For information only - not an official document.
21 December 2000
Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan
At Headquarters, 19 December 2000

NEW YORK, 20 December (UN Headquarters) -- The Secretary-General: This is the last time we shall meet in this millennium year, and that is probably a relief for most of you, but I did not want to leave it behind without giving you all my good wishes for the holiday season.

It has been a difficult year, and there have been a lot of pressures. We had a challenge of certifying the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in implementation of Security Council resolution 425 (1978), and for the first time in decades, the United Nations has been drawn into the heart of the Palestinian conflict.

We have also had to deal with crises in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and East Timor, and we have just set up a new peacekeeping operation between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We face uncertainties in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

I will be happy in a moment to take your questions on any of these issues.

As you know, we will also be working with a new administration in Washington. I have already spoken to President-elect Bush, with the Secretary of State designate, Colin Powell, and with Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser. It is early yet to say, but I feel confident that the United Nations will benefit from their understanding and support in the next four years. I have no doubt that the United States, like all other Member States, will want to build on the success of the Millennium Summit, at which national leaders from all over the world reaffirmed their belief in the United Nations and adopted an action plan for tackling the worst problems that afflict our world in the early twenty-first century.

Indeed, my main hope for 2001 is that it will be the year when things really start to change and when the world sees the Millennium Declaration not just as words.

In the area of peace and security, I particularly hope to see the recommendations of the Brahimi report put into effect so that we are at last properly equipped to carry out the mandates given us by the Security Council. But the part of the Declaration that will mean the most for the people is the section on development and eradication of poverty. Here, the world leaders set themselves precise targets to be achieved by the year 2015. None of these can be achieved unless there is real development throughout the world, especially in the poorest countries, and development cannot happen without resources. That gives special importance to several things we will be doing in 2001 -- the Conference on the Least-developed Countries, the special sessions of the General Assembly on AIDS and on Children, the preparation of the High-level Meeting on Financing for Development and the work of the Panel I announced last week, chaired by former President Zedillo. We must ensure that all those efforts have down-to-earth and practical results so that ordinary people begin to feel a difference in their own lives.

The same applies to the third theme of the Declaration: protecting our common environment. Next year must be a year of intensive preparations for "Rio +10", the follow-up event 10 years after the Earth Summit. Somehow we have got to restore the sense of urgency about environmental problems that prevailed when the Summit was held. We must also continue working on other themes of the Declaration: promoting democracy and human rights, protecting the vulnerable, meeting the special needs of Africa, and last but not least, strengthening the United Nations itself as an instrument for perceiving those priorities.

For me the key word of this millennium year has been "partnership": with civil society, with the private sector, with foundations, with universities and, of course, with governments, and more recently, very actively with parliamentarians as well. We are no longer trying to do everything by ourselves, but governments often ask us to send our staff members to dangerous places, whether to keep the peace or to relieve the suffering of innocent people. When they do that, we should be able to give those people the same security they would expect if they were sent on similar missions directly by their own governments. I have made recommendations on this subject which I believe represent the minimum compatible with responsible administration and human decency. I very much hope that the General Assembly will approve them without further delay. Let me now take your questions.

Question: On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Secretary-General, on the successes that you have had and on the Millennium Summit, and to wish you and the huge family of the United Nations a happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year. Not only are we going to have relief, but you are going to have relief from me and this type of question since this is my last year.

I could have asked you whether or not you are going to run for the second term, but since Richard Roth of CNN is not here and that question belongs to him, my first question will be…

The Secretary-General: And I have answered that question already.

Question: My first question will be: among other areas, what remains your main concern in the Balkan region, particularly in Bosnia and Kosovo, and with the new Administration in Washington? If it really withdraws its troops from the Balkans, will the United Nations be able and ready to, and capable of, subsidizing those troops with United Nations police?

The Secretary-General: I think we have made considerable progress in the Balkans, but we still have a long way to go. I think in Bosnia, which you referred to, after the recent elections, we are going to continue in our work with the Government and the people of the country to try and stabilize the situation, rebuild the economy and encourage the refugees to come back. I am hopeful that this coming year may see more returns and that we will be able to create the kind of environment that will attract some investments. We have not done too well on that front, but we need to really create an atmosphere to encourage local and international investment and to rebuild the economy.

On Kosovo, we have serious problems. We have made progress. There are other refugees. Unlike Bosnia, almost all the refugees have returned, but of course with the removal of President Milosevic the dynamics of the region have shifted, and this has also created anxiety among the Albanians in Kosovo and other countries in the region that the international community is beginning to forget them and to focus entirely on Serbia.

