Transcript of first Press Conference by the President of the General Assembly

United Nations Headquarters, New York


President of the General Assembly (PGA): Good afternoon, and thank you for coming to this first press conference. I hope it will be followed by many. I’m here for you and at your disposal. So it’s our plan to hold regular press briefings. We wanted to hold this one shortly after the end of the General Debate, and I think it would be appropriate to start with some assessment of the debate from my perspective. What I want to say is that it was for the first time since  the 61st session that we had all Member States and all Observers taking the floor. So we had 196 statements. We had 77 Heads of State, 37 Heads of Government, we had 60 Ministers, and the rest were Vice-Presidents, Deputy Prime Ministers and so on. Out of curiosity, I may say that the longest statement took 43 minutes and was delivered by the President of the Observer State of Palestine, and the shortest statement took 5 minutes and was delivered by the President of Lithuania.

Now, the topics that were mentioned most frequently by the leaders from the podium: sustainable development by more than 140 speakers, climate change came second, terrorism, nuclear weapons and here the reference was made to DPRK in particular. The issue of UN reform was mentioned by many speakers and then also the issue of migration. These were probably the most frequent topics, most commonly mentioned by the speakers. But there was also a significant reference to peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and interestingly, a number of people also spoke about a new cold war.

From my perspective, I want to acknowledge positively the fact that the theme of the 72nd session, “Focusing on people: striving for peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet”, was in general well received by the speakers. Many of them referred to the theme. Some of them structured their presentation according to this theme, and they spoke positively about it. What I also found very important  and very positive was an overwhelming support for the United Nations’ role in peace and prevention, in upholding human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and also the general support expressed for dialogue and for inclusivity as our working method. There was also very strong support for multilateralism. It was said by many speakers that we are stronger together. So this is, I believe, very appropriate for the United Nations’ statements.

From my perspective,  I was  personally chairing some 20 hours of the General Debate, and for the rest, I had members of my team in the room who were reporting immediately and directly to me. So I basically was familiar with all the statements, which gives me a good feeling or a good impression of the debate. Apart from that, I had close to 60 bilateral meetings and I had  almost 30 speaking opportunities at different side events.

So, we concluded the General Debate yesterday, but there is no break. We continue with the programme for the 72nd session. Today we held a high-level event on the abolishment of nuclear weapons, and tomorrow and the day after, we will have a high-level event on combating trafficking in persons. All six committees will start their work soon, and I plan to address all six of them at the beginning of their mandates to share my priorities with them, and of course then we will proceed with the programmes and with the priorities as we outlined them, and I can repeat what I see as particularly important issues for the 72nd session. There are three:

Sustaining peace and prevention. So I want to focus more on what can we do and what we are not doing, what tools we  have but don’t use, what are the tools we are missing and how we need to adapt them to prevent conflicts. There will be a series of events dedicated to this agenda and the highlight of the programme will be a high-level meeting on sustaining peace and prevention in April next year. But I don’t want to see this as… it won’t be a one off event, but it will  rather be the culmination of a process — and still not the end of the process.

The second extremely important issue that will be very visible and dominating the work of the 72nd session of the General Assembly is migration. As you know we have been tasked and mandated to prepare the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration that is to be submitted for adoption in September 2018. We are now entering the decisive phase of the process after several rounds of informal negotiations. We will conclude this process of informal consultations, then switch into the second phase, which is a stocktaking process that will take place in December in Mexico. And then after New Years, we will launch the intergovernmental negotiations that should lead us to the drafting and adoption of the text. I see this as an extremely important issue because, as you all know, migration, of course, is an issue that affects the life of almost every citizen on this planet. Everyone has his or her personal experience, and the UN as a global organization was asked to provide global governance, a global framework to address this issue. So therefore, the expectations are high, and this will also be a very immediate test of the 72nd session of the General Assembly in September 2018 with a global process.

Being aware of the importance and sensitivity of this issue, I will be fully involved in the process. I will put all my personal and political weight and authority of my office behind the process. I will be chairing several meetings, and I will take an active part in a number of meetings, and I will also use my bilateral meetings with leaders to draw their attention to the importance of this issue and ask them for their support.

