TRANSCRIPT OF THE SECOND PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY
[The following is an unofficial transcript of a press conference by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.]
New York, 20 December 2017
President of the General Assembly (PGA): Good afternoon, and thank you for your interest in this press conference. We met for the first and last time on 26 September, immediately after the high-level segment of the General Debate. On the General Assembly since then, of course we had the six main committees working. Five of them have wrapped up their work and we are waiting for the Fifth Committee. They adopted more than 200 draft resolutions, which are now being adopted by the General Assembly. I’ve appointed co-facilitators for five processes: Security Council reform, peace and security pillar reform, revitalization, ECOSOC review, and counter-terrorism review. And I’m going to appoint shortly co-facilitators for the alignment process. I’m proud to say that in all of these cases, there is always one man and one woman. So we have maintained gender balance also in these processes. I’ve made six trips. I visited all three headquarters – Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. And I also visited France, Mexico, Germany, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates. All these visits were, of course, related to the United Nations agenda.
I’ve launched a new initiative, which is called Morning Dialogues. This is a series of informal meetings with Permanent Representatives, whose aim it is to first promote dialogue in the United Nations system and second to discuss the issues, which are not covered by regular standard processes. So up until today, we had three Morning Dialogues. The first one, with the presence of women Permanent Representatives (PRs), focused on the role, participation and mainstreaming of gender issues in UN processes. The second one discussed with the PRs from small countries and small delegations about how to make it possible for small delegations to participate fully in the work of the United Nations. And the last one so far was with the PRs with experience from other headquarters to discuss better coherence between UN offices – New York and the others. And we will continue these dialogues after the new year. I can tell you that they were well received by the Permanent Representatives, and we had very good and very constructive and very substantive discussions with them.
What are the priorities for the year 2018, for the continuation of our work, and for the 72nd General Assembly? I shall mention migration. Of course we will continue our work on preparing the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. I’m glad to inform you that the process has been very constructive so far. We have moved from the consultative phase into the stocktaking exercise in Puerto Vallarta two weeks ago. And again, that meeting was held in a positive atmosphere and there is basic understanding about what we want to achieve, what should be the building blocks for the future document, and now the next stage will be the intergovernmental negotiations that will start in February with the aim to conclude them by July. And in parallel I’m organizing multi-stakeholder meetings to which I’m inviting academia, civil society, NGOs, the business community and so on to make sure that, even though it’s an intergovernmental process, we have the “whole-of-society” approach and also ownership of these processes. And we will continue doing so. There will be at least two more dialogues under my chairing.
The second important issue I want to mention is a high-level event that I’m going to organize in April – the 24th and 25th – on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. I’m mandated to convene this high-level event by the twin resolutions on sustaining peace that were adopted in 2016. But for me this is also a welcome opportunity to focus on the work of the United Nations when it comes to sustaining peace and preventing conflicts. We want to have high-level participation and a political discussion about what we can do better to prevent conflicts. I have already been working with my team. We have launched a roadmap. We have already initiated or participated in a number of events leading up to this high-level event in April.
A third point I want to mention is my contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I will be organizing three events related to the SDGs. First, we will launch the International Decade of Water for Sustainable Development on 22 March. Then, in May, I will organize an event on youth, on young generations, focusing on education, employment and prevention of radicalization. And again, we don’t want to have a standard routine event. We want this agenda to be shaped by young people, so I’ve already invited young people during my meetings with several groups of young people to help me, and we have already announced the webpage and the Twitter account to which they are asked to contribute to. I really don’t want to speak about young people. I want to listen to what young people have to say about the work of the United Nations.
And then in June, I will be organizing a high-level event on financing for development because we need to help address the substantial financial gap, which is there when it comes to the implementation of the SDGs. And the truth is that with the current budget, with the current pace, we will not deliver on the SDGs by 2030. Therefore, we really need to strengthen the link between the SDGs and the financial resources that are there, namely coming from the private sector.
The last very important issue for the 72nd session is of course the reform processes initiated by the Secretary-General. You are informed that the General Assembly this morning adopted by consensus the resolution on the peace and security architecture, requesting the Secretary-General to provide a second detailed report related to this reform. And of course, the other two reforms that are now being processed through the system are the development system reform and reform of the management. So, we will be dealing with this in the resumed session of the General Assembly.
