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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at press encounter following their meeting

New York, 31 December 2004

SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Secretary Powell and I have had a very useful discussion this afternoon. We reviewed the situation of the tsunami crisis, and our efforts to assist the countries and the people in need, and the need for us to cooperate and coordinate our efforts as effectively as possible. When I say coordinate, I mean not just between Member States but also at the national level with the national NGOs, national Red Cross and Red Crescent, and national organizations, regional organizations and the international effort. And the Secretary of State will perhaps tell you a bit more about the assets that have been moved into the area, because we are going to need major logistical support - airplanes, helicopters and air controllers to assist us move the produce and the goods as quickly as possible, so that we don't have bottlenecks.

On the question of fund-raising I think things are looking up. We are doing very well for the moment but, as I said, we are aiming for the long term, and I will urge governments not only to contribute for the moment but be prepared to continue the effort over the longer term.

We also had the chance to talk about the situation in Iraq, and the upcoming elections and the efforts we are making to assist the Iraqi Electoral Commission to ensure that technically everything is in place and that the elections go ahead on 30 January as planned.

And of course, naturally we were both pleased with the peace agreement in Sudan, and we now have to look forward to its implementation, and we are going to work with both parties to implement the agreement. And of course Darfur was also on the agenda – what further steps can be taken to improve the situation in Darfur.

And finally, I also had the opportunity to thank Secretary Powell for the strong support and cooperation we have had throughout his term as Secretary of State, and I think we are all going to miss working with him, and in a way I am even envious that he is walking on to a private life now.

Thanks.

Mr. Powell: Thank you very much, Secretary-General. We did have a good meeting. We also had a good meeting yesterday by television remote control, and I think it shows how the international community has worked hard to make sure that our efforts are coordinated in a very coherent way. This is the sixth day of this crisis, and a lot has happened over these six days. We have dispatched assessment teams. Humanitarian supplies are on the way. Military forces are on the way; a particularly large contingent from the United States Armed Forces. And fund-raising has been started, and significant funds are being allocated to this effort. On the part of the United States, we indicated in the first day of the crisis an initial infusion of US$4 million, which became US$15 million on the second day, and then US$35 million on the third day, as we made our assessment of what the needs were going to be over time. And as we indicated throughout the week the United States was prepared to do more once we had a better understanding of what the requirements would be. And as a result of assessments that have been made over the last couple of days by representatives of the United States Agency for International Development and recommendations that were given to me earlier this morning by Administrator [Andrew] Natsios of USAID and then a phone conversation I subsequently had with President Bush this morning, President Bush has decided and we announced from the Crawford White House a little while ago that the United States contribution would now go up to US$350 million dollars. That includes the $35 million earlier allocated. This tenfold increase is indicative of American generosity but it also is indicative of the need. And the need is great. And not just for immediate relief, but for long-term reconstruction, rehabilitation, family support, economic support, that's going to be needed for these countries to get back up on their feet. I am also pleased at the amount of private giving that is now taking place. American corporations and American citizens are being quite generous, and I would encourage such generosity across the world.

I would also encourage all the nations of the world to reach deep and to make as significant a contribution as they are able to because this is an unprecedented disaster. It is unprecedented in my career, and I have been through a number of humanitarian crises over the last twenty years. So I hope that the world will be generous in this regard.

The area that was hardest hit among many areas hit hard was of course Indonesia, and Aceh, and that's where the priority will be. It's not just a matter of money, as the Secretary-General and I discussed, it is a matter of being able to distribute supplies, and take care of retail distribution using helicopter and air assets and truck assets once you get supplies to major airheads, and so we will be working on that.

As the Secretary-General noted we too are pleased that an Agreement has been signed between the SPLM, Dr. John Garang, and with the Government in Khartoum, and I would like to congratulate the parties, congratulate IGAD, congratulate General [Lazarus] Sumbeiywo who played such a key role in serving as chief negotiator for this over a long period of time. The United States will also be ready with the United Nations to support the subsequent efforts that will be necessary to bring peace finally to Sudan, at least this conflict coming to an end, while we deal with the continuing tragedy in Darfur. And of course you know Ambassador John Danforth played an important role in this effort too, and I congratulate him for that.

And we did have a good conversation on the Iraq election coming up on 30 January, an election that we are committed to see go forward because the Iraqi Interim Government wants it to go forward, the Iraqi people want to have the opportunity to vote for their new leadership. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General, for your kind words.

