Full transcript of Secretary-General's press conference
New York, 19 September 2012
SG: Thank you. Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity, as we have just begun the General Assembly’s 67th session yesterday.
Thank you for being here – and thank you for your indulgence. We are having this press conference later in the day than usual.
That is because I am just coming from my first bilateral meeting of this [General Assembly] session, with a very demanding global icon. Guess whom?
I am speaking about Kami, the South African Sesame Street character!
I have just come from the Sesame Street studios. Kami is the first HIV-positive muppet. We are proud to be working with a creative community and so many other partners to advance our work on global health.
This is just one of the many important urgent issues that will be addressed during the General Assembly session, and that will be one of the spotlights.
This year’s General Debate will be among our busiest ever.
This reflects the tumultuous time in which we live -- a time of turmoil and transition.
As of today, we expect 123 Heads of State and Government level, high-level delegations. Of course there will be many more Foreign Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers who will take part in the General Debate.
The deteriorating situation in Syria will be foremost in our minds. As you know, Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi continues his diplomacy to launch a Syrian-led transition process. He met President [Bashar al-] Assad and opposition leaders and many others last week.
In parallel, and as a matter of the utmost urgency, the UN humanitarian efforts continue round the clock, in and around Syria. We are present on the ground, with food, shelter, medicine and more. We are determined to reach people in need. I urge the Syrian Government and opposition to ensure access and donors to continue their generosity.
A series of mini-summits and special meetings will focus on the emergency in the Sahel, progress in Somalia, the encouraging transitions in Myanmar and Yemen, instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and relations between Sudan and South Sudan.
We will also discuss the threat of nuclear terrorism and press for the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.
We are also looking forward to the first-ever high-level meeting on the rule of law.
The rule of law is as important within countries as it is in the international arena. My hope is that Member States will send a strong signal to the world’s people that they are serious about establishing well-functioning institutions and delivering justice.
Turning to the Millennium Development Goals, the 2015 deadline is not far off.
Next week I will be announcing major new steps related to my Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
I will be reporting solid progress on the Scale-Up Nutrition and Every Woman Every Child efforts.
And I will launch a new initiative, Education First.
Tomorrow I will be back in this room to launch the latest report on the eighth Millennium Development Goal -- the global partnership for development.
My MDG Advocates will be here this week to help mobilize action.
The members of my panel on the post-2015 development agenda will also gather for the first time. Their work is crucially important, and I have asked them for bold yet practical ideas.
Stepping back a bit, the opening of this new session takes place against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance.
I once again condemn those who deliberately provoke others with hatred and bigotry. I also join with others in speaking out against those who, in response to such provocations, fan those flames further still.
It is time for calm, restraint and responsible political and community leadership.
Finally, let me add that this will be the first general debate of my second term.
Earlier this year I set out an action agenda that identified five generational imperatives: sustainable development, prevention, a more secure world, helping countries in transition and empowering women and youth.
Next week I will outline where we are and where I believe we need to go.
That effort must include modernizing the United Nations through a series of reform initiatives and partnerships.
But most of all, it will require greater ambition on the part of the world’s leaders. I intend to be frank with them about where we are falling short, why people around the world have a right to be impatient, and how we can do better.
At a time of rising inequality and unemployment, a time of rising temperatures and intolerance, the UN itself must rise to the moment.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, concerning the situation in Syria, you have already said that this is foremost in your mind – to try to find a solution for the crisis in Syria. However, the wheels of diplomacy are moving very slowly at the United Nations. It has been 19 days since the appointment of the Joint Special Representative, Mr. [Lakdhar] Brahimi, and yet by his admission there are no plans on the table to solve this crisis. What do you say to these people, whose families who are losing daily while the violence is increasing? How can the General Assembly meeting next week help in solving this crisis?
SG: Thank you. I share completely your concerns and I think this is everybody’s concern. It is really troubling that this situation is still continuing without any immediate end to this crisis. Every morning, when I watch TV and [see the] images, whenever I see many people, particularly young children who are hurt, with all this blood on their bodies, I cannot start my day with peace of mind. That really affects me very deeply.
As you know, and unfortunately, both sides – Government and opposition forces – seem to be determined to see an end by military means. I think military means will not bring an answer. This should be resolved though political dialogue reflecting the genuine aspirations and will of the Syrian people. This is exactly what Joint Special Representative Brahimi conveyed seriously to President Assad, to the representatives of opposition forces and many other key partners in the region. He is still in the region. He had good discussions with the League of Arab States’ leadership and he visited the refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. Now, he is in the process of listening to the views of all the countries concerned and parties concerned, and he will be here on Saturday. We will have a meeting again on Saturday and he will have an opportunity to report to the Security Council. Then he and we may have some strategy to be conveyed to Syrian authorities for resolution of this issue.
What is important at this time [is that] the continuing violence must stop by both sides, and whoever, whichever country has an influence to urge them to stop this violence, and whoever may be providing arms, they should stop so that they can begin political dialogue. This is what we really hope to happen.
