19 December 2001


Press Release



The Secretary-General: As usual, we meet before the holidays to thank you for all your interest and support during the year 2001 and to wish you all the very best for 2002.

This has been an extraordinary year -- an extraordinary year for the United Nations, for New York, for the United States and for much of the world.

But there may be parts of the world for which it was all too ordinary. When I said in the Nobel lecture last week that we have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire, I was, of course, thinking of what happened on 11 September.

But for Afghans or Israelis or Palestinians, or for many other peoples suffering from conflict and poverty, my statement would have a different meaning.

And there are many people in the world for whom it might have no particular meaning, because 2001 was not different from 2000 or 1999. It was just another year of living with HIV/AIDS, or in a refugee camp, or under repressive rule or with crushing poverty; or of watching crops dwindle and children go hungry, as the global environment comes under greater threat.

Those are the realities we have to remember, even as we find new inspiration in the honour conferred on us by the Nobel committee. And those are the realities we must keep in mind, even as we muster our energy and determination for the worldwide struggle against terrorism.

We face daunting challenges in Afghanistan, but today we need global support -- and there is global support -- for that unhappy country. Indeed, the people of Afghanistan have an unprecedented opportunity to begin anew and to construct a State that defends their rights and their interests. We will face a grave humanitarian challenge, as well as acute security problems that must be addressed. But today there is also hope for a new, broad-based Government, and a new effort to rehabilitate the country and set it on a path of development. The chance must not be missed by Afghans, by their neighbours or by the international community.

The situation in the Middle East -- if I may turn to that region -- looks much less hopeful right now. The parties clearly cannot solve this conflict alone. A concerted international effort is needed to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, and the time for it is now. Still, we must not lose sight of the broader challenges affecting the region.

We must keep working to resolve conflict in Africa, Latin America and wherever else it keeps people from focusing on the essential work of economic and social development.

We must continue to fight against HIV/AIDS and build on the progress we made earlier this year in forging a global strategy and raising awareness, as well as funds. And we must keep our sights firmly fixed on the Millennium development goals. Next year, there will be two conferences that offer unprecedented opportunities for progress -- the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, and the Johannesburg Conference on Sustainable Development later in the year.

Of course, the United Nations needs the resources to be able to fulfil the many challenges before it. I am conscious that the Fifth Committee has still not achieved agreement on our budget for the next biennium. I call upon all Member States to overcome their differences and provide the Organization with the funds we need to carry out the vital work the world expects of us.

Thank you very much; I will now take your questions.

Question: Has the United Nations taken any position regarding who is going to have jurisdiction in the upcoming trials of the Al-Qaeda members or others arrested in Afghanistan?

The Secretary-General: No, the United Nations as such, as an Organization, has not taken any position. But there is international law and there are national legal instruments, which guide the prosecution of the accused. I would hope that whatever happens, the basic rule of law and the basic principles at the international and national levels will be respected.

Question: With regard to the recent events in India and Pakistan, the Indian Prime Minister today also threatened that he is weighing the option of war in order to retaliate against what he alleges were attacks on the Indian Parliament by Pakistan-based groups. What do you have to say to that?

The Secretary-General: I would hope that what happened is not going to lead to war. I have also heard the Indian Government say that diplomacy is also an option. I would hope that that option is also going to be considered. This is a region that has known tensions for some time, and of course we have all been concerned with what has gone on in Afghanistan and the further tensions in that region. I hope it will be possible for India and Pakistan to find a way out of this without resorting to war. I have not seen the full text of the Prime Minister’s statement, but I would urge that other means be used to resolve this issue.

Question: Would you be involved in any sort of move to avoid this particular confrontation?

The Secretary-General: I have always encouraged the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and political means, because there is really no military solution to the differences that divide them.

Question: Can you in the coming months or years use the political capital you have -- based on what people say is your charisma, on your popularity here and on the Nobel Peace Prize -- to really personally intervene in the Middle East on a much stronger and out-in-front way than you have, and also to try to restrain the United States as it pursues its war on terrorism, perhaps into other countries where you would rather not see it go?

The Secretary-General: On the question of the Middle East, I think I have made it quite clear that I would prefer to see a collective international initiative, and for some time now a group of us -- that is, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation, with leaders in the Arab world, in particular Egypt and Jordan -- have been working together. I think that collective effort is going to have to be sustained. Of course, the engagement of the United States and the determined effort to work for peace in that region are also crucial. But it will have to be a collective international effort; it is not something that I alone can do. I have put ideas forward and I will continue to do that and try to see how we can work together to break the impasse and get the parties to the table.

