Secretary-General's press encounter upon arrival at Headquarters
New York, 11 March 2004Q: Good morning, Sir. Your reaction to the events in Madrid?
SG: It is indeed with profound shock and indignation that I learned about the terrorist attack in Madrid today. Once again, we see senseless killing of innocent people. Killing of innocent people cannot be justified regardless of the cause. I offer my deepest sympathy to King Don Juan Carlos I of Spain, to the Government and people of Spain, and to the people and friends who were killed or injured. And I hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice swiftly.
Q: Have you had any contact with the Spanish Government as to who might have done this or any assistance the UN can give?
SG: Not yet, I haven't been in touch with them this morning. So I really don't know.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the families of the Guantanamo detainees were here yesterday, and they were saying that they consider the matter a matter of international law. I wonder what your opinion is, do you think it's a matter of international law or do you think it's a matter of US law?
SG: Sorry, you said we had visitors from Guantanamo Bay or ….
Q: The families were here yesterday.
SG: … and said this is an issue of international law? There are issues of international law and issues of law posed, with the lawyers arguing the question of the rights of the people in Guantanamo Bay. It is something that is being debated by lawyers and in the front pages. So I think there's nothing new to that either. There are thorny legal issues that I think will be debated and discussed by judges and will need to be addressed as we move forward.
Q: Is that something that the Security Council, you think, ought to pick up?
SG: I do not sense an inclination by the Council to pick up this issue.
Q: On Cyprus, Mr. Secretary, are you going to participate in the talks in Switzerland on the 22 of March, and how are things in the talks?
SG: The parties are moving, things are moving ahead slowly. We will stick to the time table that we have agreed to which also entails my own involvement if the parties will not reach an agreement between themselves by the 22nd, 23rd of March. So it is likely yes, that I will be involved.
Q: You are going to participate in the talks in Switzerland?
SG: It is possible, yes. I don't know where it will be, but it is possible.
Q: What should the UN do about terrorism? There are committees who meet asking for more information, but the failure of the Organization to define terrorism, does that embolden certain groups to think that there is still some legitimacy to their actions?
SG: I think the UN has been very clear on terrorism. I think the resolutions that have been passed by the Security Council, the actions and the resolutions of the General Assembly are clear, regardless of how one defines terrorism. I think it is clear to all that killing of innocent lives is terrorism and there's no argument about it. It's morally unacceptable, and I think everyone in this building accepts that.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the issue of CARICOM and the African Union both calling for the United Nations to investigate the departure of [Haitian] President [Jean Bertrand] Aristide, could you comment on whether you plan to take this up? And if you already did, I apologize, could you give us your reaction to the appointment of Ambassador [Sergey] Lavrov as the Foreign Minister of Russia?
SG: I think on your first question, this is an issue that the [Security] Council will have to discuss and determine whether it takes it up or not, because the Council acted on the assumption that the President had resigned and they had a letter of resignation before them. If they want to get into the investigation and they gave me the mandate, I would be duty-bound to undertake it. And so this is an issue that we will need to discuss with the Council.
On Lavrov, Ambassador Lavrov, I think we are all going to miss him, and I think you, ladies and gentlemen of the press, perhaps as much as myself and other diplomats in the building. He is a consummate diplomat, he's an excellent professional with a good sense of humour and wit. And he has been around here for so long, he has many friends. And think we're all going to miss him. But I think he is going to be a great Foreign Minister and we're also lucky to have a Foreign Minister who understands this building and the multilateral issues.
Q: Has the “night smoker” been “extinguished” then here? (Laughter)
SG: No, I think he's getting out of here well and alive. (Laughter)
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I wanted to ask you about your letter to the Council on the Special Court in Sierra Leone. You were asking about financing?
SG: Yes. I think the initial decision required us to raise funds and run the court on a voluntary basis, with voluntary contributions. Even at that early stage, I warned the Council members that I did not think this was a wise approach. You could not look for voluntary contributions to sustain a court for a couple of years. We would have preferred an assessed contribution. They insisted that it should be voluntary, but I did warn them that I was not at all sanguine that we will get all the money we need and that if we fail to raise the money through voluntary sources, I will revert to them for assessed contribution. And we are there now. This is why I have made the request for assessed contributions to be able to cover the costs of the Court.
Q: Looks like it's only good for a few more months now, right?
SG: Well, I think they have the possibility to take the decision before we run out of money.
Off-the-Cuff on 11 March 2004