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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter prior to his departure to attend the Summit on Nuclear Non-Proliferation in Washington D.C.

New York, 12 April 2010

SG: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you.

As you know, I am just back from Central Asia.

Let me comment briefly on three aspects of my trip to Central Asia.

First, human rights. At every stop, I delivered a simple and direct message. For the UN, the protection of human rights is a bedrock principle. Robust civil society, grounded in rule of law and the human rights of free expression and free media, free assembly, tolerance and democracy, is essential to modernization.

I urged the leaders in the region to comply fully with international human rights laws and the many treaties to which they are signatories. I also urged them to fully implement all recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review.

Second, the situation in Kyrgyzstan. I am following the situation very closely. My special envoy, Jan Kubis, arrived in Bishkek over the weekend. He has been meeting with all parties, working closely with the envoys of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and others, to maintain and restore constitutional order while respecting the wishes of the Kyrgyz people. He will brief me directly upon his return to New York on Thursday.

Third, my discussions with the region's leaders focused, in particular, on an issue of crucial importance to all five nations of Central Asia. I refer, here, to the management of natural resources, chiefly water and energy. The question is how to use common resources for common prosperity. Everywhere, tensions are rising. Visiting the Aral Sea, in Uzbekistan, I saw a graveyard of ships, marooned in the sands of what was once a deep sea-bed.

Resolving these tensions harmoniously, through dialogue and negotiation, is a collective responsibility, not only of the region's leaders, but the international community. I would be happy to discuss the UN's proposed initiatives. It is important that we act before the situation grows worse.

On the way back from Central Asia, I stopped in Vienna, Austria, for a very successful though brief bilateral visit. I also attended and chaired the annual spring meeting of the Chief Executives Board. We discussed how the United Nations can more closely work together as one team in addressing a host of global issues, including the continuing financial crisis as well as other challenges. We further discussed the preparations for the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Summit in September.

This afternoon, as you know, I leave for Washington, where I will attend the nuclear security summit chaired by President Barack Obama. I learned of President Obama's new nuclear posture review while visiting the former Soviet Union test site at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.

I welcome this timely and important initiative. With the new START agreement signed last week in Prague, and the upcoming NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference here at the UN next month, we can see new momentum toward our ultimate ambition: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats we face today. That is why I have repeatedly urged the Conference on Disarmament to immediately start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other explosive devices. And that is why, in Washington, I will call on all world leaders to come together, perhaps at the United Nations in September, to further advance this essential cause for humankind.

Thank you very much.

Q: In light of this summit on nuclear security, many Arab countries have expressed concern for the fact that Israel has not signed the NPT or even opened its suspected nuclear installations for inspection. Is there a message which you would carry as Secretary-General for this conference on this level, the Middle East being a nuclear-free zone?

SG: There was an initiative and discussions to establish a nuclear weapons-free-zone in the Middle East. That has not achieved any progress until now for various reasons, including the political situation on the Middle East peace process. We have achieved [progress] in many areas including in Central Asia, where they have agreed and established a nuclear weapon-free-zone. To have our ambition to be realized, to have a world free of nuclear weapons, it is absolutely necessary to have all areas with nuclear-weapons-free-zones. I am sure that the leaders will discuss this matter, but I am not quite sure how much progress they will be able to make during this summit meeting.

Q: Just to follow up on that, Mr. Secretary-General, what do you think is the biggest problem? You don't think there is going to be much progress because of the politics, the regional issues? Do you think it is the same thing with the NPT Review Conference, that getting a broad agreement is going to get bound up in the Iran case, the Middle East, Pakistan's reported progress on production of nuclear materials – are these issues so bound up in these kinds of politics, that really, it is difficult either in Washington this week or upcoming in May to get any significant progress?

SG: Of course, there are still many unresolved, very delicate, issues, which we must address. At the same time, we have seen many encouraging developments in the situation, in our common efforts to address nuclear disarmament non-proliferation issues. I do not want to repeat what has taken place during last week, including the new START treaty signed between the US and the Russian Federation. We need to make good progress, success in the NPT Review Conference next month. With this nuclear summit meeting in Washington and with a favourably-created atmosphere, I am optimistic that we will be able to have a positive outcome out of this NPT Review Conference. But when you go to specific cases like Iranian nuclear issues, and the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] nuclear issues, the Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone issues, I suspect that the Member States of the international community would need to continue their discussions on those issues.

