Secretary-General's press conference
Seoul, Republic of Korea, 26 August 2013
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, It is a great pleasure to see you.
Let me begin by addressing the alarming crisis in Syria.
The United Nations team on the ground, led by Dr. Sellstrom, has been working intensively around the clock to respond to the latest reports of alleged use of chemical weapons.
I have been in constant contact with many world leaders as well as my senior staff at New York Headquarters and in Damascus.
The UN Investigation Mission was in Syria before this most recent horrific attack. Now, following talks in the country between my High Representative for Disarmament, Ms. Angela Kane, and top Syrian officials, the Mission is expected to begin conducting on-site fact-finding activities today, 26th of August, in just a matter of hours.
And every hour counts. We cannot afford any more delays. We have all seen the horrifying images on our television screens and through social media. Clearly this was a major and terrible incident.
We owe it to the families of the victims to act.
All those in Syria have a stake in finding out the truth. The whole world should be concerned about any threat or use of chemical weapons. And that is why the world is watching Syria.
I demand that all parties allow this mission to get on with the job so that we can begin to establish the facts. The team must be able to conduct a full, thorough and unimpeded investigation. I have total confidence in their expertise, professionalism and integrity.
Their success is in everyone’s interest – all parties in Syria and all concerned States. It will address the recent allegations in the Damascus area and its success can have a deterrent effect on possible further use of chemical weapons in Syria and elsewhere.
We are determined to answer the call of our Member States, fulfill our mandate and resolve deeply disturbing unanswered questions.
If proven, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is a serious violation of international law and an outrageous crime. We cannot allow impunity in what appears to be a grave crime against humanity.
At the same time, it remains essential to achieve a complete cessation of hostilities, so that humanitarian assistance can urgently be delivered. All parties to this conflict should agree on an indefinite ceasefire.
Now let me speak in Korean. [Original remarks in Korean translated into English]
Regarding Egypt, very disturbing conditions continue. In the great, historic whirlwind known as the Arab Spring, the Egyptian people achieved victory that set them toward freedom and democracy. However, after former President Mohamad Morsi was ousted from office recently, Egypt has been plagued by extreme polarization and violent clashes, costing countless human lives. As Secretary-General this leaves me with a great sense of sadness. Immediately after my recent visit to Israel and Palestine, I sent my Under-Secretary-General, Mr. Jeffrey Feltman, who is in charge of Political Affairs, to the Middle East, and we have been doing our best in cooperation with the concerned States to ease tensions there. I would like to take this opportunity to once again strongly urge the Egyptian military as well as all leaders of various political blocs to put an immediately stop to the violence and embark on a process of national reconciliation and unity. All leaders must look beyond partisan interests to find a political resolution through engagement and compromise. This should be based on a perspective of placing the utmost priority on the happiness and wellbeing of the people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is my first visit to the Republic of Korea since President Park Geun-hye took office, and I have found this visit to be very meaningful as I was able to reaffirm the Korean Government’s commitment to furthering its cooperation with the United Nations in the process of resolving various global challenges. As President Park had said in her inaugural speech, the President again reiterated her commitment to make an active contribution to creating an era of global happiness. With not much time left to the 2015 target for achieving the Millennium Development Goals regarding poverty reduction, I do believe that the Republic of Korea can play a major role as a successful case study of economic development. I thank President Park for Korea’s commitment to Official Development Assistance (ODA) at the level of 0.25 percent of GDP despite the continued uncertainties of the global economy, which has been a commitment made by the Republic of Korea to the international community. Given the international community’s expectations on Korea’s competence and experience, I am sure that enhancing the Government’s ODA will be an effective way of earning greater trust and respect.
President Park and I also had an in-depth discussion of our cooperation on a number of agenda issues that are in focus at the UN: climate change, water, energy, food security, international health, education and women’s empowerment. The international community today is faced with challenges where many issues are intricately interlinked. Such challenges will not be resolved by a single country or a handful of countries. Sustainable development will not be achievable if we miss any issues. I am putting the highest priority on building the international community’s consensus to achieve sustainable development. The UN General Assembly, scheduled next month, will also focus on this issue. I look forward to the Korean Government’s leadership in the course of drafting the international community’s development agenda after the MDGs, which are targeted for 2015. I thank the Korean Government for the launch of the Development Alliance Korea last year. And today through the Post-2015 Korea Forum, the current Government will be showing its commitment to active participation and contribution to MDG implementation and shaping the development agenda after 2015.
