de decider quel genre de sanctions, quel moment, et contre qui.
Q: Sanctions have been on the table now for eighteen months. Do you think the time has come now to step up that?
SG: The [Security] Council is right now discussing this, and I don't want to jump ahead of them.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, why was the Bolton letter addressed to you answered by Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari yesterday?
SG: The letter has been answered, and I think that is the essential thing.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the US has said that rather than adding 4,000 soldiers and civilian police to the Ivory Coast peacekeeping mission, they think that a better strategy would be to address the underlying political issues there, resolve it politically and so forth, rather than throwing more troops in there. How do you respond to sort of that, I guess you could say, critique or idea, and the relation to your recommendation on this course?
SG: I think, ideally, you would want to resolve all these things politically. Ideally, you would want to resolve all these problems before it even becomes necessary to deploy troops – whether it is in Cote d'Ivoire, in Liberia, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo or in Iraq. But events sometimes take a turn that we are not always in charge – that sometimes you will have to put in the troops to be able to get to the peace that you are trying to achieve. And this is where we are, the situation we are in, in Cote d'Ivoire. It is very easy to say, “Why don't you resolve it politically rather than put in troops?” We have the same situation in Darfur, and those who are criticizing us have been working with us in Darfur and know that. Why haven't they been able to work with us to resolve it politically, so that we won't have need for police or troops? It is very easy to criticize and say these things but it is not that simple, if I may say so.
Q: If the UN is being attacked and continues to be attacked, do you think that there should be some consideration given to perhaps pulling out the force temporarily, or would that lead to a civil war that would make the situation even worse than it is today?
SG: I think it would make the situation worse, and we should also remember this is not the first operation where the peacekeepers have run into trouble, where the peacekeepers have been challenged. And if each time it happens, you pull out you are really creating a situation where the protagonists will be left to kill each other. The situation will get much worse if we were to withdraw, so we have to do everything we can to calm the situation and get back to the implementation of the roadmap.
Q: Secrétaire-général, quel est, à votre avis, le processus politique, est-ce que vous faites confiance au President Gbagbo? Vous avez eu un communiqué assez dur, il y a deux jours.
SG: Evidement il doit travailler très étroitement avec le Premier Ministre. Les deux chefs d'état sont très impliqués, sont toujours en contact avec eux. C'est a dire, le Président Mbeki et le Président Obasanjo, et moi même, je suis en contact avec eux pour les encourager à mettre en application l'accord qui'ils ont signé. Et mon représentant spécial, M. Schori, aussi travaille très étroitement sur place avec eux. On n'a pas de choix, mais de pousser de continuer à travailler avec eux. On a un calendrier très étroit. Il faut le respecter. On va pousser autant que possible.
Q: Est-ce qu'ils sont sincères dans leurs efforts pour ramener la paix?
SG: Sincères? Certains sont sincères mas ça ne veux pas dire que tout le monde est toujours sincère. Donc on doit pouvoir faire la distinction toujours sincère entre le travail avec les leaders qui sont prêts vraiment à travailler avec nous pour établir la paix.
Q: M. le Secrétaire-général, sur un autre plan, sur le Liban, est-ce que vous avez une réaction pour le gel des avoirs de M. Assef Shawkat? Any reaction on the asset freeze?
SG: C'est une décision americaine, franchement je ne veux pas me mêler dedans. Ce qui est important c'est que M. Brammertz est arrivé. Il a repris son travail. Il va s'assoir avec M. Mehlis pour discuter comment il faut proceder. Je crois qu'il va être très efficace, et va continuer dans le même sens, compétence et professionalisme que M. Mehlis a montré.
Q: Is Shawkat a suspect?
SG: I don't know. I think this is something that the prosecutor will have to say. They haven't spoken to him yet, but he may well be. I will have to leave it to the prosecutor.
Q: Some members of the Security Council are looking for a statement to raise again the issue of the supply of weapons and personnel to militia in Lebanon. Do you believe it is time to start applying more pressure once more on the Syrian Government to stop the sending weapons and personnel there? What kind of initiatives do you foresee in this?
SG: I think we should do everything to dissuade those who would ship weapons into Lebanon. We have a delicate situation in Lebanon. We don't need any more arms or any instigation in the situation and we will have to take measures to dissuade people who are sending in weapons. As to measures or initiatives, there are no specific initiatives but we have made appeals, and it may well be that down the line some specific measures will have to be taken by the Council.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the issue of appeals, have you been in touch with President Bashar al-Assad and would you be appealing to him to cooperate with the Commission and to submit himself to an interview?
SG: I haven't spoken to President Assad lately but Foreign Minister [Farouk al-]Sharaa called me two days ago to assure me that his Government is going to cooperate and cooperate fully with the new prosecutor, and they look forward to meeting with him as soon as is practicable and I urged them to cooperate and cooperate fully without reservation, and they did give me the assurance that they will.
