Madrid, Spain

6 April 2006

Secretary-General's press encounter with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero

Prime Minister Zapatero: [translation from Spanish] First of all, I'd like to express my satisfaction, how pleased I am to have the Secretary-General of the United Nations here in Spain. It's the third time that I have the pleasure here of welcoming [him] to this country since I am President of the Government, and it's also a great satisfaction for Spain to be hosting the work that the UN is carrying out these days.

Spanish society is fully committed to values that are embodied in the United Nations as in no other international organization: peace, international legality, cooperation and solidarity. Spain has been clearly in favour of multilateralism, of peaceful means to solve disputes and to meet the Millennium objectives that were born and are under the guardianship of the United Nations.

Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, has the highest position in the United Nations for almost ten years now, but he has been working for the objectives and the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations for over four decades. And on behalf of the Spanish Government, I would like to say that in Kofi Annan, we have always found support and I would like to thank him, for the entire Spanish society.

Our meeting this evening has been very fruitful. We have talked about the structure of the United Nations, which as you know is undergoing a reform process, and we have also touched upon matters relative to the international community, some in a general way and others more specific because they entail Spain's commitment and work with the United Nations. As I was saying, we have gone through the UN reform process, that received the backing of the Summit of Heads of State and Government in 2005, and this reform process has already been translated into specific issues, such as the Peace-Building Committee and the Human Rights Council. We are absolutely certain that these two agencies will contribute to the further weight of the United Nations and also the solution and settlement of conflicts and disputes.

We would also like to witness the same progress in reform in everything concerning the fight against terrorism, led by a magnificent Spanish ambassador, our ambassador to the United Nations. In addition, achieving the Millennium Development Goals should be something that every country should be working for in a resolved manner.

We've also gone through the first part of the work carried out by the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations that was fostered by the Secretary-General of the United Nations after a joint proposal by Turkey and Spain. Their work will finish after one year's time, with a joint action plan, and we have committed to continue offering our maximum support because we are convinced that this Alliance of Civilizations should contribute toward bringing together the Western and Islamic civilizations, because that is a challenge not for the day of tomorrow, but today.

We have also tackled some more specific issues, such as the commitment that Spain has in Haiti. It is a commitment that today Spain has renewed, after announcing the participation of a Spanish police force, together with Morocco, in Haiti, after announcing the withdrawal of the troops that we had stationed in Haiti.

I have also informed the Secretary-General that, in accordance with our commitments as a Government in our country and being fully aware of the fact that this is the unequivocal wish of the Spanish society, that for the year 2006, Spain will increase its voluntary contribution to the different programmes of the United Nations; specifically the increase will be at 50 percent, at least, for each programme, and in some programmes, the increase will amount to 100 percent more, which will amount overall at least to [an additional]100 million euros.

I think this is good news for the UN system. Logically, the amount of programmes is vast, but Spain was very far behind in voluntary contributions. We were normally being the 20th or 30th contributor, and we had to run up the steps to be where Spain should be. And it should be proper to our situation as the eighth economic power in the world. Obviously, we do have our contributions in the compulsory area, but in the voluntary contributions, we had to make an additional effort to contribute to refugees' programmes, to human rights protection, for emergency situations, all of that wide array of areas in which the UN works in defending the deepest and basic values of humankind and peaceful coexistence.

We've also given some thought to the Iran issue, some thoughts to the immediate future in the Maghreb region. But I don't want to go beyond this at present, I just want to once again express my satisfaction at having the Secretary-General of the United Nations with us and to wish him all the best in the different activities that the different [UN] chief executives have, the different agencies, that their work here in Spain is fruitful and that they know that they're very welcome. Kofi Annan knows that here in Spain, he has a friendly country that appreciates him very much indeed.

SG: Thank you very much [Prime Minister Zapatero], and let me say “thank you” to you and the people of Spain for the wonderful and friendly way that you receive me and my team and my wife each time we come here. And I am also very grateful for the very constructive discussions we had this afternoon. And I think we heard a very good synopsis of what we had discussed. But I would also want to be able to thank you for the strong support you have given the United Nations, not only in our work in New York through your Ambassador, but in our activities around the world.

We did talk about Haiti, and I am grateful that you are giving us police, working with Morocco, which is also another good sign. And I also note that you're joining the European Rapid Reaction Force that will back up the UN operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For that, also, we are immensely grateful, and I am sure the people of Congo and that whole Great Lakes region are also grateful for that contribution.

