29 April 2004
Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, on 28 April 2004
The Secretary-General: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am sure you all followed Lakhdar Brahimis presentation to the Security Council yesterday and his assessment of the chances of success in the political process in Iraq, given the deteriorating security situation.
I think it was a very sober assessment and I do not have much to add to it. But I want to add my voice to his in appealing to all parties in Iraq to refrain from violence, to respect international humanitarian law, and to give this process of political transition a chance.
We all want to see the end of the occupation. We all want to see Iraq at peace, with itself and with its neighbours and with a genuinely representative government. As Mr. Brahimi said, there will not be a fully representative government until there are free and fair elections, which we all hope will happen in January 2005. Somehow, we have to get from here to there, and I think the kind of caretaker government he has proposed is the way forward.
I also think Mr. Brahimi was quite right to say that violent military action by an occupying Power against the inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse. It is definitely time now for those who prefer restraint and dialogue to make their voices heard.
There is nothing cowardly or faint-hearted about this approach. Those who venture into violent situations in the cause of peace run just as high risks as the soldiers do, as we in the United Nations learned all too painfully last year. It takes courage and dogged determination to work for peace in a violent world. Mr. Brahimi and his team deserve our respect and support, as do those who are serving the United Nations in many other zones of conflict which get less publicity than Iraq.
One of those is Darfur in the Sudan. As you know, we have had some very worrying reports about atrocities being committed there -- reports which, as I told the Commission on Human Rights on 7 April, fill me with a deep sense of foreboding. I am continuing to follow the situation very carefully. Today, we have two teams on the ground in the Sudan -- one from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the other a humanitarian one led by Jim Morris of the World Food Programme.
I await their reports and hope that the Government of the Sudan, as well as the international community, will take immediate and effective action to put an end or to stop human rights violations in the area and bring relief to the victims. That is the objective of the two teams on the ground.
I should also say a few words about Cyprus. The vote by the Greek Cypriots to reject my proposals last Saturday was, of course, a great disappointment, since it means that Cyprus will not now enter the European Union as a reunited island.
I salute the Turkish Cypriots for their courageous vote in favour of the proposals. We must all do our best to see that they are not penalized for the way the vote went in the other part of the island.
I remain convinced that the plan I put forward is the only realistic basis for reunifying the island, which I believe is the sincere desire of the majority of Cypriots in both communities. I hope that before too long the Greek Cypriots will have an opportunity to consider the plan more calmly, and to judge it on its true merits.
Let me now take your questions.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, welcome. You made a strong point of the violence of the occupying Power, which I assume was a reference both to the situation in the Middle East, as well as to Iraq. On Iraq and the issue of violence, its clear the insurgency is increasingly taking on a nationalist cast. In other words, it is a political factor -- in fact, probably the key political factor. The UN is going in to take control of the political situation, except in one key area, which is the area of security. You wont be able to control the Coalition forces. How do you square that circle?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that it has never been our intention to take over security. The UN is in Iraq today trying to assist with the political transition. I personally believe that the political process is perhaps one of the most important and urgent tasks in Iraq today.
Brahimi and his team are there assisting with that process, and once an interim Government, or caretaker Government, has been established, if they so wish we will work with them on the Constitution and the elections and help them organize national elections and establish a Government in January.
As far as security is concerned, I think it is one of the issues a Security Council resolution is going to deal with. I will never see a UN peacekeeping force under a UN representative. I think you will always have a multinational force that will work side by side with the UN. But what your question implies is that we would need to work out relationship and coordination mechanisms between the UN and the new Government, the UN and the multinational force and other stakeholders on the ground. It is not going to be easy. It is going to be complex, and this is the way we see it.
On the question of the violence, I think the reason why I asked for caution is that the more these attacks -- the more the occupation is seen as taking steps that harm civilians and the population -- the greater the ranks of the resistance grow. I think that everybody has said that the struggle really should have been to win the hearts and minds of the people, and so it has to be an effort in that direction, as well. It is a difficult situation. Im not pretending its very easy to do it, but I think that one has to be careful not to get it much worse.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, all the talk about Iraq has been in the context of a localized situation. But it is not a localized situation. It has enormous implications for the world economy, for all oil-importing countries. What kind of contingency planning is the United Nations taking, because you cant just sit on the sides and say, the security is too bad, we cannot go in?
