TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 24 FEBRUARY

SG/SM/6470
24 February 1998

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 24 FEBRUARY

24 February 1998


Press Release
SG/SM/6470


TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 24 FEBRUARY

19980224

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I have just finished briefing the Security Council, and I am pleased to tell you that I had a general sense of approval from the membership as to the agreement that I signed in Baghdad. Obviously, there are details that will have to be worked out and explanations that must be given, but none of it gives me and my team any difficulties. And I am convinced that once the explanations are given we will have unanimous and strong Council support.

I think you heard me this morning thanking all those who have helped make this possible and the sort of things that inspired me. In fact, I recall that the night before I left a friend called me to wish me goodbye, and he shared a story with me. He said that he had been with this little handicapped girl of 11, called Abby. Abby was watching television, and apparently I came on the screen. And she said, "They are sending this nice man to Baghdad. I will pray for him every day." And I thank Abby and all those who prayed for me while I was gone.

What is important is that, in my judgement, this agreement can and should work. There is a qualitative difference about this agreement that the others did not have. First of all, we have to remember that in the years that the United Nations has been present in Baghdad, many agreements have been signed, but none have been negotiated and approved with Saddam Hussain. This one was negotiated with the President himself, and the leadership has got the message that he wants cooperation, he wants it done. They are very disciplined and hard-working people, and I think that with that leadership we will see a qualitative difference in their attitude.

We on the United Nations side, as well as United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) staff members, also have to handle Iraq and the Iraqis with a certain respect and dignity and not push our weight around and cause tensions. And I think we need to make other arrangements and take steps to ensure that the relationship can be maintained smoothly. We should have a mechanism for resolving conflicts before they become dilemmas and almost bring us to the verge of war.

I think there are lessons in this for everyone. But this could not have happened if all involved -- including the Iraqi leadership -- had not shown what I asked for: courage, wisdom, flexibility. And I thank all those involved for giving us a [inaudible] chance.

But it is a victory not for me, if we call it victory, but a victory for the United Nations, for this Organization, which sent me there as a servant. And I hope that this new phenomenon, where peoples from all over the world come together and focus on something and get it resolved, is something that we are going to see more and more of, whether in the landmine ban or in the general popular support for a peaceful solution.

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There are other issues coming up in the course of the year, in which I hope the public and the peoples of the world will be there rooting for us. We should reaffirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and get the public to understand, the individual to understand, that those rights are his. It is not something that is given to him by a government, like a subsidy that can be taken away. It is intrinsic, it is inherent, and if we can really use this fiftieth anniversary to get that message across, I hope the peoples around the world, the governments around the world -- I wrote to each leader, each government leader, asking them to join us in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of human rights. And I hope they will be there.

In June, we have the conference on drugs, to combat drugs. Pino Arlacchi [Executive Director, Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention] has done a very good job in a relatively short time. Again, the world should come together to fight and join in this fight against drugs, which kill our youth -- that is, our future. The international community should come together once again, as it has done on this Iraqi crisis.

I will take a few questions and then, if you permit me, I am tired and so I will go home and sleep.

QUESTION: On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, we join your staff in the rousing and well-deserved welcome --

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: And I was happy to see so many of you in Baghdad.

QUESTION: The question is, you have mentioned on more than one occasion the linkage between diplomacy and preparation for the use of force, if necessary. You have just spoken of not throwing your weight around. In that context, I wonder if you feel that the military presence in that region should be downgraded prior to that point or very soon, in any case.

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: You are trying to get me into dangerous waters. Let me say that the point I have made is that diplomacy can be effective, but it helps to have a military presence in the region. As I have said, if in fact you don't get to use it, it is even better. You are showing force in order not to use it. You can do a lot with diplomacy, but with diplomacy backed up by force you can get a lot more done.

QUESTION: You have described your talks with Saddam Hussain as tough, and the sticking point had been time limits for the inspections. At the point that you realized you were going to have a deal, how did you feel at that point? And secondly, you have established a relationship with Saddam Hussain at this point. How would you describe that and the relationship you would like to have with him in the future?

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THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: When I sensed that I would get a deal, I was of course elated and happy for the world and the people in the region and the poor Iraqi people. I was happy that their leader was seizing the moment and really wanted to do the right thing to protect his people, the region and, in time, to make friends and to come out of the isolation. But, of course, in negotiations you don't show all your feelings, so I was impassible as ever.

But, let me say that we did have a good human rapport. He did say several times, "I know I can do business with you. I know you are courageous and I know I can trust you. And his ministers repeated it to us the next morning. I trust that if we really organize in such a way that we can remove the impediments or conflicts as they come up, rather than let them build up, and then you have a storm which almost leads to war, we will be okay in the future.

