Press Releases

    14 September 2005

    Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, 13 September 2005

    The Secretary-General:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Let me also apologize for the delay, but I suspect you all knew what was happening, and it wasn't in my hands.

    The good news is that we do have an outcome document, which has just been approved by the General Assembly almost unanimously, with two delegations reserving their position.  The document includes a good chapter on development; we've got the establishment of the Human Rights Council approved; we've got a Peacebuilding Commission approved.  We also have a responsibility to protect, and we've got a statement on terrorism, as well as the Democracy Fund, which has been established.

    The big item missing is non-proliferation and disarmament.  This is a real disgrace.  We have failed twice this year: we failed at the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference], and we failed now.  And I hope the leaders will see this as a real signal for them to pick up the ashes and really show leadership on this important issue when we are all concerned about weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that they may even get into the wrong hands.  So I will appeal to the leaders who are coming here in the next few days to really step up to the plate and accept the challenge and show leadership on this issue.

    I think I will pause here and take your questions.

    Question:  On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, I welcome you.  Looking at this outcome document and comparing it to "In larger freedom", your reform proposals, it's quite clear that you didn't get anything close to what you were hoping for.  With this kind of document in front of you, what hope do you have of making any sort of progress on any sort of managerial reforms in the remainder of your tenure?

    The Secretary-General:  Obviously, we didn't get everything we wanted, and with 191 Member States it's not easy to get an agreement.  I recall once telling the press in this hall -- I think it was '97, when I first initiated reforms, and I was accused of not reforming the UN in six weeks -- and I shared with them an experience at a Security Council lunch when the Russian ambassador said, "But what are you complaining about?  You've had more time than God."  And I explained to him that God had one big advantage:  He worked alone, without the General Assembly and the Security Council and the Committees.  And, of course, with this huge number of Member States, it has been difficult, but I think it is a success.  We've got a good document.  It's not everything we wanted, and I think we can build on it and we can really do a lot with it.

    Now that we've got the document -- and I hope the Heads of State will approve and endorse it -- the challenge is implementation, moving ahead and working together to implement it and pressing ahead for agreement on those issues where agreement has been elusive up till today.  But we have not given up on those either.

    Question:  Following up on Jim's question:  a year ago at the General Assembly, you told Member States that we had reached a fork in the road and that if the political leaders of the world's nations couldn't reach agreement on the way forward, history might take the decisions for them.  And you called for bold decisions.  I think anybody reading this document would agree that, basically, there are not many bold decisions in this document.  What fork in the road do you now foresee?

    The Secretary-General:  I think, as I said earlier, we didn't get everything that we wanted.  But we have quite a lot of the items -- the proposals -- that we had put forward.  And I will not dismiss it as easily as you seem to -- indicating that they have not achieved much.  I would have wanted more.  All of us would have wanted more.  But we can work with what we have been given, and I think it is an important step forward, and we all have to make sure that in putting it -- in translating it into practical and functional terms, we all do our best to really make sure we are giving the Organization the effective structures it needs to work.  And I think we can work with what we have been given.

    Question:  During the Summit, do you have any plans to meet with the Lebanese President, along with Mr. Roed-Larsen, to discuss the implementation of resolution 1559, namely, on Hezbollah disarmament, on the demarcation of the Lebanese border between Syria and Lebanon and between Lebanon and Israel, and also the initialization of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon?

    The Secretary-General:  I hope to meet President Lahoud.  But I think when it comes to 1559, let us be clear here:  a large part of the mandate has been fulfilled.  The key elements of the mandate were to ensure that Syrian military redeployed out of Lebanon; that has been done.  That the security apparatus is withdrawn; and they have done that.  And that free and fair elections were organized; and that has also happened.  As to the issue of disarmament of the militia, this is something that we are discussing with the Lebanese, it is the Lebanese Government that will have to do it.  We are discussing it with them and they will have to determine when and how to do it.

    With regard to relations between Syria and Lebanon, we have encouraged them to normalize their relations and establish normal relations, that is, as between two friendly States.  On the question of the border, we have also encouraged formal demarcation of the border.  As to your question on the Israeli-Lebanese border, you will recall that in the year 2000, Israel withdrew from the Lebanese territory, and we -- the UN -- drew the Blue Line and confirmed to the Security Council that Israel has complied with resolution 425 and has withdrawn from the Lebanese border.  There is a contested strip -- the Shaba'a Farms -- which according to Israel and our record is Syrian.  But the Lebanese claim it.  And this is where we have a bit of conflict.  And that is an issue that I hope will be resolved in the future.

