19 December 2003





Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.


I am glad to see you all before the holidays. It has been a rather hard year.


I have no doubt that you will have lots of questions about Iraq. But before you get on to that, there are a few things I would want to say.


All of us -– leaders, politicians, diplomats and journalists -– have been very focused on Iraq this year.


We simply haven’t paid enough attention to the many other pressing challenges facing us.


Yes, Iraq is critical to the future of the region and the world.


Yes, we have to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and fight terrorism.


Yes, we face new threats and new challenges, and we have to change to meet them.


That’s why I’ve appointed a High-Level Panel, and why I am calling on Member States to take up the task of renewing the United Nations.


But there are plenty of other important issues too.


Poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy continue to afflict the daily lives of billions.


In 2004, the world needs to focus on these challenges with renewed determination.


Above all, we have to rebuild momentum towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.


If we don’t, the Millennium Development Goals will not be met in dozens of countries -– particularly in the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the Andes and Central Asia.


And if the Goals are not met, we will all be poorer, and less secure.


We need more donors to increase official development assistance to 0.7 per cent of their gross national product.


We must give poor nations free and fair access to global markets.


We must reduce the crippling debt burden of many countries.


We must get 3 million people with HIV/AIDS on antiretroviral treatment by 2005.


We must get the Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria fully funded.


We must increase investments in education, health, and water and sanitation.


We must do more to empower women and to fight corruption.


We’ve made promises in all these areas, and in many others too.


In 2004, I’ll be doing all that I can to get world leaders to work harder to meet the promises that have been made.


And I beseech all of you, who cover the work of the United Nations, to give the development agenda in 2004 the prominence it deserves.


Even in the realm of peace and security, there is plenty beyond Iraq that needs urgent attention.


We simply must make progress in bringing peace to the Middle East.


The job in Afghanistan is only half done and will be no easier in the year ahead.


Latin America needs more attention and more support.


And in Africa, 2003 was an important year, but 2004 will be even more crucial.


The United Nations will need massive support for forgotten humanitarian emergencies, and for our peacekeeping operations.


We will need troops as well as money.


And the efforts of African leaders themselves will need the support of all.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Let’s get our priorities right in 2004.


Let’s make 2004 the year of kept promises.


I think I’ll stop here and take your questions.


Question: Welcome, Mr. Secretary-General, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. I will abuse this privilege and go right to Iraq. You seem to indicate in comments that you have been making during the week that the handover process may not be completed, because it is complicated, by June -– by 1 July. In that connection, you appear to be telling Ayatollah al-Sistani, who had requested some kind of United Nations intervention, that you would go along with the caucuses and not a full election providing they are open and complete. How would they be open? How would they be complete? Who would that include? And are you talking about caucuses rather than elections in the comments you made to the Council?


The Secretary-General: I think we all agree that the establishment of a provisional government and the handover of power to Iraqis is urgent. If we are going to do it by the end of June, I do not believe we have enough time to organize fair and credible elections, given the situation on the ground in Iraq.


That having been said, I also believe that the alternative that has been put forth –- the process of selection and caucusing –- has to be inclusive and transparent and be seen as fair by Iraqis -– and for the Iraqis to feel it is a process they have ownership over. I think if that is done, the outcome will be accepted and it will be credible within Iraq, in the region and beyond. So, I consider it a viable alternative, but it has to be handled carefully.


Question: Will it be done by 1 July?


The Secretary-General: You mean the selection process? I think that could be done: the selections. Actual full-fledged elections are not possible to be done by June. But the other process, properly handled, is possible.


Question: Are there any conditions under which you would return operations fully to Iraq –- United Nations operations moving back from Cyprus and Jordan -– before the occupation legally ends, before 30 June? Or have you ruled that out? And also, by what sort of measurements are you going to be making that decision? How are you going to objectively decide when the time is right and when the circumstances permit?


