11 September 2006


11 September 2006
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY General Assembly president


Despite global tensions and suspicions, the General Assembly had proven during its sixtieth session that it could take decisions, Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden told correspondents this afternoon in a wrap-up press conference on the Assembly’s work and his last as Assembly President.

The solutions to today’s global issues and threats would not be lasting if countries acted unilaterally or even in groups of friends, Mr. Eliasson said.  He hoped multilateralism would gain ground, not only out of idealism, but also out of enlightened self-interest.

The Assembly’s consensus adoption last Friday of a counter-terrorism strategy, practically against all odds, had been a great moment for him and an important signal for the international community, he said.  The strategy had to be seen both as a concrete plan of action and also a strong message that the matter of fighting terrorism had to be seen as an international obligation.  As a global threat and a global menace, terrorism had to be dealt with globally.  Only by working together would the international community be able to come to grips with the problem of terrorism.

It was a sad, he added, that the end of his term coincided with the anniversary of 11 September 2001.  That was why he wanted to pay homage to the victims and to the thousands of victims before and after 11 September in other parts of the world.

While not on the Assembly’s agenda, he said he was extremely concerned about developments in Darfur.  He had wanted to put the situation there in the prospective of the responsibility to protect, which must move from words to deeds.  The international community had, in the past, seen the horrors of Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica.  That must not happen again.  “We now have such a situation in front of us, where this principle -- this responsibility -- has to be taken seriously”, he said.

There had also been some “unfinished business”, including strengthening of the Economic and Social Council and Security Council reform, he said.  Many of the items on the Assembly’s agenda were a work in progress.  Member States would now have to put those accomplishments to the test in the field.  The international community was at a serious stage in testing whether multilateralism worked.  By pushing forward the reforms, the Assembly had had one way to prove that it may have passed the test.

Asked what he believed could have been accomplished in the past year, he said he believed that, if the Assembly had had a few more days, it could have managed the ECOSOC negotiations.

Security Council reform, on the other hand, was an extremely sensitive, difficult and important issue, he said.  He was a greater believer in the need for such reform, which was needed for reasons of legitimacy, representativeness, and efficiency.  In order for reform to come about, however, it was necessary to avoid polarization and confrontation.  The fact that the tone had become more subdued in the last year was positive.  The Assembly’s debate on the matter in July had been a relatively good one.  Everybody agreed that the right tone had been set.  It now waited to be seen whether Member States would make the moves to achieve Council reform.

While, on most issues, he had “pushed and pulled”, on the matter of Security Council reform, he had repeatedly said that he would be guided by what he had heard from Member States.  He had been in very close contact with the different groups.  He had never been advised to move at one particular stage.  If he had introduced Security Council reform at a premature moment, the atmosphere for other negotiations might have been hurt, he added.

What had really been touch and go, he added, were the negotiations on the Human Rights Council and the counter-terrorism strategy.

On the Human Rights Council there had been a long, drawn-out period between the beginning of February and the middle of March characterized by very strong pressures, he said.  The atmosphere had also been affected by the cartoon crisis, which had happened right in the midst of the discussion.  It had been a complicating element, both in terms of the substance of the text and the atmosphere.  There had also been the negative reaction by the United States.  That had been difficult to handle, but in the end it had sent a positive signal that it would cooperate with the Council and perhaps be a candidate next year.

On the issue of terrorism, he noted that everyone had said it would be impossible to get terrorism through, especially given recent events in the Middle East.  Strong wording had been suggested by the Islamic countries, particularly on self-determination, the right to resist occupation and State terrorism.  There had been similarly strong resistance from the countries that would not go along.  The co-chairs and his staff had done a great job in reducing the text to size, while keeping the same elements.  In the end, those with reservations had concluded that it was better to sign onto the strategy with a strong explanation of position, rather than a vote.

Responding to questions on Darfur, including the possibility of humanitarian intervention, he noted that, unfortunately, Darfur was not on the Assembly’s agenda.  The international community had to be extremely concerned about what was happening there.  The time had come to translate responsibility to protect from words to action.  Before reaching the stage of humanitarian intervention, all countries needed to put maximum pressure on the Sudanese Government to accept their responsibility to protect.  He hoped the Sudan’s neighbours, African countries and the permanent five would exert maximum pressure on the Government, and, hopefully, bring it to the conclusion that there was a need to stop the killing.

There was general agreement on the need to put maximum pressure on the Sudanese Government, he added in response to another question.  The Council was faced with a grave responsibility and a very difficult issue.  As former Emergency Relief Coordinator, he recognized the urgency of the situation.  The international community also needed to keep its eyes and ears there.  Humanitarian workers were taking great risks in Darfur, serving as those eyes and ears.  An international presence was needed.

Some academics would argue that the whole reform process had not been a clear net gain.  At the end of the day, did he wonder whether the entire reform process had reached a stage where ground had actually been lost rather than gained, exposing nasty differences between States? a correspondent asked.

Responding, he said he had tried to be realistic in his assessment and had stressed the need for results.  While the Outcome document provided a long “to do” list, gains had been made.  Two reforms represented qualitative gains, namely the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission and the creation of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  He knew the humiliating situation of having to ask for money when people were dying.  With some $260 million in the CERF already, the Fund would provide immediate resources.

On a day when terrorism was on the forefront of many minds, what did he see in terms of getting agreement on a comprehensive convention on terrorism? a correspondent asked.

Responding, he said he believed that the importance of such a convention might have been exaggerated, as 90 per cent of it already existed as law and encompassed already existing conventions.  It was equally important to implement the counter-terrorism strategy, which was very concrete.

With the Organization’s reputation sullied in the eyes of many, what was his take as he left the job as President of the world body?

Responding, he said the world was in turmoil.  The United Nations was, however, establishing itself in terms of global threats in concrete areas, such as communicable diseases.  There was also a growing chance that the United Nations could play a more important role in the Middle East.  The implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) was a chance for the United Nations to play a role.  Both the European Union and the United Nations had a chance to increase their influence on the Middle East issues.

He added that the United Nations could never serve as a panacea or universal cure.  The problems were so huge that the United Nations could not deal with them alone.  The United Nations was still the symbol of international cooperation.

Asked about the selection of a new Secretary-General, he said he had been satisfied with the growing detailed information he had been receiving from the Council’s presidents.  He had been receiving full reports of the Council’s discussions, which he had passed on.  Dialogue between the Assembly and the Council was important.

Asked to comment on the situation in Iraq, he said 2003 had been a deep disappointment for the United Nations and the European Union.  As Swedish Foreign Minister, he struggled hard to ensure the Union was unified on the Middle East.  Iraq was a bleeding wound in world politics.  Everyone was paying a price, above all the Iraqi people.  They had suffered enough.  He hoped that things would grow in the direction of a strengthened Iraqi leadership.  The entire international community had an interest in Iraq’s stabilization and, in that regard, all countries had a responsibility.

Responding to a question on Iran, he said it was important to be tough on the issue of non-proliferation.  The international community needed to be strong in pushing all diplomatic buttons and doing everything to find a diplomatic solution.  Javier Solana had conducted talks on the matter.  He hoped that would constitute progress.  It was important that the international community stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  At the same time, it was necessary to try to work out a model that would bring Iran back into the fold of international cooperation.  Iran could play a positive role, if they chose the right role.  The offer proposed by the EU3+3 (the permanent 5 Security Council members and Germany) was good one.  He hoped Iran would seize that opportunity.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.