These are probably the main issues, the main priorities for the 72nd session, and of course, I’m ready to answer your questions, related to these issues or to any other issues.
Question: Mr. President, a warm welcome back to the press briefing room on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association. You might be aware, Sir, that the vote on Jerusalem tomorrow in the General Assembly… a bit of diplomatic commotion around this building. President Trump a short while ago at the White House made the following statement, and allow me to quote the President, “For all these nations that take our money and then vote against us. They take hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and then vote against us. We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.” Is it appropriate, Mr. President, for a Member State to threaten the entire membership of the United Nations and the Organization itself with the withdrawal of funding based on how countries vote on a particular issue in either the General Assembly or the UN Security Council? And the second part of my question, would you advise Member States to have a contingency plan should the United States withdraw funding from the United Nations based on the vote on Jerusalem in the Assembly tomorrow?
PGA: It is the right and also the responsibility of Member States to express their views, and my role as the President of the General Assembly is not to comment on this. I’m here to protect and respect the rules. So upon the request of a group of Member States, I’m convening the emergency special session tomorrow, and I’ll make sure that the session is held in accordance with the rules and the established practices at the United Nations.
Question: Thank you very much, Mr. President. A follow up on migration. The United States has pulled out of the negotiations. What impact is this having and is it going to affect in any way the outcome of the document that you are hoping will be adopted? And secondly, the Secretary-General said this morning that conflicts are becoming more intractable and now are lasting on an average of 20 years. You said that you are going to be holding an event on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. What actually can the General Assembly do to try to shorten these conflicts and address this issue?
PGA: First, on migration, I expressed my regrets regarding the decision of the United States to withdraw from the process. It is a loss because the United States of course is a very important member of the United Nations, and it’s a country that has particular expertise when it comes to migration. Yet, the decision is here; we have to respect and accept it. It will not endanger the process as such. We will continue working on the compact. I believe we will adopt a good document. And I really hope that the United States will reconsider the decision and join the global efforts sooner or later.
On your second question about the conflicts, I agree with the Secretary-General. There is no room for complacency. Unfortunately, there are many reasons to be worried when it comes to the peace and security situation in the world, and therefore, with full respect to the UN Charter and role of the General Assembly, I want to use this opportunity of holding the high-level event to have a political discussion exactly about the state of play, about our ability or lack of it to prevent conflicts and to deal with those that have already broken out. I want to bring to New York the practices, the good practices and bad practices from all over the world. I want leaders of different countries from different regions to speak about their experience with the UN’s performance in their countries, in their regions. I want to have a debate which has no ambition to interfere with the responsibilities of the Security Council, but rather to provide an overview of the UN system’s ability to deal with the prevention of conflict. I really want to see the United Nations be a globally respected leader when it comes to conflict prevention and sustaining peace, the same way the United Nations is a leader when it comes to the development agenda or the climate change agenda.
Question: Just a quick follow-up on UN reform. You mentioned there is the development and management reform. Does the Presidency have any position one way or the other on the priorities that should be addressed at this stage of the reform, and is there any way to produce a quantitative report on what has been achieved so far?
PGA: Well, speaking about reforms, I can mention five reform processes that are going on currently. There are three reforms proposed by the Secretary-General and they are in process. As I said, the peace and security architecture resolution has just been adopted by consensus by the General Assembly, and I see this as a very positive sign. And the General Assembly has requested the Secretary-General to submit a second, a detailed, more comprehensive report about the peace and security architecture. The second reform is dealing with the development system. Here we expect the Secretary-General’s report that is due probably any day towards the end of this week. And that we will then discuss most likely in ECOSOC and also later with the General Assembly and the bodies of the General Assembly. And the third one deals with management; that one is in the 5th Committee right now. So, we’ll wait for the 5th Committee’s conclusion on this report. But all three have their continuation in the resumed session of the General Assembly. On top of that, of course, there is the revitalization of the General Assembly, a process which is ongoing. I appointed co-facilitators, and we spoke about our expectations from this process. As you know, this process has been delivering concrete results every year and I expect this process to continue also throughout the 72nd session. And last, but definitely not least, Security Council reform. I have also appointed co-facilitators. They met with stakeholders, with regional groups, and we will have the Intergovernmental Negotiations on this reform starting in January. So the processes are going on.
