The Hague, The Netherlands

28 August 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at joint press encounter with H.E. Mr. Frans Timmermans, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be back in The Netherlands at this time, to participate in the Centennial Anniversary of the Peace Palace. This morning’s ceremony was very meaningful and moving, while we are witnessing many difficult situations here and there around the world, particularly in Syria.

Before I say something I would like to thank His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, and Her Majesty Queen Máxima, for their warm welcome and for their outstanding engagement in the United Nations.

I am also grateful to Prime Minister Rutte and Foreign Minister Timmermans.

We had very good and productive meetings on our shared goals and concerns. I met Prime Minister Rutte this morning.

Even though I am here for the 100th anniversary of the Peace Palace, my visit coincides with a very serious and deteriorating situation in Syria, so let me say just a few words about Syria which you may be interested in.

We have reached a most serious moment in the conflict.  The latest escalation has caused horrendous casualties. It has also raised the spectre of chemical warfare. The use of chemical weapons by anyone, for any reason, under any circumstances would be an atrocious violation of international law. Any perpetrators should be brought to justice, for accountability.

At this time, it is essential to establish the facts.  That is why the United Nations investigative team is on the ground to do just that.  They have completed, as of this moment, the second day of investigation. Just days after the attacks, they have collected valuable samples and interviewed a number of victims and witnesses. The team needs time to do the job.

That’s why earlier today, right here in the Peace Palace, I said: Give peace a chance.  Give diplomacy a chance.  Stop fighting and start talking.

Of course, Syria loomed large in all my meetings here. But we also reviewed the situation in Mali, and other areas where the United Nations is making a great contribution.

And we also discussed the need to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals and also to define a future sustainable development agenda.

The Netherlands has long been a leader in development cooperation.  I count on the country’s continued strong participation in our efforts to eradicate poverty and usher in an era of sustainable development and human dignity for all.

Thank you.

Q: [inaudible]

…through the Security Council – first of all, they should have moral and political responsibility and be united in addressing all of these current situations, which are a threat to international peace and security. I sincerely hope that they really keep in mind their responsibility and the Charter.

Q: Do you believe it can ever make sense for the West to take military action on Syria?

SG: I will not speculate on anything on which I am not aware, but if there needs to be any such unilateral or military actions, we should remember that as Secretary-General I would like to emphasize that it is the Charter that provides the framework for action to ensure international peace and security.

Q: [inaudible follow-up]

SG: The Charter provides the framework for any action to be taken by any Member State.

Q: Do you think there is any justification to act at this moment to put the bombs on Syria as a countervailing action to this terrible action of this chemical war?

SG: I’m not here to discuss about justification of any action, but my mandate and my responsibility at this time is to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.  Whether these chemical weapons were used or not, that is why they are working very hard under very dangerous circumstances. Let them conclude, complete their work, for four days, that [they] will have to analyze scientifically by the expert team, then I think that we will have to report to the Security Council for any actions which they may deem it necessary to take.

Q: Once the findings are clear and positive, will the coalition, any coalition, striking at Syria, need explicitly UN Security Council approval? Will it make such an attack legal? In other words, would it be legal or illegal to attack Syria?

SG: I am repeating again that it is the Charter that provides the framework for action to ensure international peace and security.

Q: [Question on the Secretary-General’s recent remarks in Seoul about the situation in Northeast Asia]

SG: I regret that there were misunderstandings on the part of the Japanese side – either the Government or even the media. What I said in Seoul about the relationship among the three countries in Northeast Asia, what I said was that unfortunately, because of [the] past historical legacy, and also some political differences, there are some political tensions, all these should be resolved through dialogue, by the strong political will of the leaders. I hope there should be no misunderstanding. As Secretary-General, I hope that all of these tensions, particularly overcoming the historical legacy, will be very important for the future-oriented development of a harmonious relationship among the three countries. Those three countries in Northeast Asia is the centre and they provide good sources of economic development and also innovation, so it is important that those three countries’ leaders, particularly, they should fully cooperate. But overcoming this historical legacy will require very determined political leadership. Thank you.

Q: In case there is a strike on Syria, are you planning any actions to support the Syrian refugees that are going to flee Syria?

SG: I am not in a position to say anything about some situation which has not happened, so it is a highly hypothetical situation. While I have been closely following the development of the situation, but one thing is very clear – that as far as the humanitarian situation is concerned, the United Nations, since the beginning of this crisis, has been mobilizing all necessary resources – human and economic and urgent humanitarian assistance. It’s quite sad and tragic that we have 6.5 million Syrians internally displaced, and we have almost 2 million refugees being hosted by the neighbouring countries. It creates a huge humanitarian crisis, not only for those people affected, and also the international community. I really appreciate the very generous support by the international community during the last 2.5 years, so still continuing. The number of refugees, the number of internally displaced people, are increasing, so almost one-third of the total population of Syria are affected, so we must stop this fighting. That’s why I’m urging all the parties who are providing military arms to either side, what have they found after having provided these military arms? They have only seen more and more bloodshed, not the end of this violence. So dialogue and political solution, that is the most important approach. That is why the United Nations has been making the necessary preparations for the Geneva II political conference, and I sincerely hope that this will be convened as soon as possible. There is no time to lose. I thank you very much.