Press Releases

    7 December 2004

    Secretary-General’s Remarks to Annual UN Correspondents’ Association Dinner

    NEW YORK, 6 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the annual dinner of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) on 3 December:

    I am delighted and relieved to be back with you all at the UNCA dinner.  It’s been three years since we were last together like this.  It feels more like three decades.

    You’ll be pleased to hear that tonight, I have resigned... [long pause] myself to having a good time.

    Last year, when I had to cancel at the last minute, my wife Nane kindly agreed to read a statement on my behalf.  I thank her again for that.  I gather she asked you to imagine that you were being addressed not by her, but -- in her words -- by “universal Tonton Kofi” instead.

    Little did I know that she would do such a good impersonation that you’d end up preferring her to the original.  Where will it end?  Which one of my relatives would you ask to speak for me next year?

    This year it’s Nicole Kidman who is not here in person.  Why is she staying away?  UN staff sometimes get long vacations, but not that long.  I must say, though, since Ms. Kidman’s UN role is to act as an interpreter from an African nation, I can understand why she might need a break.  I mean, after more than 40 years in the system, there are still many moments when UN-speak is all Greek to me.  And I’m sure the UN press corps would be the first to agree.

    Lakhdar, my fellow African, I’m sure you too can identify with that.  You are what I would describe as our Interpreter of Chaos to Clarity.  It’s too bad that even with your lucid explanations, some of us still have trouble keeping up.

    Finally, Hans [Blix], it’s good to see you back again in this House.  In the past few years, you have given new meaning to the term WMDs.  As we all know, the initials stand for nothing other than the World’s Most Dangerous Swede.

    At this point, let me also say a special thanks to the UNCA President, Tony Jenkins.  Mr. President, I understand you are just about to complete your second term -- and that you are not seeking a third!  (At least we have that in common.)  You have certainly led your people through a highly challenging chapter of their history.  And they repay you by complaining that all they’ve ended up with is more of the same.  Same old jobs.  Same old environment.  Same old system.  Same old story.

    That’s what they think.

    But listen up, ladies and gentlemen of the press.

    Last year, you will recall, I told you -- through that other dangerous Swede, my wife -- about my decision to appoint a high-level panel on the UN and global challenges.  Panelling, I decided, was a good way to enhance the multilateral architecture, and to build alternatives to walls and partitions.  It can replace dead wood.  And a good chair would make sure the rest of us don’t get too cozy and become part of the furniture.

    Well, this week, the chair in question delivered the product.

    And now that you’ve seen their report, I hope you all understand why I gave this group the lofty name of High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.  With a report this weighty, we should all feel suitably threatened, challenged and about to be changed.

    So the question is -- how many Panel members does it take to change a light bulb?

    One answer could be:  only one -- but the light bulb really has to want to change.

    Since wanting to change isn’t always the case in this Organization, the answer could also be two:

    -- one to hold the light bulb

    -- and the other to travel around the capitals of the world, persuading them to see the light and agree to the change.

    But that would mean we’ve forgotten something very important.  You’d actually need six people:

    -- one to hold the light bulb

    -- and five others to veto any inappropriate changing of the light bulb.

    But that wouldn’t take into account the linguistic question, so I guess we’re now up to 12:

    -- one to hold the light bulb

    -- five to tell him which way to turn

    -- and six to describe the changing of the light bulb in each of the UN’s official languages.

    Perhaps Ms. Kidman would like to apply for one of those interpreter positions?

    But hang on, that wouldn’t really cover the geopolitics.  You’d probably also need a troika from the regional groups not represented among the permanent five, which takes us to 15.

     And let’s not forget that the chair provides the foundation for the whole exercise, so that makes it 16.

    Which is indeed the number of wise men and women on the Panel!

    There you are, ladies and gentlemen, a news flash:  the light bulb is changing.

    If you suddenly find yourselves in the dark [dining room lights dimmed at this point], rest assured it is only temporary.  In a moment, we shall all emerge into a more secure world.  [Lights restored.]

    Have a splendid evening, everybody.  See you in a year -- or three, if you’re so gracious as to invite me back after I’ve retired.

    Thank you very much.

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