Q & A following the Secretary-General's address at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library
Independence, Missouri, 11 December 2006(unofficial transcript)
Moderator: Thank you so much, Secretary-General.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to open this up now to some of your questions that you have specifically for the Secretary-General. If you don't mind I'd like to take the liberty to ask you the first question.
Secretary-General, you have criticized US foreign policy before in the past, and some of your words today were especially biting in that regard. What led you to choose your final speech as Secretary-General for what some are seeing as a fairly pointed attack on the US foreign policy, particularly here in this venue as Presidential Library.
SG: Nothing could be further from the truth. I think those who listen to me and anyone who reads this speech simply, honestly and sincerely cannot draw that conclusion.
SG: What I have done here this morning is to look back into history – where the UN came from; the leaders who created the UN – and Truman obviously was one of the giants – and looked forward and proposed some vision.
You cannot have a vision without a sense of history. What I am saying here is that, when the US works with other countries in a multilateral system, we do extremely well. We need US leadership. US has provided that leadership in the past, and our world is in a sorer state. We have lots of problems around the world, and we require the natural leadership role the US played in the past and can play today. And so, to appeal for cooperation and leadership should never be seen as an attack.
Moderator: Can we have a question from a member of the audience?
Q: Mr. Secretary. As a member of Congress [US Rep. Emanuel Cleaver], along with my colleague Dennis Moore, we struggle each day with what solution there is for the ongoing conflict in Iraq. You, no doubt, are familiar with the Iraq Study Group's report – I have read it . It is being criticized in some quarters, and supported in others. Is there some component of that report that you would suggest that the President, who sets foreign policy – we don't – but that if the United States Congress and the President can work together on that would begin to create the atmosphere for a US withdrawal from Iraq?
SG: That is a difficult question.
Let me give you my views without being presumptuous as to give advice to the US government and the US Congress. I think we are in a very difficult situation. It is a very tough issue, and I would want to applaud the Iraq Study Group for a good and useful report that they have produced, which I think clarifies many issues. But I believe, in Iraq today, we need to find a way of getting the Iraqis to reconcile. We need to be as active on the political front as we are on the military front. We need to find a way of getting the Iraqis to come together to settle their differences, and review the Constitution as indicated. If they can reconcile, and come up with fair revenue sharing, sharing of oil and taxation revenues; sharing of power; we may be able to reduce the tension. Indeed, each group is fighting for its place in the future Iraq. So we need to focus some attention on the political process as well as the military. I also believe that we need to get the regional countries to cooperate and to work with the Iraqis, but you also need to bring in the broader international community – at least the permanent members of the Security Council; maybe the UN and the Arab League, to work together, and also to support the process. I think that would be really helpful.
You may know that I have suggested an international conference, which would not be a one-off, but a standing conference .which can resolve issues, or issues could be referred to it, if there are problems. I know not everybody has accepted the idea yet , but I believe that such an approach would be helpful.
I have also indicated that it is important to talk to everyone who is in a position to influence the solution, including Iran and Syria. We should make them part of the solution. We should make them responsible by pulling them in to work with the international community, and tell them what the international community expects of them. I don't think either country would want to remain isolated forever, and if you make them responsible and pull them in to work with you I think it would be in everyone's interest.
We should also not forget that getting Iraq right is not only in the interest of the US and the broader international community, but even more so for the countries in the region.
Q: Thank you , Mr. Annan, for coming to Kansas City, and thank you for setting a remarkable example of statesmanship and, for my model United Nations students, it is especially desirable to welcome you here, so thank you very much for your contribution to our history.
As a teacher [Paul de Barthe], I have several students that are immigrants, and since we are still in your term in office, at times there have been as many as 50 million refugees in our world, and I have one of those students with me today, I would appreciate it if you would address the refugees and especially those that are looking to you for leadership. How can we help to provide a state for those that are stateless, and how can we help those that are in the process, as you were, of crossing from one cultural divide to another in order to develop global citizenship?
