Rome, Italy

09 April 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to press following visit to the Vatican

SG: Good [afternoon], ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be back in Rome.  I have a full programme today. 

I have a number of meetings, including with President [Giorgio] Napolitano this morning and Prime Minister [Mario Monti] this afternoon.  I am also meeting with speakers of both houses – the Senate and the Parliament of Deputies, and other Ministerial officials.

But I wanted to have this chance to speak with you about my meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis.  I am just coming back from the Vatican.

I was greatly honoured to have an audience so early in his tenure.  I told His Holiness that his choice of name – after Saint Francis of Assisi – was a powerful message for the many goals and principles shared by the United Nations.

It speaks loudly of his commitment to the poor, his deep sense of humility, his passion and compassion to improve the human condition.  I was especially privileged to meet Pope Francis as we mark 1,000 days to the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.

We discussed the need to advance social justice and accelerate work to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  This is vital if we are to meet the millennium promise for the world’s poorest. 

I also was very heartened by the commitment of Pope Francis to build bridges among communities of faith. I strongly believe that interfaith dialogue can point the way to a deeper appreciation for shared values which in turn can lead to tolerance, inclusion and peace.

This is the motivating force of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations initiative, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to speak with Pope Francis about how to further promote this essential work.

It was an uplifting, hopeful meeting.  Pope Francis is a man of peace and purpose.  He is a voice for the voiceless. 

I look forward to continuing our conversation.  In that spirit, and following in the tradition of his predecessors, I was honoured to invite Pope Francis to visit the United Nations at his earliest convenience.

And I thank you very much. Grazie.  I will be happy to take a few questions.

Q: What role Pope Francis could play to promote peace worldwide, especially thinking of the crises in Syria and North Korea?

SG: In his speech [in] late March, he has already expressed his sincere hope and he has given blessings for the peace and security in many crisis areas, including the peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, peace on the Korean Peninsula, peace in [the] Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, and of course the peace and stability and humanitarian assistance to [the] Syrian people.  I expressed my sincere appreciation for his spiritual guidance and inspiration and support and compassion, his compassion for those people. This is exactly what I am doing on behalf of the United Nations, and I sincerely ask [for] his continuing support.

One more addition: I also commended his early outreach to religious communities - Jewish group and Muslim group, and even reaching out to atheists.  I told him that you are a bridge-builder, and through this process we can promote better and deeper understanding and respect among different religious groups, as well as different ethnic and cultural [groups] and civilizations.

Q: What is your response to North Korea’s warning to [inaudible] to evacuate South Korea?

SG: I have expressed my concern about what is happening on Korean Peninsula and particularly the closure of Kaesong industrial complex, where the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] authorities have withdrawn 53,000 North Korean employees.  This project has been one of the most successful cooperative projects between the South and North, by which they can widen the scope of cooperative relationship.  I am urging again to reopen this.  This should not be affected by political consideration.  This is a purely economic thing.  At the same time, the current level of tension on the Korean Peninsula is not helpful to anybody.  The Pyongyang authorities should look [at] what is happening, what is going on around the world, in this era of globalization, and they should do more to enhance the well-being and prosperity of their own people rather than increasing level of tensions, rather than taking very negative and provocative measures.  This is clearly in violation of the Security Council resolution, when the members of the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling upon them to fully abide by the Security Council resolution and to refrain from taking any further provocative measures.

Q: What could happen in the next few hours as a South Korean as well?  You were born in South Korea, you grew up in South Korea.  What do you expect for the next few hours?

SG: I am speaking more as the Secretary-General of the United Nations even though I am coming from the Republic of Korea - I hope you would understand.  I have been working very hard to speak to the leaders of the parties concerned on the Korean Peninsula.  I am deeply concerned and troubled, as you just said, as one of the Korean citizens, particularly, that the current level of tension is very dangerous.  If any small incident caused by miscalculation or misjudgement, it may create [an] uncontrollable situation.  That is why I have been urging the DPRK authorities to refrain from this provocative rhetoric.  And I have been urging the countries concerned in and around the Korean Peninsula to exercise their influence [on] North Korea.  I have spoken to the Chinese leadership and I am going to discuss this matter with President [Barack] Obama on Thursday, the day after tomorrow. And I will continue to work as the Secretary-General, but at the same time, those countries who would have the influence will do the same, continuously, first of all, to calm down the tension and initiate dialogue.

Q: I have a question about the meeting of the morning with Staffan de Mistura. Have you spoke about the situation of the Italian soldiers who are still in India?  What is your personal point of view about this?

SG: With President Napolitano and Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, I discussed this matter, and I was briefed by the President and the Deputy Foreign Minister. In fact, I had been closely following this situation. This is a very unfortunate situation between very important Member States of the United Nations. I sincerely hope that this situation will be resolved harmoniously and expeditiously through dialogue.

Q: On Syria, I was just wondering, the Syrian Foreign Ministry rejected your proposal for the UN chemical weapons team. I was wondering, are you going to change the Mission group, or will that Mission go ahead?

SG: I read the report that the Syrian Government does not agree to my proposed investigation on alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.  I have not received any official communication on this matter from the Syrian Government.

I regret that the Government of Syria has not yet agreed to the modalities I have proposed for the Mission to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons at locations within Syria.

I would like to recall that I received allegations of the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian territory from the Government of Syria on March 20th and from the Governments of the United Kingdom and France on March 21st. 

My mandate obliges me to examine any request from a Member State to conduct such an investigation. As I announced previously, the initial focus of the investigation in Syria will be the alleged incident at Khan al-Asal in Aleppo. Based on the information available to me, I have concluded that the Mission should also investigate the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Homs on December 23, 2012. 

I appeal to the Government of Syria to extend its fullest cooperation, and to allow the investigation to proceed. The Mission is ready; they are ready to deploy. They are waiting in Cyprus. I sincerely hope that the Government of Syria will accept the modalities that I have proposed for the Mission.

Thank you very much.