Question: You just mentioned the appointment of facilitators for Security Council reform. So with the positions of various groups frozen, what is your gut feeling about any expansion of the Security Council?
PGA: There is a general understanding and recognition of the fact that the current composition of the Security Council does not reflect the realities of the 21st century. There is also a common understanding on the five elements that need to be addressed in the process of reforming the Security Council. What we want to see now is a debate, a dialogue, whose aim would be to bring the positions of countries or groups of countries closer together, so we are seeking convergence. We need to move this process forward because there are high expectations from this process. It is probably the most visible reform process also from the outside. And the entire system is somehow seen through the lens of the work of the Security Council and the reform of the Security Council. And when we had the General Assembly debate on this issue, the expectations from the Member States were clearly present. There are high expectations and I would say even impatience. So I would say obviously it is a very serious process. What I want to see — and what my instructions to the co-facilitators were — is that I want to see a real process, real discussion, not an empty exercise, not a repetition of well-known positions. And I really believe that this is in the interest of all Member States.
Question: You told us before in your term that you intend to meet off-the-record, to have closed door consultations with all Member States and it’s going to be unofficial. And I wonder if you do have such meetings with all Member States of the General Assembly?
PGA: I’m meeting with Member states on a daily basis. Nothing is secret. Everything is on my schedule, which is published daily. So obviously, we are discussing the agenda of the General Assembly, we are discussing the reform processes, and we are discussing how to improve the way the United Nations General Assembly operates. The novelty is the informal Morning Dialogues. So obviously, there is not a single day without me being in contact with delegations, with Member States, on an individual basis or as groups. But there is nothing secret or nothing that would run contrary to my role as the President of the General Assembly.
Question: I’m not saying that it’s secret. I’m saying, as you said, that it’s going to help Member States to be more interactive with you and with the UN. So even from these morning talks with Member States, what do you get from it, what are the concerns of Member states, and what kind of information do they need from you?
PGA: We live in times when multilateralism is being challenged. That’s a fact, but it’s not good news. We need this world to be built on respect for one set of rules. And obviously the United Nations is the bedrock and the symbol of multilateralism. So, in these difficult times, I want to see a United Nations that is efficient, that is relevant, that is credible and able to deliver real answers to the questions and worries of real people. So I’m using my meetings with Member States to stress the importance of the credible outcome of the work of the United Nations. That is why the theme of my Presidency is “Focusing on people”. We are not here to adopt resolutions; we are here to solve the problems of the people of this planet. And we can only do that if we promote a culture of dialogue. If we are ready, able and willing to listen to each other. If we are able to take a step back from our national positions in the interest of a compromise and consensual agreement on issues. And in that case, we are all winners. Otherwise, we might believe that one group of countries has won over another group of countries, but in the end, the United Nations is a loser as such. I really want to dedicate my time as the President of the General Assembly to strengthen the relevance of the United Nations and to make it more and more clear to the people outside the system that they need the United Nations, and the United Nations is relevant and good for them.
Question: What is your role back in Slovakia during this year while you are the President of the General Assembly? I’m asking because of your predecessor Sam Kutesa, being Foreign Minister of Uganda while being President of the General Assembly, is now being involved in an indictment, essentially having arranged bribes during his time here. Do you see any further reforms being needed for your office in light of this new indictment? Also, were you aware at the time of the indictment of the China Energy Fund Committee, and is that why you did not attend their event? And do you think the UN should follow up on the indictment?