I think that as we move forward into the new year, we need to think very seriously about how we settle the constitutional arrangements or the constitutional –- I do not want to use the word crisis -- the constitutional problems surrounding Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro to ensure that we come up with an arrangement that will reduce tensions.

In my judgement, I think the ideal situation would be to work out some sort of confederation embracing the three territories and settle the issue in that manner, and then begin to operate the problem on a regional basis and give meaning to the regional Stability Pact and other efforts the international community is trying to make. If we do not settle that issue, we will live with a period of tension in the region, which I think can be unhealthy.

Question: The Security Council today is likely to pass new sanctions on Afghanistan. This is at a time when you yourself have launched a new effort to bring peace to Afghanistan. The Taliban is very opposed to these new sanctions. How do you feel this new effort by the Security Council is going to affect your peace efforts?

The Secretary-General: It is not going to facilitate our peace efforts, nor is it going to facilitate our humanitarian work. I think we had given adequate indications of that to the Council. But the decision belongs to the Council, and of course once they take the decision, we have to adapt and take the necessary measures that are required.

Question: It is nice to see you back at Headquarters again. I have a question about Cyprus. A few days ago, the Turkish Cypriot Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution. In that resolution, they decided that there is no need to pursue the proximity talks. They have lost their meaning and purpose. Do you think that there is a new approach, although they said that they continue to support the efforts of the Secretary-General? Do you think you can try to find a new approach to the problem? It looks from the adopted resolution that they are very adamant about not seeing a purpose in returning here again. I would appreciate it if your answer would be more realistic and less diplomatic.

The Secretary-General: How about more diplomatic and less realistic? Let me say that I have read the statement that came out of the Assembly. Of course, when you engage in this sort of negotiation, it is a long process and we are still in very early stages of the process. I consider the statement of the Assembly as part of the discussions and part of the process. It is possible that Mr. de Soto will go to the region in January and will have the chance of visiting both Istanbul and Athens, and also Cyprus. I have indicated to the parties that I would want us to meet again early in the new year, and I hope my invitation will be accepted. My good offices are open. As I said, we are in a process and even those statements are part of the process.

Question: The General Assembly is poised to decide whether or not it will reduce America’s assessment to the United Nations from 25 per cent to 22 per cent. As we know, that is a long-sought-after United States goal. What do you anticipate the effect will be next year on United States-United Nations relations if indeed the General Assembly goes along and cuts United States dues?

The Secretary-General: I think I would hope, if that were to happen, it would settle and remove a long-standing irritation between the United Nations and the United States. I would hope that the United States will come back into the fold and work with other like-minded countries to make this Organization what it ought to be. I think it would also help smooth the relationship. The relationship is good, but I think it could be even smoother if that issue were to be settled.

Question: Just to follow up, can you share with us your plans for meeting with Iraqi officials next month in a bid to end the stalemate?

The Secretary-General: Before I answer that question, I would say that I did indicate earlier that I hope to work very effectively with President-elect Bush and his foreign policy team. I have also indicated to them that I would want us to meet early in the year to discuss some of the crisis spots around the world and the issues that would require our cooperation.

On the issue of Iraq, we are hoping to have a meeting in early January. I do not have the list of the Iraqi delegation that will come to New York. But that meeting will be here in New York for us to explore how we can break the impasse.

Question: Yesterday the Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution on the sending of international observers to the Palestinian territories. Members of the Security Council -- the Russians, for example -- said that you had made it clear that you thought that adopting such a draft resolution would undermine your efforts.

First, I would like to know if it is correct that you told members of the Council that you did not want such a draft resolution adopted. Secondly -- actually, why don’t you answer that and then I will follow up?

The Secretary-General: Ask both your questions.

Question: Secondly, what sorts of essential efforts in the Middle East process could an observer force undermine? What do you say to Palestinians who wonder how simply having a number of observers in an occupied territory could be such a dangerous thing? After all, as they say, the Geneva Convention applies to them as people living under occupation in time of war who need international observation.

The Secretary-General: Let me start by first reaffirming that the Council is the master of its own deliberations. They follow their own instructions and their own conscience.

I was in the Council last week, and I indicated to them that the private contacts between the Israelis and the Palestinians seemed to be yielding results and that if they continued, we were likely to see a resumption of the peace talks. That was on Friday, before the announcement was made that the parties were going to Washington.

I also appealed to the Council that on such difficult issues as the Middle East, the Council should try to act together; and that it is usually when we stand together, and the Council acts unanimously, that we get results; and that a divisive Council on difficult issues does not always help the situation. Then, of course, over the weekend it was announced that the parties were going to Washington to meet, and the Council met and took its decision. I think they should take their own responsibilities.

