Secretary-General's press encounter on arrival at UN Headquarters
New York, 9 February 2004Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the subject of your talks tomorrow on Cyprus, just a couple of little things. One, sir can you give us a statement on what you hope to accomplish, what the best case scenario would be, whether these talks might continue in Cyprus in the region with Mr. [Alvaro] de Soto. And specificially, I'm reading from a report here, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash wants the UN to drop its insistence of holding a referendum on the peace plan irrespective of the final agreement. He also wants a guarantee that the UN won't dictate how many troops Turkey can keep on Cyprus, if that proves a stumbling block. Would you be willing to compromise on that or address those big issues?
S-G: For reasons you can understand, I'm not going to go into all those questions in detail. These are issues we are going to be discussing at the table and let me say that I hope when the leaders come tomorrow, at least we can agree on the ground rules of how to proceed and agree on a work programme that will enable us to conclude our work on the 1st of May. I have made proposals to them for us to discuss when they come here, because, quite frankly, as I have said, we don't have much time if we are going to meet the deadline of 1 May. It means we will have to finish the negotiations by [the]end of March to be able to have the referendum in April. So we will discuss all this to see if the parties are prepared to engage and to sustain the effort for us to ensure that a united Cyprus enters the EU on the 1st of May.
Q: So would you consider extending them this week, after tomorrow, go back to Cyprus?
SG: I think that is the intention, unless there is an unforeseen development.
Q: Now that the team is in Iraq, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi and the electoral assessment team, what is the schedule for their return to New York and the timing of their report to you?
SG: I think they will take as much time as they need, but it is not going to be indefinite in that we need to give the report to the [Security] Council which would want to factor the decision into their end of February deadline for completion of the basic law. And so, I think they will be there for about a week or so. I would love to be able to give my decisions to the Governing Council before the end of the month.
Q: And they will have to return to New York before they make public what their recommendations are?
SG: Obviously, they will have to come to New York to finalize their report and give their conclusions to me to study. And then I will convey my conclusions to the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, two things. Have you gotten any initial feedback from the team and could you tell us a little something about why you decided to choose Mr. Brahimi to lead it? And also, there is a new report today, a document that's been found that would basically promote Shiites fighting Sunnis in order to try and get the Americans out. Could you comment on that?
SG: I think the work of the team is going extremely well. They have met with the CPA, they have met with the Governing Council and they are meeting with individual members of the Iraqi Governing Council, and they are also meeting other Iraqis. As I indicated before they left, that they should see as broad a range of people as possible. So they are reaching out and are open to talk to as many groups as possible. So far, so good. The atmosphere has been good. They have been well received and there's been very good and frank discussions. On your other question of the document which has been found. I really don't think I need to get into that – I don't know enough about it to comment on that.
Q: What about Mr. Brahimi?
SG: Oh yes, I think I have hinted to you on many occasions that the issue was technical but also intensely politically and highly charged and that we needed to look at it in a broader scheme. So I took the decision some time ago that I would want a senior experienced political officer to go with the team. And, for good reasons, I did not want to reveal it to the press, as I indicated, for security and other reasons, I wanted to keep to quiet. But the issue they are dealing with is much, much more than technical and I needed somebody with Mr. Brahimi's experience to lead the team.
Q: Mr. Brahimi has already said that elections really are not necessarily the best way to go – he said that in a speech in Washington – and also I wondered if you could talk about his skills, doesn't the UN have any other diplomats? After the loss of [Sergio]Vieira de Mello, it seems that Brahimi is the only person to go to Yemen and everywhere else. And also what about Haiti - what the UN should be doing now for Haiti?
SG: I think it is unfair to imply we have no more people. We have lots of people, but you tend to assign the right man with the right experience to the right assignment and I think Brahimi brings all the qualities that I needed for this particular assignment, and that's why he's there, and I don't think anyone is questioning that. There are lots of other talented people in this Organization who are doing some wonderful things in other areas. And on Haiti, we are following it very closely. We are in touch with the Organization of American States and the CARICOM which is taking the lead on this and we will be stepping up our own involvement fairly soon.
Q: What do you think that if both parties on the 21st of April say no to the referendum, to the foundation agreement. What will be the next steps, either both or one of the parties?
SG: Well, if the parties do not agree, and they say no to the plan or the basic agreement, then of course we are back to square one.
Q: Which is?
SG: We cannot get agreement.
Q: Would you again extend your good missions to these parties?
SG: I think they are coming here with a very clear understanding. My report to the Security Council stated the conditions very clearly – that I will engage when I sense a real political will on the part of the parties to seek settlement and to come to the table and sustain the effort until we do it. And we are going to have the first meeting tomorrow, so let me go through that first meeting and see what we decide. I think getting to the point of a referendum in six weeks from now is perhaps going too far ahead of the game.
Q: What is your message to the people of Cyprus and also to the leaders?
SG: I would say to the people of Cyprus that they have a historic opportunity to unify their country and enter the European Union together with great economic and social benefits for them. A unified Cyprus entering the European Union will really help reduce tensions in the Aegean region, it will improve relations all around in the region and it will also facilitate Turkey's entry into Europe. It is a win-win situation all around and I hope the people of Cyprus will press their leaders not to miss this opportunity.
Q: A question on Sudan sir. The opponents of Khartoum's policy in western Sudan plan to hold a demonstration outside the UN today. Obviously Khartoum and rebels in western Sudan have been trading accusations. I wonder if you can comment, sir, on that situation, bearing in mind that Khartoum is saying that the problem also involves Eritrea and Chad?
SG: I think we are concerned about the situation in Darfur, in western Sudan, particularly the humanitarian situation and we are doing our best to gain access to those in need and we are in discussions with the Government. I have recently spoken to the President of Chad who has offered to mediate between the rebels and the Sudanese Government. In fact, he had made preliminary contacts, from what he told me, and we have offered to do whatever we can to assist the mediation as well as provide humanitarian assistance to the needy.
Q: Sir, when do you expect Mr. Brahimi to meet with Mr. Al-Sistani and beyond that, on the question of the June 30 date. On January 19th, it seemed like a firm date. Last week you said you had an open mind, and indeed your statement itself makes no mention of the November 15th agreement.
SG: He will meet Ayatollah Al-Sistani – I don't have the time and date yet – as I said, he is going to meet as many people as possible. On the question of the 30 June deadline, both parties, when they were here on  January indicated that they would like to maintain the 30 June deadline. We are working on that assumption but, of course, as I said, we are going to talk to all parties. If the parties were to agree to other arrangements, I think it would be difficult to reject it. We will have to consider it.
Thank you very much.
Off-the-Cuff on 9 February 2004