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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's Press Conference (unofficial transcript)

New York, 13 September 2010

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to see you again.

We are on the eve of big events here at the United Nations. Let me say a few words about my hopes and vision for the important weeks ahead. Then I will take your questions.

First and foremost, we have to make the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals a great success. One hundred and thirty-nine Heads of State and Government are expected to attend this Summit meeting. The outcome document has already been agreed, for adoption at the Summit meeting.

A simple yet crucial message runs through the text: the goals can be achieved. The MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) are difficult and ambitious, but doable. Many poor countries have made enormous progress. The world as a whole is on-track to reduce poverty by half by 2015 -- a tremendous achievement.

Of course, the deadline is approaching fast, and many countries are falling short, especially in Africa. Inequities are growing within and among countries. Too often, global economic management neglects the poor and vulnerable. And the money we need -- even though it is modest -- is not yet there, a problem compounded by the economic crisis.

Our challenge is to put our resources where they will have the greatest impact -- education, jobs, health, smallholder agriculture, infrastructure and green energy. That is why, during the Summit, I will launch a Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health. No area has more potential to set off a ripple effect -- a virtuous cycle -- across the Goals than women's health and empowerment. All the key players have lined up behind this effort.

And that is why, in the days ahead, I will announce my choice to lead UN-Women.

Next week's Summit is meant to propel us forward for the next five years. I have been very encouraged by the strong support for this event. Time and again, whatever the issue, we have seen the difference that high-level political engagement can make. I look forward to what world leaders will do here next week. In this race against time, we all have promises to keep.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me turn now to other parts of our agenda.

The past year has been difficult: the earthquake in Haiti; floods in Pakistan; chronic suffering in Gaza; upheaval in Central Asia; armed conflict in many regions, often with women and children the main victims, as we have seen so brutally in recent weeks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Next week we will look in-depth at several situations that have reached critical and even potentially explosive moments.

The Quartet will meet to support the current direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. There will be high-level sessions on Haiti, Myanmar, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The situation in Iraq and upcoming elections in Afghanistan also deserve close attention.

On Sudan, I came into office with a focus on Darfur. Now, with the referenda in southern Sudan and Abyei just four months away, we face the additional challenge of helping Sudan to negotiate this critical passage. We must all do our utmost to ensure a peaceful process, whatever the outcome.

In the days ahead we will also look at three broader matters: terrorism, tolerance, and nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

On tolerance, there will be a high-level meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations. The Alliance is part of our answer to polarization, stereotyping and hatred. Extremism loves a vacuum. The events of recent days drive home yet again the need for countervailing voices -- the voices of moderation and mutual respect.

On nuclear weapons, important momentum has been gained in recent years. Following the Security Council summit last year, there have been significant achievements this year, too: a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, a very productive nuclear security summit, and a successful NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) review conference.

To build on these steps, next week I am convening a high-level meeting aimed at revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and addressing broader challenges facing the disarmament machinery.

The Conference on Disarmament is the world's single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. Yet it has stagnated for more than a decade. This needs to change, and I hope this meeting will help break the logjam in the Conference on Disarmament and further promote multilateral disarmament.

Let me close with a broad comment about this moment in the world's affairs -- which I will elaborate on in my remarks at next week's General Assembly debate and Security Council summit.

The world is not only changing, but changing rapidly. New economic powers are emerging. New issues have come to the fore -- epic challenges of tremendous consequence for peace and human welfare -- complex matters that ignore borders -- some holding great promise, others potentially destabilizing.

This is a test for all of us. We need to adapt. We need stronger alliances. We need our global institutions to be more nimble and effective.

The weeks ahead offer real opportunities to advance on some of the main global issues of our day, and I will press leaders to use this Organization to its fullest. The United Nations is the right place, provided we ourselves keep pace. I am determined to see the Organization meet this test.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you very much, sir. On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), we welcome you sir. We understand that you are very busy. At UNCA, we wish you a productive and successful one, sir. My question is about the peace process in the Middle East, on both its tracks. President [Barack] Obama has lately said, and I quote him, “what I said to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu is that, given so far the talks are moving forward in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend the moratorium on settlements”. Would you add your voice to the President and call upon the Prime Minister of Israel to extend the moratorium on settlements beyond 26 September to facilitate the continuance of the talks? And on the Syrian-Israeli track, what is your take on the French role being played and what's your hope for that track?