On your second question regarding where the fight against terrorism leads, I would say that I think the Security Council and the General Assembly have provided a good basis for the struggle against terrorism, and I think that Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) is a very good basis for fighting terrorism through international cooperation and political, diplomatic, financial and other means. I think that for the longer term that is the route that we should go. I would also urge all Member States to sign the 12 conventions that have been authorized by the General Assembly -- sign, ratify and implement them, so that we all have a common framework as we move forward.

Question: I believe the Arab Group wants to reconvene the emergency special session on the Palestinian issue tomorrow. Can you give us a sense of whether you think that that is a good idea and whether the general Palestinian approach -- to bring this issue back to both the Security Council, where a draft resolution was recently vetoed, and to the General Assembly -- is a good idea in this climate.

The Secretary-General: I think the General Assembly and the Security Council are organs that Member States can resort to if they have an issue that they consider of such importance that they wish to bring it to the attention of the Member States. The Palestinian Authority has decided to resort to that means, and the Council will discuss it tomorrow. I cannot prejudge or anticipate how the discussions will proceed, but one cannot prevent them from going to the General Assembly to have it discussed.

Question: On the Middle East, your position is widely interpreted as a signal to Mr. Arafat that he has to clamp down on violence as the next step in the process. Certainly, that is the international consensus in the West. I am wondering if that is not a bit like a mugger telling his victim that he will not stop beating him until he stops defending himself. The Palestinians are an illegally occupied people as defined by this Organization. They suffer casualties at six times the rate of Israelis. They are powerless to defend themselves. Have they not become second-class citizens in this process?

The Secretary-General: On the Middle East question, I think that there has been international pressure on Chairman Arafat to take steps to contain extremist acts that emanate from his territory. There is a sense in some quarters that he has not done enough and that he has a capacity to do much more, and that he does have strategic control of this situation and should do more. But to do that, he would also need to have the right environment and the climate to carry out his responsibility.

I would hope that the conditions would be created that would allow him to do this. In my own discussions with him, he has indicated how difficult it is for him to carry out those functions if bombing and shelling are going on and his police cannot move around. So the Israeli side also has to help create the conditions that would allow Chairman Arafat to do this.

I think the real solution is not accusations and counter-accusations but rather, as I indicated earlier, a creative and sustained effort to get the parties to the table to begin political dialogue. I have also made it clear that my preference would be to see the parties at the table, having made the strategic choice for peace, stay at the table and keep talking, at the same time dealing with any terrorist or extremist acts very firmly.

My own sense is that once you make a return to the table conditional to total peace with no shooting, you are giving a veto to the extremists. Anyone who wants to make sure that no progress is made on the peace front has a chance to do it by creating an incident at any time.

Question: As you mentioned, there are many still-existing conflicts. On the other hand, you are well known for your optimism. Is there any area where that optimism has decreased to a point where it hardly exists? And is there any chance that weapons inspectors will go back to Iraq?

The Secretary-General: On your last question, I do not see any signal that the inspectors are about to go back to Iraq, but we also live in a world where unpredictable things happen, so let me say that I do not see any signs of that at the moment.

As for optimism, there are areas where things are going as well as they could. I think the East Timor operations are going well -- in May, that country will become independent. Things are moving in the right direction in Sierra Leone, and we hope to be able to bring the nation back to normalcy. They themselves are eager to have elections sometime next year, which also shows a level of stability that the population is beginning to sense in their country.

On the Iraqi situation, I think we will need to go back sometime next year.

Question: Under what conditions could you see a continuation of this international struggle against terrorism in other countries? A number of countries have been mentioned over the past few weeks. Under what conditions would that be acceptable?

The Secretary-General: First of all, let me clarify that these discussions in the countries which have been mentioned are taking place outside the United Nations and the Security Council. This is not a Security Council decision, such as that concerning the Afghan operations or the decision to bring Al-Qaeda to justice. This is a discussion that is taking place mainly in Washington, and of course other governments have also taken part.

As far as I know, no decisions have been taken, and there is a debate going on. I have indicated that I think for the longer term, on a broad basis, we need to focus on using the resolutions that the Security Council has passed.

Obviously, if we were to get into a situation where it became apparent that the perpetrators being sought out in Afghanistan had moved from Afghanistan to country X, what the reaction should be is a bridge that we will have to cross when we get there. I do not know what action the Council will take and how it will react, but I prefer to cross that bridge when we get there rather than speculate.

Question: Your special envoy for Afghanistan, Mr. Brahimi, is heading back to Kabul for the 22 December installation of the new Government. What are your concerns about the new Government that is going to be in Afghanistan and the role of the United Nations in trying to help guide it?

The Secretary-General: Obviously, when you start an operation like the one the United Nations is about to undertake in Afghanistan, a country that has been at war for over two decades, you do worry about getting the population to work together -- getting people to forget their bad habits and come together to work in the interests of their country and people.

