For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1691
Release Date:    12 September 2000
 Transcript of Press Briefing at Headquarters by Harri Holkeri (Finland),
President of Fifty-fifth Session of General Assembly, 11 September

The Under Secretary-General, Department of Public Information:  Good afternoon to you all, ladies and gentlemen.  It is my great pleasure to introduce or, I should say, re-introduce Harri Holkeri -- because you know His Excellency was very engaged in the Millennium Assembly.  However, at this official first press conference of the fifty-fifth session of the General Assembly, I would like to introduce His Excellency Harri Holkeri.

The gentleman needs no introduction, however; he was Finland’s Prime Minister from 1987 to 1991.  Among many achievements, in 1988 and 1999 His Excellency was honoured for his national and international merits and for his achievements in the Northern Ireland peace process respectively.

He will first make an opening statement and then will be available for questions.

The President:  I will try to be brief in my comments because this morning in the plenary meeting I had enough to read.  There was a huge amount of material that I went through as fast as I could.  It still took one and a half hours.  Now it will not take that long.

First of all, we had last week three wonderful, fascinating days here in this Organization when the Millennium Summit took place.  I have the result here:  the Declaration, which includes very many important things.  It is a document made by 147 heads of State and government, the world leaders.  It was the largest-ever such gathering in the world in the history of mankind.  It is a vision for the new century.

The General Assembly has got a very clear message from the Summit that its task will now be to follow up the Summit and, if I may say so, to keep the spirit of the Millennium Summit alive -- I will call it the Millennium Spirit. We have to avoid a “business-as-usual” mentality.  We must keep this momentum going and this spirit alive, and we must start today -- not tomorrow.

The Summit reaffirmed the United Nations development agenda and its goals, as spelt out in the global conferences of the 1990s, and the Organization now has a vital and relevant role in the implementation of this agenda and of the goals.  But we are far from those goals, and there is a need to take firm action to achieve them.

I would like to take up now some of the questions which have a very high priority in this document.  I will not address them in any special order, but I would like to urge work on some of these questions -- for instance, the implementation of the recommendations of the Brahimi report is one item of immediate priority.

Very close to my own heart is the implementation of those ideas which are put forward concerning information and communications technology.  This technology must be put in the service of development.  We must overcome the “digital divide”.

I agree with those who say that governments and the United Nations alone cannot do all of the things included in this paper.  Outreach to other actors, and not only to the usual institutions in the United Nations family, is a must. We also need good cooperation with civil society, with the non-governmental organizations and with the private sector.

As far as the work of the General Assembly itself is concerned, I intend, for my part, to work in a transparent and effective manner, and I appeal to others to do so as well.  For instance, I will do my best to ensure that the meetings start on time and not late, as happened this morning.  It is a waste of human resources. It is a waste of money, and it is not very polite towards our partners, our fellow representatives.

Okay, one more point.  The so-called round tables at the Summit were a success, and I have some plans to work in a more interactive way myself.  Maybe some day we will return to that issue.

Now, finally, I would like to say that, coming from Finland -- from a country that might be a remote place in northern Europe to some people -- I come from a country that is used to serving in the international field in a very specific way.  I feel that my own role as a General Assembly President is one of facilitator, conciliator and consensus-builder.

Saying those words to you, I know that I will face some problems.  You are coming and asking me, “Mr. President, what are you going to do on this particular question in the light of what you mentioned in your opening press conference?”  I would like to be open and transparent.

Now, if I can answer your questions I will do so.

Question:  I welcome you on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association.  I take you at your word that you will be open and from time to time will talk with us very clearly and very frankly.

The first question is:  You mentioned some points you plan to push during the session.  But what about the economic and social issues, for example development and external debt?

The President:  As far as the economics are concerned, I am fully aware of the problems which we are facing at the moment.  May I say that, as far as the programmes of the United Nations are concerned, we would have great difficulty in solving them before the end of the year because we have problems with the scale of assessments, the budget, financing peacekeeping operations, and so on. But we have been authorized by the world leaders; I think this is not a mission impossible.  A solution must be found on a consensus basis to the financing problems, and even the problem of how to finance the development programmes.

The implementation of the various targets must also be addressed in the context of certain future conferences and events that are coming up.  For example, next year we have all kinds of special events, such as a review of the Habitat II Conference, a special session on AIDS, a conference on the illicit trade in small arms, the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, and a world conference against crime, among other activities.  The thing is that we must find some kind of outcome in the spirit of the Millennium Summit.  But if you ask me to speculate on what the will of the Member States is on specific matters, I am sorry, I cannot do that.

Question:  You started out by saying at the beginning that this was a wonderful, fascinating, exciting three days.  Now, we all knew the outcome document long before this started, and so did all the world leaders who came here.  So, what actually made it so wonderful and exciting?  Because it wasn’t adopting this document.  Everybody knew before that it was going to be adopted.

The President:  That was a very good question, because everybody knows that before this kind of Summit meets, there is a lot of work to be done.  Let’s start with the report of the Secretary-General.  It laid the basis for the drafting of that document.  And once it took place and when the draft was ready, it was almost done -- but not everything.