Question: I represent the Xinhua news agency. How would you build prospects for a more effective role of the United Nations in the new century? What are the most urgent tasks now for the Organization in that connection?

The Secretary-General: I think that in my opening remarks I did indicate some of the crisis areas that we shall be dealing with. Luckily, when the heads of State and government met they did chart out a plan of action for us. In that plan of action the alleviation and elimination of poverty is the top item. There is also the question of fighting AIDS and the question of protecting the environment. So we have some very tough and demanding priorities to face in addition to the crises that we need to tackle in this messy world.

Question: It has been quite a few months since the Security Council indicated we were ready to increase the number of peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone to 20,500. You were in the process of raising that number, and then there were some problems. When do you expect to be able to reach the maximum authorized size for the Mission?

Secondly, do you see any progress in the political discussions taking place in that country? We hear conflicting signals from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). For instance, they say they are for peace and then, suddenly, they set conditions that seem to be very tough. Do you see any progress towards resolving that conflict politically?

The Secretary-General: As far as getting to 20,500, I am in the hands of the Member States. I am looking for troops. As you rightly pointed out, the Indians and Jordanians are withdrawing. I have approached other governments for troops. I am hopeful that a certain number of countries will provide troops. I cannot tell you when I will get to the target of 20,500. What I can tell you is that it is not going to be within the next three or four months.

With regard to the RUF and finding a political settlement, there was a meeting at Abuja at which the RUF agreed to a ceasefire, which we have been monitoring. I think that we have indicated that we need a bit more time to certify whether the ceasefire is holding or not. What we would hope will happen is for the RUF to come back into the fold, begin to disarm and join the disarmament and demobilization regime; and for the Government to be able to expand its authority throughout the territory. I hope that, in time, when there are free and fair elections, members of the RUF and others who have embraced the peace process will be able to participate in those elections. But I do not see a return to blind implementation of the Lomé accords, if that is what you are implying.

Question: I would like to ask a more personal question. Do you personally know Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell; or even George W. Bush, given that his father was an ambassador here at one point, and was President? If you do, can you tell us something about your personal relationships with each of them?

The Secretary-General: I did meet President-elect Bush once, very briefly. Since he became President-elect I have had a very warm and friendly conversation with him. We have agreed to work together, and I think we both realize the importance of the United Nations to the rest of the world and to the United States. I look forward to working with him. He did indicate that he is putting together a strong foreign policy team that he is sure I will be able to work with.

Since then I have had a chance to talk with Colin Powell, whom I have known for some time. Again, we have agreed to cooperate and work together very effectively. I am looking forward to working with him.

This morning I also spoke to Ms. Rice about the United Nations-United States relationship and the challenges ahead of us. We have all agreed to work very, very closely together.

Question: So when was your first meeting ever with George W. Bush? Was that your first conversation with Condoleezza Rice?

The Secretary-General: No. My first meeting with President-elect Bush was before the elections, and then I spoke to him last week. I had met Ms. Rice in California several years ago, and then we spoke this morning.

Question: [Did they tell you whom they will appoint?]

The Secretary-General: Oh, no, that I cannot tell you. But I think that -- since you have come back in, Raghida -- what I was warning the Council about —- a divided Council -— was exactly what happened yesterday. I warned the Council that acting with unity on difficult and key issues was essential; and that when the Council gets divided, I am not sure that helps the process.

Question: In your conversation with Colin Powell, did Iraq come up? Did his comments about energizing sanctions against Iraq -- what kind of effect might that have on your talks? And on broader level, what do you predict will happen with the sanctions?

The Secretary-General: We didn’t get into that kind of detail. I was hoping that once he has taken office and we get a chance to sit face-to-face either here or in Washington, we will have enough time to go through those issues. As to his comment on Iraq, I notice the Iraqi reaction, how they will react to that and how that would affect the talks -- I will have to wait and see when they get here. They are coming; they have not changed their mind as of now. I will know better once I have sat with them.

Question (spoke in French): The year began under the sign of Africa, with the month announced by Richard Holbrooke, and recently the mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea has been launched, and there has been also the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. Are you confident about the future of missions in Africa?

And, a second question, you said that you are familiar with General Colin Powell. What do you see as the implications of his view that interventions should be of extremely limited size and made only in the case of extreme emergency?