We had a good agreement from Bonn, but now we have to interpret it on the ground and realign it, if you will, with reality on the ground and with some personalities on the ground who were not in Bonn. So far, they have all said the right things, but as we begin to move ahead and to implement the agreement, it is not as clear whether some people will balk. We will need to be patient and bring them along.

We will also need to rely on the cooperation of the neighbours, some of whom have considerable influence on the parties in Afghanistan. If the neighbours work with us in the same direction, on the basis that a stable Afghanistan -- a Government that is loyal to the Afghan people and is determined to live in peace with its neighbours -- is in their interests and that they need not support one group or the other, leading to divisions within the Afghan political groups, I would hope that we can count on their support.

Obviously, we are also a bit worried about security, and we hope that either the situation will settle or we will work out effective security arrangements to create the right environment that can allow the new Government to proceed, so that we can continue our assistance to the new Government and our humanitarian work.

This question is very much on the minds of the humanitarian workers, both non-governmental organizations and my own people:  if the international force that is going in focuses on Kabul and its environment, what will happen to other parts of the country?

These are questions that we will need to tackle as we move down the line.

Question: I am obliged, on behalf of the pool of Bosnian press for which I work, to congratulate you on your Nobel Peace Prize.

Since you acknowledge that next year the United Nations mission is withdrawing from Bosnia, do you see any opening for a new sort of Dayton II conference as a precondition for a new engagement of the international community, as even Mr. Petritsch said recently in Brussels?

The Secretary-General: You are right that I have indicated to Member States that the United Nations would have completed its mission in Bosnia by December next year, in that our mission was basically to train the police and help to strengthen the penal systems.

I think we have trained a considerable number of policemen and policewomen in Bosnia and it is time that we begin to hand over the bulk of our operations to the Bosnians and, in some cases, to regional institutions with capacity. And so, we will be talking to the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and others that may take on some of the residual responsibilities that the United Nations may have.

On the question of Dayton II, I have heard suggestions to that effect, but we have not really had time to discuss it in depth and so I would prefer not to comment on it publicly. I know there are suggestions that Dayton II may be helpful and that it would help pull the country together and make its operations much more cohesive, but we will need further discussions before I comment on that.

Question: In light of the reported coup attempt in Haiti on Monday, is the United Nations ready to possibly resume any intervention, dialogue or work in Haiti? Secondly, are you ready to respond to the allegation of the United Nations Staff Council that the United Nations was responsible for agents going to the homes of staff members?

The Secretary-General: On the first question, let me first say that the Organization of American States is on the lead on the Haitian issue and we are supporting it in its efforts. We have our own development and other operations on the ground. At this stage, I do not see the United Nations going back with a peacekeeping or other operation.

At the same time, I would want to urge the Haitians and the Haitian political leaders to find a way of bridging their differences for the sake of their nation and for their people to be able to move on to a stable Haiti. That will also allow people to exercise their political rights and get on with their lives.

On the question of the visits to some of our staff members, I think there were two staff members who were visited by United States officials. This was not brought to our attention until after the event and I know that my Legal Office is also in touch with the United States authorities to seek some clarification. I do not understand under what circumstances one might say that the United Nations was responsible for those visits. We did not organize them and we found out about them after the fact.

Question (interpretation from French): If you draw up a balance sheet of last year's activities, it can be seen that the gravest failure was the inability of the United Nations to assist in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How can you explain that failure?

The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): I do not think that you can say that it is the United Nations failure. It is a problem that has existed for over 50 years. Over the past 10 years or more, both parties have accepted the United States as the principal mediator. Of course, recently, I have been able to work with the United Nations partners, the European Union and the Russian Federation. We are all working together.

If we are to make any progress, both parties must be ready to make compromises and to sit down and negotiate. They, too, bear responsibility. I do not want to say that it is a United Nations failure. It is the failure, if you will, of the international community and the two parties, but it should not be described as a failure of the United Nations.

Question: A short time ago, we were told that many of the responsibilities of the international community fell to de facto authorities on the ground in Afghanistan. I am wondering how you would answer critics who claim that the interim Government in Afghanistan and, for that matter, the Security Council process that inspired it are not also unduly influenced by the same de facto arrangement.

The Secretary-General: First of all, the decisions leading to the formation of this interim administration were taken by the Afghans themselves. They were taken by the Afghans who were in Bonn, supported and in direct contact with the people on the ground. After the Bonn agreement, Mr. Brahimi went to Kabul and talked to quite a few of the leaders, from Mr. Rabbani to Mr. Dostum, and all the other key players who had not been there. They confirmed to him that they may have some disagreements or some reservations about certain aspects of the agreement, but that they were by and large in favour of that agreement.

Now we have a chance to test it and we will be there with them on 22 December to give them whatever assistance we can. We are going to take them on their word and work with them in good faith to implement the agreement that they willingly signed in Bonn.

