New York

10 March 2006

Secretary-General's press encounter following luncheon with Security Council members

SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

We have had a very good discussion at the working lunch, with the Security Council.

We discussed Sudan, and we are pleased with the decision coming out of Addis Ababa, where the African Union seems to have agreed to expansion and transition of the force to a UN Blue Helmets. We look forward to working with them, and the government of Sudan, in ensuring that there is effective security on the ground in Darfur, that would allow the humanitarian workers to continue their work, ensure protection of the IDPs, and ensure access to the needy. We also discussed the need to accelerate the peace process in Abuja, and for governments to give the mediator all the support necessary, and to press the parties to negotiate in earnest and in good faith, and we the UN, will be working ever more closely with Mr. Salim Salim, the mediator, and the Council also indicated that they would want to invite him here to New York to discuss with him the progress in the Abuja talks.

We of course also touched on Côte d'Ivoire, Afghanistan, Haiti, Kosovo and Timor Leste, but the main discussion was on Sudan.

We are pressing ahead with our contingency planning and would hope to be ready to work with the African Union as we move forward to the implementation of the anticipated decision by the Security Council that we push ahead with the transition.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, we didn't see that in the African Union statement. I hope you got one we didn't see. They said 'in principle'. Does that allow you go ahead, and can the Security Council authorize a force, or is it going to have to fight its way in with the African Union?

SG: No, no, no. We are not going to fight our way in anywhere. We will work with the African Union. It is also encouraging that the Sudanese government seems to be also softening its position, and we will work with them as well. But obviously we are waiting for the full details of the decision, but from what we know now, they have at least agreed to a six months extension of the African Union force, and to work with the UN on transition. But I don't have the full details in front of me, but from the reports reaching me that is the decision that has been taken.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, now that the Iranian situation has taken an ominous turn, would you at any point in time consider [inaudible] do something, and now that you are going on the African trip, would you consider cutting it down if at all you are needed?

SG: Let me say that, as I have said time and time again, the best solution is a negotiated one. I hope the parties will get back to the table, and Iran will take the necessary steps to cooperate with the [International] Atomic [Energy] Agency that will give confidence to the international community that indeed its ambition is peaceful use of nuclear energy, and work with the international community in that respect. Obviously, wherever I am, if I am needed to be back at headquarters, there will be absolutely no problem. I would be prepared to shorten my journey to come back. But I hope that will not be necessary. The Council is seized of the matter, and will be discussing it, hopefully next week. We will take it from there. But I think it is important that the message goes out that the whole international community is concerned about this dossier, and would want to see full Iranian compliance with its NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and [International] Atomic [Energy] Agency requirements.

Q: Are you concerned 'though about –I'm back on the subject of Sudan –are you concerned about threats, things like calling for [Jan] Pronk's head, threats against UN presence in Sudan, protests backed by the Sudanese government –are you concerned by this, and have you been in touch with Sudanese officials?

SG: Yes. Of course we are concerned, we are concerned about these threats - whether they are genuine or not, they do concern us. I think it is inappropriate for anyone to issue threats against UN officials and humanitarian workers. What is important, and I am encouraged by the action the government has taken –the government has arrested some people, I think two of the people who published the threats. And it is an indication that they are also taking it seriously, and I presume that it means they are also going to assume their responsibility of protecting the UN staff and the humanitarian workers operating on their territory. I would urge the government to remain vigilant. We are there to help, we have work to do, we are not the enemy and they should protect our people on the ground.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the issue of the Human Rights Council, earlier today Jan Eliasson said that he was going to force this issue next week, that the time had come to make a decision on this. The US Ambassador told us later that, in its current form, the United States could not approve, could not vote for this text, raising the spectre that the Council may fail entirely. What would the consequences of that be, and what can be done to rescue things right now?

SG: I think consultations are still going on. I do agree with the President that the time has come for a decision. I think that the longer a decision is delayed the more harmful it is. Not only are we dealing with the Human Rights Council, we have other major reform proposals on the table - from management reform to mandate review to strategic strategy on terrorism to reform of ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], and the development agenda, and so forth, and some may even add the Security Council reform later on in the year. So we need to really move ahead with the Human Rights Council decision, to be able to regain the momentum we had when we established the Peace Building Commission. I think most Member States are in this Commission. I think the U.S. that has played a good role in human rights, I am sure will not do anything that will jeopardize the new Council. We will find a way to move forward. I don't think we are going to see the sort of dramatic situation you talked about –the Human Rights Council falling apart - it will not fall apart. I hope to see it established, and with the support of all Member States, we will make it a strong Council, and a better mechanism than the current one.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, what you decided as a six month extension of AMIS [African Union Mission in Sudan], will you now instruct DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to prepare for a September launch, and do you think it's practical that this can be done in six month with the kind of force you have described –quick and mobile and high tech and so forth?

SG: It is possible if we get what we need from our Member States. DPKO has already been working on planning; we have been doing contingency planning; and we should now be able to send an assessment mission on the ground to work with the African Union. And we will also be building on the African Union forces. Some of the forces on the ground will be re-hatted. I would also hope that, between now and the time that the UN takes over, measures will be taken to strengthen to the African Union forces which would also be transitioning to the UN forces. And so, we have appealed to donor countries to give them all the support they need to be able to continue the operations until we get there. I don't think we can afford a gap, nor can we afford any further deterioration of the security situation, and so it is urgent that we give them the support they need. It is urgent that we find ways if possible of strengthening them as we build up to an expanded force and a transition to the United Nations. We can do it if we get the resources. We don't have standing armies. We have to approach our Member States, and if the Member States give us the resources we need we can be as fast as it ought to be.