PGA: First, I’m doing exactly as I informed you what I was going to do at the beginning of my mandate. I’m dedicating my time in New York fully to my role as the President of the General Assembly. I made all the necessary arrangements for the work of the Foreign Ministry in Slovakia, and it has been working well. Obviously, I’m in touch with the ministry, I’m assisting, I’m instructing people, but I’m not acting as the Foreign Minister. I make no statements in the capacity of Foreign Minister, I make no visits and hold no meetings in that capacity. There has been no conflict and I believe there will be no conflict until the end of the mandate, because the model works and functions. With regard to transparency, again, I really believe I that I have been leading by example, following all the good practices of my predecessors, ignoring the bad practices and not being inspired by them. I’m also the first President of the General Assembly who made his personal financial disclosure public, and obviously, all our activities are fully transparent, and especially, all the financial transactions are on our website. So there is absolutely nothing we want to hide from you. And I really believe that it’s very important, because a while ago I spoke about the high expectations for the United Nations. I really believe that people who represent the United Nations should be leading by example, and should also be leaders when it comes to ethics, morale and transparency. Obviously, there should be zero tolerance for any cases of corruption or suspicions of unethical behavior, and I fully support investigations in all these cases. To the agency, the China Energy [Fund Committee] that you mentioned, I was made aware of the indictments at a certain point. I did not participate in any meetings with that company or anyone representing the company before or after or at any moment. And when it comes to the reform of the office of the President of the General Assembly, yes, there are concrete suggestions that I’ve already shared with Member States. I would make two points. First of all, we need to address the growing gap between the increasing responsibility of the President of the General Assembly and the mandates that come from the Member States and support that is provided to this office institutionally. And the second point is, we need to strengthen the institutional memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly, because the role and the responsibility is too big and too serious to be left only to the goodwill of personalities who are representing this important institution.
Question: On Jerusalem, you said that your role in the General Assembly is to implement the rules. So is there a rule in the General Assembly that protects smaller States with smaller budgets and greater needs from having their nations being influenced or threatened by larger States on resolutions that reaffirm existing Security Council resolutions such as the Jerusalem vote tomorrow?
PGA: The great thing about the General Assembly is that there are 193 Member States, and they are all equal. So they have exactly the same status, the same standards, the same rights and the same responsibilities. So, it’s up to them to use their role, their seat, their place and their speaking time.
Question: Regarding Jerusalem, there have been conflicting reports on the text that will be voted tomorrow. Is it the same that was vetoed Monday by the United States or is it going to be modified? And I have a second question about the UN Security Council, in which… only 5 countries decide for the other 188 countries of the world… Do you think that the General Assembly, in which 193 countries are represented, should have more of a say in the resolutions, which means their resolutions should be more legally binding, regardless of the reform of the Security Council?
PGA: First, on the resolution, there is a new resolution that will be discussed and voted on tomorrow in the General Assembly. Second, on the role of the General Assembly vis-à-vis the Security Council, we have the UN Charter, which we of course all have to respect, which clearly says what’s the role and responsibility of the Security Council and also of the General Assembly. At the same time, it’s the very UN Charter that gives the General Assembly the privilege to take up any issue that is considered important by Member States. The resolutions adopted by the General Assembly carry a very heavy political weight given the number of Members that are behind those resolutions, especially those that are adopted by consensus. And my last point is that the role of the General Assembly is evolving as a result of the ongoing process of revitalization, and you could see, for example, in the latest process of the selection of the UN Secretary-General that the General Assembly played a much more prominent role in these processes.
Question: I have a question about the resolution tomorrow. It appears that Russia recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel maintaining that the final status would be determined during negotiations… How does this differ from what the US says in terms of recognizing Jerusalem? … And will something like this be included in the resolution?
PGA: With all due respect, I just don’t think that this question should be addressed to me. You should ask this question to the Russian Federation representatives, because it is about their national position. I’m here to respect the Charter and of course respect the rules and procedures of the United Nations.
Question: But if Russia recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, isn’t it an issue that the General Assembly should include in any resolution?
PGA: As you know, the General Assembly is convening upon the initiative of a Member State or a group of Member States. If they want to discuss a question or put it on the agenda of the General Assembly, they have all rights to do so. There has been no such initiative addressing the issue that you just mentioned. And again, you can ask this question to the Russian delegation.
Question: In your capacity as President of the General Assembly, what influence will you have on the States that might have information on the circumstances of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld so that they would cooperate and make it available?
