Press Releases

    SG/SM/8671
    22 April 2003

    Vital to Heal Divisions Created by Iraq, Reunite Around Basic Principles to Guide Future Actions, Says Secretary-General in Athens Statement

    NEW YORK, 17 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the European Conference in Athens, 17 April:

    It is a great honour for me to join you on this historic occasion.

    The enlargement of the European Union will have far-reaching consequences. We all hope that the larger Union will also be a stronger Union, able to make an even more decisive contribution to global progress and stability.

    That contribution will be badly needed because, in this new century, so many of the threats to our peace and security are global -- from international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to the trafficking of small arms, from climate change to the emergence of new, deadly viruses. Any or all of these could come to threaten not just our stability, but our very survival.

    These issues are not new to the United Nations. But for many people, they have taken on a new dimension, and been brought into a new and painful focus, since the events of 11 September 2001 -- and even more so since the war in Iraq.

    There is deep suspicion and mistrust, both between nations and within them. There is apprehension, too, about the implications of recent events for our collective system of security, and for the international rule of law.

    Yet people all around the world also understand instinctively that the best response is to unite, asserting and defending the human values that we all share. People are looking for institutions and systems that can uphold fundamental principles, and produce collective solutions to shared problems.

    Among those institutions, the European Union is a beacon of hope for peace and reconciliation, not only for Europe but for the whole world. And at the global level, it is of course to the United Nations that people look to, to provide a stable security framework. For the good of the world, our two institutions must work together.

    I share your disappointment that Cyprus is entering the Union as a still divided island. I believe the plan that I put forward is fair and balanced, and should still serve as the basis for an eventual settlement of that conflict. A

    unique opportunity was missed. But I do not doubt that there will eventually be a settlement. All that is lacking is the necessary political will.

    Today is not the end of your enlargement process. There are more States waiting to be admitted in the future. The prospect of eventual membership is a vital factor for stability and progress throughout the Balkans and south-eastern Europe, in which I include Turkey.

    Enlargement also brings you new neighbours -- and that is the topic of this conference. I am glad that you have resolved to "avoid new dividing lines". Europe's destiny, I am sure, is not to be a fortress, but to serve as a model of strength through diversity, and of generosity as well as prosperity. If Europe is to achieve its full potential, it must project stability outwards, while welcoming new ideas, new products and -- I hope -- new people. You need them, as much as they need you.

    Needless to say, you want to live in a peaceful and stable environment. The bitter conflict on your doorstep between Arabs and Israelis is of great concern to you -- as it is to your Russian neighbours, your transatlantic partners, and indeed the whole world.

    That is why the United Nations is working so hard together with you, in the Quartet, to realise the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security -- a solution which must be the keystone of a comprehensive settlement, based on United Nations resolutions.

    I am convinced, as you are, that we now have a "road map" that can take us to that destination. We must urgently persuade both parties to summon the political will to follow it -- not setting pre-conditions for each other, but marching forward together towards peace.

    Our success in that enterprise, as in many others, will be affected by the way the international community handles the daunting new challenge that now faces us in Iraq. No issue has so divided the world since the end of the cold war. It is vital that we heal that division now. The world cannot afford a long period of recrimination. No one needs to abandon positions of principle. What we can, and must, do is to define a set of principles and objectives around which all of us can rally, and then move forward.

    Surely our first concern, in all our dealings with Iraq, must be the well-being of the Iraqi people. They have suffered terribly, and they deserve a better future. Their most immediate needs now are for public order and safety, and for humanitarian relief. It is therefore imperative that the coalition, as the occupying power, now give top priority to fulfilling its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations.

    For our part, we at the United Nations have already begun to assume our essential humanitarian role. We will do whatever we can to assist the Iraqi people, in an independent and impartial manner.

    Other, more fundamental measures will have much greater legitimacy if they are carried out by the Iraqi people themselves -- which means they can only be undertaken when the time is ripe.

    The international community, for its part, must be guided in its future policy and actions towards Iraq by a set of basic principles, which I believe we all share:

    -- the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Iraq;

    -- the right of the Iraqi people to freely determine their own system of government and political leadership, as well as to control their own natural resources;

    -- the need to help the people of Iraq, as quickly as possible, to establish conditions for a normal life, and to put an end to Iraq's isolation;

    -- the need for any role entrusted to the United Nations, beyond the purely humanitarian, to be mandated by the Security Council, consistent with the Charter, and one matched by the necessary resources; and

    -- finally, above all, the need to give pride of place, in all our thinking, to the rights and interests of the Iraqi people. Only so can we hope to ensure a viable future for Iraq.

    If we base ourselves firmly on those principles, I believe we can reunite, around a project to give the Iraqi people the chance of a brighter future. And that could be a big step towards a more stable and peaceful world.

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