Secretary-General's press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (unofficial transcript)
Madrid, Spain, 7 September 2006SG: Mr. Prime Minister, let me say how pleased I am to be back in Madrid again, and to have the opportunity for us to exchange ideas and to thank you very strongly for your support for the United Nations and our efforts to try and make this world a more harmonious place. Let me also thank you for your leadership, Mr. Prime Minister, and I'm very pleased that you have decided to recommend your Parliament that Spanish troops join other European countries in helping to stabilize Lebanon. The European troops and the Spanish troops will be joining troops who will be coming from Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Qatar, and we have on the ground already troops from India, China and Ghana. So you do have a truly international force on the ground, a sign of international solidarity for the people of Lebanon. I have just come back from the region and, Mr. Prime Minister, I can tell you that all the leaders I met are determined to work collectively and with us, the international community, to make [Security Council resolution] 1701 a success.
They also see the implementation of 1701 not just as an exercise in helping Lebanon, but something that will give us an opportunity to deepen peace and broaden peace in the larger Middle East and eventually resolve all the tracks: Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. So I think this opportunity must be seized and the leaders in the region are counting on the support of the international community, particularly Europe that has taken such a deep road and are providing the backbone of the force. Today, the embargo on Lebanon will be lifted at 6:00 pm and I think this will also allow Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora and his Government to press ahead for recovery and reconstruction without impediment, and I hope this will also ease some of the tensions that still prevail. But as an international community we do have quite a lot of work to do, and I am really pleased that we have all rallied and I am convinced that if we pool our efforts the way we began to do, we cannot but succeed and we will succeed. Thank you, I'll take your questions. I think the Prime Minister has shared with you all the issues we discussed.
Q: My question is for the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It's very specific. The former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, has he been asked to be a mediator in the Congo conflict, and what has been the reply by Mr. Gonzalez?
SG: We have a very special situation in the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo. It is a country that is holding its first free and fair elections in over forty years. It's a country the size of Western Europe with hardly any infrastructure. It presents quite a challenge to organize, and the first round has gone well. But to help its leaders and the politicians to move along this process of democratization and elections, we have set up a “Comité de Sages”, a group of Wise Men, chaired by President [Joachim] Chissano, former President of Mozambique, who, as the process goes along, often meet to discuss with the political leaders, trying to resolve differences, and stir the process. They are doing a very good job and we thought we would invite former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to join this group of wise men. I had a discussion with him today, and he and President Chissano will be talking some time later. Thank you.
Q: For the Secretary-General, to what extent the differences with Israel that you've been able to see on your trip. What is the position with regard to withdrawal of troops from the South? They didn't seem to be very ready to do that until Resolution 1701 is fully complied with. How do you see this in terms of the consolidation of the ceasefire?
SG: Let me say that I did discuss this issue on my trip to Israel and I walked away with the understanding that for the Israelis to withdraw, they would want to see a credible force in the South. But that credible force cannot possibly be the entire 15,000 of the international forces coming in, and we did indicate that, with 5,000 international troops on the ground and with 16,000 Lebanese troops also waiting to be deployed in the South, there will be a credible force and we then need Israel to withdraw. We will reach that number, the number of about 5,000 international troops by the middle of the month, the middle of September, allowing Israel to withdraw completely. The process will be, as they roll out, we roll in. They have to leave for the others to be able to deploy and spread out, so they will leave and wouldn't wait for all 15,000 to come before they leave and in my judgment, an international force of 5,000 plus 16,000 Lebanese troops is a credible force that can wrap down the territory and should not lead to any concern.
Q: I have a question for Mr. Annan. Is it decided already who is going to be in command of the troops in Southern Lebanon?
SG: Yes, from now until end of February, the Commander will be General [Alain] Pellegrini. He's a French Commander who is a Frenchman, who has been working with the UN in southern Lebanon. That will assure continuity, as well as good experience on the ground. So we are building on the UN force which was already there at the beginning of the conflict and at the end of it we have about 2,000 UN troops commanded by General Pellegrini, and we are now reinforcing the strength. As of February, at the end of February, we will have a rotation and we'll have a new Commander and that new Commander will come from Italy.
Q: I have a question for both. For the man who represents the international legality, leading the UN. What's your impression regarding the fifth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 that Mr. Bush came out to say that there were secret jails of the CIA and that they would continue to exist because they are a necessary instrument in the war against terror?
SG: Let me say that the UN's position and my own position has been very, very clear. In the fight against terrorism, we ought to be very careful not to erode human rights and civil liberties. I do not believe there is or there can be a trade-off between the effective fight against terrorism and protection of civil liberties. If, as individuals we are asked to give up our freedom, our liberties and human rights, for protection against terrorism, and we do it, do we in the end have protection? I think we need to be careful not to undermine human rights and civil liberties in this fight against terrorism because if we do, we are handing the terrorists a victory they cannot win on their own. Thank you.
Q: You said that you don't understand the Iranian's position on their nuclear programme better. Can you please explain and extend yourself further on this matter?
SG: I had very useful discussions in Iran on these issues with Mr. Larijani and with the President [Ahmadinejad] and we discussed the upcoming meeting with Mr. Solana and their own response to the proposals from 5 + 1. Their position is that they are not prepared to suspend the enrichment exercise before negotiations, but are prepared to negotiate and the discussion of the suspension could be, should be, part of the negotiations and if they agree to suspend them it will come out of the negotiations but not a pre-condition outside the negotiations. They reaffirmed their determination to negotiate and find a solution. The best solution will be a negotiated one and I have encouraged all concerned to find a mutually acceptable negotiated solution and I hope that the next few weeks or months will prove that this route is not only the most viable one, but it is possible.
Q: Has Spain's offer of Manises base been accepted? The Secretary-General has responded positively?
SG: I think the emphasis was in the last word and we are going to study it very, very carefully. But there are several other candidates, and I think I will consider the Spanish offer very seriously and we will assess, but I think that we will not debate for long before we take the decision.
Q: A question for the Secretary-General on Iran. On behalf of the European Union, we are witnessing a hardening of the position that the EU is saying that we should be firmer. What does the SG think? Do you see hope in the talks between Mr. Larijani and Mr. Solana?
SG: I think postures before or during negotiations are judgments for the negotiators to make. But I think whatever posture one adopts in this particular case we have to remember that at the end of the day we have a real hard problem to solve, a real hard problem to deal with, and we must not look at that problem in isolation. We have to look at the problem in the context of what else is going on in the world, particularly in that region. I think we should insist that Iran reassures the international community that its intention is pacific, that it has no hidden agenda as it states, but ]if that is the case], it has a responsibility to take steps to reassure all of us that their intentions are peaceful and remove the cloud of uncertainty and doubt that surrounds their programme. I think the encounter between Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani is important and Iran can send important signals through that meeting to the rest of the international community, and eventually be to a meeting between Iran and the 5 + 1. You had another question.
Q: I'm from group Televisa Radio from Mexico. I have a question for both of you. I wish to apologize because I'm going to be speaking about something else: about Mexico's political situation and the designation of the elect President, and what do you expect from our new leader?
SG: I agree with what the Prime Minister has said. Only to add that I have worked well with the previous Presidents of Mexico, my good friend Ernesto Zedillo; another friend, President Fox. I look forward to working with the new one as effectively as I did with the two previous ones. Thank you very much.