SG: Yes. I will do my best to help facilitate the smooth process of this very difficultly-launched direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authorities. While it was very encouraging to see the official launch of these direct negotiations between the two parties, it is also very important, not only for the directly concerned parties, but for other concerned parties to help this process move toward the right direction, toward the destination. Therefore, I hope there should be no unexpected hurdles. About this moratorium on settlements, I have urged on many occasions, and I'm urging again today, that this moratorium should be extended so that there should be no hurdles so that the parties to the negotiation can continue their dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and with a very favourable political climate. I'm going to discuss this matter with the Quartet principals, as well as the League of Arab States' leaders, during the General Assembly. I understand the deadline of this settlement is the end of this month. We still have time, so everybody has a role to play. That is what I'm going to do.

Again, the Syrian track is also very important. I have been urging President [Bashar al-]Assad on many occasions that Syria should also play a constructive role. And in certain cases they have played a role, and I'm going to discuss this matter again with President Assad or some other Arab leaders.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary-General, the schedule mentions that you'll be setting out new financial commitments during your “Every Woman, Every Child” event. Can you give us some idea of how much new money you might be announcing towards that end? And, secondly, you said you would be meeting on the sidelines with President [Paul] Kagame, and I know you met him recently. After your recent meeting, do you feel more reassured that the threat to withdraw peacekeepers might be averted? Thank you.

SG: On maternal health, as I have been urging on many occasions, we cannot just accept this intolerable, unacceptable situation where many millions of women die needlessly in the course of their childbirth or pregnancies. All these complications cause a lot of death which can easily be prevented. This is what we are working very hard on. I'm glad that the General Assembly is going to welcome my global initiative. To achieve the health MDGs in the 49 lowest-income countries alone, we must invest an additional $26 billion in 2011 -- by next year -- and building to an additional $42 billion in 2015. I'm encouraged that we're receiving a lot of strong support, not only from Governments, but philanthropists, NGOs and all other business communities. And this will be one of the most important focuses which we will discuss during the MDG Summit meeting. I'm going to convene, on these issues, a special event on 22 September.

I explained to you about my meeting with President Kagame. It was quite useful, constructive. On MDGs, we have received full support and a full leadership role and, more importantly, on the mapping exercise report, the Rwandan Government has agreed to submit their comments by the end of September, which will be released simultaneously together with the final version of the mapping report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We also agreed that it would be crucially important that the Rwandan Government continues their peacekeeping operations participation. We will discuss this matter further when he comes to New York next week.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, thank you. I recall speaking with you in April of last year, shortly after President Obama took office. You were going on a Middle East trip, I think to the Arab League Summit at that time. You were very hopeful then about his presidency and what it could mean and your partnership. Has his presidency lived up to your expectations? And what would you say would be the most significant differences his leadership and policies toward the UN have made in your ability to do your job and achieve your goals?

SG: President Obama and his Administration's support and participation and strong partnership with the United Nations have been a source of great encouragement to the United Nations. I'm also particularly encouraged that President Obama has made it clear publicly that he's going to participate in the high-level meeting on Sudan, which I'm going to convene on 24 September. This is only just one example of how much he is committed in all the United Nations' agenda, not only on security, but also on the MDGs and all other social and economic matters. I am going to discuss with President Obama next week how we can further strengthen such a cooperative relationship and I'm very grateful to him.

Q: Secretary-General, considering the IAEA's [International Atomic Energy Agency's] recent report that Iran is developing up to three nuclear weapons, and now a recent report that there's an underground site being built for reactors, what are your plans during the GA to meet with Iranian officials to discuss their nuclear programme?

SG: The latest report by the Director-General of the IAEA is again a source of concern. That clearly says that the Iranian Government has not given full cooperation. They should have provided the necessary cooperation to permit the agency to confirm that all their nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful activities. The report further states that, contrary to the Security Council resolutions, Iran has not suspended enrichment-related or heavy-water-related activities. Again, I urge at this time [Iran] to cooperate at the fullest extent possible with the IAEA and to work toward resolving all outstanding issues. And, again, I'll have an opportunity of meeting with Iranian authorities, maybe including President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, during the General Assembly.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I was about to ask you about that. You said you were going to be meeting with President Obama. Do you have a specific meeting planned with Ahmadinejad? And when you speak to President Obama, what will be most critical issues that will be discussed between you and Mr. Obama?

SG: I have been meeting with President Obama regularly during the General Assembly session. It has been a tradition that the Secretary-General always meets with the US President and discusses all the issues. This year, we have so many security-related issues, starting from Sudan. We have to ensure that two referenda, regardless of what the results may be, should be conducted in a transparent and peaceful manner. This will have larger regional implications. But the situation in Darfur and elsewhere and their negotiations has not made much progress. The negotiation in the Doha process has not made much progress. Therefore, this is almost the last opportunity for world leaders to discuss how we can make sure that this referendum will be successfully and transparently conducted. That's one topic which we will discuss and there are many other issues, like non-proliferation issues. I'm going to convene this high-level meeting on disarmament and also MDGs. You can imagine that most of the important issues will be discussed with President Obama.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, as you indicated, this General Assembly is going to be taking place at a time of growing polarization between Muslims around the world, it seems, and other religions. Although you mentioned having a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations, I think many people would say: what can one meeting do? Doesn't there need to be a broader focus by world leaders on trying to promote tolerance in a much more open and vocal way? I wondered how concerned you were about this and whether you perhaps had any plans to raise this issue to a higher level.