When I went to one of the round tables and really tried to follow the discussion, it was a real dialogue, where the world leaders spoke freely and had fantastic exchange of views, on the basis of the Declaration, of course.  Then I understood that there is a will, a common global will, to put forward these kinds of ideas which were already drafted in the Declaration.  I think those round tables were something more than the discussion, the debate in the plenary Hall. In the plenary Hall, there were statements of the governments and Member States, and as such, they were good ones.  But, once they were [inaudible] together, at the round tables, they created an atmosphere, which was -- I could smell it, I could touch it, and that was a very good experience for me when trying to implement the ideas in this document.

Question:  You indicated that the Assembly would not proceed to the implementation of these decisions without the involvement or the cooperation of the civil society and the private sector.  As you know, these two elements of society, the business and the civil societies, have not participated in the decision-making process.  What mechanism and procedure would the Assembly use to bring them aboard in tackling some of the priorities such as poverty?

The President:  Well, of course I would like to remind you that the representative of the civil society had an opportunity to make a statement during the Summit.  That was one good sign to begin with.  The United Nations cannot just be a hermit kingdom.  We must be able to explain how this Organization works, that this is relevant to the outside world.  But this must be an interactive discussion; it is not a one-way road.

And as I mentioned, the non-governmental organizations, they play an indispensable role in our societies, at least in my own country.  They should be able to contribute in one way or another to the work of the General Assembly.

So at least I invite them to discussions on the personal level, even though I cannot give them the right to vote in the plenary Hall.  I am not asking for any changes to the Charter, but it is the attitude, it is the way you work, the way you want to work.  I want to declare my own willingness to meet those people, which I have already done.

I am happy that civil society has supporters in virtually every geographical and political group of the General Assembly.  Let’s see how this works, but my door is open even to the non-governmental organizations, as well as to the Member States.  At the very beginning, I cannot go further, but I want and I already have good contacts with them.

Question:  In your speech just now, you made references to the implementation of the Brahimi report.  A great deal of the Brahimi report is aimed at Security Council issues.  What, specifically, do you see the General Assembly taking as the priority recommendations of the Brahimi panel?

The President:  Well, of course it is a Security Council issue, but it is not only a Security Council issue.  It is very much an issue of the General Assembly because of the Fifth Committee and the resources which are needed.  That is why I am personally going to follow very closely the preparations for the implementation of that report.

That is one of those very, very important things when I say that the work must be started today, not tomorrow.  It is still fresh and the momentum is now. It is mentioned in the Declaration.  That authorizes all of us to work on the basis of that.

Ambassador Sareva mentioned to me that the Brahimi report is also subject to be on the table in the Fourth Committee.

Question:  I think, in the past, you have expressed the view that the General Assembly should be more focused and try to deal with a limited number of topics in a really concentrated way, and yet you seem to have once again a completely plethoric agenda, a laundry list of problems.  Are you disappointed that it is not possible, or what are you going to do try and focus things more on a limited number of achievable topics?

The President:  Well, you are the old experts in this field.  You know better than I do what can be reached, what is possible.  The General Assembly passes hundreds of resolutions each year, some exactly the same as in previous years.  Sometimes, somebody may think that it is a waste of time and energy.  The number of resolutions is increasing every year and it is very, very difficult to reduce it.  Instead of reducing, an increase takes place.  We need to consider our old ways, if we can combine certain things under the same item -- as we did this morning, by the way, when we were deciding agenda matters.

Well, there are plenty of things we have to reconsider.  We have to try to put some issues and items together, some topics together that are related to each other.  I think that is one possibility.  But, like everywhere, we must be realistic.  Only small steps can be made in the very beginning.  I am an old marathon runner.  When I started the New York marathon some 17 years ago, the first step was needed.

Question:  For many years one president after another has promised to get a more central role within the Organization vis-à-vis the Security Council.  As often as this happens many delegations, particularly small ones, have complained that it could be more democratically oriented if there were this kind of thing that has been promised.  You have mentioned that you have maintained regular contact with the President of the Security Council.  What practical result would that be as far as trying to get a stronger role for the General Assembly?

The President:  First of all, to me it is important that all Member States have a voice and where it happens is in the General Assembly.  At the same time, it is important to engage in dialogue because I think that when the actions of the Security Council are to be taken, something has already been lost.  I said in my acceptance speech that even the most expensive dialogue is cheaper thanthe cheapest armed conflict.  I think the representatives in the Security Council know that as well.  So by dialogue in the General Assembly among the Member States we can create, if we manage to do something, a better atmosphere and better cooperation between the General Assembly and the Security Council.

As you said, it is my intention to have regular contact with the Security Council President.  I have not had any until now, but that will happen.  This is not a game where the General Assembly and the Security Council -- I am going to use these names of the organs -- are opposing sides.  Both have plenty of important things to do in accordance with the division of labour.  Maybe some people can see these two institutions as competitors, but I do not.  The closer the cooperation is, the better.

The Under-Secretary-General, DPI:  As the President himself has said, we began punctually at 2:30 p.m.  Perhaps, in order to end punctually we might have time for one more question.  If not, we will terminate punctually at 3 p.m. Thank you very much.

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