At the same time, our humanitarian missions are on the ground, very closely coordinating with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, International Committee of the Red Cross. We are all trying to mobilize humanitarian assistance [to people] who need daily support. Two and a half million people are affected and 1.2 million people have been displaced internally. There are almost 300,000 refugees along the borders in four countries, so it is a crisis moment for all of us, and we are mobilizing all humanitarian agencies: UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency], WFP [World Food Programme], OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], and the Red Cross, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, they are all working together. But still the number of people who have been affected are so many, so still we really need some generous support from the international community for that. Our appeal in the amount of $347 million has been funded only less than half – only 40% or so, so we really need urgent humanitarian support. At the same time, what is important is that this violence must stop.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, there have been protests around the world, not only in the Arab world, but also in Africa and Asia [reflecting] the Muslim anger at the film produced in the United States. There haven’t been many official statements. There are some agenda items on the General Assembly on religion and religious tolerance. How do you see this discussion coming up, if it will at all?
SG: In the past, we have experienced such kind of outrage and anger expressed by the people, provoked by a certain group, a few years ago, because of a cartoon of the Prophet. Now, it is very disgraceful and shameful that still people are provoking the values and beliefs of other people. Many world leaders have issued strong statements – I was one of them – strongly condemning [this] kind of very senseless, disgraceful act. This must stop. It is very important that all people around the world should have due respect and deeper understanding of the values and beliefs and tradition and history of other people and other groups of communities. This is a basic foundation of our civilized society.
At the same time, I am also speaking out loudly against those people who really fan the flames of this intolerance and hatred, using these kinds of opportunities. I again strongly urge calm and reason and tolerance and forgiveness. These are things which we have to do.
We will have an Alliance of Civilizations meeting during the General Assembly. Again, the importance of the Alliance of Civilizations can never be emphasized [strongly enough]. Thank you very much.
Q: On Syria, Mr. Secretary-General, you have been urging the Security Council to do something to address the problem for over a year now and they have not really done anything. While all the leaders are in the house, are you personally going to make any initiative, lobby them to try to address Syria? What do you think the chances of your success are? If the United Nations cannot address a fundamental problem like a war in Syria, why should world listen to UN on anything it has to say, like the rule of law?
SG: I am going to have bilateral meetings with more than 120 leaders this time. Syria will be on the top of my agenda. I believe that Syria will be at the top of every leader’s mind, so we have to address this issue most urgently. I will appeal and urge the leaders that they should share a sense of collective responsibility. They may be coming from individual countries, but they are now coming to the General Assembly, where we discuss all global issues, so we should have a sense of global responsibility and take global responsibility, collective responsibility. This has been my continuing message, and I will strongly urge them to be united.
Q: Also on Syria, you mentioned individual nations using their influence to help resolve this crisis. Do you feel that the United States did enough to keep the diplomatic process on track? And also what is there now, what conditions have changed to inspire any confide in the Joint Special Representative’s mission?
SG: This diplomatic effort must continue. There is no other way than this: to try to resolve this through diplomatic means. At the same time, there is no other way but to resolve this issue through political dialogue for political resolution in Syria. Therefore, inside Syria and outside Syria, I think all these diplomatic negotiations and diplomatic efforts should continue. But for that to be possible, to facilitate such diplomatic efforts and also humanitarian efforts, the two parties must stop [the violence] immediately without condition and then begin dialogue as soon as possible. That is my firm belief and this is what Lakhdar Brahimi will also continue to do.
Q: The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that the process has come to a prolonged political stalemate and has called on the international community to seriously reassess its role in resolving the conflict. He said you hope that the Quartet, in consultation with the parties, will look beyond prescriptive timelines to chart a credible, political way ahead in the next few months. Could you share with us what you believe would be credible political way ahead? Thank you.
SG: As with everybody, I am also deeply concerned about the lack of progress in the Middle East Peace Process. I met President [Mahmoud] Abbas and I have been continuously discussing with the leaders in the region, in the world. As a member of the Quartet, I have an important responsibility to see this progress going on. Robert Serry and his counterparts, the envoys, have been continuously meeting and they will again meet, I think, next Monday or so and have an envoys’ meeting.
What is important at this time is that the leaders in the region and the key parties should have a longer vision for an ultimate and lasting peace in the region. This has not happened. That is why we see so many problems and so many conflicts are taking place in the region. I believe that the Middle East Peace Process should be addressed in a comprehensive way. At the same time, Israeli and Palestinian reconciliation should also play a very important role. Now that there is no such progress at this time, I am deeply concerned, together with the continuing political instability in the region, and this will be one of the key issues again during this General Assembly when I will be engaging with key concerned leaders.
Q: Turning to East Asia, we are seeing strong tensions in the region, namely in Japan, China, and Korea, diplomatically and incidents on the ground. When their leaders come here, what is going to be your advice to those leaders? And what are your concerns?