SG: This is a time for all of us to be more tolerant, more appreciative of other traditions and religions and beliefs and faiths. It is quite unfortunate that we have seen most recently some polarization of extreme views. This is totally not desirable, not acceptable at this time, when the whole world has to march forward to overcome the financial crisis and to overcome many regional conflict issues. All these conflicts come from a lack of mutual understanding. Of course, one meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations at the high level may not be sufficient. But if you look at the past history of how the Alliance of Civilizations has been gaining support from the international community, the membership is now more than 120. The United States has joined the Alliance of Civilizations. This is quite remarkable and encouraging, that we have more than the majority of United Nations membership. Through this Alliance of Civilizations we have initiated many projects, like how we can educate young people, how we can have a very responsive, immediate media response, whenever some incorrect information has been disseminated. All of this is something which we will deepen and widen our discussions. I'm working very hard with world leaders, and I will pay more attention on this point whenever I have bilateral meetings. I'm sure that this time again I will have more than 100 bilateral meetings with summit-level leaders, bilaterally or collectively. I'm going to convene myself at least six or seven high-level meetings, mini-summit or ministerial meetings. So those opportunities, I hope, will provide a good momentum for us to discuss more in-depth, at raising political leadership. I think political will in all the issues, whether it be economic, social or political issues, that we need to have firm political will and leadership. Then we can make a lot of differences.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, just a follow-up to Edie's question; you just mentioned huge challenges the world is facing. Do you believe at this time that the international community has lost its focus among all these big problems, to solve some of the most essential problems the world is facing? And in this context, do you believe, or what gives you hope at this time, that the Middle Eastern leaders in Israel and Palestine can reach a solution? Thank you.

SG: If I speak more in general terms, we should not be hijacked or dominated by just one single incident. For example, this Pastor [Terry] Jones's idea of burning the Koran -- that was just one single minor issue, with minor followers. But that has created a huge problem worldwide. Of course, even such a single small thing cannot be tolerated. But how to balance our address to all the issues, which are happening always at the same time, that will be the political wisdom. Therefore, I would say that we have not lost our focus on major issues. We are focusing on the MDGs. We are focusing on the Middle East. We are focusing on African issues. However, if the world leaders or the international community are sometimes influenced and hijacked by such a small incident, then unfortunately we may be losing our focus. Therefore, the media's role will be crucially important. That's why from time to time I'm emphasizing the role of journalists in addressing all the world issues.

Q: Before I get to my question, a follow-up on Frank's question. Frank asked if you will meet with President Ahmadinejad. Will you, and will you also urge him not to make a provocative visit to the Israeli-Lebanese border? And to my question, President Obama fired [Gen. Stanley] McChrystal because the general said some very disparaging remarks in the press. What are going to do about Mr. Sha [Zukang]?

SG: My Spokesperson had already talked to you about this case. Mr. Sha has apologized deeply in person right after the following day, early in the morning. He regretted that his behaviour was not appropriate as a senior advisor. He also knows that his behaviour has embarrassed most of the senior advisors at that time. Now, we are just going to have the General Assembly and MDG Summit meeting and there are many things to do. So, let us get on with all these important issues at this time.

Q: And Ahmadinejad?

SG: The schedule has not been formally set. But I understand that he's going to participate in the high-level meeting on disarmament on the 24th. Also, I have received a request from him for a bilateral meeting. So, I'm now in the process of making all detailed schedules with all the requests which I have received.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, could you just talk a little bit more about the MDG Summit? You said it needs to be a great success. So, what would qualify it as a great success? What are you looking to get out of it? You mentioned Africa's lagging behind; in which particular goals and in which parts of sub-Saharan Africa?

SG: I will tell you more in general terms and then maybe I'll ask Mr. [Thomas] Stelzer to talk to you more in detail. At this time, we only have five years left, so we are running against time. But there is, I know, some scepticism whether these MDG goals can be achieved, when we have not achieved much during the last ten years, and when we are going through all this financial crisis. It may be the case this atmosphere is not that favourable. But if we have the right mix of political priority and resources, together combined, then we can achieve it. And if the developing countries have more focussed priority policies and enhancing good governance and investing even limited resources toward the areas like education and job creation, maternal and children's health, and with international assistance, this can be achievable, and this is our belief. And looking at the number of Heads of State who are coming to participate in this MDG meeting – I am very encouraged – that means a very positive prospect for our work. I have seen for myself during my visit to many African countries that alleviating abject poverty by half by 2015, I think we have made great progress. I have seen for myself in many African countries - countries like Malawi, they have even a surplus of food through their right policy. We have many success stories, which I am not going to elaborate here. Therefore I hope this MDG Summit meeting with a plan of action which has already been agreed, which is a very detailed, very workable one, I am optimistic that we can achieve it.