The Secretary-General (spoke in French): I believe that we concluded the year very well, especially in Ethiopia and Eritrea. I am satisfied, and I can even say that I am sure that the United Nations operations in Ethiopia and Eritrea will be a great success. We have gotten off to a good start. We have the cooperation of the heads of State and of the populations. The United Nations troops are settling there. We have a very good Special Representative, Ambassador Legwaila, and a very good Commander, Major General Cammaert, who are working as a team. I am very encouraged, and think that this is a very good piece of news for Africa as well.

Last year it was decided that the year 2000 should be the year of peace. But this was not the case. At least we ended the year with an agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. So this was very encouraging.

As for Sierra Leone, it is more difficult, but I have not given up hope. I think we have made progress, and we are going to continue to do our job.

As for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I believe that the heads of State of the region are currently doing as much as they can in order to implement the Lusaka Agreement. It is not easy. There are constant violations of the Lusaka Agreement. Recently a 15-kilometre retreat was decided on. That is why we decided to increase the number of United Nations observers from 250 to 5,000. I hope that the commitments that have been taken will be respected.

As for the statement about Colin Powell’s statements that he would not send in American troops, I think it is too early to say this. Obviously we all have our own personal preferences, but often reality forces us to change our opinions and our behaviour, and so I think it is too early to say this. I do not think it is going to be so easy to abandon populations, such as the people in the Balkans, because there are commitments. Obviously, when we deploy troops, we do not want them to remain forever, but we have to find the appropriate time to withdraw them. I do not think we are there yet.

Question: Six members of the United States Congress, among them Tom Lantos and Bob Menendez, requested your kind assistance in regard to a Cuban political prisoner named Doctor Oscar Biscet. Do you have any comment on that?

The Secretary-General: No. Some of these things have to be done discretely.

Question: You mentioned, sir, different forms of cooperation, new ways of sharing tasks with other bodies, such as universities, non-governmental organizations, business associations and also regional groups. But is there not also a danger of competition, let us say, when regional groups like the upcoming European Union rapid deployment force or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) do their own thing, as in Kosovo?

And a very quick question, if I might: do you see any progress next year on the reform of the Security Council?

The Secretary-General: On your first question, let me say that, no, I do not see competition. Even our own Charter foresees a role for regional organizations. I think that what is important is that we do cooperate and coordinate effectively, and I really do not believe that after what we went through with Kosovo we are going to see too many Kosovos tomorrow. I suspect that in the future regional organizations will approach the Security Council before they move forward. So I do not see competition.

On your second question, about Security Council reform, I think there has been much more discussion about the reform this year than in the past year, and yet I cannot say that this discussion encourages me to say that we will have a reform of the Council in the next six months or within the next year. I must say that I personally, however, think that it will be healthy to have a reform of the Security Council, and I think it will strengthen the Organization; it will make it more democratic, and I think the Council will gain by having greater legitimacy. But the decision is not up to me; it is up to the Members.

Question: You keep referring to the need for more resources to achieve the development that was envisaged in the Millennium Declaration and elsewhere. But we are also living at a time of huge resources in the world. There are budget surpluses; there is huge wealth being created in the private sector. Without seeming to pre-empt the work of the Zedillo panel, could you sketch out in some sort of broad terms what you see as the main obstacles to bridging the gap between the huge resources on the one hand, and the lack of resources for development on the other hand.

The Secretary-General: You are right that we are living in a world in which immense wealth and extreme poverty live side by side. You perhaps are wondering, how is this possible? The fact that some people are extremely wealthy does not mean that they are going to transfer their resources and let them go to the poor as easily and as quickly as we would like them to. This is why we need to find creative ways or incentives for these people to do that.

I think there are several issues that have been under discussion. In the past we tended to look at development assistance as a source of helping the poor countries get out of their misery, and then of course as a foreign direct investment. Even though foreign direct investment has increased and the flows to the South have increased considerably, the investment goes to about 12 countries, and the bulk of the smaller countries are excluded from these investments.

And, of course, recently there has been discussion about debt relief, but debt relief alone is not enough. I think that what is also important -- and what we are pressing for -- is access to the world markets because, I am convinced, most of the third world countries would much rather trade themselves out of poverty than live on handouts. When you look at the data, the countries that have done well are the ones that are participating very effectively in the global market and are really hooked into the world markets.

I think that what we are trying to do is not only work with the developing countries themselves to strengthen their institutions and create an environment that would attract investments, both domestic and international, but we are also trying to encourage governments and private corporations to go to these countries and invest. In addition, we are working to get their markets opened up.

