Press Releases

    19 January 2004

    Transcript of Press Conference By Secretary-General Kofi Annan

    At UN Headquarters, 19 January 2004

    The Secretary-General:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

    As you know, I have just been meeting with senior representatives of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

    I wanted to hear the assessment of the Governing Council on how the process in Iraq was evolving and what Iraq expects of the United Nations by way of assistance.  We covered a wide spectrum of issues, including the transitional political process, humanitarian relief, security and the recovery and reconstruction of Iraq.

    In my view, this meeting has been an important opportunity for all of us to get a clearer understanding of each other’s positions.

    I believe we did that.  We would all agree that it was a very frank and open exchange of views, which we will aim to continue and broaden in the near future.

    For my part, I would want the United Nations to concentrate on areas where we have a clear comparative advantage, and which all Iraqis consider vital.  Further details and discussion are needed to clarify exactly how the United Nations can best help in the various fields where we have been asked to assist.

    Meanwhile, both the Governing Council and the CPA representatives have expressed a strong wish that the United Nations should quickly send a technical mission to Iraq to advise on the feasibility of elections within the next few months and, if not, what alternatives might be possible.

    I think we all agree that elections are going to be necessary, indeed there is provision for two sets of elections in 2005.  The issue now is whether the technical, political or security conditions exist for general direct elections to take place as early as May this year.

    Other subjects discussed included the process of drafting and finalizing the fundamental law, future appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and the question of security agreements to be concluded between the Governing Council and the CPA, as provided for in the 15 November agreement.

    Obviously, the scope for operational United Nations activities inside Iraq will continue to be constrained by the security situation for some time to come.  The CPA and the Governing Council offered undertakings that the Coalition and the Governing Council would provide full security for United Nations international personnel in Iraq.

    Let me state once again that the United Nations’ sole objective is to help the Iraqi people.  We would like to see as broad a consensus as possible develop among Iraqis on what needs to be done to bring about an Iraq at peace with itself and with its neighbours –- and on the role that the United Nations can play in this.

    I believe that there is widespread agreement among us that the United Nations will have an important role to play in working with the Iraqi provisional Government from July onwards on key constitutional and electoral issues.  We agreed that partnership would be necessary and we are also going to be active in recovery, reconstruction and in the humanitarian and human rights fields.

    Meanwhile, as regards a possible role between now and the end of June for the United Nations, we have agreed that further discussions should take place at the technical level, which would be focused on the most immediate electoral and security issues.  On the basis of those discussions, I would be in a better position to take decisions about what the United Nations can do to help, particularly regarding the possible dispatch of a mission to Iraq to advise on elections.

    Thank you very much.  I will now take your questions.

    Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, there are many critics of the invasion of Iraq who believe that what the CPA and the IGC and the United States Administration are asking you to do is essentially pull their chestnuts out of the fire; and they believe that this has been an Administration that has not been particularly friendly to the United Nations.  Are they correct in thinking that?  Do you have any reason to want to pull American’s chestnuts out of the fire?

    The Secretary-General:  I think I have had a chance to state time and time again that the stability of Iraq should be everyone’s business.  I think we have an opportunity to work together to try and move forward in a process that the Council and all of us have believed in.  And so I am going to look at it critically and operationally, and see what we can do to help the process.  Yes, we all agree that it will be easier after 1 July, when a provisional Iraqi Government is established, but if we get it wrong at this stage, it will be even more difficult -– and we may not even get to the next stage.  So I think it is extremely important that we do whatever we can to assist.  And I am looking at this issue and holding these discussions in that spirit.

    Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, did you get into specifics at all about the plan that was put forward for choosing a transitional government?  Was there any suggestion that you might be able to amend that plan:  that the United Nations had expertise and could perhaps help structure it in a way that would be simpler and more acceptable to the Iraqi people?

    The Secretary-General:  Yes, we did discuss the plan, but we need more detail; and this is why we are going to have a discussion at the technical level.  But we also talked about the letter that Mr. Al-Hakim sent to me, which basically raised the question:  for the United Nations to go in and advise on elections and, if elections were not possible, to advise on alternatives and theories.  So, my sense is that both sides, and all stakeholders, are open to refinements of the plan as it is now on the table.

    Question:  Are you in a position to tell Ayatollah Sistani, “Look, the security situation will not allow the holding of direct elections all around?”  And a second question:  Do you think that the ration cards used under the “oil-for-food” programme could be the basis of a new registration programme for voters in Iraq?

    The Secretary-General:  I do not want to get into that level of detail.  Those are the issues that the experts are going to sit down together and review, to allow me to make some judgements.  So, I think until the technical teams have met –- and eventually, if I agree to send a team, when the team has gone to Baghdad and had an opportunity of discussing with a range of Iraqis -– I would not want to be drawn.  I think it is appropriate that I wait to get all the information before I draw some of the conclusions that you are asking me to draw.

    Question:  And about elections?

    The Secretary-General:  The ration cards?  That is part of the technical work that will need to be done.  Some have indicated that that could be a possibility.  But that –- whether we can use the ration cards for elections -– is something that the experts will have to look at and advise me.

    Question:  What can you tell us about any of your direct communications with Ayatollah Al-Sistani?  Have you in any way spoken:  other than letters, had any direct communications with him?  Or do you have any envoys directly with him?

