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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following Security Council luncheon

New York, 15 April 2008

SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I have just had a very good, productive consultation with the Security Council members over lunch, as usual.

We exchanged views on a number of issues, including the situation in Haiti, and also food insecurity, the situations in Nepal, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

I spoke with the Council members about tomorrow's high-level meeting on peace and security in Africa. I will speak at that meeting to discuss the strong and broad relationship between the United Nations and the African Union, and the challenges we face in bringing peace and stability to the region and people of Darfur and Somalia, and in dealing with the uncertainty in Zimbabwe.

I know you are all excited about the visit by His Holiness Pope Benedict to the United Nations this Friday. I am looking forward to meeting with His Holiness again so that we can continue our discussions on issues of common concern, such as poverty reduction, climate change, disarmament and the dialogue among civilizations. One coincidence is that you may remember that this visit by His Holiness the Pope will take place exactly on the first anniversary of our meeting last year, 18 April, in Rome, during my visit there.

I also wanted to inform you that I will be traveling to West Africa from the 18th until the 24th of April. During that time, I plan to make official visits to Ghana, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire. In Accra, Ghana, I will address the opening of the 12th UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] meeting, where I intend to focus on the needs of the “bottom billion”. It is for these “bottom billion,” most of whom reside in Africa, that I have placed emphasis this year on accelerating the global effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals, in particular in Africa.

In my visits in Africa, I will also meet with the heads of state and government and with the members of the peacekeeping missions we have on the ground in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire. From Africa, I intend to travel onward to Austria and Switzerland. In Bern, Switzerland, I will convene a meeting of the Chief Executives Board that brings together all the senior officials of the UN system.

I'm sure that you've noticed that this has been a busy month of travel for me. I just got back from Russia, where I was strongly encouraged in my meetings with the President and the President-elect of the Russian Federation by their strong commitment to the central role of the United Nations and multilateralism, and by my constructive meetings with Russian officials on a range of issues, including Kosovo and the Middle East.

Thank you very much, and I will be happy to answer your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General. About Lebanon, Sir, as you know, and I am sure you are very aware, one of your star witnesses, Muhammad Zuhair Siddiq, has disappeared from France, and that's by the acknowledgment of the Foreign Minister of France himself. How worried are you, Sir, about witnesses disappearing, or to start to disappear, and are we anywhere near the start of the Tribunal on Lebanon?

And my second, if I may, concerning the four imprisoned officers in Lebanon, the Lebanese Government has said today that up to five years it is okay with them to detain these people – up to five years. Do you have any comment on this?

SG: Preparations are moving smoothly for the ultimate establishment of the Special Tribunal. As I said, we have received pledges for financial contributions for the establishment and the first twelve months of operation of the Special Tribunal. But I need to consult with the Lebanese Government on the exact timing. I have appointed a Registrar, but still I have not yet decided, and this is a matter on which I need to consult with them. For that specific question, this is something which should, I think, be done by the Special Prosecutor and Judiciary authorities.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on Lebanon too, the Arab initiative of the French mediation has failed. Do you think it's time now for an international conference, and is it possible to do it?

SG: Many countries and individuals and organizations, including myself, have taken initiatives. Unfortunately, we have not been able to see any successful conclusion of this issue. The long constitutional void is very dangerous and unacceptable. What I can say to you, and urge again, is that it is ultimately the Lebanese Government and people who should decide their own future, so therefore they should take the necessary action to elect the President and set this constitutional process on the right track.

The international community is strongly behind the future and prosperous political stability of the Lebanese Government and people.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, concerning the Pope's visit. What is your expectation, or perhaps even likely to be a request of him, to weigh in and use his moral authority, to perhaps call on UN Member States to contribute more to the situation in Darfur, to get troops and the things that these peacekeepers need, or to weigh in on a subject like global warming, which is also one of your priorities. Do you really expect him to get that narrow, and really give you some support on some of these key issues?

SG: His Holiness the Pope is visiting the United Nations after thirteen years. The last visit was in 1995, if I remember correctly. During my visit [to Rome] last year we discussed a wide range of issues. As I said just now, I expect to discuss with him a number of issues, starting from poverty eradication, MDGs, climate change, the dialogue among civilizations. We are now facing many challenges these days. We need really strong spiritual support from the Pope. I am really looking forward to meeting him on Friday.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you have spent a lot of time, personal effort and goodwill trying to make progress on Darfur. Do you think that trying to build a relationship of trust with President [Omar al-] Bashir has been effective? What else can you do?

