Note to Correspondents

Note No 134
23 March 2001


NEW YORK, 22 March (UN Headquarters) -- The following is a near-verbatim transcript of a press conference given today at Headquarters by Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

Secretary-General: Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am here mainly to answer your questions, but let me start by mentioning three or four things that are particularly on my mind.

My most immediate concern is the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is very serious. If it is not brought under control it could destabilize the entire region.

What's more important is that the whole international community has come together to re-affirm the unity and territorial integrity of the Republic. Even those who have taken up arms against it accept that. They should understand that the method they have chosen is neither an acceptable nor a credible route by which to reach their stated objective of better representation for their community within Macedonian institutions.

They should heed the call of the Security Council, which yesterday unanimously condemned extremist violence, including terrorist activities, and appealed for dialogue among all legitimate parties.

No less worrying is the situation in the Middle East, where I shall be going next week to attend the Arab Summit. There too, it is important for all to understand that there is no solution to be found in violence, and no sense in postponing the day when they return to the negotiating table.

There is actually somewhat better news coming from Africa. The peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia is being implemented, and there is now a much more hopeful atmosphere in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a good prospect that we shall at last be able to deploy our observer force.

Of course, the continent still faces the most daunting social and economic problems, of which HIV/AIDS is the most dramatic. But I believe African leaders and the whole international community, including the pharmaceutical companies, are at last beginning to respond in a way that fits the urgency of the situation.

But we must not forget that Africa's underlying problem is extreme poverty, or that the most hopeful route out of poverty for all countries is through trade and investment.

That's why I was so pleased by the European Union's decision to remove tariffs and quotas on all products (except arms) coming from the 48 least developed countries. I still hope that other industrialized countries will follow this lead in time for the May conference on the least developed countries in Brussels.

That would be an important first step, but the real difference could come with the World Trade [Organization] meeting in Qatar. The developing countries must go there well prepared to defend their interests, and to insist on a true "development round" of trade negotiations, focusing on giving free access to their products.

Finally, there is another matter on my mind, which I know you are all keen to ask me about. For some time, in fact, you and others have been asking me whether I would be prepared to serve a second term as Secretary-General, and I promised to give you an answer in the course of this month.

Indeed, I have been touched and gratified by the numerous expressions of encouragement and support I have received from many governments -- most particularly from the African Group, whose permanent representatives last week issued a public appeal for me to stay on.

It has not been an easy issue for me to consider. On the one hand, I have devoted most of my professional life to advancing the values and work of the United Nations, which I firmly believe embodies humanity’s highest aspirations. I am also sensitive to the call of duty. And I am inspired every day by the sacrifices made by the staff of the United Nations -- particularly those in the field, in peacekeeping missions or refugee camps -- on behalf of the peoples we serve. Whatever I achieve, or hope to achieve, as Secretary-General, can come about only thanks to their dedication.

On the other hand, I had to ask myself, am I willing and able to do this job for five more years, with the same level of energy and commitment I have brought to it during the last four? This has been a very demanding and challenging responsibility to carry, which inevitably has made exhausting claims on my family and my personal life.

After careful thought, and close consultation with my family and my wife Nane, who has been my strongest support in times both good and bad, I am pleased to tell you today that my answer is yes. If the Member States decide to offer me a second term as Secretary-General, I shall be deeply honoured to accept.

There is a great deal still to be done to make the United Nations, this indispensable organization, into an effective instrument humanity needs, in this new century, to fulfil the hopes for peace, development and human rights. If asked, I am ready to serve. Thank you very much. I will now take your questions.

Question: Sir, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), I welcome you to this briefing. The first question, we’d like to know is what kind of reaction did you get from the permanent five (P-5) members of the Security Council to your plans for a second term.

Secretary-General: I think I will leave the P-5 and others to speak for themselves. They have very effective and active ambassadors here and so I will let them speak for themselves. But I have worked well with them over the past four years and I think we get on very well.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General why do you think you deserve a second term?

