Press Releases

    14 March 2002

    Transcript of Press Conference



    New York, UN 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.

    But, please, let us not forget about next week’s conference in Monterrey. It represents the best opportunity we have had in a very long time to unlock the financial resources that are desperately needed for development. In other words, it concerns the fate of the great majority of our fellow human beings. It is an opportunity we absolutely must not miss.

    Finally, I should like to say a word about Zimbabwe. I am anxious about the situation there. The people there showed amazing commitment and patience in the way they turned out and tried to vote, but there is clearly great controversy, both within the country and abroad, about the way the elections were organized and conducted. Let me appeal once again to all Zimbabweans to remain calm, to show respect for each other’s rights and for the democratic process and to disavow all acts of violence and retribution.

    I know you are anxious to ask questions, so let me take them straightaway.

    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: On Zimbabwe, you had said that you make an appeal for calm. But, given what you may know and certainly what you have seen reported about the way the election was conducted there, do you feel that any punitive steps should be taken against the Government, possibly sanctions? The United States Government is reportedly considering some sort of punitive step. Do you think this would be a useful thing?

    The Secretary-General: I am not sure that the Security Council has that on its agenda and intends to propose any punitive measures. We are also beginning to get reports from the observers who were there. We are getting conflicting reports. Some observers have indicated it was not free and fair; others have indicated that it is free and fair. So I think I need to get a much more definitive assessment on the ground on how it was conducted. But President Mugabe has been declared the winner, and I am not sure that the Council or the United Nations is going to take any punitive action at this stage. But I will leave the Member States to decide what they want to do.

    Question: You recently met with your Special Adviser on Cyprus here in New York. Can you tell us if he reported progress and if you are still optimistic, after what you heard from Mr. De Soto, that the problem is going to be solved this year?

    The Secretary-General: I think the two leaders have been talking since January, and they themselves set a deadline of June to try and reach a settlement, or if not a settlement at least a substantial breakthrough -- substantial progress, for us to say that we are moving forward. The talks are continuing. They are going reasonably well. I cannot go into details because we have encouraged everybody to be discreet and not to rush to the press. And I should not be the first to do that.

    Question: My question is about Iran. As you are aware, Iran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Have you received any report from that agency about the developing of mass-destruction weapons?

    The Secretary-General: I have not received any such report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. I know you are concerned about the situation in Iran and the press reports. What I can say, speaking from my own experience, is that, on our work with Afghanistan, we have got very good support from Iran. The Iranian Government was very helpful in Bonn; the Iranian Government was very helpful at the time of Chairman Karzai’s inauguration. I visited them when I was in the region and appealed to them to work with us in ensuring a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. All of them, from Ayatollah Khamenei to President Khatami, the Speaker of the Parliament, the Foreign Minister, they all agreed, and confirmed that they will do it, because a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in their interest. And since then, Chairman Karzai has visited Iran. We would want to keep working constructively with Iran. We will count on their help and support as we move ahead with our programme in Afghanistan, and I trust they will do that.

    Question: Israel has made some indications that it would welcome the truce. Are you now confident that Yasser Arafat has the political ability on his side to manage a ceasefire?

    The Secretary-General: Let me put it this way: I do not think he has a choice. If we really want to bring this in, we have to really ensure that there is cessation of hostilities and get to the table as quickly as we can. Look at the carnage, the tragedy. Leaders have to be responsible for their people -- the welfare of their people. Leaders have to lead. And this is one of the reasons why I addressed both leaders yesterday in my statement: Prime Minister Sharon and Arafat. Their people need help, and they should do what they have to do to protect them.

    Question: Since your negotiations with the Iraqi Foreign Minister and his delegation, high-level Iraqi officials have said in public that they are not willing to allow weapons inspectors back into the country. Does this fully derail the diplomatic negotiations? And what does this bode for the mid-April talks?

    The Secretary-General: As far as I am concerned, the discussions are taking place behind closed doors, and these public statements may not necessarily reflect what will happen behind closed doors when we get together. As I said, we started reasonably well, but it was only a start. And one should not conclude that it is going to succeed or fail. But we will pursue it aggressively, and next month when they come my objective is clear: that there is compliance and a return of the inspectors. So I will focus on what their envoy tells me when we meet, and not what is being said in the papers.

    Question: Turning the topic back to Afghanistan, can you bring us up to date on where we stand with someone assuming the helm of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there, and also if you have gotten pledges from Member States to contribute troops, and where we stand in terms of extending the mandate, which is, as you know, a short one?

    The Secretary-General: I think we have two issues here: the question of extension of the mandate beyond the initial six months; and the geographic expansion of the area of operation of the force to other parts of Afghanistan. Let me say that, on the first one, the extension of the mandate, I think we are likely to get it; the Member States, from my contacts with them, seem ready to approve it. On the question of geographic expansion there is much more discussion going on, and I hope the membership will come to some understanding soon. As you know, this is not a United Nations Blue Helmets operation, and so the discussions are going on between the lead nation, that is the United Kingdom, and the United States and the members. Of course, I talk to them, but it is the lead nation of the multinational force that countries are approaching. They are approaching the United States and the United Kingdom.

    On the question of troop contributors -- for the moment we have the troops we need for the operation of ISAF in Afghanistan. Some have indicated that they will stay beyond the six months; others have indicated that they will cut back or reduce their numbers. We need to know exactly who is staying, with how many numbers, and what additional resources will be required. This, of course, will be impacted upon if the decision is geographic expansion. Turkey is being looked at as a possible lead nation to replace the United Kingdom. I do not think the Turkish Government has taken a decision yet. I note that there is going to be a meeting tomorrow between the Turkish, the British and the American Governments to discuss this issue. We will know better, I trust, after that meeting.