The Secretary-General: I think we will return to Iraq when a secure environment has been created. I think the Council recognized this when it said we should return when the circumstances permit. That does not mean that we have ruled out going to Iraq during the occupation and that we will go back to Iraq only after the occupation. I think we should be clear that the United Nations has been involved in Iraq throughout. Even as we speak, we have a presence in Iraq, both international in limited numbers and several hundred Iraqis working for us. It was the United Nations and the World Bank that went to Iraq under this occupation to make an assessment of development and reconstruction requirements. That was the basis of the Madrid Conference. So, really the key here is security.


I have also indicated that... Let me put it this way. We are looking at two phases: the phase between now and the end of June, when we expect, or the Coalition expects, to establish a provisional government and post-30 June, when a fully-fledged provisional government is established. I think when the provisional government is established and they seek our support in the constitutional process, the electoral process, including registration and assistance with the elections, that is much more straightforward and clear. Of course, we will continue our work in reconstruction, rehabilitation, humanitarian, human rights and other areas.


Where I have sought clarity is on what is required of the United Nations between now and 30 June and this process that leads to the establishment of a provisional government. There is an agreement between the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Governing Council as to how they want to proceed. In that agreement, indications are given as to what each of the parties should do. The United Nations is not mentioned. But immediately after the agreement, I got a letter from Mr. Talabani, who was then the Chairman, asking us to play a role. Others have asked us to play a role. What I am asking is for them to indicate to me exactly what role they want the United Nations to play –- who is going to be responsible for what and who takes what decisions -– so that our role is clear and there is no confusion.


In addition, I spoke to Mr. Pachachi and also the Foreign Minister, who was here, and I’ll be happy to see a Governing Council delegation here in January to discuss and clarify these aspects, as well as inputs from the Coalition. I would want the Coalition also to clarify what they would want us to do. And then we will make the judgement how and when we are going to do it and how we can provide that assistance. And so the demand for clarification is not an attempt to sit on the fence; it’s a real, substantive issue.


Question: From the initial discussions you had, what role, if any, will the United Nations play in the tribunal of Saddam Hussein, and what are your views about the trial of an elected President -- albeit through a bogus election -- by a body other than the ICC?


The Secretary-General: We have not been approached about the trial of Saddam Hussein, either by the Coalition or the Governing Council. I have indicated that whatever trial is put up has to be open, and it must meet international norms and standards. So I don’t know what is going to happen as to whether we will be approached, but we have not been approached.


As to the second part of your question, regarding whether this is not something for the ICC, the ICC’s statutes and mandate are prospective, not retrospective, and quite a lot of the crimes Saddam Hussein is accused of were committed before the Court was set up. Obviously, the lawyers will have

something to say about this, so I don’t think that they will have jurisdiction over crimes committed before they themselves were set up.


Question: You said earlier this year that events have shaken the foundations of collective security, and we assume you were talking mostly about the Iraq debate. I know you have appointed a commission to look into that, but we’re seeking clarity today from you. What is the role of the Secretary-General in repairing that foundation, and is your role to take a stand for the United Nations in what it can do in clear terms or to wait to be told?


The Secretary-General: You are asking me whether I’m going to be Secretary or General; I’ll be both. No, I think from what you’ve seen, I have not sat on my hands waiting to be told. I have taken initiatives; I have tried to bring the membership together; I have tried to work with the Members to find ways of improving our Organization to make it more effective, and in fact also of trying to develop international law, because some of the questions that the panel will have to deal with touch on not just structures and process of the United Nations, but how the international community organizes to cooperate and organizes itself to ensure that we maintain peace and security. And it really is pushing the development of international law where they will have to discuss questions of when preventive war is acceptable, under what rules and who approves; and when humanitarian intervention is legitimate, hopefully building on my own statement in 1999 and the Canadian report titled “The responsibility to protect”. And so I play both roles in terms of trying to energize the membership, trying to come up with ideas, trying to indicate which direction we should go to improve the Organization. I hope that answers your question.


Question: In an interview I did with the Foreign Minister of Iraq yesterday, he told me that he had invited you to pay a visit to Iraq. Now, is it correct to assume that you will not do so under occupation, or do you think that you would like to go and assess what’s going on personally? Secondly, you have expressed in your report some sort of indirect concern or criticism of the Coalition’s practices -- that you are afraid that they should really remain in conformity with international humanitarian law. Have you done anything further? Are you more comfortable with assurances that there are no such excesses at the expense of international humanitarian law?


