TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN
AT HEADQUARTERS, 13 MARCH
The Secretary-General: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Let me start by welcoming the resolution which the Security Council adopted last night and in particular the vision which it affirmed of a region in which two States — Israel and Palestine — live side by side within secure and recognized borders. I am convinced that this vision is shared by the great majority of people on both sides and, indeed, by the whole world.
I strongly urge both sides and their leaders to heed the Council’s demand for an immediate cessation of violence and its call on them to cooperate in implementing the Tenet and Mitchell plans, with the aim of resuming negotiations on a political settlement.
Question: Last night’s Security Council resolution asked to [inaudible] your efforts to resume the talks there and the peace process. What specific steps do you plan to take to halt the violence and to resume the peace process in the Middle East?
The Secretary-General: We are working with the other actors — with the American Administration, the European Union and the Russian Federation; we call ourselves the quartet. We are also in touch with leaders in the Arab world. I referred yesterday to the fact that General Zinni was going to the region, and I urged the parties to work with him now that he is on the ground. I note also that Vice-President Cheney is there, and that the leaders will have the opportunity to talk to him.
On the ground, my Representative, Mr. Terje Larsen, is working with the representatives of the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union to get the parties moving on this issue.
Question: It was very clear that your efforts were behind the resolution that was adopted last night. Could you shed some light on your contacts before that resolution, and what is your future plan for putting that resolution into practice? Are you going to continue to use your personal touch? Are you planning any visits to the area?
The Secretary-General: Obviously, normally I am constantly in touch with delegations and members of the Council, but I think that the resolution that was adopted yesterday was an achievement by the Council and its members, and I am very happy that they did it. I will be going to the region towards the end of the month to attend the Arab summit. I have not yet determined if I will make other stops in the region, but for the moment I will be going to Beirut for the Arab summit.
Question: There are two concepts in the Security Council and the international community about how to achieve peace in the Middle East. One is an involvement of the international community — a deepened involvement of the international community — and the other is that all issues, including what is illegal occupation, what falls under the concept of 242, the concept of defensible borders and so on, should be achieved by bilateral negotiations, as appears in last night’s resolution. Now two weeks ago, you said that Tenet and Mitchell were not very successful and that, in effect, there should be more international involvement. Yesterday, you reversed that somewhat. What is you position on that?
The Secretary-General: I think that it is very clear that everybody who is involved with this issue in this building would want to see a peaceful settlement. The Mitchell and Tenet agreements were intended to be a vehicle, if you wish — a bridge to get the parties to the table. It became so conditioned that it almost became a roadblock, and now, of course, the parties have indicated that they want to work with General Zinni. Since the two of them have accepted these two plans, we hope that we can accelerate this implementation and get them back to the table for political discussions and a settlement. That is the ultimate goal. Tenet does not do that, so it is a bridge to get them there. I hope that they will seize it and work with him so that we can see them at the table.
I think it has been quite clear that the two parties, left to themselves, cannot resolve this issue, given what we have all witnessed over the last 17 months or so. Therefore third-party involvement is required. We need effective third-party involvement, whether it is General Zinni or the United States doing it, or the United States in cooperation with the entire international community and the support of the Council, is irrelevant. The main thing is that we all put our weight behind it and get the parties to settle.
I also believe that in these situations, when the collective international community and the collective will is brought together, we are able to have greater impact and greater impact on the situation. So I would hope that we will continue to work together — the United States, the European Union, myself and the Russian Federation — with the leaders in the region, to try to resolve this conflict. We cannot allow it to continue the way it has been going.
Question: The resolution last night, introduced by the United States, represented a major shift for the United States. Were you yourself surprised that they took this initiative? Do you believe that the fact that the Security Council actually did pass a resolution after such a long time — almost 17 months — has a real chance of changing the atmospherics in the conflict?
The Secretary-General: I think it was important that the United States engaged actively with the members and that, as you said, took a lead on the resolution. We should also remember that quite a lot of what the resolution says has also been United States policy. On the question of two States, President Bush himself stated it when he was here last November, and it was amplified by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Of course, yesterday it found its way into the resolution.
I think it is quite significant that the Council passes a resolution; because, when you have the kind of tragedy that is taking place in the Middle East, for an important body — or third parties — to step in and say, “Look, you had better stop the killing; it has gone far enough; you should stop hostilities and talk” is important. It also encourages the people on the ground. I think that, coming from the Security Council — with the strong support of the United States — will send a powerful message.
Question: There seems to be a sort of consensus on the vision, as proved by the Security Council resolution and your own speech, the United States and the Prince Abdullah vision. Except for Israel; there is no vision from Israel. Do you feel there is a way to bring about an Israeli vision for a settlement? Is it through the Government or will it have to have the engagement of its constituency in Israel? What do you say to those people who are out there among Palestinians who say “Vision or no vision, this reality hurts and everyone is only sending us words and we are really hurting”?