Secretary-General: I don’t know if the question is one of deserving. As I said first of all, it will be up to the Member States to decide. But I think over the past four years I have done my best to bring new energy to this organization. I have pursued aggressively a reform programme; I have worked with the Member States to define a new agenda for the United Nations, and I think the Millennium Declaration is something we can all be proud of. I have also opened up the Organization to the peoples at large and the private sector, arguing that the United Nations cannot tackle some of the issues we are dealing with alone, and that we need to work in partnership with all stakeholders. There are other things I have done that you all know about. I don’t think we have time -- that’s another press conference, another debate.

Question: As you know there has been some concern expressed from Asian and Eastern European quarters that if you get this second term, Africa will hold the top job here at the United Nations for 15 years in a row. I’m wondering if you could address that. And given that your supporters make the argument that you’re the right man for the job and it should go to the man with the necessary skills, in the future could we see a United Nations where all jobs are given out on a meritocratic basis rather than having to rotate between regions, as often happens with other jobs lower down in the structure?

Secretary-General: I think we should try and do as much as we can on merit, and in my own recruitment and appointment of colleagues I’ve tried to go for merit. But going for merit does not mean that you cannot find them all around the world. So the principle of appointing staff on as broad a geographical basis as possible is acceptable, but that does not mean that you have to look for mediocrity. You can find good people all around the world. I think on the question of whether a Secretary-General from a particular region should do only two terms -- or a particular region should be offered two terms –- is something that the Member States will have to decide. But when you look back into the history of this organization, that has not always been the case. When you look at the history you will discover that Tryvge Lie, Dag Hammarskjöld and Kurt Waldheim did not follow the sort of pattern that we are discussing here today, and I hope the Member States, in making their judgement, will make the wise and the right judgement.

Question: Getting back to the question of a candidate from Asia, did you speak to a member of the region in your deliberations, and did that affect your decision to make yourself available for a second term?

Secretary-General: I have been approached by permanent representatives from Asia, but not on the basis of whether they are going to put up a candidate -- nor have I gone to plead with them for support. I think I have worked well with them, they know what I’m capable of. I know that there have been some possible questions that there may be Asian candidates coming up, which is also normal and natural -- the world is full of people ready to take on challenges of this kind, and I would not be surprised if other candidates come up. Then it would be up to the Member States to decide. I am not particularly concerned about other candidates coming up. I think it is in the normal scheme of things.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you have logged more miles and visited more countries than all your predecessors…

Secretary-General: You’ve been keeping score, have you, and checked the record too…?

Question: Do you think this organization might be effectively run with a some-time absentee Secretary-General? That is my first question. Second question -- what’s going on in Cyprus? Do we have any rapprochement?

Secretary-General: On your first question, you seem to imply that the world is sedentary, like the one we knew 100 years ago, without communication or the ability, without [the] ability to stay in touch wherever you are. In fact, those who travel with me are often amazed; they think I work several shifts because not only am I doing what I'm on the ground to do, but my Office travels with me and I'm in touch with New York all the time. Modern communication, my dear man, has changed our lives.

On Cyprus, my Special Representative is in touch with the Cypriot [parties], both Greek and Turkish, and also with the Turkish authorities and the Greek authorities. My good offices are still open. We are in touch with the parties, and I hope, in the not-too-distant future, we will have some indication as to when we will have another round.

Question: The Security Council is weighing whether to send an observer force to the Middle East. Given the fact that Israel has clarified that it will not accept such a force, is it your view that this makes the United Nations an effective instrument if such a force will be decided on?

Secretary-General: Yesterday I met Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and he reaffirmed his Government's position that they will not accept an observer force. The Council is still in deliberation and I don't know what final decisions they will take, but you are right, they are still discussing this issue. Of course, for any force to go in, it would need the cooperation of both parties to be effective. If it doesn't get the cooperation, the question is should it go in and if it does, what can it do?

Question: You said that your wife is one of your strongest supporters. How did she react to your decision to continue? My second question is regarding [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia. Do you see a different role for the United Nations and Mr. [Carl] Bildt now in working the whole region.

Secretary-General: To the first question, she said she would support me. I shouldn't say more than that.

On the second question, Carl Bildt [Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Balkans] has been very active working in the region with other organizations -- with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the governments. He will continue his efforts; in fact yesterday the Deputy Secretary-General joined him and others in Brussels, where some of these issues were discussed. I expect Carl Bildt to continue his efforts in the region.