The Secretary-General: Well, let me start with the second part of the question. I think I did remind everyone of the need to ensure that standards are maintained and that we respect international humanitarian law. But it was also a more practical problem -- that we needed to handle the local population in such a manner that it did not turn them off and lead to support for the resistance, and that it was important that they were handled properly, in accordance with established international norms.


On the question of a visit to Iraq, yes, it is correct that the Foreign Minister and I discussed, that he invited me to visit Iraq, but I’m sure he also told you that I did not give him an answer. Let me say that it is not excluded that I will visit the region in the new year. I haven’t been to the region for some time, and I think, in my discussions with leaders and foreign ministers of the region, we have all agreed that it should be time for me to go back to the region. Whether I will go to Iraq on that trip is a decision I haven’t taken. I think what will guide that decision will be our own activities on the ground, what the security environment is, and what the United Nations is doing on the ground that I can go there to discuss and also explore with my own team as well as the leaders in Iraq.


Question: I’m just curious -- to follow up on Evelyn’s questions about the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani –- there have been reports, statements that he has been trying to send a message to you to play some role as a sort of go-between, mediating some of the possible elections before you have the provisional government. You’ve ruled that out, but can you describe whether they are -–


The Secretary-General: I have not ruled that out. I don’t think one can say that I’ve ruled out United Nations involvement before the establishment of a provisional government. I just said I need clarity as to what is expected of the United Nations from today through the end of June, when the provisional government is established.


Question: Right. I guess what I was trying to get at is whether you might, in some way, be willing to play some role in mediating between Sistani and some of the other members of the Governing Council; whether you now have any contacts with Sistani, either directly or indirectly; whether there might be some good offices role. And also, on the issue of clarity, there seems to be something of a chicken-and-egg sort of issue here, with you saying you need clarity and a specific sort of instructions on what you would do -–


The Secretary-General: Not instructions; clarity as to the role.


Question: Okay. And the Foreign Minister was saying you need to come and sort of explore what that role will be. And sort of underlying this is a certain amount of suspicion that the Governing Council and Bremer perhaps do not want a real, strong, meaningful role for the United Nations, and you’re concerned that you’re going to be drawn into this situation where you don’t have a role, and you’re just hanging out.


The Secretary-General: Well, I have indicated that I have suggested that we all sit together, including the Coalition and the Governing Council. In my discussions with the Governing Council, I’ve suggested a meeting around 15 January, and I hope we’ll be able to set or clarify what assistance and what role the United Nations can play and what they expect of us, and for us to make a judgement as to whether that can be done or not. Of course, that discussion cannot be only with the Governing Council; the Coalition, which is the occupying Power, must also indicate what they expect. And so it has to be a three-way conversation and clarification. Once we have that, I will make a judgement as to whether we can take on that role and, if so, how and where and under what circumstances.


As to our contacts with Ayatollah Sistani, we had had contacts there with him. As you know, Sergio [Vieira de Mello] and Ghassan Salamé were able to see him, and we had some indirect contacts through his team. But I think it’s not a question of playing a mediation role. What is important is for us to have clarity as to what it is we are trying to achieve, how we are going to achieve it, what system has been set up and how inclusive, transparent and fair that system is, and then determine our role and what we do with regard to all the Iraq parties, including Ayatollah Sistani.


Question: As to the last question about whether you were suspicious that the –-


The Secretary-General: Oh yes, I think the question of whether I am suspicious as to whether they want us in or not –- of course the question has been posed, since the agreement of 11 November did not have one word about the United Nations -- did not mention the United Nations. There have been some questions as to whether this was an omission or a message. But this is something that we will clarify when we sit down.


Question: Mr. Secretary-General, on the issue of the tribunal, what would you like to see the Iraqi Governing Council or provisional government set up, and should the death penalty be a component of that?


The Secretary-General: I really do not want to be drawn too much at this stage into the question of the tribunal, since no clear position has emerged as to how one is going to proceed. But I have indicated they need to respect international standards and norms. Having said that, I would want to wait to see clear indications as to how they are going to proceed before I comment further.


