16 December 2005

Transcript of Joint Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Former US President George H.W. Bush at UN Headquarters, 15 December 2005

NEW YORK, 15 December (UN Headquarters) -- The Secretary-General:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for coming this afternoon.

I am happy to tell you that I have today appointed former President George Herbert Walker Bush, former President of the United States, as my Special Envoy for the South Asia Earthquake Disaster.

Former President Bush will lead the overall effort of the United Nations family in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in South Asia [on 8 October 2005].  He will also work to mobilize and sustain the political will of the international community to ensure that we do honour the commitments we've made and the pledges that have been made are promptly converted into cash, so that the recovery and reconstruction and emergency activities can continue.

I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. President, for agreeing to take on this task.  I know you bring to this all your leadership, diplomatic skills and immense experience -- including, of course, from your efforts together with former President Clinton to support the U.S. victims in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina, as well as the Indian Ocean tsunami crisis.  As you know, President Clinton has been working for us for a while now, on the mission to assist the tsunami-affected countries.

President Bush will work with the Government of Pakistan.  I dare say they are extremely happy with the appointment.  He will work with the President of Pakistan, and the country that bore the terrible brunt of the earthquake damage, to ensure coordination with all members of the international community.  That includes the UN, development agencies, regional organizations and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as NGOs.

Part of President Bush's work will mean seeking to ensure that the commitments and the engagement of the international community are sustained.

Pakistan needs real help following this unprecedented catastrophe -- both in the longer term and in the immediate.  Every delay in funding poses grave risks to thousands of injured, hungry and homeless people.  And, of course, the momentous task of reconstruction means that we must all work together for the longer term.

I want to once again thank you, Mr. President, for taking on this challenge.  It is an important mission and we are all grateful to you.

I will turn the floor over to you.

President Bush:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General.  Look, I am very proud to accept this appointment by the Secretary-General.  I am pleased to work for him for this noble cause.  Barbara and I have been heartbroken over the tragedy in Pakistan.

I want to assure the United Nations team that is working on relief and reconstruction that I am not about to fine-tune what they are doing.  They are doing a good job; and Pakistan itself is doing a good job.  So they do not need somebody that does not know a lot about it coming in and telling them how the money should be spent and all that.  Our role, as the Secretary-General has said, is to try to help get the pledges -- and there have been very generous pledges made -- and have those converted into things that can really benefit the people who are hurting over there in terrible weather and terrible environmental conditions.  I think I can help, and I certainly want to try.  I have great respect for the President of Pakistan and for his Prime Minister, so I will be going as the Secretary-General's Envoy into a very favourable environment.  I look forward to working hard for you, Sir.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.

Question:  Gentlemen, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, welcome to this briefing.  My name is Jim Wurst, of Global Security Newswire.

Mr. President, after the overwhelming response to tsunami relief but the lagging behind of the relief effort for Pakistan -- the fundraising for Pakistan  -- is the international community at the point now that you need someone of your calibre, someone of your international standing, to make people do the right thing when disaster strikes?

President Bush:  Well, that is a good question.  I do not know the answer to it, and I do not know that my stature -- as you generously called it -- would make a huge difference.  But I don't think there is donor fatigue out there, if that is what you are talking about.  I worked with President Clinton on Katrina, but there we were encouraging NGOs to give a lot of money -- and they did.  And then we also had a Bush-Clinton tsunami fund that gave about $20 million to certain projects.  And in Katrina we have raised about $109 million:  I think it is somewhere in that range.  And we announced the other day, Bill Clinton and I together, where these funds will go.

I see this as a different assignment.  Here you have got pledges made.  I believe they rounded to something $5.8 billion, when the Secretary-General thought -- the whole United Nations felt -- that if you get $5.2 billion it would be very generous.  And it came in at $5.8.  But the big thing is, as I understand it -- and I am just learning -- getting that converted into the things that will really stop the suffering, get people through the winter and then get on with reconstruction.  So it is a different role.  But I think your question asked whether there was a lot of donor fatigue and whether we needed to step up the visibility of the effort.  I don't think so.  But, again, I just don't really know -- until I get over there and talk to the leaders in Pakistan.

The Secretary-General:  The President is being modest.  Let me say that I think he will make a difference.  He will have the capacity to call on Governments that have made pledges, reminding them that it was wonderful that they made those pledges, but that the cash is needed now and that we need to ensure disbursement.  We need to ensure that pledges are converted into cash as quickly as possible.  Given his contacts and the respect he has around the world, I think that is going to be extremely helpful.

