2 May 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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