And the third issue that will be somehow very visible and linked to the 72nd session of the General Assembly is the issue of UN reform. So as you all know very well, apart from the ongoing processes on General Assembly revitalization and Security Council reform, the Secretary-General will present his three reform proposals on peace and security architecture, on development architecture and on management, and then it will be of course on the General Assembly and the Member States to discuss. And I support this process and plans for greater efficiency of the United Nations, and I see my role in generating the widest possible support from the Member States for the Secretary-General’s plans.

Of course, there are many other issues, implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), national reviews, actions on individual SDGs, implementation of the Paris climate agreement; we will launch the ‘Decade of Water: Water for Sustainable Development’ in March 2018, and there are many other issues.

I mentioned these three in particular because all three are pending. All three are important. There is no question about it, but we do not have a strategy to implement. We have to draft a strategy. So this is what makes our role in this 72nd session of the General Assembly particularly important. This is probably when it comes to the work plan.

On other issues, I want to inform you that I have formed a team of external advisors. I have approached internationally recognized personalities. I asked them to help me with my task, pro bono. So it’s not a paid position, but I will benefit from the huge experience and knowledge of these people. And we will discuss the priorities for the 72nd session of the General Assembly, and I will seek their advice from their perspective. There are 15 personalities. The list will be distributed to you in case you are interested – representing all five regional groups. I should meet with them several times during the 72nd session, and I hope they will provide valuable input to my work and to my mandate.

My final point is about transparency. I already mentioned it several times and I will stress once again that we are committed to the highest standards of transparency and the office is already run under these highest standards. So I believe that you will find all information of your interest on the website. There is nothing we want to hide from you. In case you have any questions, feel free to ask. But I believe all the information, all the personnel issues or financial flows you might be interested in are already on the website, and of course, it will be updated.

For your information, I submitted my personal financial disclosure to the Ethics Office yesterday. It was before the deadline by when I was asked to do so. So it’s now being processed and assessed by the structures in charge to do so.

So this is probably what I wanted to share with you at this point, but of course I’m ready to answer your questions.


Question: President Lajčák, congratulations on your first UN and only UN GA. Thank you for this briefing and on behalf of UNCA we appreciate it. What was your sense sitting up there when President Donald Trump threatened to totally destroy North Korea? You are essentially, as the President of the General Assembly, the guardian of the institution. Did the irony of a Head of State threatening to decimate  another Member State strike you as ironic? Was it strange given the foundation, the bedrock, the foundation of the UN are essentially peacebuilding, consensus building and that sort of thing? And in addition, what sort of momentum comes out of this GA in terms  of specifically Security Council reform? It was mentioned by a number of Heads of State from the African region, from the Latin American region; what is your sense on where we go from here?

PGA: Thank you. So this was actually my fourteenth or fifteenth General Debate, but of course the first and only as President of the GA. But I can compare. In general, the whole process and the whole proceeding was smooth. I’m not here to criticize anyone. I want to focus on positive aspects of the discussion. I don’t think you expect from me to criticize anyone, that’s not my role. I’m here to speak on behalf of 193 Member States. When it comes to the presentation of President Trump, I also had a bilateral with him. The things I want to outline in particular are: his focus on peace, and he also said “we stand together for peace” in his speech; focus on people and I commended him for that, because that’s exactly my priority; strong support for UN reform; and we also discussed the priorities as I just presented them to you, with the issue of migration. And I asked the US delegation to play an active part, an active role.

When we speak about reform and Security Council reform, yes, this is an issue that is very visible, also from the outside, and for many people, it’s the benchmark by which they judge the readiness of the UN to reform. By now, I think I met with all groups who are actively taking part in the discussions about Security Council reform.

And, let me stress two points. First, it’s a process fully in the hands of the Member States. It’s an intergovernmental process. And my second point, when it comes to what I wish to see, it’s a credible process, a process Member States can believe in. So we don’t want to create an impression that we are wasting time pretending that we are discussing something without believing in the outcome of this process. And it would be good if by the end of this credible process, we would also have meaningful progress. So this is my ambition while fully respecting the role of the Member States.