QUESTION (interpretation from French): What makes you believe that Saddam Hussain will keep his word this time? You met him, you established a rapport with him.

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL (interpretation from French): As I said earlier, we have concluded many agreements with the Iraqis, but this is the first time that an agreement was negotiated with the President himself. It is a very disciplined, hard-working people. Once they know that the President himself is committed, they'll get down to work, they'll cooperate. But we have to do our part as well. We must behave appropriately.

QUESTION: The agreement states that lifting the sanctions is of paramount importance to Iraq. The United States seems to be of different minds about this. What are the conditions that you understand have to be fulfilled for sanctions relief to begin?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: That is very simple for me: the conditions stated in the Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Which resolutions, sir? Is it the resolutions relevant to weapons of mass destruction or all resolutions?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Relevant Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: You suggested that you were hoping that there would be some way of getting rid of conflicts and you suggested that there needed to be a dignity in the way the inspections are approached. Are you suggesting that you think in the past there wasn't? And there is some confusion as to whether Mr. Butler [Richard Butler, Executive Chairman, UNSCOM] is still in charge. Is UNSCOM in charge or is this new commissioner, this new procedure, in charge? Secondly, you said that Saddam Hussain had said that he felt he could trust you. Do you feel that you can trust him?

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THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let me start by saying that, on the question of UNSCOM, Mr. Butler stays. He remains the head of UNSCOM. I informed the Iraqi authorities, and they know that. In fact, Mr. Butler, unless his plans have changed, is due in Baghdad next month, and Tariq Aziz [Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq] told me: "I am waiting for him and we will work with him, be reassured." So I think there is no problem. Butler will continue.

QUESTION: Does he have to report through this new commissioner?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: No. I'm sorry, I'm so tired, I forgot your next question. You have so many questions.

Can I trust Saddam Hussain? I think I can do business with him. I think he was serious when he took the engagement. I am perhaps not as pessimistic as some of you are. I think he was serious when he took the engagement. I think he realizes what it means for his people. He realizes that if he is going to see light at the end of the tunnel, Iraq has to cooperate and work with UNSCOM, and UNSCOM should respond in kind to accelerate the process of disarmament and implement the resolutions to make that possible. So I think he is serious.

QUESTION: Now that you have an agreement, how quickly do you expect to test it?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: As quickly as possible. In fact, this afternoon my legal counsellor, who was with me, will be working out some of the details with some of our other colleagues.

QUESTION: Can you share with us your personal view of the personality of President Saddam Hussain? And also, what did he ask you for regarding the lifting of sanctions?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Well, he is very calm -- very, very calm. Never raises his voice. Well-informed, contrary to the sense outside that he is ill-informed and isolated. And decisive. In the negotiations, I was impressed by his decisiveness. And that is what also made the agreement possible.

QUESTION: What about sanctions? What did he ask you for?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: The sanctions are hurting his people, and they have done quite a lot of work. They have, in their judgement, fulfilled all the conditions and they really don't know what else there is to find. But they would want to see the sanctions ended. Their people are suffering, and he hopes that the international community understands this. And, in fact, you saw the last paragraph of the agreement, for me to mention it to the Council, which I have done.

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QUESTION: Exactly on that last point you just made, the seventh paragraph of the agreement -- and preceded by the sixth, actually first, how will you bring to the full attention of the Security Council the issue of sanctions? Secondly, in paragraph 6, you speak about paragraph 22 of resolution 687 (1991), which is read by some to mean that the lifting of the oil embargo is to be completed once Iraq complies with UNSCOM. Now you have clouded it a bit by answering my colleague's question, when you said, "all other resolutions". Can you make yourself clear on this?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let's keep it clouded for the moment, and it will clear very, very soon as we go on into it.

QUESTION: I was asking you for a clarification on your position --

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: No, I have indicated quite clearly that the responsibilities of Iraq will have to be fulfilled before the sanctions are lifted. And not only that, he understands it. But he asked me to pass on to the Council the suffering of his people, how long this has gone on and how much longer it is going to go on. And I shared that with the Council this morning.

QUESTION: In the absence of a Security Council resolution that would threaten consequences if this agreement were breached, the United States seems ready to make that judgement unilaterally, and commit military action in the Gulf unilaterally, if it feels the agreement is breached. Are you comfortable with that situation, or would you prefer to see the Security Council take that up?

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let me be clear here. Ladies and gentlemen, I have done my work. I trust the Council will do its duty, and leave unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Thank you.

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For information media. Not an official record.