The Secretary-General: I agree with you that the situation in Iraq cannot be looked at as a strictly local issue. First of all, it has implications for the region and economic implications for the world, if the situation were to get much worse and affect the region. The Member States and all those I speak to are very much aware of this, and this is one of the reasons why the message going out is that the stabilization of Iraq is everyones concern, and we need to find a way of pooling our efforts to work together to stabilize Iraq. I think in this process the new resolution of the Security Council is going to be a very important factor.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, the oil-for-food programme debate has brought some very serious charges against this Organization, against you personally, as in the rendering of Kofigate, as in charges of corruption, dishonesty, lack of transparency. Your own son has figured in some of the allegations. Can you tell me how bad this has been for the reputation of the United Nations, and do you view this really as an institutional crisis to save the good name of the United Nations?
The Secretary-General: It is very serious. It is very serious, and let me say that there is nothing in the accusations about my son. He joined the company even before I became Secretary-General, as a 22-year-old, as a trainee in Geneva, and then he was assigned to work for them in West Africa, mainly in Nigeria and Ghana. Neither he nor I had anything to do with contracts for Cotecna. That was done in strict accordance with UN rules and financial regulations, and these are also part of the issues that the panel investigating this issue will look into, look into thoroughly and issue a report, that I hope will clarify the issues.
On the broader issue, I think, without wanting to get into the issues that the panel will be dealing with, let me say that some of the comments that I have read have been constructive and thoughtful. Others have been rather outrageous and exaggerated. In fact, when you look at it, if you read the reports, it looks as if the Saddam regime had nothing to do with it. They did nothing wrong; it was all the UN. You take the oil smuggling. There was no way the UN could have stopped it. In fact, when you look at the GAO estimates, they estimate that 5.7 of the estimated 10 billion was for oil. And everybody -- we were not only, we had no mandate to stop oil smuggling. There was a maritime task force that was supposed to do that. They were driving the trucks through northern Iraq to Turkey. The US and the British had planes in the air. We were not there. Why is all this being dumped on the UN?
We have also indicated, and I think most of you know, the way the operations were run here and the role of the 661 Committee beginning from its inception to the end, and the approval of contracts or putting it on hold, of course, the Member States are not coming out saying, we had a role, or we had an oversight responsibility -- so all is dumped on the Secretariat. But those of you in this Building know how the operation was run.
Be that as it may, these allegations are doing damage, and we need to face them sternly and do whatever we can to correct them, and we are beginning to put out quite a lot of information which I hope will correct some of the misinformation that has been put out. And I also hope that, once the panels report is out, some of the issues of corruption would also be dealt with, because we want to get to the bottom of that, too.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, aside from the instability in Iraq and the situation between Israel and Palestine, there seems to be a general wave of instability in the Middle East, the most recent of which is the terrorist attack in Damascus. How do you assess this pattern, this wave of instability, and what do you see as a solution to it?
The Secretary-General: That is a big question. I think that you are right, that we are seeing a spread of terrorist activities. And its not just in the region. We have seen it in Europe, and we have seen it in other places. And, perhaps, it could get much worse before it gets better. What is important here is that Governments have to cooperate. They have to cooperate across national borders. They have to share information. Their police and legal systems have to cooperate and work on the basis of the Security Council resolution that demands that no Government should harbour terrorists or give them financial support, and that they freeze their financial accounts and take steps to deprive them of their opportunities. So I think that kind of international cooperation and sharing of information and political and diplomatic work will have a great impact on the fight against terrorism. I know that there are times when force may have to be used, but I do not think that is the main instrument.
Question (spoke in French): Concerning Darfur, would you say that what we are seeing here is a case of ethnic cleansing? Jan Egeland used that term, would you use it, as well? And how are you planning to handle that crisis in the light of what happened in Rwanda? You spoke of that recently during the commemoration.
The Secretary-General (spoke in French): I spoke to President Al-Bashir of Sudan last Sunday, and, according to him, the situation is calm. But two missions are going to be heading there to work and to monitor the situation in the field. They will submit a report. Now, obviously, I have to await that report before I make any statements, because they are on the spot. That would be a much more prudent way of doing things, so I will be waiting for Mr. Morris to submit his report to me. But I am concerned about this. I have already said that here and in the Commission on Human Rights, as well.
Question (spoke in French): And what about Rwanda?
The Secretary-General (spoke in French): We must always be vigilant here. We cannot wait until it is too late. That is why we are working with the Government. That is why we sent these teams: to avoid having the situation there become another Rwanda.
Question: On Iraq, do you know when you are going to name a special representative? It seems to figure very highly in John Negropontes plans for Iraq. And any hint of who it is and how large of a team you intend to send? And secondly, a short question on Cyprus. Have you thought about the peacekeeping force at all? I know its Security Council, but is the United Nations going to continue having a peacekeeping force to protect the Greek Cypriots?
The Secretary-General: On your first question, let me say that, obviously, we will need to appoint an SRSG for Iraq, an SRSG who in time may be resident in Iraq. But that, as I have told you, all depends very much on the security situation. For the moment, Mr. Brahimi is acting as my Special Envoy and is very active and engaged in the sort of activities a Special Representative would have engaged in, and we will appoint a Special Representative to take over from him in time. I cannot give you a name.
