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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following monthly luncheon with members of the Security Council

New York, 14 August 2007

SG: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. I'm glad to see you again.

I had a very good meeting with the Security Council members. We mainly discussed the situation in Darfur, Haiti, Somalia, Chad and the Middle East.

I will be happy to answer your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General. What has happened, or what is the latest with regard to the release of the Israeli hostages? Mr. [Michael] Williams agreed a month ago already – I know he is leaving – but he agreed a month ago that their release should be an absolute priority for the international community. We had some American clergymen and missionaries a couple of decades ago, and there was a tremendous hue and cry, and they were released. The Israelis have eight hostages, three of them recent, but two of them dating back to 1982. What is happening with them? Some of them we don't even know whether they are alive. What is happening with regard to their release?

SG: We have been very much concerned about these delayed hostage cases. We have been doing all we have been able to do - through the facilitating role of my facilitator, through meeting with government officials, and I am still working very hard. As I am going to meet with the Speaker of Parliament of Israel, I am also going to discuss this matter. I am very much concerned and it is regrettable that we have not been able to resolve this issue. It takes quite some time, as you may know, these kind of hostage cases are not that easy to resolve, but as I have repeatedly said, this is a high priority on my agenda, and I have been really working very hard.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, concerning your meeting this morning with the Ambassador from the DPRK [Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea], in that meeting did he specifically ask for UN humanitarian aid to deal with the flooding that they have there, and what beyond the assessment team that is now going to the area to look at that, have you instructed the UN system to do to respond to the situation?

SG: Yes, I instructed UN teams – OCHA, WFP, UNICEF, all other United Nations offices in Pyongyang as well as in Bangkok - to first of all assess the damages of the recent flooding. In fact I first expressed my deep sympathy for the loss of many human lives, property damage, which is unprecedented in DPRK. And I assured him that the United Nations will be prepared to render whatever possible humanitarian assistance and help the DPRK government and people to overcome this difficulty, and he appreciated the offer of the United Nations.

Q: Did he ask for assistance?

SG: When he said he was grateful for United Nations assistance and willingness to provide, I would assume that he was receiving our offer. North Korea has also announced that they had very big damage and they also offered [maybe] help from the international community.

Q: As a follow up, I just want to know what else you did you discuss with Ambassador Pak [Gil Yon]. Did you talk about the North-South summit, and the other question is, will you be attending the North-South summit as Secretary-General of the United Nations?

SG: First of all, I am not supposed to attend the South-North summit meeting, because this is a summit meeting between the leaders of both ROK [Republic of Korea] and DPRK. I expressed my welcome and satisfaction on the recent very encouraging progress and developments between South and North Korea. I welcomed the forthcoming summit meeting. I expressed my sincere hope, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, and as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, as I come from Korea, to see the best result, and most successful outcome from this summit meeting. I sincerely hope that this summit meeting will provide much firmer and stronger groundwork for the promotion of national reconciliation between the South and North, as well as further expand the scope of exchanges and cooperation, which will eventually lead to common peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

Q: Today is 14 August, the first anniversary of the July war. What is your reflection of this war, one year later? Can you please update us on the [inaudible], and also for what is happening with the arms smuggling on the border? And also did you call Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora since you got back to the United Nations?

SG: First of all, I am still concerned about the ongoing violence in Lebanon. At the same time, I would say that the United Nations and the international community has helped Lebanon and the Lebanese people in restoring their society to a more peaceful and economically stable situation. UNIFIL has been making a great contribution, and I sincerely hope that with all the strong commitment and cooperation and assistance from the international community, the Lebanese people and government will be able to restore first of all, their social and political stability, and enjoy economic prosperity. At the same time I would urge and appeal to the [Lebanese leaders] to engage in a more inclusive political dialogue to promote national reconciliation. This is the wish and aspiration of all the international community.