In my visit to Korea this time, I was able to discuss ways for Korea to enhance its contribution to the international community with such important members as Speaker of the National Assembly Kang Chang-hee, Prime Minister Jung Hong-won, Deputy Prime Minister Hyun Oh-suk, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se and President of Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) Kim Young-mok.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year, the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War, has a special meaning for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Since late last year, tension had been mounting on the Korean Peninsula, following North Korea’s long-range rocket launch and the third round of nuclear testing. But the international community acted decisively against North Korea’s provocations. The UN Security Council has sent a clear and strong message that North Korea’s nuclear armament will not be tolerated. China also agreed to the Security Council resolution that included comprehensive sanctions against the North. Through this process, Korea, as a member of the Security Council, played a leading role in adopting the resolution and implementing follow-up activities. I highly praise President Park’s principled, decisive and disciplined approach to North Korea throughout the process. As the UN Secretary-General, I will spare no effort and support in the process of realizing President Park’s vision of Trustpolitik on the Korean Peninsula to fundamentally improve inter-Korean relations by easing tension and building trust.
I am greatly pleased that the authorities of the two Korea have reached an agreement to normalize and develop Kaesung Industrial Complex. Kaesung is a success case of inter-Korean economic cooperation model and I hope for its stable development in the future. I am also happy about the achievements coming out of the working-level meeting to enable the reunion of separated families between the two Koreas. I hope that the two Koreas will carry on the momentum to make constructive progress on other issues such as the North Korean nuclear programme. In this context, I look forward to progress being made in building an international peace park in the Demilitarized Zone as proposed by President Park. I take it as a proposal to build mutual trust on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice, and when requested by the parties concerned, I would be willing to offer my good offices to help realize this project.
I also highly commend the Korean Government’s principle to maintain humanitarian aid to North Korea regardless of political factors. The UN has been working on humanitarian programmes for vulnerable groups in North Korea such as infants and children. We have also steadily improved monitoring of such humanitarian activities. But the UN agencies active in the North are suffering from serious funding difficulties. Against this backdrop, I especially praise and thank the Korean Government for its recent decision to provide North Korea humanitarian aid through UNICEF. We have recently announced a need for more financial resources for this year, and I look forward to an active response from donor countries.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A multilateral approach is growing in importance today as the global community grapples with many global challenges. At the heart of such a multilateral approach is the UN. I have been working hard to promote interest in global challenges among all actors of the 193 UN Member countries, not only Governments but also businesses, civil society, academia, religious groups and the media. Korea is an indispensible partner in such activities of the UN. I ask for continued support from the Korean Government and the people.
I will be leaving Korea tomorrow after visit lasting six days. Allow me to express my deep appreciation to President Park, the Korean Government, and the people for their warm hospitality. I wish you and your family health and good luck and wish Korea continued success. Thank you.
Q: I am Xinhua news. When you visited the Blue House presidential office, regarding North Korean issues, when you discussed with President Park what kind of matters did you discuss? Can you share some of the topics with us?
SG: I believe for questions from the foreign press I will make my answers in English and then I will answer Korean correspondents in Korean. So since the question was from a foreign press outlet but in Korean, let me go ahead and answer in Korean. As I have said in my opening remarks, and I did provide some details, first of all, regarding North-South relations in terms of the heightened tension it was a source of great concern in the international community, but recently with the agreement on normalizing operations at the Kaesung Industrial Complex, and also the working level negotiations between North and South Korea to reunite the separated families. I welcome these developments. President Park, after being inaugurated as President, despite the difficulties between North and South Korea, has embarked on the trust-building process and she has shared her vision, and I think these efforts are slowly moving and playing out in a positive direction and in that sense as Secretary-General of the UN, I want to provide as much of a complementary role as I can. President Park has talked about establishing an international peace park at the DMZ and she has provided me with details, and Mr. Ju Chol-ki,Senior Secretary for Foreign Affairs and National Security, provided me with a progress update through a separate briefing. The UN internally has started examining how the UN can be of help regarding this initiative. We have started the examination process in a legal sense, in a political sense and other institutional ways that the UN could possibly support this initiative, so we are in the process of entering a discussion. And South and North Korea - we have said the first priority would be for them, the two parties, to have good associations and if there is progress between the two sides, I said that then the UN would be ready to be more proactive in terms of support.
Regarding future developments between Korea and the UN, we need to define focal points so that we can carry out close discussions. Otherwise regarding North Korea humanitarian assistance, well humanitarian issues are very severe in Korea, especially regarding pregnant women, the health of infants and babies; the health issues are quite severe right now. So the UN is calling for the international community to provide humanitarian support. The volume of that support as I mentioned before is not that significant. The UN itself has globalized its emergency humanitarian assistance funds and the Korean Government provides $6.4 million dollars in terms of funding for UNICEF. This will be enough to provide vaccinations for a significant number of infants and babies in North Korea. So we find this to be very sufficient, very good initiative and a good form of support. We hope that the Korean Government will be more assertive and proactive here regardless of progress in North-South discussions. We asked for this more proactive type of effort and we got a positive response. Thank you.
