SecGen meeting with senior Arab journalists – SecGen remarks – Press release



Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks to senior Arab journalists today in New York:

I'm sorry it's a little late to welcome you to United Nations Headquarters, since you’re nearly at the end of your week here.  All the same, I do want to welcome you all very warmly. 

The United Nations has to deal with many crises in many parts of the world, but there is no other region where it has been so long and so intensively involved as in the Arab countries.  And that means there is no area of the world where it is more important for us to make sure that what we are trying to do is clearly understood by public opinion and that we are getting our message out as clearly as we can.  So we rely on our message and also very much on our friends in the Arab media, and having such a distinguished group here for a week, composed of senior representatives of media organizations that are highly regarded throughout the Arab world, is both an honour and an opportunity for us.

During the week, you have had the chance to meet, if I may put it this way, with both sides of the aisle: representatives of governments, and senior officials of the Secretariat.  You have had a chance, therefore, to see how the United Nations works, both as a place where governments can come together to reach common decisions, and as a mechanism for carrying out those decisions once reached.

I am told that, during your discussions with United Nations officials, Iraq and Palestine have been the most popular or prominent topics, and also the most contentious.  That is not surprising.  Palestine has been on our agenda from the very beginning, and we have been dealing with Iraq in one way or another since 1980.

Indeed, the United Nations has been involved in searching for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine from the day the partition plan was adopted by the General Assembly in 1947 through Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 (passed in 1967 and 1973) respectively and all the way to the two-State resolution, number 1311, which was passed more recently (in 2002) and the current efforts of the Quartet, of which I am a member;

I am deeply saddened and revolted, as you all must be, by the acts of violence and terror that have brought death and suffering to so many innocent people, both Palestinians and Israelis.  Time and again, we have stressed that the only realistic hope of bringing an end to violence in the occupied territory, and in Israel, lies in addressing the root causes of the problem; that is to say a just and a comprehensive peaceful settlement, that includes Syria and Lebanon as well as the rest of the region.

In Iraq, as you know, the Security Council did not agree to authorize the military action taken by the United States and the United Kingdom last year, but it is united in seeking to help the people of Iraq resume control of their destiny, maintain their unity and territorial integrity, and form a legitimate, democratic government based on the rule of law, with freedom, equal rights and justice for all Iraqis..

Sadly, the United Nations itself has become a direct target of terrorism in Iraq.  We paid a very heavy price on 19 August last year, losing 22 people including my Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, as well as Nadia Younes from Egypt, whom I’m sure some of you knew, Reham El-Farra of Jordan, and nine Iraqis, as well as other colleagues.

After a second attack in September, and then the attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross in October, we were forced to redeploy our international staff members to other countries in the region, but our brave and determined local Iraqi staff have continued helping their fellow Iraqis under the United Nations programme.

The United Nations approach in Iraq is one of consensus building and facilitation, not prescribing recipes or taking responsibilities that it cannot fulfil.  We believe that the best mechanism for the transition to sovereignty would be one identified by the Iraqis themselves.  It is important that the people of Iraq see us clearly as we are:  an impartial world body with only one agenda — to help the people of Iraq.

Despite this week’s terrible attacks in Baghdad and Karbala, we believe that Iraqis of all persuasions are capable of joining together in a spirit of national unity.  That is essential, if the country is to move forward.  There are many talented people in Iraq, and entrepreneurial and creative people, who I believe, given a stable environment and support from the international community, could help the country to move forward.

The United Nations is ready to help Iraqis chart their own destiny in peace and stability.  But Iraq’s neighbours, and indeed all countries in the region, should also give whatever help they can.  Iraq’s successful reconstruction is in the interests of the region as a whole, and I would dare say of the world.

I look forward to meeting Arab leaders at their summit in Tunis later this month and look forward to the opportunity of exchanging ideas and views with them. 

Meanwhile, we in the Secretariat will continue doing our best to serve all the peoples of the United Nations, including the Arab peoples.  I am especially proud of the Arab Human Development Reports published by the United Nations Development Programme, which give a platform for Arab scholars to make a clear diagnosis of the problems in the Arab world, and to prescribe some remedies.

But I want to hear your comments, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

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