Q: Do you see an opportunity here, perhaps a silver lining, in that two civil wars have been suspended because of this disaster? When things get back to normal, they just resume fighting again? Or is that something to work on? And I would like to ask Secretary Powell, as well, that Diego Garcia is under the Indian Ocean, we have heard nothing about that, what happened on the island there?

SG: We hope that this offers an opportunity both in Aceh and in Sri Lanka and that the protagonists are now working together to bring support to those in need, and I hope that collaboration is not going to end with the crisis and that they will be able to build on that and use this new dynamic to resolve their own differences and we will be encouraging that.

Powell: If I could second what the Secretary-General said. Let's see this as an opportunity to resolve these two long-running crises.

I don't have any information on Diego Garcia.

Q: Yesterday the Secretary-General said that he believed that the United Nations was the lead agency in the relief effort and that the Core Group that he spoke with yesterday by video conference was acting in support of that leadership. Is that your understanding?

Mr. Powell: Yes. We created the Core Group earlier in the week because we saw a need for a coordination mechanism to be created rather quickly and rest it on countries nearby in the region with assets, experience and capability that could be brought to bear right away and we wanted to make sure they were coordinated. The Indians had already dispatched military units and relief elements and supplies to Sri Lanka. The Thais were responding. So we thought, let's bring this core group together. It might expand slightly, but in due course we hope the Core Group will work itself out of business because we will have brought all of the international organizations into play under the overall supervision and leadership of the United Nations.

Q: Did China join the Core Group [inaudible]?

Mr. Powell: China is playing an important role. It is increasing its level of contribution, and I think they can do that without necessarily being a member of the Core Group.

SG: I think there are countries also in the region that can play a role – Singapore, China and others - and I think we are also encouraged by the fact that ASEAN and the countries in the region would want to play their rightful role. And I think we are going to see them becoming very active in this process.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Where will the money come from and, one last question, why weren't the British invited to be a part of the Core Group?

Mr. Powell: The simple reason is that the Core Group consists of nations that are immediately in the region, or in the case of the United States have a significant a significant military and diplomatic presence in the region, with our Pacific Command Headquarters. I spoke to the British about it within a day or so, and explained the rationale for it. We wanted a tight group of resource providers who were in the region. I am quite confident the United Kingdom will be doing a lot, both in terms of financial support and other assets they will be providing, even though they may not be a member of the Core Group. You don't have to be a member of the Core Group to make a significant and important contribution.

Q: The relationship between the United States and the United Nations has struggled a bit over the past two years, and we see in the past week there has been some talk in the press about discussions of leadership, who is in charge. Why has the relationship reached the point it has and how could it be better?

SG: You go first?

Mr. Powell: I would be delighted to. In the past four years we have worked closely with the United Nations. When this administration came into office we built on work that had been done by a previous UN Ambassador, and by Senator [Jesse] Helms and others. We paid our arrears, and we support the United Nations. It doesn't mean that from time to time there won't be disagreements between the United Nations leadership, the Secretary-General and the United States. And when that occurs we try to work our way through these disagreements. It is in the interest of the world, in the interest of the international community for all the nations of the United Nations to have a good relationship with the Secretary-General who represents all the nations in the United Nations. And the fact that in the course of the last six days we have worked very closely with the Secretary-General and his staff, and you saw how we did that yesterday in the television conference that brought us all together to include UNDP and the World Food Programme and other agencies, the World Bank, all coming together, and my visit here today with the Secretary-General was for the purpose of making sure we keep proper momentum. This is not the time for squabbles. This is a time for all of us to work together to help people who are in desperate need.

SG: I agree entirely with what the Secretary has said. And I think we have worked well together. We have had bad patches, which is also normal. And I look forward to a constructive and cooperative relationship as we move forward. As I have always maintained, the UN needs the US and the US needs the UN, and we have to work together.

Mr. Powell: On the source of money, I think somebody had asked. The Office of Management and Budget, our fiscal godfather, will be looking at different accounts within the US Agency for International Development, the State Department, perhaps the Pentagon, to get ready access to cash. Not all of it is needed all at once, but in due course wherever the money comes from those accounts will have to be replenished, and that will take action in Congress, so we will be reaching out to Congress in the days ahead.