    Question:  These recent days have not been good days for the public image of the United Nations.  I remember well, as others have said, your ambitions for this document when you first presented it, particularly last March, when you implored Members of the United Nations not to cherry-pick it and to actually accept the entire package as a package.  My question is:  is not the evidence in recent days that there are regional rivalries within the United Nations, that there are individual nations that will not let their wish for United Nations action trump their own specific, individual national desires?  Is this not evidence -- let me put it this way:  there are many critics of the United Nations that will say this proves that the United Nations cannot take the bold steps it must take to realize its ambitions in the twenty-first century.  What is your answer to that criticism?

    The Secretary-General:  Let me say that, as I have said, we would have preferred stronger language in some parts of the text.  But they have taken the decisions that they have -- and you are right that the process was not easy.  There were Governments that were not willing to make the concessions necessary.  There were spoilers also in the group; let's be quite honest about that.  And in my discussions with the Member States -- and I have been talking to quite a lot of them over the past three or four months, and particularly during the last five days, and today and yesterday -- I tried to get them to understand that, in our interconnected world, we need to look at issues in much broader terms, rather than narrow national interest, and that, when we are asked to seek collective interest -- look out for the collective interest -- often the collective interest is also the national interest, and one should not assume automatically that the collective interest may be against one's national interest.  But it's a tendency to sort of look inward at their national requirements, instead of looking at the broader picture.  I must say that during this process in the last couple of weeks I think some delegations focused on the trees and missed the forest.

    Question:  No matter how much one tries to spin the outcome of the negotiations that have taken place in the last few days and that have now produced a much-watered-down version of the outcome document for the Summit, many would argue -- privately, at the very least -- that the Summit is a fiasco.  This furthers the goals of many of your critics who want to see a weakened United Nations.  How much does this failure mean to you personally, especially at a time when you are facing a continuing challenge to your leadership?  Also, how do you react to the statements made by Senator Norm Coleman the other day at the United Nations, in which he seemed to suggest that your continuing leadership was part of the problem and not the solution?

    The Secretary-General:  Let me say that Coleman is not my problem.  OK?

    As to the other question that you raised, I have indicated that it would be wrong to describe this process as a failure.  It is in the nature of the Organization -- when you have 191 Member States, you do not always get what you want.  But we have been given something that I believe we should work with.  So I would encourage you not to describe it as a failure.  You are right in saying that, in some areas, we could have gotten stronger language.  We did not get all that we wanted.  But the process is not over.  As I said some years ago, reform is a process and not an event.  And we are going to continue after the Summit on quite a lot of the other issues.  So I don't share your assessment that it is a failure.  I know some of our critics will say that, but they will be wrong.

    Question (interpretation from French):  On Côte d'Ivoire, could you tell us definitively whether the elections will take place on 30 October?  Some are saying that the material conditions have not yet been met.  But the final decision is up to the United Nations.  Could you tell us about that decision, or what you think about it?

    Finally, on reform, as my colleague said, some are already saying that it's a failure.  The document was adopted with many issues having been dodged.  There are delegations which did not have time to look at the document.  What is your hope for this reform?  And if, once again, this reform were to fail, what would that mean for the future of the United Nations?

    The Secretary-General (interpretation from French):  First of all, on Côte d'Ivoire, it is true that for technical reasons we cannot organize elections, but it is because the parties have not cooperated -- things were not done that had to be done.  So frankly, I do not think that we can organize elections in October.

    As regards the Summit, I do not think that we have failed. I think it is too early to use this word.  We must be patient; we must not be too hasty to judge.

    Question:  Just a point of clarification in your earlier answer to the question on 1559, because you left the impression that you wanted to say that Syria has implemented its obligations by 1559, since you mentioned that it is only the disarmament of the militias that is outstanding.  Could you clarify that?  But my question is really about the Mehlis report.  Are you satisfied, as well, with extent of the Syrian cooperation with the Mehlis report in implementing 1559, and how did you discuss this with President Bush during your meetings?  I know that you discussed Iran, as well as Lebanon and Syria.  Could you share with us whether you look at the situation similarly or quite differently?

    The Secretary-General:  I may say that on the question of 1559, I stand by the clarification that I gave.  I have nothing else to add, and I think even the sponsors of the resolution will agree with me in the assessment that I gave you, which we have also given to the Council.