Question: Have you and Mrs. Annan or your staff considered the possibility of serving a shorter term or are you seeking the full term? My second question is regarding your trip to the Arab Summit. You know there is a lot of disappointment in the Arab world, where the United Nations is seen as not active enough on the issue of the Palestinians. Are you ready to take a clear position in holding Israel responsible as an occupying Power for its economic and other measures in the occupied Palestinian territories?

Secretary-General: On your first question, the procedure here has been five-year terms and the next term will be the same as it's always been unless Member States decided to change the duration of terms.

On your second question, I think the United Nations has been very clear, and I think the [Security] Council and myself have been very active in getting the message across that there has to be an easing of economic sanctions against the Palestinians; there has to be a return to the negotiating table; the violence must stop; and both parties must work in accordance with the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement to bring the violence to an end. The United Nations has always been there. The resolutions that are often quoted -– 242 and 338, which form the basis for the discussions –- are United Nations resolutions and I think recently, the United Nations has also been physically, actively involved in the search for peace in the Middle East. We will continue to do that, and I will continue to make my good offices available to the parties to the conflict and work with others concerned to try and bring the parties to the table.

Question: You met with the Macedonian representative. Have you spoken with any other high-level official from Skopje, President [Baris] Trajkovski, maybe? What do you make, after all these recent developments, how dangerous are they for regional security?

Secretary-General: You may recall the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia came to see us about a week ago, 10 days ago, and I held a long discussion with him as well as other leaders in Europe, including the NATO Secretary-General. As I implied in one of my earlier answers, there is a concern that if we do not bring this under control, it may have an impact on regional stability. It might draw in other countries or spill over in a manner we would not want to see.

Question: Mr. Secretary, we know you are heading to Washington tomorrow to meet with President George W. Bush and Secretary [of State Colin] Powell and it’s already been said around here that you have a good working relationship with the Secretary. Can you tell me how much, for example, the decision in Washington to pay America’s dues, and that there’s a new administration that you can do business with -- how has this affected your decision to run again?

Secretary-General: Yes, I will be going to Washington tomorrow night to see the President, Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser [Condoleezza] Rice.

Obviously it’s always helpful, when you’re looking at these things, you don’t look at them in isolation. You have to consider your relationship with the governments, the Members States; how well you work with them and how well you are likely to work with them, and how much support you are going to get from them and what sort of cooperation. All these factors do come in, and once you are certain you will get the cooperation from the Member States to make your work meaningful and your life liveable, then, of course, you will be ready to take your decision. So these factors are important elements in a decision of this kind.

Question: Do you think your life would be more liveable if the United States paid its dues?

Secretary-General: Not only my life but I think the Member States would be happy too, particularly those we owe.

Question: You have spoken about the things you have accomplished during your first term. Could you tell us what you saw as the failures of your first term and the major challenges that you would see in a second term, and could you give us some idea of the agenda that you have for the talks tomorrow with President Bush?

Secretary-General: I think it is always difficult for one to talk about one’s achievements and to talk about oneself, but I think on the negative side of what were not able to do; I had hoped that at this stage in the game we would have got all the support we needed for peacekeeping operations. And that we would have been able to do much better in places like Sierra Leone and succeed in a faster manner, but of course that requires will and resources. We are now determined, based on the Brahimi report, to work with the Member States to strengthen the operations and to give them the backing and resources they need, and I hope that the Members States would work with us. Now that we are re-engaged in peacekeeping, we cannot afford to have the failures of the past. That’s why I’m quite keen to get operations in ship-shape.

On the question of what I hope to achieve during the next term, I think this is an organization of States and as I indicated earlier, we now luckily have an agenda which places the fight against poverty at the top of the agenda, the respect for the environment, the issue of girls’ education and of course we have the peacekeeping operations, which I have referred to. But I think for the first time in many years, we have a clear agenda which the Member States have set and which I intend to follow aggressively during my next term, working with Member States of course because they have work to do too.