Question: Regarding Iraq, Mr. Secretary-General, according to the interview that President Bush gave recently, it seems like the United States Government sees WMD as a non-issue at this point. I am wondering if the United Nations still cares if there are WMDs in Iraq, and how will the United Nations handle this issue later on?


The Secretary-General: I think that is an issue for the Security Council to determine. I know that Council members are concerned about this and will have to find some way of dealing with the issue and bringing it to closure. We still have inspectors in the building who are concluding some of their work, and if there is a need for them to take additional assignments, I am sure that they will be prepared to do it. But this is something that the Council will have to take up, and I suspect they will probably come to it sometime in the new year.


Question: Mr. Secretary-General, just as a quick follow-up to your comments about this meeting on January 15, have you gotten confirmation from both the Governing Council and from the Coalition that they would be prepared to attend this meeting? And my real question is that this has been a very difficult year for the United Nations’ relations with the United States particularly, and I was wondering how, as we head into the new year, you see the United Nations’ relationship with the United States, and particularly addressing the issue of multilateral versus unilateral action.


The Secretary-General: On the question of the invitation, I am certain that the Governing Council delegation would come. With regard to the Coalition, we have just started preliminary consultations. We have not agreed on dates yet and on who will be here, but I hope it can be resolved, because it is in everyone’s interest that we sit down together and clarify rather than make statements to each other through the press. I know it is important for you, I am not trying to cut you out, but I think that it is very good that we sit across the table.


On the question of United Nations-United States relationship, you are right, it has been a difficult year -– a difficult year that has seen major divisions among our members, but I hope that, as we move into the new year, we are going to find a way of resolving these divisions.


First of all, I am happy to say that all Member States have supported the idea of a panel –- a panel that is going to look into some of the issues that divided the Member States. We have a prominent American on it, Mr. Brent Scowcroft, and we have others. I hope that their report will also give us an opportunity to sit back and discuss in a reflective manner how we create –- I was going to say, we set up a system or adapt our system and structures of peace and security to be able to deal with the kind of problem that confronted us on Iraq.


I think that attempts are really being made to mend fences. I have just come back from Europe -– I was in Europe last week, I talked to lots of leaders, and I noticed that there are lots of contacts between this side of Atlantic and the other. Mr. Baker is in Europe now. I spoke to him after his meeting in France, on his way to Germany, and I think that all these efforts will help, they will lead to a thaw, if I may say, and I think that next year we will see much better relations.


But I also believe that, if we all accept that stabilizing Iraq is a responsibility for all of us, and we pool our efforts, it will give us also another chance to cooperate constructively and put the past behind us. But it does not mean that we should not draw lessons from the past and ensure that in future we do not go down that route again.


Question: Mr. Secretary-General, I know that you are kind of disappointed that I am moving away from Iraq for a moment, but this is a question on Afghanistan and the poor security situation there. Your envoy has issued recently in an interview what seems like his strongest statement yet, basically saying that if the conditions are not there for us, we will go away. Do you agree with this statement? Is this your position as well? And what are saying to those countries that have been involved?


The Secretary-General: You know, Lakhdar Brahimi is a very experienced person, and he is not a man who speaks lightly. He is speaking from experience. He has been on the ground for several years. He has been with the process before Bonn and since Bonn, and he has watched the security situation on the ground. And of course, as we had discussed on Iraq, security is key. Without security, you cannot have effective reconstruction. Without security, you cannot travel around the country registering people for the elections. Without security, candidates cannot move around and campaign freely.


So he has raised a serious question. Not only that, for a long time we have been encouraging governments with troops and with capacity to try to help us deal with the security situation and expand the international presence beyond Kabul, and also exercise some control over the warlords, on whom some countries have influence, to calm them down so that we can do our work in a relatively calm, if not completely risk-free, environment.


So it was an alarm. He sounded a serious alarm that we need to deal with the security issue, and if we do not deal with that, we may lose Afghanistan. I think that it was legitimate that he sounded the alarm, and I urge Member States to pay attention to it and help us in improving security in Afghanistan, so that we can get on with our work.


