26 June 2006

Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at Palais des Nations, Geneva, 22 June 2006

The Secretary-General:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I've just had a very useful talk with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr. [Manouchehr] Motaki.  As you know, Iran is considering the offer of negotiations on its nuclear energy plans made by the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.  I believe it is considering this offer very seriously, as I have urged it to do, and I hope it will give the sufficient answer before too long.  Iran maintains that its interest in nuclear energy is purely for peaceful purposes, and I have stressed to Iranian leaders, including Mr. Motaki, that it is very much in their interest to convince the world of that by cooperating fully with IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].

Beyond that, let me say that as always, I'm very pleased to be here in Geneva, but this week especially, because it is the first week of the new Human Rights Council, which I think got off to a very good start on Monday.  As I said then, it is a real chance for all of us to renew the struggle for human rights worldwide, but it is up to the members of the Council -- but not only to them, but also to other Member States and to civil society -- to make sure that this chance is not wasted.

I was also very pleased yesterday to have the chance to speak to the Conference on Disarmament, as well as a brief consultation with my own Advisory Council on Disarmament.  As you know, disarmament and non-proliferation was a gaping hole in last September's Summit Outcome Document, and the issue has only become more urgent, given the problems that we have today with Iran, and especially now on the Korean peninsula.  I do sense that world leaders are beginning, at last, to take the crisis more seriously and I hope we will see the Conference on Disarmament, which in the past produced so many important agreements, take on a new life.

Let me also say that we are focusing very closely on the situation in Darfur, where the peace agreement remains very tenuous and incomplete since two of the rebel movements have still not accepted it.  I look forward to getting the report of the joint AU [African Union]/UN assessment team that has been on the ground, and I hope that next month's pledging conference in Brussels will produce more and stronger support for the African Union Mission on the ground in Darfur.  But in the medium term, I still think a United Nations peacekeeping force will be needed to help the parties implement the peace agreement and help provide security for the internally displaced.  And although we have not yet got agreement from the Sudanese authorities -- and I think you all heard President [Omer Hassan Al-] Bashir's statement rejecting a UN force -- but let me say that the talks continue and, I hope ultimately, we will be able to convince them to accept a UN force.  No one, and least of all the UN, is interested in imposing anything like a colonial rule on one of its Member States, and of course that was one of the fears President Bashir used in rejecting the UN presence.

Meanwhile, both in New York and in Geneva, we are very determinedly pursuing the path of reform.  The Human Rights Council is an important early product of that process, and so is the Peacebuilding Commission, whose first meeting I shall attend in New York tomorrow.  We also have a much-improved Central Emergency Response Fund to allow us to respond much more quickly to humanitarian crises, and we have also set up a Fund for Democracy to assist countries in transition, to strengthen their regulatory and democratic institutions.  I have never seen the General Assembly work so hard through the winter and spring, and we shouldn't forget that the High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence is also very hard at work.  I firmly hope and believe that, by the time I leave office in December, we shall well be on our way to an efficient and effective United Nations Organization and a more coherent United Nations system, both giving better value for money to our Member States and better service to the peoples around the world, particularly those in danger zones that we exist to serve.  Let me now take your questions.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, thank you very much for giving us a bit of your time.  As you can see, it is always appreciated by the high turnout that you have here.  I wanted to just ask you about Darfur.  As you say, President Bashir said he will not, under any circumstances, accept United Nations peacekeepers.  And I just wondered, given the deteriorating humanitarian situation there, how long the international community can wait until they get some sort of agreement for how Darfur is going to be handled.  Also, I wondered what you expected the Human Rights Council here to do about Darfur during its meeting.

The Secretary-General:  I see several urgent tasks for the international community regarding the situation in Darfur.  First of all, we need to put pressure on the parties who have signed the agreement to honour and implement it in good faith.  We should maintain a persistent pressure on the rebels [who] have not signed, and those parties outside the agreement, to join the agreement, and really press them to honour it in good faith.  We should also take immediate and urgent steps to strengthen the African Union force that is on the ground so that it can defend its mandate and defend the people in its proximity.  There is a pledging conference planned in Brussels next month, and I hope Governments will give, and give generously, to make it possible for the African Union troops to carry out their mandate in Darfur.  We also need greater assistance from the donor community to be able to assist the needy.  You may recall that [the] World Food Programme had to reduce the rations and, hopefully, if it gets the response that is expected, it can go back to full rations by October.