PGA: I personally support the continuation of the investigation. And I would use my role and the instruments under my control of course to do so. And I expect that those States that can contribute to the full clarification about the circumstances leading to the tragic death of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld will be made public so that we will all know the full truth about the case. And I expect that the process will continue.
Question: Follow up question about the role of the General Assembly vis-à-vis the Security Council. Recently we saw the General Assembly being able to assert its power in the election of a World Court justice. Do you see any trend in terms of the will of the majority of the General Assembly being able to assert themselves more forcefully?
PGA: Well, again, the answer is in the UN Charter, which gives the General Assembly the right to address any issue that it considers important, especially when the deliberations on certain issues are blocked in the Security Council. So, there is established practice. There is the UN Charter. There are rules of procedure. There is a lot of space within these documents and these frameworks that can be used by the Member States.
Question: Do you have a message to the Members of the General Assembly to keep their message on point tomorrow during the Jerusalem vote and not incite violence? Are you worried that the rhetoric we are likely to hear tomorrow will be inciting violence?
PGA: I hope and expect that we will preserve the dignity of the General Assembly and of the United Nations. I believe that we can discuss any issue, even the most sensitive issue, in a spirit of responsibility, mutual respect and dignity of the Organization.
Question: Do you encourage people to have country-level UN-sponsored meetings, i.e. the UNEP World Environment Day student conference at the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai?
PGA: I encourage all activities whose goal is to strengthen the role of the United Nations and of course promote the cause of peace, development and respect for human rights and also dialogue. Unfortunately, we are all too busy here at the United Nations and in other organizations. Smaller Member States are complaining of not being able to follow up, let alone to contribute to the discussions. Too many meetings are formal. People come, deliver their statement and go, or deal with their emails. So that means we are losing the purpose. We are losing the raison d’être. We are getting together to listen to each other, to talk to each other and to be able to come up with something concrete that will help us to move forward compared to the beginning of the meeting. That’s what I’m trying to promote here within the United Nations, within, of course, the existing limitations. That’s why I said I’m not bringing any “agenda of my own”, because I really believe that all the agendas that are of relevance are covered by existing mandates. And my events on youth, on water, on peace, on development, they have been already mandated. I just want to turn them into real political dialogues, into events that will be remembered, into events that will be appreciated, into events that will give an impetus to the follow-up processes here. We can do that while respecting the existing rules and standards. I see no merit in adding onto our agenda meetings that we know from the beginning have very little value added and [where] there will be not enough time for delegations to meaningfully contribute to the discussions. So, of course, the United Nations is in the hands of its Member States. And any activities coming from the Member States that can help the agenda, that can promote the agenda of the United Nations, is highly appreciated here.
Question: You just mentioned how the President of the General Assembly intervened in an assertive fashion in the election of the Secretary-General, using a new, more transparent way to elect… Your European predecessor… was very assertive. And he made his position count… Are you going to pick an issue where the President of the General Assembly can count in this building and be assertive and make the Security Council or any other institutions listen?
PGA: There is continuity, because the public hearings, as a part of the process for the selection of the Secretary-General, were not invented by that President of the General Assembly. He was mandated to do so by the previous General Assembly. I’m also mandated to introduce a novelty, which will be a public hearing for the candidate or candidates for the next President of the General Assembly. So, the process continues. That’s one thing. Second, I welcome any processes that strengthen the role of the General Assembly, because, as I said, this is the only organ of the UN where we have 193 Member States. Third, I want to dedicate my time here, my year as President of the General Assembly to strengthening the role of the General Assembly in the interest of the United Nations as a whole. So, I’m not here to promote myself; I’m here to promote the United Nations. That’s what I’ve been doing from day one, and I will continue doing it until my very last day in office.
Question: On the General Assembly resolution tomorrow, from your point of view as the chair of the General Assembly, what do you think they are trying to accomplish, what effect do you think they will have? Will we end up with a travesty like the Zionism-racism resolution? What do you think will be the ultimate result?
PGA: I think you understand that I’m not here to speculate about tomorrow’s session. Again, I will be chairing the session. I convene it in accordance with the established rules of the General Assembly, and my role here is to protect the rules, the Charter, and also the dignity of the General Assembly. And that’s what I’m going to do tomorrow.