So in that spirit, I agree with what Mr. Brahimi was trying to do.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, sorry to lurch back to Iraq. The capture of Saddam Hussein has –-


The Secretary-General: Liz tried very hard, but I was not sure she was going to succeed.


Question: The capture of Saddam Hussein has been welcomed by a lot of people around the world, including in the Arab and Muslim worlds, but it has also -- especially the manner in which the capture was portrayed on American television –- caused a lot of consternation and humiliation in the Muslim world. Do you have any concerns on the repercussions of those pictures on future United States-Muslim relations, and, more concretely, do those pictures, in your point of view, pose a problem of any nature from the point of view of international law?


The Secretary-General: I think that one area international law demands is when people are arrested and caught up in war situations, they should be treated humanely. There have been assurances from senior Administration officials that Saddam Hussein will be treated humanely, and I hope -– not just Saddam Hussein, but all the others in captivity will be treated humanely.


The pictures which you refer to I am aware were disturbing to many, including even some in the Vatican, but I hope that it is not going to be repeated, and I do not think that we have seen any of it since the weekend, when it happened. I can understand what you are referring to as a reaction in the Arab world, but I hope that this will not exacerbate further the relationship between the West and Islam. I think that the trial that is anticipated, if it is set up properly and is seen as fair and just, will deal with quite a lot of these concerns.


Question (interpretation from French): You said that the Iraqi question this year has meant that other problems have not been given as much attention. What do you intend to do in the course of next year to rectify that?


The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): Well, it’s not as simple as that. It’s not that the United Nations let itself get into that kind of situation. It was Member States that may have forgotten other problems a bit. Everyone was so preoccupied by Iraq. So I hope that next year –- at least, I personally will try to push the development issues, the fight against HIV/AIDS, questions of good governance and justice. I think we will be encouraging the other heads of State to focus on those crucial problems. Yes, Iraq is important, but the world is much bigger than Iraq.


Question: The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council are meeting this weekend in Kuwait for a summit. It will be their first after the fall of the Saddam regime. Do you have a message for those leaders, please?


The Secretary-General: I think it is an important meeting and it comes at a critical juncture after the change of regime in Iraq and the arrest of Saddam Hussein. I hope they will look forward as to how they build a peaceful, safe and stable region and how they cooperate with their neighbours. I think what is required in that region is for each country to reach out and work with its neighbours in a constructive spirit. There have been lots of suspicions in that region and I think this is the time to put that behind and find a way of pooling their efforts not only in economic and social terms, but also in the area of peace and security, and perhaps of looking at how collectively they can deal with the questions of weaponry and perhaps begin to think of a nuclear-free zone, as other regions have done. In fact, in Security Council resolution 687 (1991), there was a paragraph dealing with this question of security and I hope they will be ready to take up those issues now.


Question: This week, you reported that mass graves had been discovered in Iraq, containing the remains of Kuwaitis. In fact, you reported that most if not all of the Kuwaitis are most likely dead. Do you think if that fact were known back last spring, it would have impacted support for the United States-led invasion of Iraq?


The Secretary-General: I am not sure, because, quite frankly, the debate focused more or less on weapons of mass destruction. The Kuwaiti missing in action, the unaccounted for, was not a major factor in that debate. It was a factor in the Council. I have Representative Vorontsov who has been working on this, and so I really do not think that, if that fact had been known, it would have changed the dynamics of the discussions in the Council.


Question: Besides Iraq, Afghanistan and Cyprus, what would be the most important issue for you for the next year as far as the United Nations is concerned?


The Secretary-General: I think you forgot the Middle East crisis. I think that’s also a very important one in that region. We have Afghanistan, but above all I think next year I would want us to really focus on the fight against HIV/AIDS. This is an epidemic that is killing 8,000 people a day. When we talk about our concern for weapons of mass destruction and our determination to make sure that they don’t get into the wrong hands or that they are not manufactured, we are concerned because they can be used to kill thousands of people and we don’t want that to happen. But 8,000 are dying a day. What do we do? For those in those countries –- Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia -– the AIDS epidemic is a real weapon of mass destruction.