ASG Thomas Stelzer: You said the most important things. When you were asked a few months ago what would be a desirable outcome of the Summit, you stated, “an implementable action agenda.” And the intergovernmental negotiations have agreed now on this outcome document which has incorporated exactly that – very clear guidelines for each one of 8 MDGs, to accelerate implementation the last five year in the fifteen-year life span of the MDGs. Now, at the Summit there are about a hundred and forty Heads of State and Government that have confirmed participation, an astounding number. They will have an additional opportunity in the plenary sessions, as well as in the six Roundtables which will be held during the three-day Summit, to further contribute to the outcome document, to comment, to amplify or to offer additional proposals. We know that this outcome document, this consensus document, manifests the smallest common denominators, so there are quite a few countries and actors who are able and ready to offer more. So we will take note of the discussion at the plenary meeting, as well as the Roundtables, and then the two Co-Chairs of each Roundtable will report to the Summit at the closing session on the outcome of the Summit and they will take note of what additional commitments have been offered during the Summit.

Q: Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri said lately that accusing Syria of assassination of his father, Rafiq Hariri, was a mistake and politically motivated. Do you believe that the fate of the Special Tribunal on Lebanon now is at stake, and are you going to discuss this issue with the President of Lebanon next week? Thank you.

SG: The Special Tribunal on Lebanon has been working and making progress. This is an independent judiciary process, so that should not be linked with any political remarks by whomever, by any politicians. At this time, the Member States have already decided to investigate into the assassination of former Prime Minister [Rafiq] Hariri and it has been set up by the Security Council. We have invested a lot time and energy and resources, so let this Tribunal make their own judgement on this matter. I don't agree with any characterization that this Tribunal's future is at stake.

Q: Sir, the question is because Mr. Hariri admitted that it was a mistake to accuse Syria of involvement in his father's assassination and it was a political matter. Do you believe that all the reports from the beginning until now, that they accused Syria or they put Syria on their target - do you believe that they are relevant now?

SG: This matter is under investigation and I am not in a position to say anything about an issue which is now under investigation. So whatever has been said by somebody, by whomever, this Tribunal should continue, as mandated by the Security Council. So, therefore, I would not make any comment on that.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, although one can only imagine how really difficult a time it is for the General Assembly to stay focussed, I would ask you, bearing in mind for almost seventeen years now, the issue of the name negotiation between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [FYROM] and Greece is going on - it is obviously not a frozen conflict, but are you afraid that it could become a frozen issue? And do you believe that the issue will be solved during your first mandate? And also, when you meet with the officials from Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, what would you tell them at this time?

SG: As I have been doing in the past, I will continue to do whatever I can to have a harmonious solution to this name issue, which has quite serious political implications. As you know, [Special Representative] Matthew Nimetz has had active discussions with the parties concerned on this matter. And I understand that he is now consulting with both parties about arranging appropriate meetings while delegations are in New York for the General Assembly opening. But you will be able to know when the meeting is set. I will fully support his activities.

Q: Would you say to the participants from Macedonia and from Athens, from Greece, something specifically? Would you blame someone, would you appeal more to someone?

SG: I have had many meetings with Prime Minister of Greece and the Foreign Minister, and also representatives of FYROM on this issue, on the necessity of addressing this issue with a sense of flexibility and mutual understanding. And I will continue to do that when I meet leaders from both countries.

Q: I want to talk about the Millennium Development Goals. I'm from West Africa and I think I can say that I am living these realities. We have so many meetings about if we could reach the goals before 2015. And, one thing is, if you are staying in Africa, you will see, you won't be able to do it. I am concerned about the Goals three and five and I want to know if there will be another programme after 2015. After the meeting, after 2015, what will [you] be doing?

SG: Our target is to achieve those goals. But even by 2015, there will be some goals which will still remain unmet. For example, the No.1 Goal, to reduce abject poverty by half by 2015 – that means that another half of that Goal will remain. Therefore, we will have to discuss in the course of the coming 5 years what needs to be done, so-called “post-2015”. I understand this outcome document, and members of the General Assembly, will ask me to come out with some proposals or some ideas about that. At this time, we have to focus and mobilize all our resources and political will to achieve all the Goals - eight Goals - by 2015.