    On the question of the Mehlis investigation, it is a sensitive investigation.  He is still in the midst of it.  He has asked for an extension of 40 days, which we are granting him, and he will be interviewing people in Damascus.  Those interviews have not taken place and, even if they had, I would not be in a position to talk about it.  But what is important is that they are working with him, and he will be there interviewing people in the course of his work.  I look forward to his final report.

    Question: [unintelligible] Syria, Lebanon and Iran with President Bush.  Do you see eye to eye on what is requested [unintelligible]?

    The Secretary-General:  We discussed all those issues, but I would prefer not to go into detail on them, if you don't mind.

    Question:  Following up Warren's question, really, about how the world will see this, outside the question of whether it's a success or failure.  We could argue all night, but don't you accept that what the document demonstrates is bound to be seen outside as the weakness of the Organization, for whatever reason, rather than its strength, and that that weakness, many will conclude in this negotiation, is a reflection of the failure of a majority of those who took a particular view to settle their differences in a positive way with the United States?

    The Secretary-General:  There may be a measure of justification in what you are saying, but I am not sure I am entirely with you on that.  I know it is something that happens in all parliamentary processes.  You put forward a bill, and you never get everything that you put out, and I think it is something that ... this happens even in a national parliament, where there is one nationality and people share the same common goal, have the same vision of their nation and where they want to go.  And here you have 191 with different ambitions, different perceptions, but at the same time all anxious to strengthen collective security. That was the purpose of this meeting, and to fight poverty. But of course, in the give and take, certain things fall by the wayside, but I think to expect the General Assembly to be quite different from other national parliaments in terms of the way they deliberate is a bit unrealistic, because it is the same style with us here, even though sometimes we pretend we are a little bit different and superior.

    Question:  Now that we have got this watered-down document, what about the Security Council reforms which have been delayed indefinitely?  You had expressed hope that you would like to see some sort of agreement by the end of this year.  Do you see any hope that the Member States will come to an agreement, and can you push the process forward?

    The Secretary-General:  I don't think the idea of Security Council reform is dead.  And I think the document adopted this afternoon makes a provision for the Member States to continue their efforts to reform the Council.  I think, if my memory serves me right, it calls for a report by December.  I have not given up.  The Member States may rise to the occasion and surprise all of us.

    Question:  You have talked a lot about management reforms.  What do you think the document has given you?  What would you still like to see done in light of the oil-for-food reports?

    The Secretary-General: I think they have given us quite a bit of the proposals we asked for.  Some are not in there, and in some areas we still need to continue with the work after the Summit through the General Assembly and, hopefully, bring things to a conclusion by December.

    Question:  Obviously, the document is about reforming the United Nations, but to what extent could we assume that it is also about how you, Kofi Annan, personally, will go down in the history books?

    If I may just go back to the issue of Syria, you have just met with President Bush.  Do you see the Bush administration's end-game as being confined to Iraq, or is the end-game to actually change the regime in Damascus, as well?

    The Secretary-General:  I think the reform of the United Nations is not a question of an individual.  It is a question of the institution.  I know some have tried to link it to my legacy or that I am pushing the reform for my legacy. I think it would be nice for one to be able to say that the Secretary-General worked with the Member States and pushed for the reform.  This is their work, this is their success, it is their document, and I think we should give them credit for what it is.  But is not about Kofi Annan; it is about the United Nations.

    On your second question, I'm not privy to inside -- I have no inside knowledge in Washington, but I am not sure that Washington has any plans, as your question seems to imply.

    Question:  Two questions.  One, you said before that some Governments were spoilers regarding this document.  Is America one of those Governments?  Secondly, you met for an hour -- longer than expected -- with President Bush earlier.  Did the topic of continuing investigation of oil-for-food in America, including in Congress and in the federal courts, did that come up?  Your continuing tenure as Secretary-General, did that come up?

    The Secretary-General:  I've worked very well with the -- Today, we spent quite a lot of time with lots of delegations, including John Bolton, who has been very constructive.

    As to your second question, your world is so small.  You are lucky -- I am envious.  You live and breathe oil-for-food.  It did not come up in my discussions with President Bush.  We have other important things to talk about.  This has been dealt with and investigated.  We are pressing ahead with what needs to be done, so I would urge you also to move on, my dear chap.

    Question:  I was about to say that the only time that you have dropped your Mr. Nice Guy pose, or almost, was with Norman Coleman, when you mentioned him.  You almost emulated with Benny.  But I wanted to come to the point of the spoilers.  Using [that?] authority, have you not thought that, perhaps, if you had more publicly denounced some of your detractors over the years, but also more recently used your authority to point the finger of world opinion at some of these spoilers, it might have been more effective by "naming and shaming" in getting what you wanted out of this document?