Question: I want to follow up on migration. Other than the United States, has any other country communicated to you that they will not participate in the negotiations starting in February? And do you see a danger that this compact ends up not being a global compact, but a smaller group of countries?
PGA: My answer to your question is no. And I’m glad to be able to answer no to your question. The announcement of the United States Government came just before the meeting in Puerto Vallarta. I was there, and I can tell you that it was accepted as a fact, but it did not impact the atmosphere, the commitment of Member States. And I have not seen or heard any indications from any other Member States about the willingness to follow the example set by the United States Government.
Question: Mr. President, it is reported that the Turkish Foreign Minister will attend the special session tomorrow. The first question is, will any other Foreign Minister or high-ranking officials attend this special session? The other is, how many UN ambassadors have met you about the special session and the resolution? What are the main points of your meetings with them?
PGA: I don’t know whether my information is accurate, but I was informed that the Foreign Minister of Turkey and Foreign Minister of Palestine are coming to attend the special session tomorrow. With regard to your second question, I’m pretty busy with chairing the General Assembly, and handling other issues, so I have not met with any ambassador regarding the session tomorrow. But my office is quite busy reaching out to the delegations who have expressed willingness to consult on certain questions and also being in touch with the Secretariat.
Question: Is there any way in which the General Assembly can assert any form of authority over the Security Council when its actions seem to be either counterproductive or unduly influenced by one member? In case of the sanctions against North Korea, there are information that there are really horrifying humanitarian consequences to these sanctions. And since the Security Council just seems paralyzed regarding the DPRK situation… I have raised the name of Jimmy Carter as a special envoy for peace to be appointed by the Secretary-General. What would be the likelihood of having him appointed to try and resolve this since nobody else can and the Security Council is doing nothing, but making it worse?
PGA: First of all, the relationship between the General Assembly and the Security Council is very precisely defined by the UN Charter, which we all have to respect. Second, on DPRK, I cannot agree with your statement that it’s blocked or paralyzed. On this particular issue of DPRK, the Security Council demonstrated repeatedly an exceptional level of unity, and the resolutions were adopted by 15 votes in favour, which is a very powerful message. And it’s also a legally binding message. And I made exactly this point when I met with the Foreign Minister of DPRK. I suggested to him that he take this message very seriously. The unity of the international community is also a matter of fact when it comes to DPRK. At the same time, there is a common or overwhelming understanding that we need to seek a political solution to the crisis in and around DPRK, and this solution must be based on dialogue. And in this context, I welcome the statement made by US Secretary of State Tillerson who expressed clearly that the US Government is ready to enter into dialogue with the Government of DPRK without any preconditions. That’s exactly what we need. For the appointment of an envoy, you have to have the willingness of all parties involved, which is not the case here. And second, the US Government has expressed its readiness to engage in talks. Plus, I also recall Secretary Tillerson saying that the channels of communication with DPRK are open and are working. So therefore, I really believe that it’s about the second to tango; as we know, it takes two to tango, and one has expressed its willingness.
Question: What are your thoughts about chapter 5 article 32 of the UN charter, regarding DPRK? You say unity is important, but the Charter mentions understanding the dispute, especially the points of views of the parties to that dispute.
PGA: I don’t think it would be appropriate for the President of the General Assembly to comment on the work of the Security Council. Yet I would say I do believe that the Charter, the letter and the spirit of the Charter, is being observed. And the fact is that the Permanent Representative of DPRK was invited and contributed to the latest debate on DPRK.
Question: Can that be continued and recognized in the statements of everybody? To hear everybody’s side and not just one side?
PGA: Again, if I call for respect for the Charter, I have to respect the Charter myself. My competences don’t go as far as to reach the Security Council. On the other hand, I do have regular monthly meetings with the incoming President of the Security Council and obviously it’s a point that I can raise informally, and I will do that. Since this was the last question, I want to thank you all for the cooperation, for your work, for promoting the work of the United Nations, which is very much needed, because as I’ve said many times, if people out there don’t know what we do, if they don’t believe in what we do, then of course it’s impossible for us to help them to improve their lives. So, I’m very much looking forward to work closely with you in 2018.