New York

16 February 2006

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Remarks at Press Encounter Following Monthly Luncheon with Security Council Members

SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I understand you have a few questions for me.

Q: Can I ask you, Sir, about Guantanamo. I know you have made comments, but now the report is officially out, perhaps you have an updated comment? And also can you comment on the fact that the US continues basically to dismiss the conclusions in the report. Do you think they should be taken seriously? The US says they turned down an invitation and you obviously know why that was turned down.

SG: The five experts obviously gathered their own information and also did the analysis and came up with their conclusions. There is a lot in the report, and I cannot say that I necessarily agree with everything in the report. But the basic point, that one cannot detain individuals in perpetuity and that charges have to be brought against them and be given a chance to explain themselves, and be prosecuted, charged or released, I think is something that is common under any legal system. And I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo. I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible.

Q: There is a new element in the [Rafik] Hariri assassination, involving Al Qaeda. Do you have anything to say about it? And also, why has Mr. [Serge] Brammertz changed completely his team? He is having a new team.

SG: I think Brammertz is putting together his team. When you take over an operation, you determine what your needs are and what sort of talent and skills you need and try and put together a team. I think this is what Brammertz is doing. We should also not forget that some of the people who were there also wanted to leave. So some have left, and he is replacing them with a new team, and I don't see anything unusual about this.

Q: And if Al Qaeda is involved in the Hariri assassination?

SG: We are investigating this issue. That is why Brammertz is there, that is why [Detlev] Mehlis was there. I don't want to jump to conclusions. Let them come up and decide who did the assassination, who was behind it. I leave it to them to complete their work.

Q: On the tapes purporting that Saddam Hussein had warned the Americans that a WMD terrorist attack was coming, but not from Iraq. Do you take that seriously, or do you think it's water under the bridge and the whole thing should be forgotten?

SG: I really haven't read in detail all these comments. At this stage, I think we should move on. We have a very challenging situation in Iraq which should be of interest to all of us to do whatever we can to stabilize. I would want to focus on the present and the future.

Q: On Ethiopia and Eritrea, how much sleep are you losing over the situation on the border between the two countries?

SG: It is extremely worrying. I know that the US administration is trying to take steps to send in people to deal with the two governments and to try and see what can be done to bring the parties together. It is worrying. Both governments seem convinced that there will not be another war, but of course in these sorts of situations where you have two armies confronting each other, there can be a miscalculation; it may not be intended; but you cannot rule it out, and I think it is important that they de-escalate, cooperate with the UN and the international community to find a way of implementing the agreement and resuming talks amongst themselves.

Q: Sir, have you had a chance to look into the inquiry by MONUC into the deaths of the eight Guatemalan peacekeepers, which I believe is due tomorrow? As you know, there were allegations that they were tortured or mutilated or beheaded.

SG: I'm sorry I haven't really had the chance to go through the details. I haven't seen the report or read it in detail and so I cannot comment on your question.

Q: These rapporteurs are considered independent, they are called independent. How much do they represent you, considering that you have called to actually overhaul the mechanism which they are appointed by?

SG: Do answers to any of your questions make any difference to your paper? Next question.

Q: Sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo, sooner or later. The report says you really need to close it now. Are you, in this case, taking an opposite position to that in the report? And separately from that, if I may, have you found out what's going on with these Syrian shipments of armaments into Lebanon? The UN asked the Lebanese authorities for an explanation. If this is an alarming violation, what are you going to do about it? Have you been in touch with any Syrian officials on that?

SG: I don't think what I have said contradicts the report. But let me, on your second question, indicate that we have heard the allegations, we are looking into it. I do not have any firm facts as to where we stand on the issue.

Q: You did request the Lebanese authorities for an explanation. Did you receive any response? When are you expecting one?

SG: I haven't received any communication from them.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, can you comment on how the Haitian election was resolved? Are you satisfied with it?

SG: I think the independent electoral commission took a decision. They did it by distributing the blank ballots on a pro rata basis to all the candidates, and of course on that basis Mr. [Rene] Préval emerged as the winner. I think this is something that they have agreed to. I know that [Leslie] Manigat had made a statement, and there will need to be further discussions with him. But I think, given the circumstances and the situation, it was a reasonable way to attempt to resolve a conflict and an impasse that could have led to serious conflict and violence in the society.

Q: Was it legal and democratic?