Question: Thank you very much, I’m from Prensa Latina. My question has to do with what happened in the General Debate and what also happened here this morning, the issue of nuclear weapons and the demand to eliminate them. What plans do you have on this matter during the 72nd session? And on the topic that you mentioned, terrorism, how can the GA help to approach this issue or its root causes during this session? Thank you very much.

PGA: On the elimination of nuclear weapons, we had a very important event during the General Debate last week, when the treaty on banning nuclear weapons was opened for signature. More than 120 countries supported the adoption of the treaty, and more than 50 countries signed the treaty on the very first day, which shows the very strong determination of many countries all over the world to achieve the ultimate goal, which would be a world without nuclear weapons.

At the same time, we are also very well aware that not every country is on board, and particularly the countries that possess nuclear weapons are not on board. I wish to see the process continue. Right now we have two processes, because we still have the NPT, the non-proliferation regime, and the CTBT, that means the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty that is yet to be established. We still have not reached the necessary number of Member States for this treaty to enter into force. And then there is the new treaty. What I don’t want to see would be competition between these two tracks, because it would be to the detriment of everyone. What I wish to see is that they mutually reinforce each other by sending a very strong signal that this issue must be addressed, must be addressed seriously, because it’s a majority of Member States who have spoken out very clearly in favor of the abolishment of nuclear weapons.

Speaking about terrorism, it was the General Assembly which adopted the first global counter-terrorism strategy in 2006. And this strategy will be reviewed during the 72nd session in the course of 2018. So that means we do pay attention to this agenda. As a matter of fact, terrorism and migration are two global phenomena that affect the lives of our people and are not globally regulated. We are still missing the legal framework. We are missing the proper tools to regulate and to govern, to be in control of these phenomena. We welcome the fact that the new Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism was set up and the person was appointed to this office as Under-Secretary General. And his main or immediate task, I believe, would be to streamline the work of the UN agencies, that are dealing with counter-terrorism. Right now we have 38 UN agencies that have counter-terrorism as part of their portfolio. So the streamlining is more than necessary. And we of course will be willing to receive the new Under-Secretary-General in the General Assembly to have him present the results of his work because he has to submit it to the General Assembly. So this issue is very important and will be present on our agenda during this session

Question: Thank you President of the General Assembly, Evelyn Leopold, Huffington Post contributor. I have a couple of questions for you. The Syria investigative committee. Do you have a timeline for when they are going to produce something? And  secondly, when you are going to talk UN reforms and you speak to the Fifth Committee, how are you going to phrase that? Because that’s where you have  countries who want to lower their contribution and you have other countries, not so wealthy, who don’t want to see a job being cut that comes to their country.

PGA: First, on the Syria investigation committee, I don’t have a timeline. But I know and I can assure you that adequate attention is being paid to the issue of Syria, and of course, the General Assembly stands ready to support the work that is going on in Geneva and the work of the Security Council. There are signs of hope with regard to the process, and we will do all we can to support these positive signals.

When it comes to the Fifth Committee, it’s a very popular address in the UN system, and it’s seen as some kind of ministry of finance, which is not popular among the government agencies in all the countries. At the same time, their role is to protect the budget and fiscal stability of the country. So what is important is that the priorities of the Fifth Committee are similar to the priorities of the United Nations. That’s very important. But being strict on the budget is what we expect from them and what we demand from them. So I would encourage them to continue the job as the guardian of the budget of the United Nations, making sure that the money spent is money well spent.

Question: Joseph Klein, Canada Free Press. Just going back for a second to your bilateral with President Trump, could you provide a little bit more details on the discussion that you had with him on migration, what his response was, particularly in light of the recently announced new travel ban and other restrictions on immigration that he is pursuing? And secondly, one of the major themes of his General  Assembly speech was national sovereignty, and he said that the nation state remains the foundation for international relations and confronting common problems. Can you sort of indicate how you react to that, given that the Charter does talk about protection of sovereignty? Thank you.

PGA: Yes, we did speak about migration and I presented my perspective on the process that lies ahead of us. So I told him what are the expectations and what document do we want to adopt. I said that it is very important that the United Nations shows that we are in charge when it comes to addressing global problems and global challenges, and migration is a global challenge. And I asked the US delegation to take an active part in these discussions. So there were no immediate comments. I think President Trump was listening carefully to my vision of this process leading up to the adoption of the global compact. And I believe it was a fruitful exchange, a fruitful discussion on this issue.

