New York

17 March 2003

Press Encounter with the Secretary-General at the Security Council stakeout (unofficial transcript)

SG: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I've just come out of a [Security] Council meeting where we discussed the situation in Iraq. Obviously the members of the Council who had hoped for a long time that it ought to be possible to disarm Iraq peacefully and had hoped to be able to come up with a common position, are today disappointed and frustrated and are worried that they were not able to muster the collective will to find a common basis to move ahead. And obviously, we seem to be at the end of the road here.

Yesterday UNMOVIC, the [International] Atomic [Energy] Agency and myself got information from the United States authorities that it would be prudent not to leave our staff in the region. I have just informed the Council that we will withdraw the UNMOVIC and Atomic Agency inspectors, we will withdraw the UN humanitarian workers, we will withdraw the UNIKOM troops on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border who are also not able to operate. The implication of these withdrawals will mean that the mandates will be suspended because it will be inoperable. We can not, for example, handle the Oil for Food when we do not have inspectors to monitor the imports, we do not have oil inspectors who will monitor exports of oil, and we don't have the humanitarian personnel who will monitor the distribution, receipt and distribution of the food supply. So, I have informed the Council of these suspensions.

This does not mean that, should war come to Iraq, the UN will sit back and not do anything to help the Iraqi population. We will find a way of resuming our humanitarian activities to help the Iraqi people who have suffered for so long and do whatever we can to give them assistance and support. And as you know we have undertaken major contingency planning to be able to move forward as soon as we can.

Q: Did you get an authorization from the Security Council to withdraw these inspectors or did you use the measures you have available to you, temporary relocation of the inspectors?

SG: It is relocation of the inspectors, and the Council has taken note of my decision.

Q: Should the United States go ahead and its allies and use military action against Iraq without UN Security Council authorization, would that be in violation of international law according to you?

SG: I think my position on that is very clear. The Council will have to discuss that also.

Q: Do you believe part of 1441, is it legal or not legal?

SG: I think I have made my position very clear on that and I have indicated to you that if … let's have a bit of order and calm here….I have made it very clear that in my judgement if the Council were to be able to manage this process successfully and most of the collective will to handle this operation, its own reputation and credibility would have been enhanced. And I have also said if the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished.

Q: La credibilite de l'ONU est-elle en cause aujourd'hui?

SG : Evidemment, ce n'est pas la premiere fois que le conseil n'a pas pu se mettre d'accord sur une resolution. J'aurais prefere que tout le monde se mette d'accord et puis on travaille (sic) ensemble. C'etait pas le cas, donc je crois qu'on doit se contenter de ce qu'on a, et travailler ensemble a partir d'aujourd'hui pour voir comment on peut faire de notre mieux pour s'assurer qu'on peut aider la population iraquienne, et travailler ensemble pas seulement sur l'Iraq, mais sur d'autres dossiers importants qu'on a en ce moment.

Q: Is today a very sad day for the UN and for the world?

SG: I think almost every government and peoples around the world had hoped that this issue can be resolved peacefully. In the sense that we are not able to do it peacefully, obviously it is a disappointment and a sad day for everybody. War is always a catastrophe –it leads to major human tragedy, lots of people are going to be uprooted, displaced from their homes and nobody wanted that. And this is why we had hoped that the Iraqi leadership would have cooperated fully and would have been able to do this without resort to use of force. But the little window that we seem to have, seems to be closing very, very fast. I'm not sure at this stage the Council can do anything in the next couple of hours

Q: . Dr Blix and [El] Baradei have also been invited, would you fly to Baghdad?

SG: I have no plans to fly to Baghdad today.

Q: If there is military action, then what happens?

S-G: Well if there is military action, the Council of course will have to meet to discuss what happens after that. I think I have made it clear that regardless of how this current issue is resolved, the Security Council is going to have a role to play. And I think that was also implied in the communiqué that came out of the Azores. That the UN has an important role to play in the post-conflict Iraq and the Council will have to discuss that. The Council will have to give me a mandate for some of the activities that we will need to undertake. And so this does not mean an end of involvement of the UN in the Iraqi situation.

Thank you very much.