In the meantime, the UN is preparing to send in its troops and transition from an African Union force to a UN force.  Obviously, we will build on what the African Union has created and retain some of the African Union forces.  The assessment mission that is on the ground will give me its report, hopefully next week, and based on that report, we will finalize our plans.  And unfortunately, we will need to continue our discussions with the Sudanese authorities.  It is important that we get their cooperation and support when we deploy the UN troops.  We are on the ground.  We have 10,000 UN troops in southern Sudan, so they know how we operate, and this is why it is even much more incomprehensible, the resistance we are getting from them.  But as I said, the talks will continue and, in any event, even if they were to give us an agreement, it would take several months for the UN force to be on the ground.  That is why it is so important that we take every step to strengthen the African Union force, so that they maintain stability on the ground until they are able to transition to a UN force.

On the question of the Human Rights Council and how they deal with Darfur, I would not want to prejudge what they will do.  It is a new Council that we have set up.  We've encouraged them to be active, to be independent, and to assert themselves.  So, let us wait and see what they do.

Question:  Secretary-General, two questions on Iran.  The Iranian Foreign Minister, did he indicate in any way that Iran might be prepared to give up uranium enrichment?  And secondly, do you think that the Americans should be more engaged to get a diplomatic solution of this conflict?  Thank you.

The Secretary-General:  I just met him, and their point of view is that they are coming to the table without preconditions and that everything can be discussed at the table.  That, I presume, includes the question of enrichment.  They are considering the package very, very seriously.  I think we have all heard the comments they have made, and I do believe they are considering it seriously.

On the question of the US involvement, I think we saw a major shift in US policy when it indicated that it will be prepared to join the talks once the issue of the enrichment or its suspension thereof was resolved.  I hope that initial shift and signal will bear fruit as we move forward with the discussions with the Iranians, and that sooner or later -- and rather sooner than later -- we will see the US joining the talks.  Thank you.

Question:  Secretary-General, I have two very quick points.  The first one is that the international community has united and focused on a question of elections of a democratically elected Government in Palestine instead of focusing on occupation.  And thank you for your statement yesterday on the three Palestinian children.  But as you know, statements will never retrieve the children to their families.  So, Secretary-General, how can the UN deal with this situation with occupation?  My second point is that, who do you favour as Secretary-General and can a woman become Secretary-General?  Thank you.

The Secretary-General: I don't know how to answer your question on Palestine, but I must say I have been rather extremely concerned about the situation on the ground and the recent escalation of violence and death of innocent people.  As you indicated, I did issue a statement yesterday.  Obviously, the international community is engaged on the ground with Prime Minister [Mahmoud] Abbas and his team.  I notice that there are serious discussions going on between the Fatah elements and the Hamas elements about possibly finding a common ground to be able to move forward.  And I hope they will succeed in their search for a common ground and form, if possible, a coalition government to be able to unite the Palestinian people and move forward.  The UN and the other members of the international community are, for the moment, working through the Quartet, but it is not excluded that, down the line, maybe other broader initiatives may be necessary.

On the question of the Secretary-Generalship, I have no favourite candidate.  Quite frankly, I am very happy to be above it all.  I have no horse in this race, or no dog in this fight, and it's a very nice position to be in.  But after 60 years in existence, if we were to have a woman Secretary-General, it would be great.  I think we will all be happy to see that.  But, may the best man, or best woman, win.

Question (translated from French):  Mr. Secretary-General, a question on the Human Rights Council:  beginning next week, the Human Rights Council is going to take up certain pressing issues.  Are you broadly in favour of the Council organizing one-off missions or taking up cases in countries where the United Nations has peacebuilding or peacekeeping missions?