To your second question, what is important from my perspective is the fact that President Trump spoke in favour of a strong United Nations, of UN reform. He said, also in our meeting, that he believes that the UN is capable of doing more and we shall use the full potential of the United Nations. And for me, this is encouraging.

Question: Mr. President, Deepak [inaudible], diplomatic editor with The Tribune Online, New Delhi, India. First of all, I was very happy  to hear that you were very specific on the issues, important issues. One of them is terrorism. Way back, several decades ago, India has been insisting on a definition of terrorism. How much of a priority will you give to it, and do you think you will be able to achieve this under your leadership?

PGA: Right now, I really believe this issue should be addressed to Under-Secretary-General Voronkov, who is now tasked to deal with the issue of terrorism. And we shall proceed step by step here. And when it comes to the efficiency of the UN system, I really think that the most important thing right now is to have a better coordination of the UN system when it comes to address the issues of terrorism, better clarity on who is responsible for what and then to proceed with other issues. But I would be stepping into his shoes if I try to answer your question. I’m sure that he will be willing to give you an answer to this. But the General Assembly is willing and ready, of course, to provide any kind of support to him and to his office.

Question: Mathew Lee, Innercity Press…Thanks for the briefing. And actually on transparency, I have a question, which is how much time do you think you will devote to your time as Foreign Minister or is it just a ceremonial role, and how will that work? And also on your website, for your daily schedule, which is great that it’s up, it does not seem to be archived. I wonder since the information is already typed in. It is maybe more for Brenden, but to have it as people want to see who did you meet before, because it’s just the day itself and then it disappears. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m just throwing that one out there. And the other more substantive question about the debate was, you may have seen that in the rights of reply, there was this issue of one delegation from Pakistan showing a photo they said it was Kashmir, India said no, that’s from Gaza. Seems like a he-said-she-said except that actually the photograph shown has been about Gaza. And I think that Pakistan, in the quotes they have given, they have not disputed the photograph was not what it was reported to show. I understand you wouldn’t want to get dragged into every dispute on the floor but is there some factual baseline, that you’d like to set during your year in terms of people, just if they make a mistake correcting it? In terms of not an opinion statement, but the use of a photograph depicting something they didn’t say that it was. Thanks a lot.

PGA: First on the role of the Foreign Minister, I made it very clear that I’m not going to exercise the role of a Foreign Minister during the year that I’m President of the General Assembly. We made it very clear, so I had my deputy appointed, who acts instead of me. So there is not and will not be any conflict of interest or anything.

With regard to my programme, I think it’s just a technical issue, because once again, I think, it’s also in my interest that you know what do I do, whom do I meet, where do I travel. So we have nothing to hide.

And the third question, it’s really not for me to answer. It’s for the delegations that are involved. And again, I want to use, but not misuse my position as PGA. But I will certainly think about your suggestions.

Question: Thank you for this briefing, Sato from Japanese NHK. My question is about DPRK and disarmament. The President just said that some of the Member States mentioned DPRK. We also monitor some of the Member State speeches, and as well as the condemning North Korea’s nuclear test and missile launch, most of the countries expressed their serious concern about the escalating situation. As how serious have you perceived international anxiety about the North Korean issue? And one more question is, I attended today’s international day of nuclear abolition, but unfortunately, some of the nuclear powers did not attend and said nothing about it. Could you tell us a little bit about your prospect of the forthcoming First Committee, the disarmament committee? Thank you.

PGA: The issue of DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic tests was very present in a number of statements, and of course, I mentioned it to you in my opening remarks. It was also very much present in my bilateral meetings, including with President Trump, with Prime Minister Abe, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. I also met with the Foreign Minister of DPRK and I conveyed the very strong concerns of the international community, of a number of countries that are particularly affected. And I also urged him very strongly to abide by international rules and to respect those rules. And I also made a very strong point of the fact that the Security Council voted in unanimity more than once, which is a signal that cannot be ignored. I think everybody understands the gravity of the situation, and I also made a point of stressing that this war of words must not turn into a real war. And it’s also mentioned in every Security Council resolution that we need a political solution. So I pushed also my partner from DPRK to do their part, to switch from the current track, which is escalation, into the track of diplomacy and political process. That’s what we have to do, and there is one more thing I have to say. No country can resist such a strong and united stance of the international community.