On reform, let me assure you that we will press ahead with the reforms. We made good progress and there are many other things ahead, but we have to press ahead and do as much as we can in the course of this session.

You referred to the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), and I think it is important that we all work very hard to implement the MDGs and achieve the goals by 2015. And in fact at the end of May and early June, we will have a special session on one of the goals, the fight against HIV/AIDS, to see what progress we've made five years since we passed a special action programme to fight the epidemic. And I think the report will show that we've made some progress, that there are some achievements but there is still a long way to go, and we will urge the international community to redouble their efforts and work with us in battling this epidemic; not only the resources, but also in battling the stigma and the discrimination that attaches to the disease.

On Alliance for Civilizations, Mr. [Prime Minister], when you first proposed it, none of us had an idea what we were going to confront in the world, six to eight months later. These developments of the last few months have made it quite clear that the suggestion that we have to improve the alliance among civilizations couldn't have come at a better time. And the panel is working very hard and I hope they will come out with concrete and useful suggestions that will help governments, communities and groups find their way forward, out of the challenges that we face.

I also in my discussions with [the Prime Minister] had a chance to express the hope that the recent announcement by ETA on the permanent cease-fire would lead to a new era of peace and non-violence for the people of Spain, who have gone through violence for far too long. And I hope, it is my sincere hope, that not only the government but all political forces and institutions will seize this moment and see how they can manage the situation in a way that leads to a permanent cease-fire; not only a permanent cease-fire but a permanent peace and end of violence so that Spain can be what it is: a democratic, peaceful and prosperous country that resolves its issues and conflicts through peaceful means. And so I wish you luck, and I think this is an opportunity that must be seized. Thank you.

Q: [translated from Spanish] First, I'd like to know whether you talked about the Sahara issue. I should imagine so, because the Prime Minister has led us to think that you talked about relations in the Maghreb. I would like to know what you've been handling, especially because in a few days' time a decision will have to be taken on the Mission there. I also have a question for the President of the Government: Have you considered that somebody with the political experience and weight of Kofi Annan, who in the future will be abandoning his position as Secretary-General, could play a role as mediator to contribute to the peace process?

Prime Minister Zapatero: [translated from Spanish] Regarding your first question, yes, we have devoted some time to the Sahara, among many other issues. I have told the Secretary-General that we have to continue working and insisting on the fact that the future of the Sahara requires an agreement. And Spain has the best availability. It is a very difficult mission, something that has been attempted now for very many years, to reach an agreement that would be the best way out, the best possible solution, and we are at the disposal of the United Nations to contribute to an end to the now very long conflict on the Sahara.

Regarding your second question, we have no plans in that direction, but if the United Nations could at any point contribute to achieving a good ending to this peace process that is underway, I am sure that they would be most willing; so would the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

I would now like to express a word of thanks to him for his words of hope, trust and his desire for this cease-fire to become a permanent. I think that overall is a very good message, because all the different spheres of violence in the world could thus be reduced to almost nothing, and areas for peace, democracy, could expand to as to accept any ideology and any politics.

Q: [translated from Spanish] In order to continue with the same issue, I see that you have spoken about the new situation in Spain after the permanent cease-fire. I would like to know whether the Secretary-General has asked you as President of the Government of Spain for any information and whether you have given him this information.

Prime Minister Zapatero: [translated from Spanish] The Secretary-General of the United Nations has indeed expressed his trust, his hope and his support for what could be a permanent peace process in Spain and in the Basque country. And I have of course told the Secretary-General that that is our hope, that we are also cautious for the time being, for many reason that you've heard me mention now and again. We have been undergoing a process that has been very violent for very many years, and we are now facing a process that demands our caution.

Q: [translated from Spanish] Mr. Secretary-General, good evening, I'd like to continue with these same issues. I have a question for you first on the Sahara: Do you intend to introduce proposals in the report you are going to be introducing on the Sahara soon, in order to overcome the stagnation of the process? And to the President of the Government, after receiving the reports from the Minister of the Interior and other reports that you may be receiving, do you think that ETA is complying with their announcement of a permanent cease-fire?