Question:  Mr. President, I agree with the Secretary-General that you are being humble.  Of course, your stature will give the aid to Pakistan higher profile -- and we hope it will help.

My question to you now is, when do you expect to go?  Will you be visiting Pakistan?  And when do you intend to do that?  And will you be holding another sort of -- organizing -- donor conference to come up with the cash to back the commitments?  When will you be doing that?

President Bush:  Well, again, it is very early. But I think that encouraging people to come through with what they said they would do, that can start any time.  Of course, we are running into the holiday season.  But I would say that after the first of the year we hit the ground running.  I definitely will be going over there.  Of first importance for me will be talking to the leaders of Pakistan.  But almost equally important is to go see for myself what Mark Malloch Brown, Kevin Kennedy, Ann Veneman and others in the very effective United Nations team have seen.  And I think that, somehow, if you see it and kick the tires and see what is going on, you have a better feeling for what you have to do.  But I would say that encouraging people to give -- they have already said they would give -- can start almost simultaneously.  The visit will start after.  If I want to stay married to the same woman to whom I have been married for 61 years, that will start after New Year's.

Question:  Just to follow up.  When do you think that you will be visiting Pakistan?  Will this be in the New Year?

President Bush:  Probably early in January, with the permission of the leaders there.

Question:  Will you be going there with your wife?  Hopefully?

Secretary-General:  It is not a holiday!

President Bush:  I told the Secretary-General that I have seen her more enthusiastic about missions that I have been involved in; but not in terms of the compassion, because she is totally on board on that.  But the travel, she does not travel quite as much anymore personally as she did.  But she sends me off, knowing I was coming up here to accept this very generous offer by the Secretary-General.

Question: Mr. President.  Part of the problem seems to be that the amount given to the United Nations for humanitarian assistance had fallen short of what they had hoped.  Do you think there are untapped sources out there -- for example, in the private sector -- that you could maybe raise more funds for this immediate emergency relief, rather than longer-term recovery?

President Bush:  Well, as I understand it, there already is a private-sector effort going on in the United States, with five corporate leaders coming together to raise a considerable number of millions of dollars.  So that is going on right now.  But, you know, our experience in Katrina and the tsunami is that you can always use more, these catastrophes are so great.  But I am proud that in this one the United States Government stepped up pretty well.  Other countries -- in the Middle East -- that I will be visiting have made big pledges.  So I think the money is there.  The original amount you wanted was $5.2 billion, and they raised $5.8 billion.  So if that can all be brought to bear on relief of this human suffering, and then reconstruction, you know, it is a lot of money.  But what is enough?  I do not think anybody knows, at this stage.

The Secretary-General:  I think Susannah was getting at the emergency relief portion of the project.  And I think what is important -- Jan [Egeland] is at the back -- I hope you will find a way of getting in touch with the five gentlemen raising money for Pakistan and ask them to direct some of it to your emergency relief efforts.  But here, of course, we will need to press ahead with the Governments to ensure that the cash needed for the immediate action, quite apart from recovery and reconstruction, is also made available.

Question:  Mr. President, will you be focusing only on materializing the commitments, or will you be tapping some new sources for more donations?  Because a big chunk of the money pledged is in terms of loans, which ultimately Pakistan will have to repay.  Such a big burden of earthquake on Pakistan's economy is, you know, unimaginable.

President Bush:  Well, I think the fact that they have got the pledges of the loans, that would open the door.  And I certainly would not be embarrassed to walk through it to try to convert that to whatever the Pakistanis feel they need at the moment.  It might not be, you know, a concessional loan down the way; it might be for a bunch of tents that are winterized.  So I think the mission, as I see it -- and I will be guided by the Secretary-General's staff, who are more intimately familiar with this than I am -- I would have the flexibility to do that and to try -- whether they would want to respond to bring it on right now, I do not know.  That is something we will have to find out.

Question:  Mr. President, the United Nations Flash Appeal is underfunded by 40 per cent.  Out of $550 million, the total pledges are $226 million.  What specific steps do you have in mind to sort of generate more donations and contributions?

President Bush:  You know something, when I was President if you said "I don't know" too much people would say "You've got a really stupid President."  But I don't know the answer to your question.

Secretary-General:  He just started.

President Bush:  I honestly don't know the answer; I am sorry.

