Press Releases

    2 May 2003

    Secretary-General Appeals to Security Council to Set Aside Past Differences on Iraq and Find New Unity

    NEW YORK, 30 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement, as delivered, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council meeting on 30 April, devoted to wrapping up the Council's work for the current month:

    Let me start by thanking you and your government for initiating this discussion of the lessons to be derived from the experience of the United Nations in previous conflict and post-conflict situations. As you know, the United Nations has engaged in a wide range of activities in this area, from the negotiation of political settlements to profound institutional reconstruction efforts, including the creation of a new State.

    Reviewing such past experiences can tell us what we did well and what we did less well, and perhaps the reasons in those particular circumstances. It should also help us improve our performance over time.

    But the thing that stands out, when we review international engagement in countries affected by conflict, is that no single approach has ever been adopted twice, because no two conflicts or post-conflict situations are alike. Even the four recent cases of Afghanistan, Kosovo, Timor-Leste and Sierra Leone are very different from each other, in terms of the causes and consequences of the conflict, the United Nations previous involvement, the political and legal context governing the international community's response, and the sheer size of the affected population and territory.

    Therefore, one of the most important lessons, when it comes to planning the international community's engagement in a new situation -- such as the one we face now in Iraq -- is the need, first, to reach a common understanding of what makes the crisis in question unique, and then to develop our responses accordingly. We should draw on previous experiences to make our response as effective as possible, while bearing in mind that completely new approaches or forms of assistance may be required.

    This means that we need to begin by asking ourselves some fundamental questions, such as:

    • Do the parties to the conflict seek or welcome international involvement, and if so, for what purpose?
    • Is the international community able, and does it have the political will, to provide the necessary financial and human resources, and sustain that commitment long enough to ensure success?
    • What are the preconditions for ensuring a self-sustaining and durable peace?
    • What are the needs to be addressed, and in what order of priority?
    • At what pace does the process need to run?

    A few specific lessons stand out from the recent case histories:

    • The trust of the parties and the population can be fragile, and cannot be taken for granted over time; their consent needs to be cultivated and preserved.
    • The role of the international community is not to solve all of a country's problems, but to help its people become self-reliant.
    • Priorities must be set, starting with the essential humanitarian needs of the population -- which includes the need for basic conditions of security, law and order. Meeting these needs will also make it easier to foster the conditions in which viable political processes can emerge and grow -- for instance by promoting reconciliation, good governance, the rule of law, human rights, and transitional justice initiatives.
    • Decisions on the reform of key State institutions and legal and political structures must, if they are to be sustainable in the long run, be taken by the people of the country themselves. Such a process can succeed only if all the main groups in the country or territory play a part in it, and feel that it belongs to them, and do not perceive it as leading to a predetermined outcome.
    • The pacing of the overall process, and the sequence and timing of its component parts, are also crucial to success. They need to take into account the political, security and socio-economic conditions in the country, and the degree of support that can realistically be expected from interested members of the international community. Moving too slowly risks losing momentum and fuelling frustration. But going too fast can be equally counterproductive, if it means taking hurried decisions whose effects are difficult to reverse.
    • The regional dimension needs early and sustained attention.
    • And lastly, there is direct correlation between United Nations success and Security Council unity -- and between United Nations setbacks and divisions among Council members about the strategy to be pursued. The Council must be united in setting out the overall objectives for international assistance and a clear division of labour, and then maintain its unity in providing strong political support -- both during rough periods when progress is at risk, and when the acute phase of the conflict has passed and no longer commands the attention of the world's media.

    In the case of Iraq -- which, of course, we have all in mind at the moment -- the Council now has the chance to leave behind earlier disagreements and find unity of purpose in the post-war phase.

    Those decisions will not be easy. But they should not be impossible, if you keep some shared principles firmly in mind. As you debate them, I would urge you to set aside past divisions, and ask yourselves what will help the Iraqi people most. Their interests must come first.

    The overriding objective must be to enable the Iraqi people to take charge of their own destiny.

    Already, in resolution 1472 (2003), you have reaffirmed your commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, your respect for the right of the people to determine their own political future and control their own natural resources, and your belief that all parties must abide by their obligations under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    I am sure you would all agree that sovereignty implies political independence, and that, in order to determine their political future, the Iraqi people must be free to choose their own system of Government and political leadership. What is needed is an impartial, representative and transparent process, leading to the choice, by Iraqis themselves, of a credible and legitimate Iraqi political authority, to which sovereignty can be restored.

    I trust you would also agree on the need to put an end to Iraq's isolation and help the people of Iraq, as quickly as possible, to establish conditions for normal life.

    Over the coming weeks, the Council will have important decisions to take on existing mandates within the context of the new situation -- notably on sanctions, the "oil-for-food" programme, and weapons inspections.

    Beyond that, you will need to consider how best the international community can help Iraqis rebuild their country -- and what part the United Nations might play in assisting that effort, and in the process of restoring Iraqi sovereignty.

    And I hope I can rely on you to take any mandate this Council entrusts to the United Nations, that you have to make sure that it is clear, coherent, and matched by the necessary resources.

    In just over 20 years, the Iraqi people have lived through three wars and over 10 years of harsh United Nations sanctions. Let us set aside our past disagreements, ask what will help the Iraqi people most, and act accordingly.

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