    The Secretary-General:  I have not had direct communication with him.  My Special Representative, Sergio de Mello, and his political adviser, Ghassan Salame, had direct contacts with him, and we have maintained contacts with his entourage.  But I personally have not had direct contact with him.  But we have contact with him through his entourage and his advisers.

    Question:  With regard to security, what has to change for the United Nations to go back into Iraq?

    The Secretary-General:  I think, security we are all aware of, but I have indicated that we need to understand the process, as we have not been on the ground in Iraq.  So there have been developments that I need to brief myself on for us to get a better understanding, through these discussions that we are having, to come to a clear judgement as to how the United Nations can help move the process forward.  I think the discussions this morning have been very helpful; and we are going to continue and deepen them.  We are also conscious that it is urgent:  the situation requires urgent action, but we are not going to drag things along.

    Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, would you detail the role that Mr. Brahimi will play in this process?  And when do you expect your team to complete its work and report back to you?  Given that the situation is one that does not allow a lot of time, how quickly do you think this can be done, and how quickly do you think you will have a decision?

    The Secretary-General:  First of all, I have not taken a decision on

    Mr. Brahimi.  Secondly, I will make the judgement as to who leads my team once we have finished these discussions which I have referred to.  I have indicated that I am conscious of the urgency and the discussions need not to be drawn out.  Some of the experts are already in town, and we will see how quickly we can get this going.  But it should not be very long.

    Question:  Secretary-General, I just want to be clear on just what it is you have agreed to do today.  Is it that you are sending a team to decide whether there is adequate security for another team, which would make a judgement about the elections, to go in?  Is it that you are expanding the four-man team that is already scheduled to go there to study security?  I am just trying to be clear, without getting into too much detail, on exactly what it is you have decided to do today in response to this request.

    The Secretary-General:  I think the four-man team that Mr. Hoge has referred to is the four-man security team that we had wanted to send into Iraq, to have people on the ground, to be able to liaise with them and also to link up with them on security matters.  I just got confirmation this morning that a letter was delivered on Saturday authorizing the travel of those four, and the CPA will be ready to meet them in Iraq.  So that is one set of actions, and that had already been agreed to.  What we discussed this morning was a request by both the Governing Council and the CPA that I find a way of sending a technical team to go and assess on the ground whether elections are possible between now and May and, if not, what other alternatives one might suggest.  So, in effect, if you take it for granted that the first team is already on its way, it is the second team, on the elections, that we are focusing on.

    Question:  Mr. Annan, you have talked about a return to Iraq, and Mr. Hoge just asked about the specific ways that could work.  You have said that, in addition to security, you want a greater role in the process.  Could you specify what you mean specifically by what role?  Brokering of the election questions?  Or the direction of any of the processes?

    The Secretary-General:  I think there is a general agreement that once a provisional Iraqi Government is established, the United Nations will have an important role assisting that Government, if they wish it, through the constitutional process, voter registration and the whole electoral process, in addition to our efforts in human rights, reconstruction, recovery and humanitarian areas.  What we focused on today is what the United Nations can help with in the immediate process:  the process leading to the creation of a provisional Government by 30 June.  And it is in that context that I am looking at the possibility of sending a mission to Iraq to offer advice on the ground.

    Question:  Two questions:  One, the bombing yesterday in Baghdad -– does that figure into your calculations on the security question of whether or not it is safe for the United Nations to return?  And I know you are studying the issue, but is there any evolution of your opinion on the feasibility of direct elections now?  You have suggested that you agree that it would be challenging to hold direct elections in the immediate future.

    The Secretary-General:  I think that obviously we have always been concerned about security, and what happened this morning was not reassuring.  But as I indicated in my earlier comments, this is an issue we discussed this morning and we are going to discuss in detail with the CPA and the Governing Council, as to how they provide protection and security for the United Nations staff.  They do have some ideas and believe that they can do it; and we are going to study that.

    On the elections:  I have indicated that I do not believe there may be enough time between now and May to hold elections.  But the team will go down, and look into that further and then report to me.

    Question:  Sir, you just mentioned that the Governing Council and the CPA have guaranteed your security in Iraq.  Is the net product that we can deduce is that you have not reached an agreement about sending the United Nations back to Iraq in big force to help save the 15 November accord?  Is it fair to say that you see not much likelihood of returning to Iraq before 30 June?  As you said, you will have a big role after 30 June; you stated that very clearly.  But you gave us an impression that you have a much smaller role until then.  Would you be accepting progressively increasing responsibilities in Iraq from the CPA, instead of clearly defined responsibilities right at the outset?

    The Secretary-General:  Let me say that you used the word “guarantee”:  I think in the current situation in Iraq, no one can guarantee one’s protection or security.  What they have offered is to do whatever they can to assure our security.

    On the question of when we return, I think it depends very much on what the team reports to me on, and what we agree to do in the immediate phase.  If I were to send in a team following the discussions that we are going to have, depending on the nature of the work or assignments we decide to take on, it may require some United Nations presence before 30 June.  And even if we are going to become operationally much more active after the establishment of the provisional Government, we need to start planning now.  We need to start not only planning, but also ensuring that we will be able to work with the new Government.  And you cannot appear the day after, so you will need to have some presence to be able to work with them.  So it will be a gradual buildup; I do not see a massive return of the United Nations until the security situation improves a bit.

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