Question: When we compare the year 2000 to 2001, if we examine the hot spots of the world and the major issues, such as poverty, AIDS and, as you mentioned, the hungry children and refugee camps, some of these problems were exacerbated by the end of the year. So I am wondering:  What caused the Nobel Peace Prize to be bestowed on the United Nations?

The Secretary-General: I am not sure I quite understand your question.

Question: Although the problems are getting worse and worse and the United Nations is above all responsible for trying to solve these problems, still the United Nations received the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Secretary-General: I think we have made quite a few comments on this. First of all, the United Nations over the years has had quite a lot of achievements. The United Nations is tackling issues today that others are not able to tackle or perhaps do not have the mandate.

Yes, there are difficulties. There are many problems around the world, but we have not lost hope. We keep trying and we shall keep trying. Perhaps the Nobel committee saw something in the fact that, despite the enormity of the crises that we deal with, we have not been discouraged and we keep trying. We have succeeded in many areas, but we have not done so well in others.

We need to be encouraged. There is hope, and without hope we are all lost. I would encourage you, as you enter the new year, to keep hope alive.

Question: In recent days there has again been talk of widening the war to Iraq. A word of caution, both for Washington and Baghdad?

The Secretary-General: Basically, I have indicated on several occasions that I think it would be unwise to attack Iraq now. I have not seen any evidence linking Iraq to what happened on 11 September. Of course, any attempt to do that can exacerbate the situation and raise tensions in a region that is already under strain because of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

At the same time, Iraq will also have to understand that it has to begin responding to the Security Council's resolutions, particularly with regard to the return of the inspectors. All Iraq's friends have encouraged it to respond and to allow the inspectors to go back. When I saw the Iraqi Foreign Minister here during the general debate, he repeated the Iraqi position and had nothing new to tell me, but I think the pressure is on Iraq to respond to the Council's request to return the inspectors.

Question: On the same issue, do you think that the adoption of the new sanctions regime in June should or could be a vehicle for you and the United Nations to increase pressure on Iraq to admit inspectors?

The Secretary-General: There will be discussions among the members of the Council between now and then. I do not know what the final outcome of the draft resolution that they are discussing will be. But the basic idea was to refine the sanctions and to ensure that the population is helped, while at the same time maintaining the pressure on the leadership. If that is what your question implies then, yes, that is the idea.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, the Iraqi people are hoping to end the sanctions on the no-flight zones in Iraq. What is your reaction to the no-flight zones imposed on Iraq?

The Secretary-General: I think I have had the occasion to discuss this issue here, in this room. I indicated that, as far as I was concerned, I did not see anything in the Security Council resolution that authorizes the imposition or the enforcement of a no-flight zone. But several countries have decided to do it -- and that has been the case for quite a while -- with the objective of protecting the population in the north, mainly in the Kurdish area.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, we are probably not going to see you before the new year. On behalf of the incoming administration of the United Nations Correspondents Association, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

My question is, has the General Assembly defined the word terrorism? What is the difference between individual terrorism and State terrorism? Has the United Nations been able to safeguard the population in the occupied territories in Palestine?

The Secretary-General: You asked three questions and I will answer one.

Let me say, on the question of the definition of terrorism, that this is an issue that has preoccupied Member States and that has become particularly acute as we discuss a comprehensive convention against terrorism. There is a draft on the table that has not been agreed to yet by all the Members. That draft, as it now stands, does not get into a detailed definition of terrorists or freedom fighters. But it does indicate that the protocol and the language in that protocol, as it is being discussed, does not take away any of the rights of the accused and does not interfere with other legal instruments like international humanitarian law.

I think that what we can all accept is that anyone who kills or targets innocent civilians cannot claim that it can be justified, regardless of their cause. I think that on certain aspects of this issue we should all be very clear. There should be no confusion.

Question: Earlier you mentioned budget problems. Could you elaborate on where the problems are coming from? In particular, could you look at it in terms of the financial implications on trying to reform peace operations as recommended by the Brahimi Panel?

The Secretary-General: I think we did propose to the General Assembly what I consider a competent budget, which was reviewed by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions and submitted to the Fifth Committee. There is a discussion in the Fifth Committee as to whether that level should be reduced considerably or not.

We must also remember that the budget of the United Nations has not grown over the past eight years. There is a limit to how much you can do on a shoestring budget, and for how long. At the same time, the mandates being given to the Organization are increasing. I hope that Member States will accept that for us to take on the new responsibilities, we will need the resources required. We cannot

succeed and we cannot be effective without adequate resources. I am hopeful that the resources required for the improvement of peacekeeping operations will be forthcoming. But there are discussions regarding other aspects of the budget. I hope the Member States will find a way to resolve their differences, bearing in mind that the key issue is to give us the resources we need to undertake our operations.

Merry Christmas and happy new year.

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For information media. Not an official record.