Press Conference by Secretary-General-designate

14 December 2006

Mr. Fawzi: It is my great pleasure to introduce the just-sworn-in Secretary-General-designate of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

Mr. Ban : Thank you very much, Mr. Fawzi, for your introduction.

Distinguished members of the media, thank you for being here today. I am delighted at this opportunity to meet with the United Nations press corps.  I understand this is my second time, after the first one in [October].

Needless to s ay, I am deeply moved at having taken the Oath of Office this morning, and I look forward with a mixture of awe and enthusiasm to taking up my duties as the Secretary-General of the United Nations in January next year.  

Equally, I look forward to what I hope will be an open and constructive dialogue with all of you in the years ahead. I regard your cooperation and my relationship with the members of the press corps will be crucially important in reaching out to the world what the United Nations is and will be doing, and how the United Nations could be appreciated more for what we have been doing. Your colleagues in Korea may have dubbed me the “slippery eel” because I was too charming for them to be able to catch me. But that nickname was given because I was very friendly with the media. You should understand that. But I promise today that I can be a pretty straight shooter when I need to. And my relationship with the media will be crucial to my efforts to make the mission of the UN better known, and better understood, by people around the world.

Since we last met in September, after my appointment as Secretary-General, my team and I have met with, and listened attentively to, hundreds of future colleagues -- among delegations, in the Secretariat, and in the wider UN family.

These have represented a diverse spectrum, including leaders and senior Government officials of Member States; ambassadors of groups and individual countries; special representatives, advisers, and envoys of the Secretary-General on missions; senior officials of Secretariat departments; parliamentarians and civic leaders of many countries.

With this process, I have seen at first hand the skill and talent that exists throughout the United Nations community, and I have been able to shape some ideas on how to advance the work of the Organization. I will be in a position to say more about that once I have taken office in January next year, but I already I see the work falling into mainly three areas:

•  The first, continuing the efforts to strengthen the Organization, through enhanced consolidation and coordination ;

•  Second, building a staff that is professional, accountable, mob ile and multi-tasked, to better meet the global challenges of the 21 st century on the United Nations agenda ;

•  Thirdly, healing the divide and distrust that have plagued too much of the UN's work.

You could say that I am a man o n a mission. And my mission could be dubbed “Operation Restore Trust”: trust in the Organization, and trust between Member States and the Secretariat. I hope this mission is not “Mission Impossible.”

On substantive issues, too, we must step up work to strengthen the three pillars of the United Nation's work -- peace, development and human rights. The crises in Darfur and in the Middle East, and the conflicts in Africa and elsewhere, call for concerted action. So does the work to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 -- which will be only eight years away by the time I take office. And I will of course follow closely the resumption of six-party talks on North Korea next week.

Let me now turn to the subject, which, I believe, attracts most of your attention, namely senior appointments. Since arriving in New York , I have been meeting with a wide range of people, both within and outside the Organization. I am still in the process of reviewing all contracts of Under- Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General. A decision will be made on new senior appointments early next year.

Most contracts of senior officials are due to expire at the end of February. In making senior appointments, I will give primary consideration to individual merit, with due regard to gender balance and geographical distribution. For the post of Deputy Secretary-General, which is due to fall vacant at the end of this year, I am looking at several names, with a preference for women candidates. I will make a choice in due course, in close consultation with Member States.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, I take office at a daunting time in international affairs. But I am fortunate to be able to draw on the experience and expertise of my new colleagues throughout the UN family, and on the network of friends and colleagues I have forged during the past four decades in the diplomatic service of a country with daunting foreign policy challenges of its own.

And now I will try to answer your questions, and thank you very much for your attention.

Question : Mr. Secretary-General-designate, it gives me great pleasure on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) to welcome you one more time. I mean, given your sense of humour and your wit that was displayed at the UNCA Ball the other day and today, I think that will hold you well in the future.

My first question to you is: given the crises which are festering all over the world, from Darfur to Somalia - and to Palestine, which has undermined the situation in the Middle East - what are going to be your priorities to address first in order to make sure this world is a better place that you endeavour to do? Thank you.

Mr. Ban : Like everybody, I am very concerned, very much concerned about all these deteriorating situations in the Middle East and elsewhere, in Africa. The Middle East question is of course the most serious issue with which we must deal. These have long been issues which have not been resolved. I will put priority on this issue. I will try to energize the Quartet agreement, and I will immediately discuss this matter with the countries concerned. I think the core of the Middle East questions lies in the relationship between Israel and Palestine authorities. It would be desirable to encourage, for the international community and leaders of the region to encourage - the parties concerned to continue their negotiations.