Q: Last year you also mentioned this during your speech at the National Assembly you mentioned if circumstances allow you would like to visit North Korea, so do you believe that is still valid, and what did you mean by circumstances?
SG: Yes, my position remains the same. As the UN Secretary-General, I would like to play a role, any role, that can contribute to building positive development between the two Koreas. Now we can see that inter-Korean relations are gradually improving so from my position it is first necessary to have discussions between the parties themselves to resolve any issues at hand and then as UN Secretary-General I should be able to provide some support from the side. I believe that that is the role given to me. So together with the South Korean Government as well as other relevant parties, I might be able to discuss my visit to North Korea.
Q: In regards to Syria, Britain and the US officials have suggested that an investigation at this point might be without result because Damascus has had time to cover up some of the evidence. What does the UN hope to find from this investigation? What actions would the UN be willing to take? TheUS Navy has repositions itself in the Mediterranean Sea for a possible strike. President Obama is apparently mulling that over. Could you comment on that as well?
SG: As you know the United Nations inspection team was on the ground in Damascus even before this most recent attack which happened on 21 August. After a very in-depth and intense negotiation with the Syrian Government, we have reached a joint understanding which was announced yesterday that inspection will begin from today, in just a few hours later in Syrian time. On the sites, we have been asking them to provide unfettered access to all the suspicious sites. And our team led by Dr. [Åke] Sellström will begin investigations to gather all evidence and samples and analyses of this situation.
This is our firm position: There should be an unfettered, unconditional access provided by the Syrian Government. At the same time, it is important that the opposition forces should also provide and assure the safety and security of our inspection team because this inspection team will have to conduct their activities in the opposition force-controlled area. It is important that both sides immediately cease military activities so that the inspection team will safely conduct this investigation. Whatever differences there may be, it is important that all the differences of opinions should be resolved peacefully through dialogue. That is our firm position since the beginning of the crisis. As I told you any attack by weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons is a serious crime against humanity. The United Nations is very much committed, and I have instructed the inspection team to have a speedy, independent and full investigation and report to me as soon as possible.
Q: You mentioned that you will make all possible efforts to visit the DPRK, then have you ever exchanged your views with Ambassador Sin Son-ho at the UN?
SG: Now with the DPRK Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Sin Son-ho, I have had occasional meetings with him where I talked about what I could do in order to improve the inter-Korean relations and also expressed my position as Secretary-General of the UN on the importance of improving inter-Korean relations. As I mentioned earlier, for the inter-Korea relations when tensions were high, I announced a statement as UN Secretary-General. In the future, I intend to have some discussions on some of those counts, but nothing concrete yet.
Q: As the Secretary-General is very well aware in the Northeastern area, regarding the territorial issues there is heightened tension going on right now. What do you think is most urgently needed? Regarding the context of the current conflict, could we hear your views?
SG: Regarding Northeast Asia, the three countries – China, Japan and the Republic of Korea –are important not only within Asia, in terms of their influence, economies and political stature in the international community, they are all very important respectively. The three Northeast Asian countries, in terms of economic advancement, science and technological innovation and development, you could say that they are at the centre of these advancements. All three of them are very important countries. In terms of how the countries view history and then other political reasons, and also war factors, there is mutual tension that is persisting. As Secretary-General of the UN, I find it to be regrettable,all of these challenges. I think it is up to the political leaders to be very frank with one another, so that based on a very accurate view of history, they can address this issue from a forward-looking perspective. Bilateral or multilateral forums can be available. History, of course, is very important in each of the countries. But I think the Northeast Asian leaders should look toward the future and look at not only the development of their respective countries, but development of the broader Asian area and broader global economy. What they can do for co-existence and better advancement of the global community is to have this broader kind of view, and the decisiveness of the political leaders is called for. Having the right view of history is key; only then you will be able to earn trust and respect from other countries. As Secretary-General of the UN, regarding issues between two different countries is a bilateral issue. I do not think it is desirable for me to be involved directly. As Secretary-General of the UN, I have always emphasized what I have just said to the global leaders.
Q: In connection to the previous question, the Japanese Government is making a move towards revising its constitution, to which Northeastern countries are expressing concerns.
SG: As I have just elaborated moments ago, it is about what kind of view and perspective you should have on history to make sure that we will be able to direct perspective and also maintain friendliness between the neighbours. Regarding this, I believe that the Japanese leaders should have great reflection, insight and vision to look forward.
Off-the-Cuff on 26 August 2013