Q: Mr. Secretary Powell. What is your analysis so far of how the UN system has responded to this crisis? And have some of the problems, such as the oil-for-food situation at all diminished the capacity of the UN to take that kind of leadership role, the standing to take the role that it has now?

Mr. Powell: Well, it's six days into this crisis, and the UN is playing a leadership role. They have people on the ground.

The various U.N. agencies are responding. They are making known to the international community what the requirements are, and they are gathering in the response to those requirements to apply assets.

And so I think the UN is off to a good start. And this is going to be a long-term crisis to be resolved, and not just after six days we have dealt with the problem.

So I think it's off to a good start.

Q: Secretary General, are you concerned that some aid is only getting through very slowly to the people who actually need it?

SG: Yes, obviously, we are concerned. We would want to get to everybody as quickly as we can. But the situation is very difficult, particularly in Aceh and Sumatra, and we need to get access.

This is one of the reasons why we are talking about air capacity, that we need helicopters, we need airlift, we need to have staging stations. And we are working on all of that, trying to move as quickly as we can.

This initial phase where we have to save lives, where we have to get to the people as quickly as we can, this does not mean that we have forgotten the survivors. But the initial phase we are in is a race against time, and we are pressing ahead, trying to do it as fast as we can.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday the State Department people were telling reporters that there didn't appear to be any immediate need for a large step-up in U.S. aid. And I think on television last night you even said the United States is not involved in an auction here to see who would give the most money...

Mr. Powell: Right.

Q: Yet today we have the announcement of this rather enormous, if welcome, step-up in aid. Was it the phone call from Natsios this morning that changed things? Did something change?

Mr. Powell: If you look carefully at all the statements that we have made this week, I was careful in my statements, and I think Administrator Natsios and my other colleagues were careful to say that it was going to be a large requirement, that significant quantities of money would be necessary to deal with the problem, but that we had to wait and see what those needs were.

I'm not sure US$350 million is the end number. It's the number that we settled on for now. And as the assessments were made, what I wanted to do is to make sure that I had a basis to go to the President and make the recommendation that he commit this amount of money, and not just that each day everybody was trying to play, "Can you top this?"

And so, I think we are now seeing a significant and welcome outpouring of support from the international community. And the President decided that this was time and he had a sufficient basis to increase to the number that was announced earlier, the total of US$350 million.

Q: Both yourself and the Secretary-General have emphasized the need to be in this in the long-term, but isn't there a danger that once the limelight fades, once the interest goes away, that the commitment of certain countries, the powerful and rich countries, would dwindle, such as what happened in places such as Afghanistan, Haiti and others?

Mr. Powell: The interest of the international community has not withered in Afghanistan. We are involved in significant reconstruction efforts and peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan.

The Haitian situation - money is available, peacekeepers are there. We are slowly starting to see that money now flow into the economy.

The same thing is happening in Liberia, another challenge that goes off Page One, but it never goes off Page One for me or for the Secretary-General.

These are problems that continue, and the international community remains engaged trying to deal with the challenges in Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, and now in South Asia as a result of this tsunami.

Q: Mr. Secretary, very briefly on another issue, the leadership of the OAS has been vacant for some time, the region has crises in Haiti and in some other places. What is the U.S. position regarding the candidates? And when do you expect it should be filled?

Mr. Powell: There are a number of candidates who have stepped forward, and the United States is waiting to see what level of support these individual candidates have before we take a position on any one candidate.

We had expressed a preference earlier on for a Central American candidate, because the previous Secretary General was from Central America.

And now we're waiting to see which of the identified candidates is best able to achieve close to consensus.

Q: Mr. Secretary, will all US$350 million of the pledged U.S. aid, whether that's money or materials, be funneled through the United Nations? And secondly, will the United States take the lead in terms of implementing or expanding some sort of worldwide tsunami warning system?

Mr. Powell: On the first question, it'll be up to experts within the department and USAID to determine how best to allocate the money.

In some cases the money would go to UN agencies. In other cases it might go directly to nongovernmental or private organizations that are providing the services or for the purchase of stockpiles that are then sent forward.

And so I think that's the answer to that question. Yes, I'm sorry. The second question?

Q: Worldwide tsunami warning system?

Mr. Powell: I think it's something that we should look at. The magnitude of this disaster is such that I think it is incumbent on us to see whether or not a practical worldwide system can be put in place and how to design, construct and pay for such a system.

Thank you.

SG: Thank you very much.