Q: Do you deem it important that Mr. Assad submit himself to an interview?
SG: I think this is something that [Serge] Brammertz is going to look into once he is there and I don't want to get into his hair. He has a responsibility, he has a full mandate, he is independent, and I would want to leave him to do his work.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General , it looks like the Iran nuclear issue is going to land in the Security Council. But there doesn't seem to be agreement within the Council of how to handle it, or even if the Council can handle the issue. What do you think the next steps for Iran should be and what kind of conversations have you had with leaders lately?
SG: I think the nuclear issue, as you rightly point out, is one of the difficult issues facing the international community today. The [International] Atomic [Energy] Agency will meet next month to discuss the issue, and there are lots of contacts between major capitals on this issue. And my own advice to the Iranians is to create an environment that will allow the negotiations to go forward. I think they should not escalate; they should not press ahead with their nuclear fuel research. We need time to build confidence and trust so that these negotiations will take place in an atmosphere which is appropriate. And I would hope that as the discussions go on, the Iranians will see the need to come back to the table, but come back to the table in a genuine spirit of searching for a solution, because if indeed their intention is peaceful nuclear capability, the international community in the discussions have given an assurance that they will make sure that they do have the fuel necessary. If all else fails and the process is exhausted and the issue were to come here, then the Council will have to deal with it.
Q: But the Europeans say that all else has failed, and that's why they want to bring it to the Council. And secondly, when was the last time you had any contact with an Iranian official or anyone closely involved in this?
SG: I haven't spoken to an Iranian official since my last conversation with Mr. [Ali] Larijani. I know that Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei has had contacts with them. When I say 'if all else fails,' I mean once we have exhausted the Atomic Agency process, which is still ongoing, then it may well end up here, and the Council will have to tackle it.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, do you think if there was progress on a nuclear-free Middle East, which was laid out in the Gulf War ceasefire resolution, that this could help the Iranian situation?
SG: You recall during the [2005 World] Summit, as important as this topic is, we were engaged with the Korean six-party talks, we were engaged on the Iranian issue, we all knew the dangers of non-proliferation and disarmament, but we couldn't get a paragraph agreed, which I said was a real disappointment and a real disgrace. So if leadership is not shown and we are not sending around the message that we mean business when we talk of nuclear non-proliferation, we mean business when we talk of disarmament, we are going to be confronted with these problems, so I would hope that all is not lost and that the Member States will still find some way, some energy and creativity in reverting to this issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, even during the course of this General Assembly session. It is not too late.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the US and Israel, there have been numerous accounts over the last weeks and months that they are threatening to attack Iran and that they have nuclear plans in place.
SG: You said US and Israel?
Q: The US and Israel in the press are constantly saying that they have plans to attack Iran by the end of March and this can't possibly help the negotiations situation. What are the mechanisms that you are using to deal with this kind of a threat?
SG: I am not sure I give any credence to such reports, that they would attack by the end of March. I have no basis to believe that it is a sound decision or is a firm decision, and so I would not want to speculate on that.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, Terje Roed-Larsen's report was very critical of the militia in the South [of Lebanon]. Do you see a need for Presidential Statement concerning that report?
SG: I think the Council members are aware that disarmament of all militia in Lebanon is part of [Security Council resolution] 1559. We have also had discussions with the Lebanese authorities and the Prime Minister and they are all conscious of what needs to be done. I am not sure if a Presidential Statement at this stage is going to add anything to it. But I think what is important is to continue working with the authorities to take appropriate measures at the right time to implement that aspect of the resolution.
Q: What is the way forward?
SG: I think these resolutions are not implemented overnight. We have made considerable progress on 1559 but that is one of the key areas where progress hasn't been made. And in discussions with the Lebanese authorities who are very conscious of it and are trying to work within their own system as to how to proceed, I think we should give them the time and space to decide how to do it, and not try and impose something on them that could destabilize the situation, because we all want to help Lebanon, we want to see interference cease in Lebanon, we want to see Lebanon as a normal independent state that can run its affairs without outside interference, but we also have to be careful not to do anything that destabilizes the country.
Q: Do you have any recent reports from Mr. Martti Ahtisaari on the progress of status talks on Kosovo?
SG: As you know he has just really started his work in earnest, and he has been in touch with leaders in the region and the two parties, and they will start their meetings to discuss the way forward. He hasn't got to the stage where he has submitted formal reports yet. But he is moving ahead with his work energetically.
Q: Back to Ivory Coast just quickly, Mr. Secretary-General, you said obviously pulling out troops can send the wrong message. What about increasing troop levels as suggested in your report? Is there movement for this?
SG: In fact this came up this morning. We discussed it, and I said to the Council that obviously my report and all the reasoning we have given them for increasing the force was not convincing, but events on the ground have made our case. So I hope they will move forward. Thank you.