As to the agenda for tomorrow, obviously there are many issues and many trouble spots of common interest, from the Middle East to the Balkans to the Congo. We will discuss the United States-United Nations relationship, including the budget and the recent agreement on the scale of assessments and the payments due from the United States, and there will be many other issues which I’m sure we will raise.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, there has been a lot of criticisms against you about job discrimination within the United Nations system in the section of press and publicity quite recently. Could you give us an accountability of recruitment and promotion within the system, particularly from the African continent and also for gender discrimination?

Secretary-General: We have a very open and transparent system for recruitment and promotion. I have tried to improve gender equality and to bring as many women on board as possible and I think we have done quite well in the last couple of years. We cannot say it’s perfect and there is much more to be done and we will continue on that path. In answering an earlier question, I indicated that we try to recruit on as broad a geographical basis as possible and for the junior levels we have an entry exam where people take exams to get in and of course we have a transparent promotions procedure where the Appointment and Promotion Committees review all candidates and make recommendations. I am aware of some accusations that there is racism in the Secretariat in terms of appointment and recruitment and in fact the General Assembly did ask us to look into it in 1999 and we did set up a group to look into it, and they did not come up with the kind of accusation you are implying here, but of course we will be vigilant. If there are elements of racism and gender mistreatment or harassment, we will act very firmly and without pity.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, in your task for the next five years you mentioned a number of issues but you did not mention Security Council reform. In the next five years, how do you see that playing out and what will you do specifically to allay the fears of certain nations that there is not equal representation within that body?

Secretary-General: I did not mention Security Council reform not because I thought it was not important but because it is something that the Member States will have to resolve themselves. I support Security Council reform and I hope the Members States will find a way of moving that issue forward. My own hope is that the Security Council’s lack of reform does not drag on indefinitely. I would hope that the Member States would organize themselves and find a way of dealing with that issue definitively within the next two years. I will do whatever I can to encourage and support them, but it is their decision.

Question: (Asked in French) The criticism we hear most often is that Africa is forgotten. Even if there are Security Council meetings, they never lead to anything. You will have five more years now to see to it, I hope, that the African Group will be more listened to. How will you do this, and secondly have you developed a taste for power now?

Secretary-General: First question, I think that the Africans today realize that the United Nations and the Council are getting more involved in African problems. Today there are four peacekeeping operations in Africa. After the Somalia experience, the United Nations almost left Africa regarding peacekeeping operations. And economically and socially, in the campaign against AIDS, the United Nations is there with them. We are compelling pharmaceutical companies to help them, so Africa is not forgotten. I hope that five years from now, they will realize that the United Nations is there for them and that it is their organization.

Regarding the second question, I shall answer in English. I think you guys in here got what she said, which was "Have you taken on the taste for power? Are you beginning to love and enjoy power?" First of all, I’m not sure that there is that much power, in that sense, in this position. And also when I think of power and people in authority, I’m often reminded of Pope John Paul I, who once said that people in power reminded him of his days as a young bishop in Italy. He used to watch the boys play soccer in the courtyard, and when the ball was inflated and full of air, they rushed and kicked as if they had the right to kick it but when the ball was deflated and without air, they lost all interest and walked away. And he said that this was the lot of those in power, so don’t be envious. So I’m very realistic about this position and what it brings and how it can distort and what happens when you walk away from it. It has not gone to my head, if that’s what you are implying.

Question: Regarding your recent visit to South Asia, most consideration was on Afghanistan, but there is also another issue which is 53 years old, the Kashmiri issue. You refused to meet a group of Kashmiri people. What was your reason for this? And secondly, during your meeting with the Taliban, did you get the impression that they were ready to do something on the Osama [Bin Laden] issue and also regarding recognition by the United Nations?

Secretary-General: On your first question, I did have lots of discussions on the relationship between India and Pakistan. We also did discuss Kashmir. I encouraged both countries to come together and discuss their differences and resolve their issues at the negotiating table in the spirit of Lahore and Simla, if you wish, and that they should focus on coming together. And also there were references to United Nations resolutions which are important, because once the resolutions are passed, they are there, but they are not self-implementing. As I said in the end, the parties have to come together to talk to resolve the issue. I went on a very quick trip, it was very charged, those who were with me knew that I didn’t have time to see all who would have wished to see me. Lots of people wanted to see me.