    The Secretary-General:  It is always tempting to do that, but we have to work together in this house, and I tell Member States not to point fingers at the Secretariat when they make mistakes and that we should not do that but work in a cooperative spirit.  And the UN is at its best when all the parts of the Organization work in harmony.

    But you are right that, in some cases, "naming and shaming" can help.  But down the line, also, if you do it too often, it complicates the work within the House.  I think you are giving me ideas.  Thanks.

    Question:  First of all, congratulations that you managed to get an agreement.  It must be extremely difficult to get this divided global family to do a statement.  A little later this week, President Clinton is inviting all the Heads of State and he tries to nail them down on what they really want to do.  And if they don't behave, if they don't do what they say, they're not going to be invited back again.  So do you think that would be an option for you, and, if so, how would the Assembly look next year?  Would anybody be here?

    The Secretary-General:  I think that former President Clinton has an advantage I don't have.  The organization he has set up is his, so he can decide whom he invites and whom he does not.  This Organization, unfortunately, is not my private club, and I cannot do that.  I wish I could.

    But I think what is important -- we are in a new era, actually, when it comes to the UN.  The UN is generally now working with civil society and the public.  We saw the movement outside -- the G-8 summit, the concerts and the public coming out, fighting for poverty, and, you will remember, it was quite significant to have a concert where 2 billion people tuned in and nobody asked for money.  They said, we don't want your money, we want your commitment.  We want you to become engaged in the fight against poverty.  We want you to keep your eyes on the leaders to make sure they deliver what they have promised.

    So it's not just people in this room.  The peoples of the world and civil society are very much engaged, and they are going to watch and monitor.

    Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, it's not your private club, this UN, but last week, in your BBC World interview, you expressed what you called frustration about the consensus rule and the way this rule is being handled, and you called upon the Member countries to "have the courage to take majority decisions in cases where such an overwhelming majority was obvious, as it was in early August over Mr. Ping's draft.  My question to you is, why isn't that possible, to take majority decisions, and what can and will you do to make this possible in future?

    Secondly, an hour ago we were called by your Spokesperson's Office to pick up the readout of your meeting, an hour-long meeting with President Bush, and it's a very extraordinarily long and detailed document.  It says that you discussed wide-ranging issues, and then it says President Bush expressed his support for the United Nations.  That's all.  Could you be specific on that and let us know what exactly he expressed in terms of support?

    The Secretary-General:  You are asking me to do the work of my Spokesman.  Let me say that, on the question of the vote, I still stand by what I said in that interview, and you will also notice that, even in the report "In larger freedom", I did indicate in that report that consensus is ideal, but where, when you cannot reach consensus, the Member States should not allow that to lead to inaction.  They have to use the mechanism which is established for bringing discussions to closure, and that is to vote.  There is unwillingness to do that, and as long as you do not want to do that, you are either going to be negotiated down to the lowest common denominator if you get it, or you don't get a decision at all.  And this is why I believe that, when there is a broad consensus on an issue, a small minority should not be allowed to withhold their consent unreasonably and hold things up.  I still believe that the Member States should find a way of voting.  If the Security Council acted that way, we would not have any decisions on some of the issues we deal with.  I know they don't like it, but I think, as part of the reform, maybe they should consider it.

    On the question of my meeting with President Bush, indeed, it was right that we discussed a whole range of issues.  It was a very friendly meeting, and we did discuss reform, for which both he and Secretary of State Condi Rice have been very supportive over the months, and he did reaffirm that to me.

    Question:  It's often said that a Secretary-General has only a moral authority, no political authority.  He could use that, as Ian Williams suggests, to shame countries, or to point out corruption where he finds it.  There are plenty of examples of corruption worse than what the Volcker report said about the UN, such as $9 billion missing from the CPA in Iraq, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence in the Volcker report that you may have had something to do with influencing the award of the Cotecna contract.  I want to ask you if you did and if, at the very least, did you make any ethical misjudgements that might undermine your moral authority?

    The Secretary-General:  I absolutely did not and I think the report was very clear on the fact that I did not do anything or attempt to influence the contract. And you have my word, I did not.  I will never do anything of the sort.

    Question: (inaudible) appearance of conflict of interest that you regret doing, like meeting Mr. Massey, something along those lines?

    The Secretary-General:  I think the report indicated that I met him on another issue, the lottery issue.  But I think the report speaks for itself.  I don't want to rehash what the report says.  Thank you very much.

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