SG: I have been very closely following what is going on in the Asia region and particularly looking at what is happening in the relationship between China and Japan over territorial issue. I am increasingly troubled by the rising tensions in the region over territorial disputes. As Secretary-General, it is not for me to take a position on such territorial disputes. I urge all concerned parties to resolve disputes peacefully through dialogue. Efforts must continue to build mutual trust and confidence to avoid tensions in the region. I sincerely hope that the leaders, when they come to the General Assembly, will have the opportunity of meeting [each other] to discuss this matter amicably and peacefully.
Q: Thank you, Martin. Mr. Secretary, welcome. You have increasingly spoken out on global issues, and you have said you will be frank with the leaders. An upcoming General Assembly question: like last year, the Palestinians, this year, they say they will be requesting Non- Member Observer status. Is this helpful or not helpful?
SG: The aspiration of the Palestinian People to join the United Nations has been a long aspiration, and it has been long overdue. Last year, President [Mahmoud] Abbas submitted an application for their membership, and it is still in the Security Council. At the same time, I believe that all these processes should come out as a result of a negotiated settlement of the Middle East peace process, particularly the two state formula, where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security. This has been upheld by all the parties concerned, including the two parties, that they should first of all, engage in dialogue so that they can find a lasting formula. Then, in such a case, I think the missions, or their status in the United Nations, will automatically be resolved. That is my sincere hope.
Q: Thanks, Martin. Thanks, Mr. Secretary-General. As you know, there is a lot of tension in the Middle East right now over Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA and the permanent five members of the Security Council have all called on Iran to open its facilities to inspection. Should Israel also open its facilities to inspection?
SG: Now, the current issue is on how the international community should address the Iranian nuclear issue. The Security Council has taken several resolutions, and the IAEA has made many reports and recommendations and resolutions. Therefore, it would be, the first priority should be that the Iranian Government should fully comply with all the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and also fully cooperate with the IAEA – the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is exactly the same message, and a very clear message, which I have delivered to the Iranian leadership when I visited Iran last month on the occasion of the Non Aligned Summit meeting. My message was unambiguously very clear, that there are so many questions unanswered by the Iranian authorities. If they claim, insist, that their nuclear programme is genuinely for peaceful purposes that should be proven by the international community, by gaining the international trust and confidence. In that regard, I welcome this recent meeting between the P5 + 1 and Iran in Istanbul. I sincerely hope that they will continue to resolve this issue through dialogue.
Q: But what about Israel?
SG: My answer is that the question at this time is [about the] Iranian nuclear issue. The Security Council and the IAEA have taken actions on the Iranian nuclear issues.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, this is a follow up to Ben’s question about the outrage being felt in the Islamic world following the discovery of this, the emergence of this video insulting the prophet of Islam. Sir, in your statement, you said you called for the respect for the values and beliefs of others, and at the same time you said that the United Nations must rise to the moment. So, what do you have in mind, Sir? What action should the United Nations take to address this crisis?
SG: The United Nations has a broad responsibility to ensure peace and security and to promote development and to protect human rights and human dignity. Therefore, the UN has a responsibility in working together with the Member States. All 193 Member States, as a member of the United Nations, must rise to this moment, they must rise to these challenges. They have to speak in one voice, the same voice, united. When they see injustice, they have to speak out. When they see such kinds of intolerance happening, then all the leaders should speak in the same way. I know that there are some senseless people who really try to use this kind of opportunity, but that we have to guard against. Those kinds of behaviour can be stopped by reason, and when the international community is united at the leaders’ level. That is what I am urging the leaders to do.
Q: On this issue of violence erupting after the controversial film, can you please speak to the argument of freedom of expression that has been raised too? There is obviously the agenda issue here at the United Nations of defamation of religion, and there is a lot of dispute over that. Maybe weigh in on this in terms of your perspective on how to move forward in some concrete ways, where you can have a balance of freedom of expression, yet at the same time obviously respect various religions. And also perhaps touch on issues of some Member States of this Organization that don’t even allow certain religions to even open up houses of worship within their country because the level of intolerance is so extreme. Can you please address that, as well?
SG: All human beings have the inalienable right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. These are very fundamental rights. But, at the same time, this freedom of expression should not be abused by individuals. Freedom of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose. When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way. So, my position is that freedom of expression, while it is a fundamental right and privilege, should not be abused by such people, by such a disgraceful and shameful act.
Q: There is a question about intolerance, though. There are some Member States that, for instance, don’t allow churches, synagogues, Hindu temples, to be opened up in their country. There is a level of intolerance, and some argue hypocrisy, in the way this is being played out in the global arena right now - this particular controversy.
SG: I know that there are certain cases where such freedom is not guaranteed or promoted. That is why the United Nations is continuously working to promote and to urge them to open to everybody freedom of belief and freedom of expression.
Thank you very much.