1 April 2008


1 April 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Rather than debate whether the glass was half full or half empty, it was more fruitful to fill the glass, Srgjan Kerim (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), President of the General Assembly, said today at a joint press conference with United Nations Foundation Chairman Ted Turner.

Speaking as the General Assembly held a special two-day thematic debate on “Removing obstacles that are slowing progress on the Millennium Development Goals”, the President stressed that the issues under discussion today and tomorrow -– eradication of poverty; provision of education; and provision of health -– were fundamentally related to the values of the United Nations.

However, the Organization and Governments could not do it alone, he said, adding that life was more complex than Governments and that other business, media and non-governmental organizations could also contribute.  “Mankind is one, the United Nations is unique and we have to deal with problems in a way which attracts people to believe in the United Nations, in its basic values, in the relevance of the United Nations and its authority.”

Mr. Turner, Chairman of Turner Enterprises, voiced his love for the Organization.  “Had it not been for the UN, humanity would have gone a long time ago.”  The current debate was about refocusing in order to bring the programmes into even higher gear.  The United Methodist Church and Lutheran World Relief had pledged to raise $200 million towards the elimination of malaria.  With the near-eradication of polio and the reduction of measles by some 90 per cent, the disappearance of those three “developing world diseases” would make it that much easier to end poverty.  “Poverty and disease live together,” he added.

Also participating in the press conference was Elizabeth Gore, a representative of the United Nations Foundation, who explained that most of the money from the United Methodist Church and the Lutheran community, to be raised from a combined 25 million people in the United States, would go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the prevention of malaria deaths.  The rest of the funds would be spent on strengthening capacities in the field.  The two religious denominations were also in dialogue with the Gates Foundation, among other organizations.

Questioned about his collaboration with religious organizations, since he had previously not been a big supporter of religion, Mr. Turner said:  “As I get older, I get more tolerant,” adding that he had always prayed and had wanted to be a missionary when he was 17 years old.

Asked how many more of the Millennium Development Goals would have been achieved if agricultural policies in developed countries had been relaxed in favour of fair trade, Mr. Kerim said free trade was the driving force behind world economy, but pushing Governments in that direction was not easy.  The United Nations should be on the side of free trade, while pushing the European Union and other developed countries towards fair policies.  “Trade and development go together.”  Free trade was better and fairer than aid in promoting development.

Mr. Turner added that he had spoken at the World Trade Organization in support of the Doha Round, and the developing world should be allowed to earn some money.  The more trade restrictions were eased, the greater chance people had to earn a decent living.

Asked about the contribution of the United States towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Turner said the country had heartily endorsed the programme and pledged to do its part.  However, it had also pledged to pay its dues to the United Nations but was now in arrears to the tune of $2.1 billion with respect to its contributions to peacekeeping operations, and was again behind with its regular dues.

“Not only are we not meeting our moral obligations and obligations we made to the Millennium Goals, we are not paying dues in peacekeeping,” he said, adding:  “I guess we are too busy bombing the Iraqis to be able to afford to pay our dues.”  The United States should engage with the rest of the world.  “This administration has gotten us into a lot of trouble but they are not going to be there much longer and maybe things will get better.”

Mr. Kerim, however, said the United States had contributed a lot towards the organization of the current thematic debate, among other things by making Mr. Turner’s presence possible.  The Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had participated in this morning’s panel, announcing several measures that the country would take.  The Organization had good cooperation with the United States.

Asked whether developing countries’ failure to meet Millennium Development Goal commitments might be attributed to the expenditure of tax revenues for defence purposes, Mr. Turner pointed out that the military budget of the United States was some $500 billion, half of the world’s military expenditures and 20 times as high as the budgets of the Russian Federation or China.  All the world’s problems, including universal health care, could be solved by $100 billion yearly, or one tenth of the global military budget.  Moreover, the Americans had been defeated in Viet Nam and the Russians in Afghanistan.  If super-Powers could no longer overcome little developing countries, it was better to spend the money on preparing to live rather than preparing to die.

Mr. Kerim added that security did not begin with peacekeeping, but with development.  The Millennium Development Goals were about human security and the debate should focus on facts rather than rhetoric.  However, the worst discussion was better than any war.

Asked about the United Nations Foundation’s lack of involvement in Zimbabwe, Mr. Turner said that simply throwing money at a problem was no solution.  Zimbabwe had a history of poor governance and it therefore made no sense to invest there.

Mr. Kerim stressed that good governance, human rights and sustainable development went together.  Countries with good governance achieved results in development, as illustrated by the success of countries like Mali and the United Republic of Tanzania.

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