Secretary-General's press encounter (unofficial transcript)
New York, 28 November 2006SG: Good morning.
On my way in, someone was asking me about Sudan, the meeting in [Abuja] tomorrow. I expect the meeting to discuss the outcome of the discussions in Addis Ababa, and to press ahead with the conclusions that we reached in Addis. I am still expecting a formal response from the Sudanese authorities. I have now been told I will get it tomorrow morning, and then we will take it from there. And of course it should also be available for the meeting in Abuja tomorrow.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, what do you call this Sudan force – a hybrid, an African Union-led, because President [Omer Al-] Bashir again yesterday said, 'we will not agree, it's a lie, if anyone thinks we agreed to a joint AU-UN force'?
SG: We had a three-phased approach, when you look at the document. The first and second phases - there is no debate on it. On the third phase, the Sudanese, as I indicated, had three questions, which they said they were going to discuss and come back. The first question was the size of the force, what strength the force should be. The second question dealt with the appointment of the Special Representative or the High Representative who would report to both the African Union and the UN, and the appointment of the Commander, where they felt that the Commander should be an African. And we have no problem with that. In fact, the Commander of our largest operation in the (Democratic Republic of the )Congo is an African and it is going very well. So we have no problems at all with that. So I am waiting for them to come back on these three issues.
Q: Yesterday, you said that Iraq is close to civil war. I am curious, what is your definition of civil war? And how do we know when we have arrived there?
SG: I think I stand by what I said, it was very clear. I said it is almost there.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on Iraq, you spoke to the Iraq Study Group yesterday afternoon, by teleconference, I believe.
SG: That is correct.
Q: Could you tell us what your recommendations were, and do you support greater contact between the United States and Syria and Iran?
SG: I have been quite clear that the two countries have a role to play, and they should become part of the solution, and we should bring them in and get them to work with us in resolving the issue, and let them assume some of the responsibility. So I stand by that recommendation.
Q: Do you have any other recommendations?
SG: Quite a few.
Q: To Sudan, for a moment. You did elaborate your ideas, but yesterday Mr. Bashir said any talk that he accepts UN forces is a lie. Would you agree with him? Was he right?
SG: He has promised me a written response to the proposal. I just spoke to him before I came here, and he has indicated that I will get the response tomorrow morning. So I would much rather wait for that.
Q: On the Study Group, have the members of the Study Group shown any sort of indication or interest in having the idea of the UN playing some sort of a role as a security bridge, if there is a withdrawal or a partial withdrawal? And have you tried to convey to them your concerns about that sort of outcome?
SG: We didn't get into those kinds of details. Obviously, we have to wait for their report, but the UN, as you know, has played a role in the past – in the elections, the referendum, the constitutional review, and reconciliation efforts. We can play a role, but of course the security is a major constraint. The security in Iraq today is a major constraint. If one were to work out an arrangement where one can get all the Iraqi political parties together, somewhere outside Iraq as we did in Afghanistan, the UN can play the role it normally plays.
Q: On Iraq, have you been playing a role with the Iranian leadership and the Syrian leadership in terms of what, as an interlocutor, or any other way, on the issue of Iraq? Or have you understood what they might offer or take in order to make your recommendation feasible?
SG: I have not been playing any role with Syria or Iran vis-à-vis Iraq. I have dealt with them in the past on the Lebanese situation, but not on the Iraqi issue.
Q: The UN came up with figures showing about a hundred civilians are dying a day now in Iraq, and actually we have heard similar figures for Darfur. It's difficult to measure, but it seems to be similar, with figures of a hundred civilians dying a day, that's what we have heard. Do you think there is any equivalency to the fact that we have got the same rate of civilians dying in Iraq as in Darfur?
SG: It may be a coincidence, because we have different people looking at the figures in Iraq and in Darfur. There is no link between the two teams.
Q: ?There is all this huge outrage about the Darfur situation, yet somehow the civilian deaths in Iraq go relatively unnoticed. Do you think it is time to make more noise about that?
SG: I think, as an Organization, we have been very active. We have been reporting the figures. We have been reporting the number of deaths. We have been reporting the escalation, and it is very clear. Not only have we been giving the global figures, we have also given the daily figures, and you know, the question you are asking - why isn't the world reacting strongly to it – I think that is a question I can't answer. But we have been really putting the figures out there.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you are only in this job for another four weeks. What do you see as your priority in those closing weeks? Is it Darfur? Is it trying to find a solution to Iraq - you were suggesting just then maybe a conference outside Iraq is a good idea?
SG: Obviously, I am very much engaged on the situation in Darfur, and the Middle East generally, not just Iraq – the Lebanese situation, the Palestinian, and the tensions with Syria. All these occupy me. But on Darfur, I hope we will get it on the right track between now and the end of the year, and work with the Lebanese parties to get them to understand that it is in their interests to work for national unity, to work for stability of Lebanon, and to exercise patience and resolve their differences through dialogue, rather than by any violent means. And they should also ensure that they do not allow outsiders to interfere or manipulate their political system.
Q: And the Iraq conference?
SG: At some stage, I think it would be helpful to have a conference, a conference that brings everybody together, along the lines of what we did in the former Yugoslavia and others, but I think we need to work slowly to get there. I don't think one can organize that conference without other specific actions being taken. And of course the Iraqi leaders will have to understand that they need to come together to make compromises to resolve their differences. But of course I do not believe, given the bitterness and the level of violence, that they can do it alone. The international community has to help them do it and work with them.
Q: [On the Palestinians] Is this an issue that you are focusing on, that you would like to something tangible before you leave your office? Is this a priority? Is there something you can do, given that there is some movement?
SG: I have some ideas, yes, which I will be working on. I am not ready yet to discuss them.
Q: You are preparing something, right?
SG: That is correct.
Q: On the Human Rights Council, one of your reform elements, are you satisfied with the functioning of the Council in Geneva?
SG: We are at a very early stage yet. Obviously not everyone is entirely happy with the way they have started. I myself have encouraged them, and I will be making a statement to this session, encouraging them to really have a broader view and remember the reasons why we set up the Council, and the fact that we would want to Council to reach out broadly and review human rights situations of all countries. You may recall that I had suggested that the Council members begin with themselves - review their own record and then move on to look at others. Since the beginning of their work, they have focused almost entirely on Israel, and there are other crisis situations, like Sudan, where they have not been able to say a word about it. I think they should be encouraged to look at their mandate much more critically.
Q: You arrived and Somalia was basically a country without a state, and you are leaving and Somalia is basically a country without a state. How much of a failure is that of the international system, and does the Security Council now basically need to pick a side and fight for that side to take control of Somalia, or ?.
SG: I am not sure if the Security Council has to pick sides. But I think what we need to do is to encourage the Somali parties to continue the dialogue they started in Khartoum, and try and come to an understanding, with the support of the international community. My Special Representative in Nairobi [Francois Lonseny Fall] is working very actively with them. It is a difficult situation. What is also important is we need to make sure that neighbouring countries do not get involved or get drawn in - because there is a tendency for some of the neighbouring countries to get drawn in. But what is important is that we take the Somalia situation very, very seriously. I think as an international community we should have learned the lesson of what happens when we allow failed states to carry on without any concern of the international community. I don't think we can afford a second one in Somalia, so we should become much more active, and I hope the Security Council will.