Question:  Now that we have one former Democratic president and one former Republican president, there's a shortage of supply of former presidents but no dearth of human catastrophes.  Is it possible to make this a more permanent institution, that Bill [Clinton] and George {H.W. Bush] will do more in other areas as well, or is it just for these two catastrophes and that's it?

The Secretary-General:  We'll turn to you for the next one.

President Bush:  Harry Truman wrote a book once called What to Do with Former Presidents -- a terrible book -- and he proposed that former presidents be members of Congress for life, with no vote, and sit around in meetings all the time.  I'm not interested in that, and I'm not interested in seeing this permanentized.  I'm 81 years old.  This one is a very special mission, and the Secretary-General is very persuasive, and so I don't see this being institutionalized, if that's what you mean.  I have enjoyed working very much with Bill Clinton on both the Katrina and the tsunami.

The Secretary-General:  And also, each crisis is sui generis and you need to focus on the country.  This is why President Clinton is focusing on the tsunami-affected countries and President Bush will focus on the South Asian earthquake.  I think, for other major crises, we probably will need to find some individuals to help us focus attention on that, as well.

Question:  Mr. President, on a lighter note, did you seek any advice from President Clinton in taking in this new post?

President Bush:  I talked to him because of what he's doing for the United Nations on the tsunami, where he and I are working together on being sure that the money we put into specific projects is being spent properly and coming to fruition.  He very much encouraged me to undertake this, but I did talk to him about it.  But his role, as I see, is a little different.  He's doing more kind of hands-on as to where the money goes and all of that, which I'm going to defer to the staff, the very able staff of the United Nations that's involved on the ground.  I just can't spend the time over there that I would need to if I were going to tell them "Here, put your tents here and put your bulldozers over there". Can't do that.

Question:  How would you describe the extent of your involvement as a special envoy?  Would you say it's a part-time assignment?  Half-time?  Will we be seeing you around here a bit?

President Bush:  I don't know.  We'll have to wait and see.  It wasn't presented as a full-time assignment.

The Secretary-General:  Definitely not full-time.

President Bush:  I don't know.  It's a good question, and until we get in it ... But I guarantee you, I'll get really interested in it.  I'll talk to President Musharraf and if I see those kids, like we did once when I was Vice-President -- went to the Sahel -- you know, you get caught up.  It gets in your heart.  So I want to do what I need to do to have this be successful, and how you measure success ... I don't think you'd be able to, but I can tell if I've tried to do a good job or not.

The Secretary-General:  It's really refreshing to have President Bush in this house saying "I don't know".  This is a phrase we don't hear very much.  I think it's wonderful.  It's a lesson for all of us.

Question:  Mr. President, you were the Permanent Representative here about 20 years ago, and I'm wondering if it feels interesting or unusual for you to be back here.  Has it stirred up any memories, any ideas, perhaps any advice for one of your successors here in the room?

President Bush:  No, no advice, but a lot of happy memories.  I enjoyed my two years here back in the early '70s and I learned a lot from the other countries with whom I worked and from the Secretariat itself.  And so I have a lot of very favourable, wonderful memories of my time here.  You go down a corridor -- "Oh, I remember going there!"  Went into a conference room.  The Secretary-General very generously took me into his office, and I remember being in there with two other Secretaries-General.  So there are a lot of memories that affect this very short trip.

Question:  I'm sure you'll do great to raise some money, which is really needed right now in Pakistan, but right now the United Nations itself has also suffered from the budget crisis.  Do you have any comment on that?

President Bush:  No thoughts about that.  Leave that to another person, to our Ambassador here, John Bolton, who has my full confidence and, what's more important, the confidence of the President.  I would have to refer there, but I do know that the country has tried to be generous and forthcoming in terms of money for Pakistan and for very important early-on helicopter work to save lives.  So I'm proud of my own country, but I'm very proud of the United Nations team that's out there on the ground as we speak.

Question:  Mr. President, I just have a follow-up question.  You talked about President Musharraf.  Have you talked to President Musharraf since your appointment?  Will you be talking to him soon?

President Bush:  I'm sure I will.  I'm sure I will.  I don't want to bother him right now, but I want to tell him when I get permission to meet with him and come out there early on in the next year.  And I've been told that that would be very forthcoming on his part to have me do that, so I'll do it soon.  But this, I didn't want to get ahead of ... I thought the Secretary-General might change his mind, not put me to work, so I didn't want to get out there ahead of the power curve.

The Secretary-General:  I spoke to President Musharraf yesterday and he was very pleased with the appointment and looks forward to working with President Bush.

* *** *