I would want us to focus on poverty, on poverty alleviation, the issue of governance and corruption. These are important issues which undermine society and our attempts to develop, and I think they are extremely important.


Question: The United Nations seems to have made a total hash of the demobilization process in Liberia. Is that an aspect of people not paying enough attention to areas outside Iraq? How do you propose to basically pull back from the mess that seems to be unfolding there?


The Secretary-General: You are using some very strong words here. Let me say that we had a slight setback in Liberia. We started a demobilization process and many, many more turned out than I think our people on the ground had anticipated. They are expecting to have 15,000 troops; they are at about half of that now. I hope that, by March next year, we will be fully deployed and have 15,000 and thus have greater capacity to deal with these things.


But the fact that so many young people rushed to turn in their weapons and the system was overwhelmed is an indication that they are tired of war. They would want to end the war. They would want to drop their guns and look for other, productive means of living. So if we are able to get all the troops in and resume our disarmament, I think it will go well. And so let’s not be too quick to judge by this setback.


But your question also raises another issue which is going to be important. I think Jean-Marie Guéhenno had the chance of speaking to you and some of the others about it. We are all competing for troops in the sense that the Coalition needs troops for Iraq, and in fact the search for troops will continue, particularly after the occupation ends and it becomes an international effort. They will be going to the same countries I am going to to seek peacekeeping operations for Liberia, for Côte d’Ivoire, for Congo -– perhaps even for Sudan and Burundi. And so it is going to be difficult, but I hope those governments with capacity and means will be forthcoming and will help us deal with these crisis spots, and not hold back and then accuse the United Nations of failure. Because the United Nations is them and we can be as strong as they want us to be. We usually manage to do a fairly good job if they give resources that match the mandates they give us.


Question: Your recent statements overlook the fact that 13 million Kashmiri human beings can’t be considered as a commodity or spoils of war to be negotiated about by India and Pakistan. As Secretary-General, whose role is to implement Security Council resolutions, why have you not and why aren’t you conducting good offices for implementing the binding Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir?


The Secretary-General: Let me say that I am really encouraged by the continued thaw in the relations between India and Pakistan and the willingness of the two countries to take important steps towards the improvement of their bilateral relations and a solution of their outstanding issues. I hope that they will continue this engagement. It is only through sustained engagement and a demonstration of flexibility and creativity that, in the end, this issue will be resolved. And so I am very pleased and encouraged by the recent initiatives by India and Pakistan, and I congratulate Presidents Musharraf and Vajpayee for their leadership. They have my full support.


Question: Critics of the United Nations are quick to cite bodies like the Commission on Human Rights and the fact that the past year it was chaired by Libya and it did not have a stellar record. Some human rights activists have called for some sort of criteria for countries to join the Commission on Human Rights. How do you feel about that type of proposal?


The Secretary-General: I know that the Commission on Human Rights has had its problems, but we must also remember that the chairmanship is elected by the Member States. The Member States elect the chairmanship; it’s not the Secretary-General who appoints the Chairman. With the former head of the Commission, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, we had discussed quite a few reforms in the Commission that would make his work much more effective and much more transparent. I think his successor will be encouraged to continue these efforts and, of course, we need to encourage the Member States to engage in a dialogue as to how to improve the Commission on Human Rights and some of its committees.


Whether one sets up a criterion for selecting their leaders is something that I would encourage, but I think it is not something we should limit to that Commission. There are quite a lot of committees in this Organization in which we need to ensure that we have the right type of people leading and playing a role.


I do agree that there has been a tendency to politicize the work of the Commission on Human Rights and that there has been a tendency for some governments to see the Commission as an instrument used to embarrass them. Sometimes they band together with others to make sure that does not happen, but really I wish they would move away from this tendency to band together in groups to protect each other and to ensure that they are not criticized by the Commission, and that they would look at it from the point of view of the rule of law and the individual.


Whether we will get there or not is going to be a tough one, but we have begun a process which, as I said, the late Mr. Vieira de Mello started and which I hope we will continue.






* *** *