The Secretary-General (translated from French):  When that is necessary, yes.  Actually, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has run missions, in Côte d'Ivoire for example, where United Nations troops have been deployed.  I hope the Council will continue this practice when it has to carry out investigations.  I have also just asked Ms. Arbour to set up an inquiry into the situation in Timor-Leste, and that is going ahead right now.  So yes, I think that is part of the Council's functions.  Thank you.

Question:  I have two questions for you, Secretary-General.  First can I take you back just a little bit to your meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister?  You said you expected a response sooner or later.  Do you have any further indications about when sooner or later might be?  I mean, is the middle of August or the end of August, as we heard yesterday from Iran's President too late in your view?  My second question, do you think you could say to us a few words of your view on the situation in Iraq at the present time?

The Secretary-General:  On my discussions with the Iranian Foreign Secretary, the question of timing did come up.  Let me say this.  I don't think they will give an answer before the G-8 meeting in Saint Petersburg.  I expect their answer to come after that meeting.  But I cannot tell you specifically on what date.

On the question of Iraq, I think we are all relieved that there is an established, democratically elected Government in Iraq, but the situation is still very complex and very precarious.  The violence has not subsided, and there is no expectation that it is going to subside in the near future.  But I think the international community needs to find a way of working with the new Government to support them, to stabilize the situation.  There is a discussion about a possible international compact, which the Iraqi authorities have spoken to me about.  The Prime Minister called me about it and the Foreign Minister came to see me in New York last week.  And I have also had a chance to discuss with the American Administration, and other Governments are being consulted so that we will find a way of supporting them, the way we did support Afghanistan, which led to the Afghan meeting in London last January.  We do have a difficult situation, and I was just informed that the neighbours are also going to meet -- beginning of July, first week of July -- to see what they can do to support the new Government, and also work with them in reducing the violence and tension in the country.  And I hope that helps.

Question (translated from French):  Mr. Secretary-General, the United Nations set up confidence-building measures for the conflict in Western Sahara, but the humanitarian part of those measures was suspended some time ago.  I refer to reciprocal visits by Saharan families.  There was also a fact-finding mission by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was cut short in the region, in Algeria -- it was not able to visit Algeria.  Tension is mounting again, and your personal envoy, Peter van Walsum, is not a frequent visitor.  What do you intend to do to revive the confidence-building measures and boost optimism on this issue?  Is Mr. van Walsum likely to visit the region any time soon?

The Secretary-General (translated from French):  Let's begin with Mr. van Walsum.  I do not think he is planning to visit the region right now, but he will go when it is necessary.  As regards the humanitarian issue, I am concerned as well.  I hope family visits can resume.  It is a pity that the Human Rights office had to cut the mission short.  As far as Algeria is concerned, Algeria has a clear position -- it says it is not involved in the war, it is not a party to the conflict; it is a neighbour, it is ready to help and discuss things, but people must accept that it is a neighbouring country and not try too hard to get it involved in this business.  But we are watching the file closely.  The matter is before the Security Council and I hope we will be able to nudge the parties concerned forward a little.

Question:  I would like to have your comments on the allegations of atrocities by US troops in Iraq.  And secondly, if you could elaborate, where at the moment is the investigation in the UN system about the new allegations of abuse of children in sub-Saharan African countries.  You might recall in 2002, you said you would have zero tolerance of such behaviour.  Thank you.

The Secretary-General:  The policy of zero tolerance stands and stands firmly.  We have taken steps to implement them and given very strict instructions to our missions and special representatives to take firm action.  We have also increased the number of staff who work on these issues.  Obviously, it is a complex and a difficult issue, but we are determined to root it out.  Whether one can root it out entirely is something that time will tell.  But what is important is that we are vigilant and do take action.

On the first part of your question, let me say that, as I said in my human rights speech, we need to respect the rule of law and rights of individuals.  We need to respect them at home and abroad.