    Question: What was your reaction to the report made by the Pentagon regarding a new generation of nuclear weapons, and also the possibility of using them on the battlefield? Also, are you afraid about how the United States could act in the future -- like a rogue State, for example, against Iraq?

    The Secretary-General: On the question of the nuclear advisory report, I think I was as surprised as everybody else. I think that since then the United States Administration has attempted to clarify that. On the question of what the United States does with Iraq, let me say that there has been quite a lot of speculation and discussions -- here, in Europe, in the Middle East and around -- but, from what I understand, no firm decision has been taken in Washington yet as to what action should be taken about Iraq. So we are, at this stage, still in the speculative realm.

    Question: Back to the question of Iraq and the talks in mid-April: do you have any authority, mandate, responsibility -- I am not sure what the right word is -- to move this from dialogue to negotiation, more than just answering questions, a give-and-take, maybe some sort of deal worked out to get the inspectors back in exchange for something and move this ahead?

    The Secretary-General: If there is going to be anything else, I think it will have to be done by the Council. My mandate is clear. I am basing my discussions with them, and my demands, on the Council resolutions and not beyond that.

    Question: Can I follow up the question about Iraq by asking you why you have raised the issue of the "no-fly" zone, which is not something the Council has anything to do with, and is something that you have said you consider not to be based on United Nations resolutions?

    The Secretary-General: I did not raise that issue -- the Iraqis raised it. I reported it to the Council following our discussions, because it was one of a whole series of other issues and questions that they raised.

    Question: Back to the issue of the nuclear posture review of the Pentagon: the North Koreans are now saying that they might pull out of the 1994 agreed framework, which basically gives them light water nuclear reactors in exchange for freezing their nuclear programme. How do respond to that type of rhetoric coming out of North Korea in response to this nuclear review?

    The Secretary-General: This is why we need to be careful. We have all these agreements, particularly the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and others, and we need to be careful that we do not take any initiatives or actions that lead other governments to think that they can walk away from these commitments.

    Question: We know that the United States proposed an important resolution last night on the Middle East and that you are working together very closely on that issue. Can you talk to us generally a bit on the state of United States-United Nations relations and, perhaps, areas where you would like to see the United States more engaged?

    The Secretary-General: I think it is quite healthy for the moment. I think we have good relations, and we do cooperate on a whole range of other issues. I think the area where we probably need to get more done -- but that it probably is going to take time -- is peacekeeping, where we need to see the United States a bit more engaged.

    Right now we are all focused on Afghanistan and on how we can provide security for the Afghans, and what the United States is prepared or not prepared to do in Afghanistan, in the security or military sense, has quite a lot of impact on what other governments are prepared to do. We are in discussions with them, and they themselves are having discussions within the Administration. However, I hope we can work with them and find a way to assist the Afghans in providing security throughout the country, because without security, quite a lot of the wonderful things that we are talking about will not happen. Whether it is recovery or reconstruction, the governments will not put money into a chaotic situation, so security is absolutely important for us.

    Question: It has now been more than a month since Mr. Corell made a rather categorical statement closing the door on the trial of the Khmer Rouge. A lot of people have said they are very unhappy with that. Have you reopened the dossier, and do you see any chance of coming to an agreement with the Cambodian Government?

    The Secretary-General: About a dozen ambassadors came to see me on this issue, and they felt that we should reconsider. I advised them that I thought it would be more effective if they undertook a démarche in Phnom Penh and persuaded Prime Minister Hun Sen to change his position and attitude and to send them a clear message that he is interested in a credible tribunal which met international standards -- that they needed to start there.

    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: This is a follow-up to the question about the United States-United Nations relationship. Recently, we have heard some sharp criticism from Washington of the war crimes Tribunals in The Hague. There is also criticism by other States that we had an opportunity to read, even in the Budgetary Committee reports of the United Nations. What really is the position of the United Nations on the exit strategy for the Tribunals, and are we somehow afraid that, if those criticisms prevail and the duration has been set up, we are sending the wrong signals to those who have yet to cooperate more with the Tribunals?

    The Secretary-General: Let me say first that the two Tribunals have been trying to do their work under difficult circumstances. We did have some administrative and other difficulties, which I think we have wiped out, and the courts are working reasonably well.

    I would also like to say that the United States official who criticized the court did a joint interview with Carla Del Ponte a week after his remarks in The Hague and was much calmer in his remarks than in the earlier interview. He indicated that the court will have to continue its work.

    We would not want to stay in business forever; we would want to be able to convict those accused and close our doors. Where possible, legal systems in the countries concerned might transfer some of the lower-level cases to national courts, but I think it is very easy to blame the court or the Tribunals for doing or not doing their work.

    How soon we close our doors will also depend on how soon they deliver men like Karadzic and Mladic -- that is not in the hands of Carla Del Ponte or the Tribunal. I know recent attempts have been made, and I think no one would want the court to close its doors before these two and other prominent leaders have been brought to justice. So I hope that those who want us to finish quickly would also help us get our hands on the key criminals, or the indicted.

    Question: Recently, President Bush had seemed to expand his "axis of evil" to include Iran, which touched off a lot of anti-American sentiment there. I would like to get your reaction to that.

    The Secretary-General: I was surprised by it. I have seen Iranian officials since that statement, and obviously it has complicated situations at home for some. Iranians felt attacked and have sort of come together and rallied. They were at pains to explain all the efforts they are making to cooperate.

    In fact, since then an Iranian Vice-Minister came here to give me a list of undesirable elements, presumed Al Qaeda and Taliban, whom the Iranian Government has asked to leave their country. He indicated that they will continue this effort and assured me of their determination to cooperate. I do not think I can say more than that; I have no independent evidence. The United States has more than I have, but I cannot confirm what is implied in your 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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