Next year, we have the conference in Brussels for the least developed countries. There are very strong indications that the European Union may decide to lift all tariffs and quotas against imports from the least developed countries. That would be a big boost, if that were to happen.

Question: How do you actually get the resources into those countries to create the production in order to have the capacity for export? We have the capital now, but it is simply not going to Africa. It is not going to parts of Asia. It is not going to parts of Latin America.

The Secretary-General: This is why I said that we need to work with the governments to create an environment that would attract the kind of investment you are referring to and create conditions under which the companies know that goods from these countries can have access into the developed countries. They will invest in it. They will see a market. If we have the right regulatory systems, I think it is likely that we will attract some more investments for these countries. So, you have to create the conditions that will induce companies to invest.

Question: During the last few months, the United Nations was clearly the only party accepted and trusted by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. How are you going to use this new development to encourage the new American administration to engage the United Nations as a full partner in the negotiations?

The Secretary-General: First of all, I am in touch with both parties and with all the leaders around the region and the world who are engaged in the peace process. This is a topic that I will have to discuss with the new administration once its members are installed. It will be one of the first topics that we will discuss -- the Middle East peace process and how we can cooperate together.

Question: On peacekeeping reform, how is implementation of the Brahimi report going? Are you worried it is going to be diluted by opposition from different quarters?

The Secretary-General: We have already had some difficulties, but I am not discouraged. I think that we have a first phase under discussion -- they imagine it is a phase. I have asked for much more posts than I am likely to get. However, I see this as an initial step. We will be back next year, pushing and pressing for full implementation of the Brahimi report.

I think it is in the interests of the Organization, the countries we seek to serve and the countries that have deployed peacekeepers, to implement the report. It is designed to ensure that these operations are properly planned and backed up and that those in the field are properly supported. If we are going to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, we need the resources and the means. We have put forward very clear proposals, which are defensible and sound, and I hope the Member States will see it that way.

In fact, when the heads of State were here, almost everyone I met told me they support the proposals to reform peacekeeping operations. Jokingly, I told some of them that they should make sure to sustain the support, because I did not want them to leave New York and have their Permanent Representative or their secretary in the Fifth Committee overrule them. In some cases, that is happening.

Question: Regarding Afghanistan, can you expand briefly on your comments on the purpose or non-purpose of the resolution? Also, can you specifically talk about the rationale of embargoing arms to the Taliban but not to its opposition?

The Secretary-General: I think that I have indicated my reaction, and I thought I was very clear. I am not a spokesman for the Council. I have indicated that this is a Council action, and you had asked me about the impact on our operations on the ground, which I have made quite clearly. I think some of you have also in the past spoken to me about sanctions generally, and you know my position.

Question: The issue of the United States arrears has been more of a struggle between the Democratic administration and the Congress, where the Republicans have taken and will continue to maintain a slight upper hand. Now that the Bush administration will face less pressure from the Congress in the coming four years, is it reason for you to be more optimistic about a solution of the arrears issue?

The Secretary-General: I have never given up a search for a solution. I think that this is a problem that can be solved. I think it is a problem that has unnecessarily complicated the relationship between the United Nations and the United States. I hope we will find a solution with the new administration. I had hoped by this time we would have resolved it, getting into the end of the President Clinton’s term, but unfortunately it has not been possible. However, we are going to pursue it, and I am hopeful that we will be able to resolve it.

Question: You are not a spokesman for the Security Council, but you did not mention Iraq in the list of achievements or involvement of the United Nations. I do not know if you mean that it is a failure or not, and I would like it to be clear. Also, what is your take on what is going to be next? You have had discussions with Colin Powell and with Iraqi officials. Do you think that by the end of your first term and maybe the next term that there is a likelihood that the sanctions will be lifted even though they are bypassed and that the inspector will be back in Iraq any time soon?

The Secretary-General: Iraq is still a challenge. It is a challenge for the Organization. It is a challenge for the Council, and it is a challenge for me. I think that this is an issue that has been with us for 10 years. You and I are very much aware of the public sentiments regarding sanctions. We know what is happening in the region. We know that, to some extent, elements of the sanctions are fraying at the edges, but I would hope when the Iraqis come here -- and we discuss this openly and the Council members are aware, but I will be talking to them -- that we may be able to find some way of breaking the impasse. When you ask me to describe Iraq as a failure or as a success, I think that the real word is that it is a real challenge.

Question: The sanctions have already outlived one Secretary-General. Will they outlive a second one?

The Secretary-General: They have outlived three. No -- two. I think it started in the days of Perez de Cuellar.

Question: Will they outlive a third one?

The Secretary-General: Time will answer that question.

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