SG: I have had many bilateral talks with President Bashir, including the one which I had last month during my participation in the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference] summit meeting. The deployment is now being accelerated. We have agreed that the hybrid operation should be deployed as soon as possible, with the African troops being deployed first. So we have already started with the deployment of Egyptian and Ethiopian troops. We are also looking forward to the deployment of Thai and Nepalese forces. My goal is that, if we expedite this process, I hope we will be able to have a full strength of 26,000 soldiers by the end of this year. This is our target. The political process has also been progressing little by little, even though we are not fully satisfied. My Special Envoy, [Jan] Eliasson, has been working very hard. There have been some encouraging signs, tendencies of rebel movements unifying among themselves to find some common platform, and common ground, so that they can participate in the political process. I am urging also the leaders of both South and North Sudan to fully implement the Peace Agreement. So on these three tracks, we are doing our best. We hope we will be able to see a final resolution of this issue. This is what my strong commitment is.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, in your report on 1701 which will be taken up by the Security Council this afternoon, you had said that you intended to send a border mission between Syria and Lebanon. Have you decided when, and have you made any preparations? You also said, on the same subject, that you wanted to revive diplomatic efforts regarding Shaba'a Farms. You said that you had asked the Syrians for a year and a half for material, and they would not respond. How are you going to pressure both the Syrians and the Israelis to deliver on this issue that remains contentious? What are you actually going to do? What are the steps now in your mind that you have prepared for in pursuit of 1701?

SG: When I was in Damascus last year, I had discussed this matter, border demarcation and establishing the border commission between Lebanon and Syria, and I hope both governments will be able to resolve these border issues, so that this border will be transparent, without any illegal, illicit, transfer of illegal arms. I have not yet decided when to send this technical mission to facilitate the border demarcation issues, but I will continue to consult on this matter with the countries concerned with this issue.

Q: And on Sheba'a?

SG: My senior cartographer had worked very hard, and concluded his work, but I can tell you that this is a technical issue, and does not touch on sovereignty or ownership of this issue.

Q: What do you think of the French proposal to set up an international naval protection force under a UN mandate [off the Somali coast]?

SG: In Somalia, I think at this time we need to strengthen AMISOM [the African Union Mission in Somalia]. As you know, I have dispatched two technical missions, and a strategic assessment mission, and one of the immediate measures that should be taken is that we need to first of all strengthen AMISOM's capacity. They are not properly funded; not properly equipped. After that, we will see how the United Nations can get involved there, including the idea of the French Government.

Q: What are your comments on the situation in Iraq, and what would be your message to Iraq's neighbours who are meeting next week in Kuwait?

SG: This is going to be a very important meeting. Unfortunately for me, I will not be able to participate in person, because of a scheduling problem. As I said, I am going to visit African countries exactly on that day, therefore I am going to dispatch Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe. But I am going to convene, and myself preside over an International Compact with Iraq [meeting] in late May, May 29th , in Stockholm.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that you wanted the meeting tomorrow, you were also going to raise the issue of the uncertainty over Zimbabwe. What would you like to see this conference, which is going to be attended by some senior African leaders, as well as some senior western leaders, to actually come up with? What do you think the United Nations can actually do that could significantly affect what's going on now, where there are still no results of the election?

SG: As you know, the topic of tomorrow's Security Council high-level meeting is on cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union. Since a number of African leaders are participating, and also from the Western world, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown from the UK, this will provide, I think, a natural opportunity to address the situation in Zimbabwe. I am also going to say something about the situation in Zimbabwe tomorrow. And I will be engaging in a number of meetings with the leaders tomorrow to discuss what the United Nations and how the international community could help the Zimbabwean people and authorities to resolve this issue to the satisfaction and expectation of the international community. We need really to see, first of all, very transparent and expeditious release of election results, so that the Zimbabwean people will be able to enjoy the democratic process, and also they should be able to overcome these serious humanitarian difficulties.

Thank you very much. I have a three o'clock appointment with Chairman [Alpha Oumar] Konaré of the African Union. I will see you upon my return.