I’m going to address the First Committee very soon, within the next coming days, 10 days. And I think we received two very powerful messages, one from the opening ceremony, the signing of the treaty, and one then from today’s high-level event. The expectations are high. At the same time, as I said, we have two tracks now, and I don’t want to see these two tracks competing, the NPT track and the so called nuclear-ban treaty track. We should rather make sure that they work towards the same goal.

Question: Ann Charles, Baltic Review. Regarding the statement made by the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, in the GA in which she said “As we speak around 100,000 Russian troops are engaged in offense and military exercises, i.e. 2017 at the borders of the Baltic States, in Poland and even in the Arctic. As President of the General Assembly, how concerned are you about the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior which includes the illegal annexation of Crimea, its direct participation in a war in Eastern Ukraine and attacks against Georgia in violation of the UN Charter?

PGA: As President of the General Assembly and as a human being, I strongly believe in the international system that is based on the rule of law and that this rule of law is respected by everyone. And I also believe that we shall be very much united in condemning every violation of the rule of law. That is what I see as one of the main roles of the United Nations, to help us to set the universal system of law, of rules and, of course, also to help us to protect this system. When it comes to military exercises, what is important is there are already international rules about how to conduct them, how to inform about them, how to have them monitored. And here, it’s very important that all these exercises are held in strict accordance with these rules — so that there are no question marks and not doubts about their real purpose, about the substance.

Question: How much focus and impact will you have on what appears to be total disconnect, the Chinese-Russian proposal  for suspension and suspension addresses the concerns of both South Korea and North Korea. And the North Korean Ambassador  in 2006 said North Korea would not need any nuclear weapons whatsoever if they were not subjected to constant threats, these ongoing South Korea and United States military exercises, which are actually described now as decapitation units. So there seems to be emphasizes on one side of the sanctions, but absolutely no concern given to the requirement that the US and South Korea and Japan take into consideration the concerns of North Korea. Will you be able to have any impact on this? In fact when Sergey Lavrov was here, he said basically nobody is taking their proposal seriously and they have no alternative.

PGA: I had many opportunities to speak about the issue of DPRK and its behaviour in violation of international norms. I also drew everyone’s attention to the fact that we, the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, in our resolutions and documents, call for a political process. Secondly, the Secretary-General himself made it clear several times that there can be only a political solution to this urgent problem. I have my regular meetings with the Secretary-General, with the President of the Security Council, where obviously I intend to raise this issue. At the same time, I respect the — let’s call it — division of labour among the UN bodies, and right now this issue is being handled by the Security Council. The Security Council is fully seized of this issue, which I respect, and there are clear results, unanimity, which is not a small thing. So, we as the General Assembly and I as the President of the General Assembly stand ready to help when we are asked to do so. But right now, I really don’t think there is a need for proliferation of initiatives or players because the issue is prominently featured on the agenda of the Security Council.

Question: Mr. President, during the GA, you met with both representatives of each country, Kosovo and Serbia. President of Serbia started an internal dialogue, while President Thaçi is trying to form the unity group. What’s your impression about the ongoing dialogue and affairs? What did they say? Are they going to do a full force on it or are they going to drag it?

PGA: My impression from meeting both Mr Vučić and Mr Thaçi was was that they both understand the importance of a dialogue, of a serious dialogue and also of a dialogue that delivers concrete results. So there is a platform for this dialogue and they are both committed to continue meeting in Brussels, discussing important issues and implementing these issues. So from that perspective, I also made this point very strongly that the world wants to see them to engage further in the dialogue and to see the dialogue delivering concrete results.

Question: Is there a timeframe?

PGA: Let me stress two points. First, I respect that this process is run by the European Union and by High Representative Mogherini, so I don’t want to impose any views or any limits on her work. Secondly, my personal diplomatic experience tells me that setting timeframes might be counter-productive, because then we may become hostages of these timeframes or deadlines. What is important is that we do not drag on it as you said, that the process continues. That’s very important.

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