Press encounter by the UN Secretary-General following the meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa
Cairo, 8 November 2005
Q: Inaudible question on Syria.
SG: I think the Security Council resolution with regards to Commissioner Detlev Mehlis' investigation is clear. The Council spoke with one voice demanding that Syria cooperates with the investigation. Syria has indicated as well, and I expected it to do so, and I think that Egypt and all members of the United Nations support that resolution and are urging Syria to cooperate. But what the Security Council is interested in is to get to the truth and to make those responsible accountable for the crime they have committed and to send a message to the perpetrators, to the region and to the world that impunity will not be allowed to stand and that is the purpose and objective of the Council resolution.
Q: Inaudible question on pressure on Syria.
SG: Over the last year the UN has been very active in Lebanon through resolution 1559, demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence infrastructure and eventually the disarmament of all militia, local and international. I think the first two aspects: withdrawal of troops and security apparatus has taken place and the whole idea was to allow Lebanon to continue as a normal state where the government has complete control over its territory without foreign presence and I think over the last five years there has been a major transformation in Lebanon. In the year 2000 the UN worked with Lebanon and Israel to ensure the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Lebanon and recently there have been Syrian troops who have left so Lebanon should now be free of foreign forces. Of course we are concerned about its integrity, the government taking control of all its territory. In doing it this way the Council has been very sensitive not to do anything that would destabilize the region. So the question you raised is something that is very much on the minds of the Security Council and myself and we are very conscious to help establish normal relations between Syria and Lebanon for them to have normal relations as all the countries, to open embassies in each other's countries, without interfering too much in the internal affairs of one or the other and also demarcate the part of their border which is not done. I think once they do that everybody should be happy, the Syrians, the Lebanese and all of us, so the objective is limited and we are conscious not to do anything to destabilize either of the countries or both.
Q: Question about the threat of sanctions on Syria and also about double standards regarding the presence of the violation of Lebanese airspace by Israel as compared to the pressure on Syria.
SG: I have never been to this region where the question of double-standards has not come up, so let me say that the UN resolution, the recent one which was passed on Syria does not threaten sanctions, it asks Syria to cooperate, and of course if Syria does not cooperate they will look at what other action to take. It does not specifically threaten sanctions. And, as I have explained earlier, the objective of that is clear. With regards to Iraq, UN resolution 1546, which dealt with Iraq, also did raise that question of when the mandate of multinational forces comes to an end and, in fact, the Council these days will be discussing the extension of the mandate, which expires in December, the mandate in Iraq, and I am sure in that connection some of the issues you raised here will be discussed. The Council has not shied away from raising the possibility that the mandate and presence of the multinational forces will end.
Q: Where will Mehlis interview senior Syrian officials? Would you accept an Arab investigation team to work together with the Mehlis investigation?
SG: Let me say that we do not know what Detlev Mehlis will do, but it is possible that he may wish to interview senior Syrians, where ever he deems most appropriate, it could be in Syria, it could be elsewhere, but I think this is something that Mehlis will have to determine where he should interview.
On the Arab investigation, of course we have no problem. For example, Syria will be setting up its own commission to investigate and they will cooperate with Mehlis and the Lebanese. We have no problem with that.
[Inaudible question and answer]
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that this resolution doesn’t threat sanctions against Syria but there is a possibility that if they don’t cooperate the way that the [Mehlis] committee wants them to cooperate that there could be sanctions. We have seen how sanctions worked in Iraq, where the people paid the price and the leaders were able to have a very good life for a long time. Do you think that could make any sense to the people of Syria?
SG: First of all let me say that my expectation is that Syria should cooperate fully and I urge them to do so. If they were to cooperate fully, as requested by the Council and the culprits were to be identified, whether they are Lebanese, Syrian or some other nationality. they should be dealt with firmly and that should be the end of the story. If Syria were not to cooperate and sanctions were to become a possibility, and probability, obviously the Council will have to decide what type of sanctions it will impose. Sanctions is a blunt instrument and, as you have indicated, sometimes tends to hurt the innocent. The innocent being the vast majority of people, and this is why over the years there have been quite a lot of studies about smart sanctions, putting sanctions on the individuals whose behavior one wants to change rather than producing a sanctions regime which affects the entire population. But having answered your question the way I have does not imply that the Council is planning sanctions. The whole thing is in the hands of the Syrians and the Syrian government, if they cooperate fully and we get to the truth, I think that should suffice and that is what I would urge them to do.
And finally let me say that I am very happy to have had the chance to come back to Egypt and to visit the Headquarters of the Arab League, this beautiful, wonderful building and, as I told the members, there is always a pleasure to meet my good friend Amre Moussa who I said is a great African, a great Arab and great internationalist and someone who has an impact around the world and carries all those roles very effectively and with elegance. Thank you very much.