While we have seen some cessation of hostilities, this should lead to a permanent ceasefire in Lebanon. At the same time, there should be some strengthened monitoring and capacity-building to ensure there should be no smuggling of illegal weapons into Lebanese territory, which will only destabilize the situation there. I again sincerely hope that the countries in the region, together with the strong commitment and willingness of the Lebanese government and people to participate in this road toward peace, I have been talking and discussing on many occasions with Prime Minister Siniora, but most recently I have not spoken with him, but I am going to do that.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, both British and American leaders have decided to wait to hear from their commanders in Baghdad in Iraq to decide about a possible troop drawdown there. How will this affect how you decide whether or not you are going to insert more UN personnel in the region, and if you will?

SG: I do not think that there is any direct correlation between a military withdrawal and an increased role and presence of the United Nations staff. Of course, the increased role of the UN will depend upon the ongoing security situation on the ground. It will be very important for the staff to be protected by the multinational forces there, but when the Americans or British or whoever, the multinational forces, discuss their own military strategy, I do not see much direct correlation, except ensuring the safety and security of our staff.

Q: But do you feel that the situation is stable at all as far as inserting your own personnel there, or is there something that has to occur and that is why you are not putting anybody in there?

SG: As I said earlier, the safety and security of our staff is of paramount interest and concern to us, and we would like to be protected by the multinational forces. What I am trying to say is that what the military strategists are talking about – their own withdrawal – may be something beyond this one, in a more broad context.

Q: Can I follow up on the prisoners' issue? I was just wondering, Sir, as an Arab reporter, whether you are going to raise the case of the Palestinian prisoners, the 10,000 who are also in Israeli prisons. In your meeting with the Knesset [speaker], particularly, that there are some comments in the Arab world that, as an SG, in eight months you have meet more Israeli officials than any other SG before.

My second question, Sir, are you going to update us on your trip to Sudan, whether you plan to visit Darfur? Thank you.

SG: This prisoners' case, I understand, is an important issue in promoting reconciliation and the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Whenever there was a meeting, we have raised these issues, and I have strongly again urged and appealed to the Israeli government to promote and facilitate the peace process. There needs to be good political gestures from the Israeli government. And they did, the last time, by releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, my question is about oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. You have received letters from Cyprus – Greek Cyprus, the Turkish part and from Turkey, concerning this issue. What is your reaction to those letters, and how do you see the conflict of oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean?

SG: I don't have much to say about this matter. Maybe I will come back later to your question.

Q: On Sudan and Darfur, Sir. Can you update us whether you are planning to go, what are you going to do in Khartoum, and whether you are planning to visit Darfur?

SG: This is again a top priority issue for me and for the United Nations to implement the resolution adopted on July [31st]. I will try to expedite the speedy deployment of hybrid operation forces. At the same time, as we have seen encouraging developments result through the Arusha political negotiation. I am also going to step up the political dialogue with the regional groups as well as rebel group leaders.

Q: [In French on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)]

SG: Of course, the situation in Somalia is high on my priority agenda. I have discussed at length with the members of the Security Council, and we have discussed the way, how to strengthen the capacity of AMISOM, and I urge the international community to continue to provide the necessary financial and logistical support to AMISOM. In fact I have received a letter from Chairman [Alpha Oumar] Konaré of the African Union, on August 4th, asking me to take the necessary actions to provide necessary assistance. I discussed this matter. At the same time, while the United Nations is committed, together with the European Union and others from the international community to provide assistance to AMISOM, the African Union and Somalia should also [play] their own role, first by promoting further inclusive political dialogue among the factions and clan leaders, and also ensure social and political stability there. That will be very important for the international community, so that we will be able to discuss further on this issue.

Q: On the Western Sahara issue, have you been briefed by your Personal Envoy, and what assessment do you make on this second round, and the parties agreeing to meet again?

SG: There was a two-day meeting, and I was briefed yesterday afternoon by my Special Envoy, Mr. [Peter] Van Walsum. Even though there has not been any visible progress in these negotiations, both sides had I think substantively good discussions. What is important at this time is that they have agreed to continue their dialogue. I would continue to encourage the parties concerned to engage in dialogue in this matter, and encourage my Special Envoy to continue his facilitating role.

Thank you very much.