On the question of the Taliban, I did not get into the question of their representation at the United Nations and whether they will get a seat here. That is something that the Member States will have to discuss. I did talk to them about the destruction of the Buddhist statues, which is all our heritage, and they should not have. I also spoke to them about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the refugee situation on the Pakistan border, on which I spoke with the Pakistani Chief Executive about measures to protect and help the refugees in Pakistan, while measures were being taken to help those within Afghanistan. On the question of the destruction of the statues, I must say I was quite surprised as to the way the Taliban saw it. They were so certain about the righteousness of their decision that one could simply not move them and I think it is a great tragedy and a great shame that they went ahead and destroyed the statues in Bamiyan.

Question: About the Osama [Bin Laden] issue, did you discuss anything with them?

Secretary-General: It came up, but I don’t want to go into that.

Question: You mentioned the possibility that even if the Israelis opposed an observer force in the occupied territories, if the Security Council came up with a resolution to send one, then the issue of how and when would need to be looked at. Could you elaborate on that?

Secretary-General: Sorry, I’m not sure that I got you, but what I said earlier was that the Council was still discussing this issue of whether to demand that observers go in or not and I don’t know what the final outcome of their discussion would be.

Question: Yes, but should there be any indication that the resolution would be passed, then should it still be discussed on how to go and what to do?

Secretary-General: If the Council were to decide that observers should be deployed, then the question would be how do you get them in. What is the attitude of both parties? What would be the attitude of troop-contributing countries and so on and so forth? But we are not there yet, because I have not seen the resolution.

Question: But we know Israel is against it?

Secretary-General: I think I answered that question, that you need the cooperation of both parties and without that cooperation you have a real difficulty.

Question: You mentioned three years ago that restrictions should be applied to the use of the veto and the Council should be enlarged. Do you still support that idea? And also do you plan to go to [the Democratic People’s Republic of] Korea by the end of this year? If so, what kind of role do you think you can play there other than the humanitarian aspect?

Secretary-General: Let me start with the second question. No I have no plans to go to [the Democratic People’s Republic of] Korea before the end of this year. On your first question, let me say that the idea of proscribing the use of the veto is something that was discussed as part of the general reform and again it’s up to the Member States to decide that. It’s not my decision.

Question: In general terms, what might be your grade of optimism regarding the peace process in the Middle East? Did it increase or decrease after your meeting with Sharon?

Secretary-General: Do you have a crystal ball for me? Let me say that obviously there is a new Government in Israel and there is a new administration in Washington, and the new Government in Israel is also trying to define its own policies and direction. And of course Chairman [Yasser] Arafat has indicated that he is prepared to go to the negotiating table but from where they left off in Taba. Prime Minister Sharon has indicated that it has to be based on signed agreements, and therefore you already have a gap there which will have to be resolved when they come back to the table. But what is important is that both are talking of the political process, about resuming talks. How soon they will get to the table, I cannot tell. Even though I’m in touch with both parties, it is a bit early yet to say. Would it be easier? Would the process go faster? It’s difficult to say, but I will wait until they get to the table and see how they begin before I answer your question.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, a follow-up on the Middle East. Did you discuss with Prime Minister Sharon the kind of role the Israelis perceive for the United Nations and for yourself in the peace process? And did you hear from him any intention to restart the peace talks from the point they were left off?

Secretary-General: Yes indeed, they are working with us just as we are working with Chairman Arafat and the other parties. We did not define or discuss what role he would want to see the United Nations play, but he was aware that my good offices are available as they have been in the past and he indicated a willingness to work with me on the Middle East issue. On your second question on resuming the talks on where they left off, this is where there is a bit of a difference. Let me be clear, before Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak left office, he wrote to me and to other leaders around the world to state that the proposals that were on the table in Taba were no longer on the table, and you would also recall that Prime Minister Sharon believes that they would start off and build on agreements which are signed, which would mean that there is a discrepancy between his perception of where the talks would begin and Chairman Arafat’s perception of beginning from Taba, because in Taba they did not sign a document.

Question: Which agreements do you mean, Oslo for example?

Secretary-General: Yes, Oslo, for example. Or Wye. I think there was a document.

Question: Will Iraq be settled five years from now?

Secretary-General: I hope so.

* *** *