There are, again, very hot and deteriorating situations in Lebanon and in Iraq , too. These will all constrain the capacity and ability of the United Nations to put more time and energy on ensuring the development strategy to work for common prosperity. Therefore, I would urge the countries concerned and parties concerned to be more faithful, to be more sincere. To address these issues, I, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, will not spare any efforts to be a part of those processes.

Question ( interpretation from French ): Congratulations, Mr. Ban. I have a question in French. This is a question regarding the future of the French language. There is a tradition that the Secretary-General speaks in English and in French. We know that you have worked very hard on improving your French this year. I would like to know, why do you think that French should remain the second official working language of the United Nations? Why not Arabic or Chinese, which have become more popular throughout the world? And perhaps, if you would be so kind, could you answer in French?

Mr. Ban ( interpretation from French ): I was not able to follow everything you said … ( spoke in English ) because there was some duplication of language. If you could speak

( interpretation from French ) slowly, in French, I will do my best, but it is very difficult for me, off the cuff, to reply in French.

Question ( interpretation from French ): There is a tradition that the Secretary-General expresses himself in English and French. The two official working languages of the United Nations are English and French. I would like to know why, in your view, it is important that French should remain the second official working language of the United Nations?

Mr. Ban : Let me have help from the interpreter. I can understand, but I would like to be correct. I could not hear well. The sound is …

Mr. Fawzi : I think that what the questioner was asking, Mr. Secretary-General-designate, is that traditionally, English and French have been the working languages of the United Nations. Given the importance of the other four languages, especially Chinese and Arabic, and the other languages, why is it that only English and French are the working languages of the United Nations? Thank you.

Mr. Ban : That, I believe, was the decision of the Member States. Of course, there are six official languages in the United Nations, including French, English, Russian, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. Each language has equal authenticity in the works of the United Nations. However, for the benefit of convenience or practicality, I understand that there has been an agreement, an understanding among the Member States to use English and French during informal or other, more semi-official proceedings of the work. That is what I understand at this time. But you should know that all six languages are all equally important languages.

Question : Mr. Ban, there are many expectations of the United Nations in the world. I think it may be fair to say that the greatest right now is over what is happening in Darfur , which some people have identified as genocide and believe that the United Nations basically was created to prevent that sort of thing from going forward. You are well aware, I am sure, of the situation right now, where the United Nations is unable to get a UN force into Darfur . Do you intend to take on that problem personally? Will you make a personal appeal to President [al-]Bashir to accept the United Nations in his country?

Mr. Ban : That is my intention, to make myself directly and personally engaged in this process. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has done great efforts himself, diplomatic efforts to directly talk with President al-Bashir of the Sudan and other leaders of the African Union. The suffering of the people of Darfur is simply unacceptable, and, despite intensive efforts, the security situation appears to be deteriorating over recent days.

Again, there is no military solution to this crisis. The United Nations needs to continue to work closely with the African Union and other stakeholders, including the Government of Sudan, in addressing all aspects of this conflict.

I have discussed this matter already, in my capacity as Secretary-General-designate, with the Foreign Minister of Sudan. And also I have discussed it on many occasions with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Until the end of Kofi Annan's tenure, I will closely discuss and consult with him and other members of the concerned parties.

Question: You mentioned both Iraq and Lebanon as parts of the priority list that you will have in mind. Will you take the United Nations actively back into Iraq ? And will the establishment of the international tribunal to try those involved in the political assassinations in Lebanon be something you will uphold and work for actively and proactively?

Mr. Ban: For the Iraqi situation, again, the whole international community is very much concerned about the inability on the part of the Iraqi Government, as well as other members of the Multi National Force, to secure peace and security politically and socially. What is important at this time is that the United Nations and the whole international community should work together and use collective wisdom and efforts to help the Iraqi people and Government to ensure political and social stability there so that they can enjoy genuine freedom and peace. That is why I think the United Nations should closely cooperate with the members of the MNF and other members of the international community.

On the Lebanese situation, again, the United Nations has taken an important role by adopting Security Council resolutions, by establishing and augmenting the UNIFIL forces there. We need to work together to implement all these Security Council resolutions. At the same time, there is an investigation going on by Mr. Serge Brammertz. I also had a meeting with him, and I encouraged him to continue his activities as Special Prosecutor to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri. I will try my best efforts to, first of all, these investigation activities as well as the establishment of an international court.