The United Nations is very much committed, and as Secretary-General, this is one of the top seven priorities for this year and coming years.

Q: I want to ask on Sudan. There are reports of widespread irregularities in the voting, and the SPLM has asked, even in south Sudan, for a delay, for an extension of the voting for three to seven days, so that ballots can be delivered, stuff like that. I wanted to know what the UN's assessment is, and also, it has emerged that this pro-Government Darfur rebel leader, Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem, was in fact a paid UN staff member through March 8th of this year, while doing political work openly in Doha, Addis and elsewhere. I am wondering what will you do if you find UN staff rules were broken and the UN's credibility called into question in this case?

SG: First of all, the elections had begun and will continue until the 13th. I am told by our mission in the region that the election has taken place and is continuing without much serious problems in terms of security. People are standing in queues to exercise their right to vote. That is encouraging. As for the detailed way of how this election is being conducted, whether there is fraudulence or irregularities, we'll have to see and particularly discuss with the National Election Commission and the Sudanese Government. The United Nations has been providing technical assistance and logistical support. It is the Sudanese Government and people who conduct these elections. We will be there to support this.

I do not understand what you meant about the credibility of the United Nations staff?

Q: There is a Darfur rebel leader that signed an agreement with the National Congress Party of Omar Al-Bashir, that now it has come out was in fact a paid UN staff member of ECA [Economic Commission for Africa] in Addis Ababa, while he was negotiating with the Government, and purporting to represent people in Darfur. So what I wonder is, is it your understanding that UN staff rules say that you can't be a political participant in a country's affairs while you are a UN staff member?

SG: I am not aware of this specific case. I will have to talk with our senior advisers on this matter. But as a matter of principle, United Nations staff should discharge their work in accordance with all the rules and regulations. We are not there to engage in any domestic politics and these kinds of things.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you talked about trying to get the Conference on Disarmament to start a new fissile cut-off treaty. What are the main obstacles for this?

And I wondered, as a second question, if you had any message for the people of Poland at this very sad time?

SG: First of all, I expressed my most profound condolences at such a tragic passing away of President Lech Kaczynski with whom I had been working very closely, particularly on climate change. It was very sad. It must be a very troubling and sad moment for the people and Government of Poland. I wanted to speak with the leadership of the Polish Government at this time, but I have not been able to convey my personal condolences, but I am sure that I will have an opportunity of meeting a representative of Poland, the Foreign Minister, who will be in [Washington, DC]. The United Nations stands with the Polish people and Government at this time of sorrow, and I hope they will be able to overcome this moment of sorrow.

For your first question on fissile materials, it was encouraging that the Conference on Disarmament had agreed to the programme of work, but they have not made any substantial progress in terms of their work, so I am urging them to make progress in their substantive discussions, and particularly on preventing the production of fissile materials. That is what I am sure many leaders will discuss in Washington, DC.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on Haiti, it has been three months today since the earthquake in Haiti; 101 UN staff members died. Considering the fact that even before the earthquake, staff members who worked on the upper floor of the Christopher Hotel only had a rope to use in case of emergency evacuation, and also considering the fact that there were plans to move the staffers out of the Christopher Hotel, is it your understanding that everything was done to ensure the safety of UN staff members in Haiti?

SG: It is our basic policy of the United Nations to ensure the safety and security of the United Nations. That is paramount, for me as Secretary-General and for this Organization. Sadly we lost more than one hundred of our distinguished colleagues. We know that this was an unprecedentedly strong natural disaster. There might not have been much for us to prevent such a thing. We will continue to make sure that our staff will be able to work in strengthened security and safety code systems.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, back on the fallen members of the leadership in Poland, can you see the United Nations having any sort of moment of silence for these leaders?

SG: I am sure that the General Assembly will decide. I will sign the condolence book, and the Member States, I am sure, will have a moment of silence to express our condolence. I will discuss with the President of the General Assembly on this matter. The flag has been at half mast.

Q: Can I do a quick follow up on my earlier question? The Arab Foreign Ministers particularly called upon the United Nations to support that Israel becomes part of the NPT. Do you particularly support this call, Sir, that Israel becomes part of the NPT?

SG: All Member States who have not done so should participate in the NPT Treaty. That is a [moral] obligation of all Member States of the United Nations. Likewise, I am going to urge in Washington that all the countries who have not signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treat – the CTBT - should also do so without further delay. That is part of our common commitment, to make this world free of nuclear weapons. Thank you very much.