SG: They consulted the Minister of Justice, who gave an opinion, and from I gather it was done on the basis of their Constitution and legal advice from the Minister of Justice.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you just said that there are some elements of the report that you disagree with. What are those elements, can you elaborate, that you disagree with?

SG: I said I cannot agree with everything in the report, but I did indicate that the basic premise, that we need to be careful to have a balance between effective action against terrorism and individual liberties and civil rights, I think is valid.

Q: Secrétaire général, votre opinion sur Guantanamo en français s'il vous plait.

SG: Je disais que le rapport vient de sortir. Evidemment ces gens qui sont en prison,

s'ils sont coupables, doivent être jugés. Le cas doit être réglé dans un sens ou l'autre mais ne pas les mettre en tôle en perpétuité et donc, tôt ou tard, il faut résoudre le problème. J'estime aussi que la prison de Guantanamo doit être fermée tôt ou tard et j'espère que ça sera plus tôt que tard.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I understand that at lunch you discussed both Darfur and procurement with the [Security] Council. Could you tell us what the situation is now, particularly with a new force for Darfur, and what can the Council do, what are you doing on issue of procurement?

SG: On the question of Darfur, as I have had occasion to discuss with you in the past, the African Union force, which has done incredible work on the ground, has had its constraints and the likelihood is that the African Union will decide to hand over the operation to the United Nations, and the Council, from all indications, will authorize a UN operation. We have indicated that if that decision is taken, we would want to see a force that is highly mobile on the ground and in the air. We are doing our contingency planning to be able to move as fast as we can, but of course we would be in the hands of the Member States, particularly the Member States with well-trained armies and armies with capacity to support us, and we will be able to deploy as quickly as we get the assets from the Member States.

Q: Have you gotten any commitments from any of those well-developed states with those kinds of assets?

SG: I presume everybody is waiting for the detailed plan for one to determine what exactly is required and for each Member State to decide what it can offer and what it will do.

Q: And on procurement?

SG: It is something we take very seriously and I think all Member States are interested in this issue and there are indications that the General Assembly is also interested. I am sure there will be discussion on it, either in the General Assembly or the Security Council.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, now that the South Korean Foreign Minister has made his candidacy public, do you think he is a good candidate for your position?

SG: Do you really expect an answer to that question? [laughter]

Q: On the cartoon issue, which still has ignited so much furore in the Muslim world, and it continues to undermine relations between East and West, are you doing, besides the few statements that you have made, the concerns that you have shown, are you making any other headway with the other Muslim countries, heads of states and government, in order to bring this situation down, to calm it down?

SG: Yes, I have spoken to several capitals, appealing that we do bring it down, and I have also appealed to anyone with influence, whether secular or religious, to do whatever they can to calm the situation down. I think generally it is calming down, and it has calmed down, except for one or two locations, and I hope even in those cases the leaders will work with the community to calm it down.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, do you have any comment on the new images of torture that have emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

SG: We all saw the earlier pictures, and we were also aware that there were some other pictures which had not been shown. It is unfortunate that pictures come out at this time, at a moment when there is lots of tension and anger over the cartoon issue. I don't think it helps defuse the situation.

Q: You have spent a lot of time explaining to people that the UN is the opinions of Member States as well, that it is not simply your voice, all your decisions. In the case of this Guantanamo report though, this will be interpreted in many ways, as you know - does the opinion of these rapporteurs, does that represent your perspective? Is it fair to say that this represents the voice of the United Nations Secretariat?

SG: No, these are individual experts who are appointed to make an independent assessment and it is not the Secretary-General's report, or the UN's report, so we should see it in that light. Thank you very much.

Q: [Question on Cyprus plan] The Turkish government gave it to you, have you examined it? Is it a good start?

SG: I have examined it and I am talking to other stakeholders about it. As you know, I will be seeing President [Tassos] Papadopoulos to discuss the whole Cyprus issue, including this issue.

Q: Can I ask you one thing? About a million Lebanese came out a couple of days ago, saying to [President Emile] Lahoud, it's time to step down and Hezbollah to disarm. These are matters in the Security Council resolutions. You, as Secretary-General, when you see a million people calling for implementation of these resolutions, do you think that it's time for Lahoud to step down?

SG: We are determined to help implement the resolution, as stipulated in 1559, and we are working very hard on full implementation of the resolution, but don't get me drawn into internal Lebanese politics. Thank you very much.