SG: On the question of my report to the Security Council, I saw the leader of the Polisario [Front] in New York last week. I am also in touch with the other party, and of course, my own envoy who is working on this operation, as well as our peacekeeping operations on the ground. At this stage, I am working on the report, and we will be giving a report to the Council over the course of this month, but I don't want to prejudge what I will put in the report, because we are still in the process of gathering elements for the report. But of course, the ultimate goal eventually is to find a solution that is mutually acceptable and will stand the test of time, and we do have UN resolutions and agreements that the parties have agreed to, But of course, whatever we come up with, the two parties will have to implement it and work with it. And so the Council has been very careful, trying to move the process in a direction that will allow them to implement without imposing anything on either party, because they are really not in a position to impose. But we will continue to work with the parties to find a solution.

Prime Minister Zapatero: [translated from Spanish] With regard to your question, it's a first report on the activities of ETA and the situation in these first 15 days. We must take it with extreme caution; no final assessment, first of all, because it is confidential in nature, and on the other hand, it's only 15 days that have elapsed. We have to wait, and when the Government considers that it has a good assessment of the situation, we'll be able to assess the situation for the Spanish population in general.

Q: [translated from Spanish] I have a question for the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The President of the Government was saying, “After 10 years of serving as Secretary-General,” but nobody recalls that the Secretary-General, before becoming such, was Minister of Tourism. You've won a Nobel Peace Prize, [as has] Mr. [Mohamed ElBaradei]. Do you think it would be useful for the World Tourism Organization and for Spain that the smallest of all the UN agencies should one day receive the Peace Prize?

SG: That should be a question for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to answer. But let me say that I am always very happy when one of the UN institutions receives the Nobel Peace Prize. And the World Tourism Organization is an organization that encourages dialogue, brings people together, encourages them to travel to discover other cultures, and they do very useful work. But that decision I will leave to the Committee.

Q: [translated from Spanish] I have a question for both of you. Have you talked about the nuclear issue in Iran? What are your opinions? What do you think about the right to have peaceful nuclear energy and enriched uranium, which is a legitimate right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Prime Minister Zapatero: [translated from Spanish] We think it's evident there should be guarantees, there should be safeguards that they have to provide the international community with, and the international community should establish the corresponding and appropriate mechanisms for Iran. The situation should only be one of an agreement being reached with Iran. Iran should play by the rules, and Iran should have the possibility of contributing to avoiding a shift that would not be beneficial for the world as a whole. And all our trust is placed in the United Nations and the European countries that are making an effort in this direction.

SG: We did discuss the issue, and as the Prime Minister has said, of course Iran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear power. And of course, as a member, it should honour all its obligations under the NPT, and to the [International] Atomic [Energy] Agency. And I think it is right that Iran insist on all its rights but also its obligations. I think what is happening now is that the discussions have been going on, and both parties –the European four and the Iranians –have agreed that they are prepared to sit together. And I would encourage them to sit and negotiate, because the best solution would be a negotiated one, and quite frankly, since no one is trying to deprive Iran of the peaceful use of nuclear power and Iran insists that it has no intention of acquiring a nuclear weapon, the simple approach or solution would be to reassure the international community, give them that confidence that its purpose is peaceful and it would be under Atomic Agency inspections and regulations. And I think that the world would be satisfied. But it is that assurance that the other side seems to be seeking. So on the peaceful use of nuclear power, nobody seems to be challenging that.

Q: [translated from Spanish] I have a question for the Secretary-General. First of all, with regards to the conflict in the Sahara, do you think that the autonomy plan announced by Morocco, do you think that a referendum is a way to prevent, or will lead to, a conflict? They don't want a referendum. But what about the new human rights agency in the United Nations? Do you think it can contribute?

SG: Morocco has offered autonomy. Western Sahara insists on self-determination. One of my previous envoys, Mr. James Baker, the former Secretary of State of the U.S., did put forward –one of his proposals was for autonomy for five years, and then a referendum. He put this to both parties. Morocco did not accept it, Polisario accepted it. I haven't seen the Moroccan proposal. I understand they are working on an autonomy proposal. How expansive it will be, what will be the extent of it, would it would be acceptable to the other side –I think I need to see the document and also engage the other side before I can answer your question.

On the human rights issue, naturally the new Human Rights Council, like the Commission before it, does have an obligation to monitor human rights abuses around the world. And if they do consider that there are human rights abuses in the territory, then they should speak up and they should take some action. Thank you.