Question:  Good morning, Sir.  I would like to ask your reaction to Iran's decision to send Tehran's Chief Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, as a delegate to the [Human Rights] Council.  He was implicated in the death of a Canadian photographer -- you may remember that -- Zahra Kazemi.  Does this augur well for the new Council and for your appeal that there be a break with the past?  Secondly, and very quickly, what can the United Nations do to put pressure on Somalia, which is such a mess, to get humanitarian assistance into the country, because I understand nobody can get into Mogadishu?

The Secretary-General:  On your first question, it will not come as a surprise to you that, as Secretary-General of the UN, I have no say in the composition of national delegations.  That is a decision for each individual Government to make.  I am not aware of the individual you have referred to.  Of course, when I met [with] the Foreign Minister today, I don't know who he is, but I believe he was not in that delegation.  But I think the Member States who join the Council, and who approve the Council, whether they are on the Council or not, undertook to honour human rights, undertook to maintain the highest standards and undertook to defend it.  Having done that, we expect them to really demonstrate that, both in their words and in their actions, in letter and spirit.  And so I would encourage Governments having established the Council and having decided that we want to give human rights a fresh start, to break away from past practices and ensure that we do take steps that reinforce and strengthen human rights.

On Somalia, we are going to send in a mission.  In fact, I spoke to Jan Egeland [UN Humanitarian Coordinator] who is here in Switzerland with all the UN humanitarian managers from around the world, the UN humanitarian managers discussing humanitarian issues.  And we are sending an assessment mission, initially to be security, but we may have somebody from the humanitarian community going with them to see what can be done.  And that will be followed by a humanitarian mission.  I have also urged the Somalis to come together and unite and help build their nation, and the transitional Government and the Sharia Court movement are also going to meet and, hopefully, they will come to some understanding and stop the fighting and focus on providing social and other services to the people.

Question (translated from French):  Good morning, Mr. Secretary-General. I would like to know if you are in favour of keeping the Special Rapporteur machinery, especially for investigating the human rights situation in countries on the ground.

The Secretary-General (translated from French):  Yes, I think I said that very clearly in my speech on Monday.  They have done some very good work.  They should be kept.

Question:  You said that you have no horse in the race for the post of Secretary-General, but what about the race for the World Cup?  And what message do you have to the Ghanaian football team today in their match against the US?

The Secretary-General:  Let me say that I'm proud of my boys.  [laughter]  They've played very well and I expect them to play equally well today.  And if they play as well as they did against the Czech side, I think there is hope for them.  Of course, I live in America and I expect their team to play well, but I think the odds favour the Ghana side.  And they are not my odds.  I think it's going to be a fun game.  Unfortunately, I will be trapped in the plane as the match goes on and it's really very sad.  I'll be on my way to New York.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, before you leave office, is anything going to happen to the Security Council reform?

The Secretary-General:  You know, I believe very strongly in the need for Security Council reform and I have said time and time again that no reform of the UN will be complete without Security Council reform.  I expect the issue to come up.  Whether it will be resolved before December or later, I cannot tell.  But let me say that it is possible, with will, to settle it before December and I will be happy to see it done before December.  But even if it's not achieved before December, I don't think the Member States should let it drop.  They should pursue Security Council reform because it is part of the reasons why we have tensions in the Organization today.  Because quite a lot of members feel that our governance structure is anachronistic and we cannot continue to have a situation where the power base is perceived to be controlled by a limited number of five Member States.

The world has changed since 1945, and the UN has to adapt.  And if we do not do it, even when you talk of management reform, it becomes a question of power struggle.  I mean, people see it in terms of power -- which bloc is gaining, which is going to lose.  And of course, this perception of a power struggle was not helped by the attitude of the permanent five, because when we set up the Peacebuilding Commission, they insisted that they should be reserved five seats, and they got them.  And of course, when we started talking about the Human Rights Council, a similar demand was made, the membership reacted and they pulled back.  But that sort of behaviour gives the impression to the others that the desire for power on the part of the powerful is insatiable.  And it leads to sort of tensions and I think we need to really reform the Council to make it more representative, more democratic.  And I think if we did that, the Council would gain an even greater legitimacy.  Thank you.

