24 October 2003


NEW YORK, XX October (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the annual dinner of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association, delivered by Mrs. Nane Annan, in New York on 22 October:

Thank you, Tony [Jenkins], and congratulations to all the winners.

Dear friends,

My husband is deeply sorry he could not be here with you tonight.  We both feel that what has happened since the last UNCA dinner two years ago -- in the world and to us as human beings -- has made us realize more than ever before how much we all need one another.  We have all lost dear friends and colleagues, and we think of them again tonight.  My husband and I are moved that your Association has found ways to honour their memory.

It is also wonderful to have Angelina Jolie with us.  She is a dedicated Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, and she has just taken her mission into the movie theatres with her new film, “Beyond Borders”, a tribute to the work of humanitarians.  Thank you, Angelina.

It will be my pleasure to deliver my husband’s remarks tonight, a pleasure as this event is one of the highlights of the year, which we both look forward to attending.  Of course I might have fashioned my own remarks, but I have been much too busy grandmothering, and flew in only today to be with you.  So here are the words of my husband.  Forget the grandmother with her Swedish accent, and think universal Tonton Kofi instead.

“Good evening everyone.  So this is the third year we’re missing one another. Absence is certainly making my heart grow fonder.  

Many of us probably feel that we have aged a great deal since we last met.  Mind you, for me, that’s nothing new.  Madeleine Albright, in her newly published memoir, carefully describes the successive shades of grey and silver my hair has turned during the years that she has known me.

In addition to all that’s happened in the world recently, we have had some theatrical battles of our own here at United Nations Headquarters, with curious historical echoes.  Take the tale of the wall.  Last month, a new partition was erected on the second floor, perilously positioned between the press stakeout and the Security Council.  It was never clear to me whether this new structure was meant to protect members of the Security Council from the predators of the press, or journalists from the predators of the Security Council, or give staff and delegates a place to have a cappuccino that was off limits to me when I passed by.

I might have thought it was to give diplomats somewhere where they could smoke undisturbed by my new anti-smoking regulations -- but of course they don’t need that. One of your favourite ambassadors has already told you that the “Secretary-General can by all means tell his underlings what to do, but not members of diplomatic missions”.  I guess the ambassador must have been fuming at the time.

On the other hand, he may not have been taking into account the equally strongly held convictions on the other side of the partition, particularly among some members of your Association.  One correspondent in particular springs to mind.  I will never forget the scene in the film “Live From Baghdad”, in which the character of Richard Roth arrives at the Al Rashid hotel demanding a room “where no one has ever smoked a cigarette”.  A pretty tall order in Baghdad, and an even taller one anywhere near the Security Council.

Whatever the background, the partition issue quickly became further inflamed -- as partition issues tend to do.  The hotline on Fred Eckhard’s desk was ringing off the hook.  Eventually your President issued a call to me in public to “tear down this wall”.  The rest is history.  Within days, the wall had joined others of its kind on the historical slagheap. 

That is precisely the sort of flexible multilateral architecture we need around here.  In case you were wondering, that’s why I recently announced my intention to appoint by the end of this month a high-level panel on change and global challenges.  Panelling is always a good alternative to walls and partitions, I thought to myself.  It can replace dead wood.  And a good chair -- or perhaps two co-chairs -- will make sure the rest of us don’t get too cozy and become part of the furniture.

And if that doesn’t work, I thought, we can always go to the next step and cover the walls with Guernica wallpaper.


Have a splendid evening, everybody.  See you in a year, or two, or perhaps three.”

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