SG: Thank you very much. As you may know, both my wife and I worked for the High Commission for Refugees some time ago, and I have always taken a keen interest in refugee issues. When I became Secretary-General one of the first things I did, realizing that we need to strengthen our humanitarian activities, was to create the new office for humanitarian coordination. Because in all these crises the key is coordination. If you do not have effective coordination from the moment the crisis strikes, your effort to deal with it is likely to go wrong. I think we have shown how effective this office can be, not only working with refugees but we led the tsunami recovery; we led the coordination of the Kashmir earthquake. On the refugees, you are absolutely right, that we have millions of refugees in the world today. Not only millions of refugees – we define refugees as people who are forced to live outside their country, to protect themselves because of fear of their lives. But we also have millions of people who are internally displaced within their own country. In fact, when we look at Darfur, we have been feeding three million internally displaced people. We have 14,000 humanitarian workers working in that theatre. But with refugees, first of all we need to resolve some of the conflicts, national conflicts that forced them to leave home in the first place, and help them return. I have always felt that if we could focus on resolving all these conflicts – whether they are in Africa or Asia – and get people to focus on the essential work of economic and social development, we would all be better off. But for the refugees, it means if they are able to return home, they are able to make choices – whether they stay where they are, or to go home – and from my experience when the situation at home changes, refugees go back very quickly. We saw it last summer in Lebanon – about a million people were displaced. The moment the cessation of hostilities took hold, almost all of them went back in a very short period.
In some situations the war or the conflict may end, but the insecurity may persist, and the refugees may not wish to go back. But what I will urge is that governments should be generous. They should be kind to these refugees, take them in, and some of those who are not able to go back, and who may not be able to go back should be integrated. But we need to continue solving the conflicts to send them back home. In the meantime, we need millions of dollars - the High commissioner for Refugees – to support these millions of refugees who unfortunately have been forced out of their homes. And I hope the international community will be generous. We often have to struggle to get the money to support them, and so I urge you – use your influence to get those in a position to contribute to do so, and do so generously.
Q: My name is Judy Vogel I am on the Board of the International Relations Council, and am regional health administrator at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Thank you for mentioning CDC. They are wonderful. My question has to do with UN peacekeeping forces that may be in various countries. There have been allegations in the press about the role that these forces had sometimes played in abusing local individuals, and particularly women. So, in effect, they become part of the problem. Do you feel that there are some practical solutions to this?
SG: Let me, first of all, start by saying that we have 90,000 UN troops deployed in 18 operations around the world. The Security Council is considering other additional operations, and if that were to be approved, the numbers could go up to 120-140,000.
The vast majority of these peacekeepers, these men and women who have gone into situations of conflict to help, acquit themselves admirably. They are honest, they are decent, and they do their work without blemish. But we have a few peacekeepers – and you are right – who have been engaged in sexual exploitation of women, and in some situations – tragically – even children. We have a policy of zero tolerance, and we have been very firm. In fact, over the last year we have investigated over 300 cases and more than 60 per cent have been dealt with – disciplined. Some of the soldiers have been evacuated and gone home. The civilians have been dismissed or dealt with. We had a conference last week – it is interesting you asked that – on this very topic, in New York, which I opened, and which brought together NGOs, humanitarian NGOs who also work in the field, UN peacekeepers, and UN agencies, for us to discuss and share experiences – how do we work together to deal with this. We have no troops; the UN doesn't have a standing army. We need to borrow them from governments. And so when they do something wrong, we don't have the authority; the only way we can discipline them is to send them back home, and request the government to discipline them and to deal with them. I think the measures that we are taking, and in each peacekeeping operation today we have an adviser who works with the head of the mission to ensure that the peacekeepers understand what is required of them, and to monitor to ensure that they are not getting involved in situations where they take advantage of those we are there to help, who are often the most vulnerable, and it is inexcusable and cannot be tolerated.
Q: Mr. Annan, let me start by saying that it is an honour to hear you speak in person. My name is Sarah Backhaus. I am here with my model UN Director, Mr. Gates from the Liberty High School. From the perspective of a model United Nations delegate, I was wondering, from your point of view, what Millennium Development Goal are you closest to achieving by 2015, and what goals still need to be put forth ahead of the others?