Question: In your speech just moments ago, you said that one of your priorities would be to restore trust in the Organization. I'm wondering if you could be more specific. In your opinion, what trust has been lost over the years at the United Nations? What needs to be mended?

Mr. Ban: There are two aspects of trust. The first aspect is that, unfortunately, there has been much criticism over the United Nations inability and inefficiencies during the last many years. Though the United Nations has been playing an instrumental role in keeping peace and security and helping developing countries to overcome their economic difficulties, the UN needs to restore confidence and trust from Member States and other major stakeholders.

The second aspect is that, unfortunately, there is some distrust and a gap of trust among Member States, and between Member States and the Secretariat. That is what I said that I will try to play a bridge role between the divergent opinions, divergent groups. Without restoring trust and confidence among the Member States and between the Member States and Secretariat management, it may be very difficult to ensure the smooth progress of all the agenda activities.

Question: What are you going to do to deal with North Korea 's development of nuclear weapons, and what are you going to do for food assistance for poor North Korean people?

Mr. Fawzi: One question, please.

Question: All right; the first question. What are you going to do to deal with North Korea 's development of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Ban: As Foreign Minister of Korea until early November, I had been dealing with this matter to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. It is encouraging that the participating countries in the Six-Party process have agreed to resume the dialogue on the 18 th of this month. I do hope that the parties of the Six-Party Talks will be able to make substantial progress to realize de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

It is essential and crucially important that North Korea commit themselves to what they made in September last year through joint statements, namely, abandoning all nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapons programmes. And the other parties of the Six-Party countries are prepared to provide the necessary economic assistance, security assurances and prospects for normalizing relations with the United States and Japan .

We do hope, I as Secretary-General-designate and future Secretary-General, coming January next year, will place high priority on this issue. I will closely follow the development of this situation and try to facilitate the Six-Party process. While watching this development of the situation, I will also think about my own initiative – what I, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, need to do, in close consultation with the members of the Security Council and the members of the Six-Party Talks.

Question: One of the subjects that you did not mention was the question of Iran and its own nuclear programme, and also its relations with Israel , especially in light of the recent Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran . I was wondering whether you plan to take any initiatives with Iran on either of those issues.

Mr. Ban: As you know, the Security Council is engaged and is currently discussing a second resolution on Iran . I hope that the issue can be resolved at the negotiating table in a timely manner.

I think that this Iranian nuclear development issue has much greater implications on the situation in the region and globally. Therefore, I would urge the authorities of Iran to engage in negotiations, as they had been with the European Union plus three countries. The most desirable way is to resolve all the pending issues in a peaceful way through dialogue.

The second part of your question was on –

Question: On Iran 's relations with Israel , whose elimination it has called for, and also the denial of the Holocaust.

Mr. Ban: Denying historical facts, especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust, is just not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to call for the elimination of any State or people. I would like to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice by all the members of the international community.

Question: Dear Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the Islamic Republic News Agency, I welcome you to the UN. My question is: Israel has officially ended its nuclear ambiguity policy, and Mr. Olmert has publicly confirmed the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel . Don't you think that peace and security in the region have been seriously threatened?

Mr. Ban: Again, I would urge the parties concerned, on this issue, should engage themselves in dialogue so that all the issues could be resolved in a peaceful way.

Question: I would like to ask about the Holocaust denial conference one more time. The Iranian President denied the event that actually led to the foundation of this Organization. I was wondering how you intended to address that issue – if the United Nations is going to address that issue.

Mr. Ban: Again, it is a historical fact, and denying historical facts, especially such a very important historical fact as the Holocaust, is not acceptable. It is not acceptable. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself visited Iran and had a series of dialogue with the Iranian leadership and other senior-level people. Wherever and when, and if the situation requires me to do, I am also prepared to engage in dialogue with the Iranian leadership.

Question: Sir, on your appointments, do you intend to replace all the Under-Secretaries-General, and are you considering a woman for Deputy Secretary-General – a woman from the developing world?

Mr. Ban: As I said already, I am reviewing several candidates' names, with an emphasis on, preferably, on women candidates, to work for me as Deputy Secretary-General who will assist me and who will also work for management reform as well as work for the implementation of development goals.