Question:   Secretary-General, could you please give us your expectations about the meeting on migrants.  We live in a world without borders, in the high technology.  But we see in Africa, in Latin America, in Europe, that borders have become a centre of conflict and tension.

The Secretary-General:  We are going to have a high-level dialogue on the issue of migration in September at the UN, and I think it's a very timely session.  You may recall that about two, three years ago, I encouraged the establishment of a global commission on international migration and they gave me a report last year, which is a good report and I hope some of you will take a look at it.  And we have built on that report, and I'm giving a new report to the membership for the dialogue in September.  I think migration is going to be with us for a long time.  We cannot stop migration.  The main thing is that we find a way of managing it, managing it in a manner that is in the interest of the originating country and the recipient country, as well as the rights of the individual migrants.  Migration is a fact of life and, managed well, will benefit all concerned.  And, in fact, there are countries in the developed world which can only sustain its current level of economic prosperity if it were to allow migration in.  So, it is a fact, and I hope that when the Member States come to New York, not only will they discuss it in an open and frank manner and share best practices and learn from each other, but they will come with the understanding that it is something that we need to cooperate and work together.  There are very good examples around, even in cases of return, how migrants have been assisted to return home, were settled, it's the way it has to be done.  And I've also suggested that, at the end of the meeting -- it should not be a one-off meeting -- that we set up an open forum which will allow Governments, civil society, the private sector, to meet periodically to discuss issues of migration and share their experience.  And I hope the idea of a forum will be embraced by the Member States.  Thank you.

Question:  The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] is now preparing the launch of the new long-range missile which can reach the United States.  Can you give me some comment on that?

The Secretary-General:  First of all, let me start by saying that I'm disappointed that the six-party talks have stalled for so long.  We were all encouraged when the agreement on the principles was reached.  I have had the chance to speak out on this and indicating that, given the situation in the peninsula and the tensions that already exist, one would not want to see the testing of that kind of weapon at this time in that region, when we are dealing with an unresolved nuclear issue.

Question (translated from French):  Mr. Secretary-General, you spoke of the international community's concern over the Iranian nuclear programme.  There is a regional initiative dating from 1995 to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.  If that is how the international community would like to settle a problem, why not use that framework to settle all the problems, including the one of the Iranian nuclear programme?

The Secretary-General (translated from French):  I support the idea of a nuclear-free zone.  I have had the opportunity to discuss this question with the regional Heads of State.  I think they support the idea, too.  That is one reason why it ought to be possible to settle this Iranian issue peacefully and be sure that people's intentions really are peaceful.  On the Israeli situation, I do not know what to tell you.  The crucial thing is that no other countries in the region are trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  What is crucial is that if we really do want to have a nuclear-free zone, everyone must avoid the temptation to develop a nuclear capacity.

Question:  Secretary-General, could you tell us your view what went wrong in East Timor, which is considered to be one of the success cases in UN involvement, and if you are sure that the UN can restore the stability there?

The Secretary-General:  What has happened in Timor-Leste is rather a great disappointment for all of us.  I think the UN, as you said, did help the people of East Timor establish a new nation, and I myself was there on that famous midnight when they obtained their independence.  I think we have had problems of personalities, a question of leadership, a question of mishandling of a group of about 600 police who left the service and felt that they had not been fairly treated.  As you know, we have a UN team there headed by Mr. [Sukehiro] Hasegawa.  I had also sent in Ian Martin to make an assessment for me as to what had happened and he will be going back with a team to discuss with the authorities and assess what further the UN can do to help Timor-Leste.

In the meantime, Timor-Leste has made a request that we send a fairly large police contingent to help calm the situation.  If the Council agrees that we send that force, they will work alongside the international forces that are there, coming from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, along with the police force from Portugal.  The nature of the future UN mission and the form it will take will depend very much on the report that I get from the assessment mission, which I said is led by Ian Martin, and decisions taken by the Security Council.  But I do foresee a strengthened UN mission in Timor-Leste in the future.  Whether it will contain only police and people who are able to build institutions, work with them on elections and on governance issues, or military, will be for the Council to decide.  Thank you very much.

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