Press Releases

    SG/SM/8555
    12 December 2002

    "OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UNITED STATES HAS IMPROVED
    REMARKABLY," SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AT
    LUNCHEON FOR UN FOUNDATION

    NEW YORK, 11 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks as delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the luncheon honouring Mr. R.E. Turner and the Board of Directors of the United Nations Foundation (UNF) in New York today:

    You’ve all heard many descriptions of Ted, what he’s done, his spirit, but I am going to describe him in a manner most of you would not think of. I consider Ted one of the best farmers -- a farmer in the best sense of the word. Not because he owns ranches, but because he’s one of those individuals who has understood what good farmers have always known: if you take something out of the earth today you need to give something back to be able to return tomorrow and harvest. Those individuals in our society who have done well and understand that they have to make a contribution, they have to give something back to make sure the world continues and others who are less fortunate are also helped. It is in that sense that I call Ted a farmer.

    In 1997 -- my first year as Secretary-General -- the United Nations certainly needed friends. We were in a difficult situation politically and financially.

    In July of that year, I submitted my first reform report to the General Assembly. I stressed that the UN should not try to do everything. We have to understand what we can do and what others do better. I also argued that we should reach out and work in partnership with the private sector, with non-governmental organizations, with foundations and individuals. We must bring the UN closer to the people.

    As we were discussing the reform and arguing about all these issues, Ted came along with this amazing offer of one billion dollars to enable the UN to expand its capacity and to support UN causes. I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams expected this incredible generosity. Not only that, and I think [Muhammad] Yunus referred to it, this is an incredibly conservative organization which works through consensus, alliances and arrangements -- though it’s not as difficult as reform at the Vatican -- because there is resistance to change. Even with a billion dollars there were some concerns. What is this guy trying to demand of us? Is he going to take decisions for us in the General Assembly? Is he going to try to influence Security Council decisions? But Ted had none of that in mind. He knew the UN before he gave the money and he knew how we worked. In the end, we set up an arrangement with Joe Connor and his team, working very hard with Ted’s boys, to come up with an arrangement which, I’m happy to say, the Member States supported. That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.

    In the five years since then, Ted and Tim and their remarkable team have amply fulfilled that promise that we all looked forward to.

    The Foundation has helped us strengthen the UN institutionally -- at Headquarters and in the field. It has promoted the key goals set by the Millennium Summit. And it has supported the UN’s life-saving work in many areas -- from child health and the environment, to peace, security and human rights.

    Let me assure you, this not just a feel-good factor. There are tangible results in the shape of new kinds of projects that you and we support together -- projects that make a real difference to people’s lives in more than 120 countries. With Ted’s contribution, we are doing things that we could never have imagined.

    The Better World Fund, which I think of as the UNF’s Siamese twin, has also done an incredible job in making Americans aware of what the UN is and what it does, working in very close partnership with UNA/USA and Ambassador Luers and his team. For the first time in several decades, we have seen strong support among the American people. I think it became very clear in the recent debate about Iraq. Normally, it is enlightened politicians and diplomats who push their leaders to go to the Security Council at the UN to discuss issues. On Iraq, the American people said we want the issue to be looked at by the United Nations and by the Security Council. I think the work you have done, Tim, has made some of this awareness possible.

    The other important issue they worked hard on and which made a difference is working with the Senate and the Congress [as shown by] the Helms-Biden bill which led to the payment of the US arrears -- and you will all remember that Ted’s generosity again played a crucial role when 31 million dollars was needed to make up the difference, in the transition year, between what Congress was willing to pay and what other Member States were prepared to accept. Certainly I shan’t forget the scene in my office when Ted handed over his cheque for that amount to John Negroponte. There was a debate as to whether a private citizen can do this and whether a government can accept. But that’s Ted for you -- he did it.

    Our relationship with the United States has improved remarkably. They are paying their regular and peacekeeping dues. They are not running up arrears. We have a very good relationship which I hope will continue. Not long ago when UNA/USA gave a reception for me in Washington, I said that it was so warm and so friendly that it made it wonderful to go back to Washington. It reminded me of the days when I dreaded going to Washington to beg for money, for payment of arrears. I hope those days are gone.

    Ted, I’m not sure whether you yourself realize what a sea of change you and your colleagues have helped bring about in the way this Organization works. Our partnership with you has been a catalyst. It has encouraged us to change our mode of doing business, and to reach out to many new kinds of partners. Amir Dossal and his team at the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), which really came into existence to manage our relationship with you, are now working with many other partners as well.

    Between you, Tim and the work his team has produced, we have really been able to transform the UN and its relationship with the outside world. I was bothered in the beginning, because I felt we were so comfortable, so secure in this house that we believed as if nobody understood us and that we had to do things our way and that the outside world was something else. We had forgotten that the Charter was written in the name of ‘We the Peoples’ and the peoples were out there -- not in this building. In the last couple of years, we really reached out working with "We the Peoples’ in whose name the Charter was written. Ted, Tim and the members of the Board of the Foundation, you’ve really made a great contribution.

    Here’s wishing long life and good health -- to you Ted, to the Foundation, and to partnership!

    * *** *