Question: Secretary-General-designate, I guess, from your past nickname, it's a short step from SE to SG. You constantly call for dialogue, but one of the most significant changes during your predecessor's tenure was the establishment of the doctrine of responsibility to protect, which suggests that individual nations at some point lose their right to sovereignty if they abuse their citizens and do nothing about it. Do you believe – and this is also with reference to Darfur – that come the time when dialogue doesn't work any more, that you, as Secretary-General, should champion outside intervention, including military intervention, to enforce the will of the international community when a country is committing mass war crimes and atrocities? Thank you.

Mr. Ban: It was encouraging that world leaders acknowledged this concept, the very important concept of responsibility to protect. As Secretary-General, I will try to discuss this matter to have more solid terms of framework so that this concept can be operationalized. It would be very important for the international community to prevent the happenings of all the massacres or genocide. It would not be appropriate if we would not be able to take any action on the pretext of sovereignty. While world leaders have discussed, acknowledged and adopted this concept, it is true, at the same time, that we have not been able to discuss this concept in more detail. So I will discuss this matter with the Member States to have more solid terms of framework on this issue.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, welcome to the United Nations. We understand that you are just fresh from taking the oath. The Middle East is an area that is plagued with many ills, from Darfur to Lebanon to Iran to Iraq . But most of us would agree that the Middle East problem is the core problem in the Middle East . Do you come to us – as I said, I understand you have come fresh from taking the oath – but do you come to us with a clear plan to tackle the Middle East problem? For example, do you support the convening of an international conference on the Middle East such as the Madrid Conference?

Mr. Ban: As I told you earlier, I am very much determined to devote myself, if I can be of any assistance or any help in this process - I will closely consult and work with the leaders of the region. The United Nations is fully prepared – in fact, the United Nations is one part of the Quartet agreement. As to your specific question about the international conference, I think that this is a matter which I will have to discuss with the countries concerned of the international community.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General-designate, do you think you need to do something to revitalize the UN image with the US people? Do you agree with or repudiate Secretary-General's Annan speech at the Harry Truman library about the United States not going it alone and world domination? The UN-US connection – the host country – can you talk about that?

Mr. Ban: The United States is one of the important Member States, as everybody will agree. The United States was one of the creators of this United Nations. It is the largest financial contributor and has been making important contributions for the peace and prosperity of the international community. Therefore we need the active support and participation of the United States in the activities of the United Nations. The United Nations needs such active participation of the United States .

At the same time, I believe that the United States also values highly the ideals, goals and objectives of the United Nations, and that is why they have been participating very actively. There might have been – there may be some occasions that the interests of the United States or goals of the United Nations may not have been the same. But even in such a case, it is very important to discuss, to resolve the difference of opinions, and I, as Secretary-General, will try to harmonize so that we can expect constructive contribution and participation of the United States into all activities of the United Nations.

Question: And the Annan speech?

Mr. Ban: That, I think, was his own personal assessment and insight, which he gained during his tenure.

Question: I just wanted to know: what are your views on the ideas of expanding the Security Council permanent members to include two African countries and two Asian countries?

Mr. Ban: This issue is, by far, the most important and sensitive issues, considering the dramatic changes in international politics. It is necessary, and every Member State will agree, that there needs to be expansion and reform in the Security Council. Unfortunately, so far, during the last 10 years, Member States have not been able to agree on this matter. As Secretary-General, I will try to facilitate the consultations among the Member States so that the broadest possible consensus formula could be drawn out among the Member States on this matter.

Question: Dear Secretary-General-designate, there are so many conflicts worldwide. Among these conflict regions, which might be your first visit after you take office, and why?

Mr. Ban: I have to check my future schedule, starting from January, but I was told that there is going to be an African Union summit meeting in the latter part of January. I am considering to participate in that African Union summit meeting, because I believe that it will provide me with very good opportunities, first of all, to meet with the many leaders of the African Union and also to discuss many important African regional conflict issues with the leaders of the African Union, including the Darfur crisis. And, as you know, there are many regional conflicts which threaten the regional and global peace and security. Thank you very much.

Mr. Fawzi: Secretary-General-designate, we know your time is limited. You were able to fit in 15 out of 33 requests, but there will be a lot of time for you during the next five – maybe 10 - years to answer the rest of the questions of the correspondents.

Thank you very much, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you, Secretary-General-designate.

Mr. Ban: Thank you very much.

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