SG: We monitor the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. Let me say very honestly that their results are mixed. If you look at the raw figures, you will say that we are achieving the Millennium Development Goals. But this is because Asia has been able to lift millions out of poverty – China, India – they have really done well. We are doing well in the education of girls. Enrollment has gone up in most countries in the primary school. That is mainly because of enrollment of girls in schools. We are doing a bit better on clean drinking water. But there are countries that will not meet the Millennium Development Goals at the current pace, unless we do something dramatic to accelerate their implementation and give them the support necessary to be able to achieve it. I think one of the major contributions of the Millennium Development Goals, apart from the goals themselves – it has been accepted as common framework for development – a common framework to fight inequality and poverty – all the UN agencies, international organizations, NGOs, government and the man and woman in the street understand what it means, and they have all embraced it, so it has given us a new energy and impetus to press on and focus on development. I hope that the countries that have fallen behind – quite a few of them, most of them in the least developed countries in Africa and elsewhere will be given the necessary support to catch up. UN agencies are working with them to draw up their plans. Once those plans are drawn up, we need the donor community to work with them and us to meet those goals.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, my name is Dennis [inaudible]. I represent the third congressional district of Kansas, right across the state line, and I want to follow up on Congressman [inaudible]'s question about the situation in Iraq. It seems in retrospect that the easy part was the military victory, that is, taking out Saddam Hussein. I have heard your statement, and I certainly agree with you that we need to involve the international community, and especially Iran and Syria. But there is a history in Iraq of centuries of difference - political and religious differences – between the Shiites and the Sunnis. How do we resolve those centuries of differences to bring them together, because my fear is, if we don't find a political solution within Iraq, and it's not one the United States can impose, that's doomed to fail. It has to be by the people of Iraq, and if we can't get the Shiites and the Sunnis to come together, then how are we going to get this to work?
SG: Now let me say that peace indeed must come from the people, must come eventually from the Iraqis. One cannot impose peace, one cannot make a peace for them and one cannot want peace more than they do. So they really have to become energized and active in this process but the international community can help them and work with them in doing this. You remember the example of Afghanistan. We brought them all out and sat with them in Bonn, in Germany, where the UN envoy Laktar Brahimi worked with them to get a political agreement and then they went to implement it.
I think the same has to be possible for the Iraqis, I believe, with a third-party assistance, although at this stage I'm not sure all of them accept to really resolve their differences. I also believe the Shia-Sunni divide that you have referred to. It is not limited to Iraq. There is a regional dimension. And the region, over the past fifty years or so, has lived with this – side-by-side the Shia and the Sunnis. Of course, apart from Iran, all the other regimes in the region are Sunni. I think that we need to also bring them in to work with us and encouraging the Iraqi political forces to move in the right direction and reconcile. Without reconciliation, and a political give-and-take, it is going to be very, very difficult. This is why, I believe, if we engage the region with the support of the international community – because everyone has an interest in it – if we were to get Iraq wrong and God forbid were the conflict to spread to the region, it will have an incredible economic impact, because it is one of the main sources of oil supply. It will not only affect the region, it will affect the global economy. And so, nobody is doing anybody a favour by coming together to try and work to resolve this. As I said, even with the Iranians and the Syrians, there is a coincidence of interest - they would want a peaceful Iraq on their border. Syria has 750,000 refugees from Iraq; Jordan has thousands of refugees. This is why I often tell governments 'you cannot have a crisis in your country and tell you neighbours and international community – don't get involved, this is an internal problem.' These problems in today's world do not remain internal for long. In a relatively short time they throw up refugees, they destabilize the neighbourhood, and they scare away investors. And so we all have an interest in trying to ensure that the kinds of violent conflicts that occur in a country is dealt with very quickly – preferably before it explodes. But even after it has exploded we should not shy away from wanting to work with them in resolving it.