The Secretary-General: I think I would say that there is a large number of Israelis who want peace and who want to live in peace and security. I do not think anybody is pleased with the situation as it is. I am sure that if we get to the table, and if there are proposals on the table for a settlement, Israel will take it as seriously as the Palestinians would. The main thing is to get the parties to cooperate with us and to get them to the table. From my own contacts with the Israelis and the Palestinians, I am sure the vast majority of them would want to see peace and would want to work for peace once the opportunity is offered.
Question: The Security Council, in its earlier statement yesterday, seemed to have difficulty with your terminology of Israeli occupation being illegal rather than politically illegitimate or going on too long or treatment of civilians or settlements. What do you base the illegality on, as the occupation originally took place after a war?
The Secretary-General: I think the Security Council and the General Assembly have both, on various occasions, declared aspects of the Israeli occupation illegal. Acts by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories have also been described as illegal. Issues such as the establishment of settlements, the imposition of Israeli laws, its jurisdiction and administration over East Jerusalem and some of the events we have witnessed recently have been described as illegal.
Question: Some of the reaction from the ground in the Middle East has been one in which both sides have declared the resolution as a symbolic gesture. What can you do to move it from symbolism to real, practical change to turn that vision into a reality?
The Secretary-General: It may be a symbolic gesture, but I think it is also part of a building block moving the parties forward. I think what we need to do is to continue the efforts that we are all making to get them to the table and to stop the violence. I think we have seen a shift recently in the fact that Prime Minister Sharon has dropped his seven days of total quiet before negotiations begin. As I indicated in my statement yesterday, Chairman Arafat also finally arrested the fourth person accused of having murdered Minister Ze’evi. So they have both made certain gestures that should facilitate General Zinni’s work, and perhaps help accelerate the arrival of the day when we will see them talking to each other. So whatever we do is building towards bringing them to the table and helping them sort out this issue politically.
Question: What will be your message to the Arab League summit in Beirut? Are you optimistic, and if so are you planning to go to Syria if you visit the area?
The Secretary-General: I want to hold my message for the Arab leaders until I get to Beirut but, obviously, it will be a message of peace and encouraging all of them to work with us in obtaining permanent peace in the region. I think we are off to a good start, given the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which has been broadly endorsed by other Arab leaders in the region.
As to my travel plans in the region, for the moment I am only focusing on Beirut.
Question: My question actually moves things off the Middle East, if you would like to take it.
The Secretary-General: I think there are other things, yes. If there is one more question on the Middle East, I will take it and then we will move on to other things.
Question: Yesterday you used the word illegal for the first time in public, as far as I am aware. I am wondering what finally brought you to that. Perhaps you could describe some of your own personal emotions. Are you angered by what has been happening?
The Secretary-General: I am distressed by what has been going on in the region. I do not think one can watch the tragedy that we all see on our televisions and not be moved to try to do whatever you can to help the situation. But I am distressed; you can say that.
Question: Why did you finally choose to use the word illegal?
The Secretary-General: As I have indicated, the word illegal, on this issue, has been used by our own Council and General Assembly. But when you see the sort of events that are going on — in fact, I have written to Prime Minister Sharon asking him to investigate some of the reports that I have received regarding the idea of targeting some people, such as health workers riding in ambulances, and ambulances being blocked from getting to wounded. I have asked for that to be investigated. There is a whole series of things — attacking with heavy weapons in heavily civilian areas — that are very serious things for one to stand back and say that it is a normal and legal way to organize or administer.
Question: Again with regard to the term “illegal occupation”: I do not think the Security Council has actually ever used the word “illegal”, but also, does it not prejudge in some ways the finality of the negotiations and put on pressure to make fewer concessions for assurances of peace and secure borders, as in resolution 242?
The Secretary-General: I do not think the intention is to persuade anyone not to make concessions. In fact, I think we are dealing with an issue that is more political than legal. If you look at the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, you will find that they have used it in the context in which I defined it in answering a recently posed question.
Question: What assurance do we have that the Israelis are going to implement this final resolution?
The Secretary-General: I can only hope that they will do it, because in the long run I believe it is in their interests and in the interests of their people. As I indicated, the international community will do everything to help the two leaders and the parties come to a settlement.
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Document Type: Press Conference, Transcript
Document Sources: Department of Public Information (DPI), General Assembly, League of Arab States (LAS), Secretary-General, Security Council
Country: Israel, United States of America
Subject: Armed conflict, Incidents, Intifadah II, Middle East situation, Palestine question, Peace process, Peace proposals and efforts, Statehood-related
Publication Date: 13/03/2002