As to the number of UN staff that will go back into Iraq, it is difficult for me to say. I mean, we have contingency plans, depending on what happens on the ground. For the moment, we will be sending in small teams to do specific tasks along the model we have used with Mr. Brahimi and also with the electoral team that has been going in to advise the Iraqis on how to set up an independent electoral commission and prepare the legal framework for elections next year.
So I cannot give you numbers, I cannot give you a name for the SRSG, and I cannot give you days, but I assure you we are thinking about all that.
On Cyprus, yes, the Council is going to discuss it, but I do expect the UN presence to continue in some form. In fact, there had been an anticipation that, if the plan had been approved and they had reunified, we would even have strengthened and increased the UN military presence. But we will review that with the Council. But I expect a UN presence of some sort to continue.
Question: You and your Envoy, Mr. Secretary-General, have been urging for a peaceful solution for Fallujah, Karbala and Najaf. Have you presented any ideas? Are you ready to respond to some calls that you should have a role as the United Nations? Could you have such a role, and if there is nothing but a military confrontation, would this not torpedo all your peaceful plans and the whole plan that Mr. Brahimi presented on the political process?
The Secretary-General: We did get an appeal from a committee in Fallujah that the UN should intervene, but, of course, it is difficult for us to intervene, as we are not on the ground. But I have spoken to US authorities about this and the need for caution, the need to do all that is possible to avoid a violent confrontation, which, as I said, would play into the hands of the resistance and also have a broader reaction in the region.
As far as the UN is concerned, quite frankly, when you say the UN should intervene, we can intervene with the occupying Power, which I have done, but physical intervention on the ground is beyond our means.
Question: So what ideas do you have for a peaceful solution, and if there is no peaceful solution, would this not really actually torpedo your whole peace plan?
The Secretary-General: I think in terms of ideas for a peaceful solution, as Lakhdar himself said in the Council, we have encouraged talk, we have encouraged dialogue between the Coalition and the Iraqi forces, and we were all encouraged by the kind of discussions which were going on between the people of Fallujah and the Coalition forces. There had also been talks going on in Najaf, which we had hoped would work out. Of course, our concern is that any assault on Najaf will have really unimaginable consequences and could complicate very much the efforts that we are trying to make in facilitating and in working with the Iraqis to establish an interim Government.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, following the conclusion of the Walzer report, a number of United Nations staff wrote to you criticizing the disciplinary action that you had taken and asking you to take more public, personal responsibility for some of the security lapses, which I gather you have done. But I was hoping you could give me some sense of what this says about the morale within the institution regarding Iraq policy and what impact it may have on your ability to bring the Organization back in a sort of deeper way into Iraq. Is this going to be a problem?
The Secretary-General: The security failures, apart from individuals who were pinpointed for being accountable for certain actions or inaction, were also systemic, and we are taking steps and measures to deal with that. Let me say that the UN learned a bitter lesson last August, and I myself have been very apprehensive about sending staff in large numbers and have indicated that we need to make sure that they will be protected, there will be security and we are not placing them in harms way.
It is not just the staff. I share their concern about rushing into Iraq in these circumstances and, of course, these kinds of things -- what happened, the disciplinary measures and the need for us to go back in -- make staff anxious and, of course, do have an impact on morale. But I hope that this is something that we will overcome.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, if I may go back to Fallujah. Watching what has been happening in Fallujah over the past few days, did you at any moment feel tempted to sort of pull the plug on Brahimis mission, or do you think that what is happening in Fallujah, especially on the civilian side, as it is being depicted in some media, is a price that the Iraqis have to pay now for the sake of future stability?
And another one on Mr. Brahimis speech in the Council yesterday. He said that another important step the CPA has been considering is the dissolution of existing militias, including the Mehdi Army. Does that mean that any intention that the UN may have entertained at some point to talk to somebody like Moqtada Al-Sadr is now terminated?
The Secretary-General: Let me start with the second question. I think it is normal for a country or the occupying Power to want to have cohesive security and law-and-order forces. You cannot have an army, a police and lots of militia also operating in the same territory. So the efforts to disband the militias, I think, are a good objective. I am not aware that Mr. Brahimi had made plans to see individual people leading this until you said it, and so I would not want to comment on that.
As to Fallujah, I was in touch by phone with Mr. Brahimi. The situation on the ground and the violence and the deteriorating situation made it difficult for him to move around and see as many people as he would have liked to, but he was able to function, even though in a constrained manner. We were in touch discussing it and to see if he could operate, and as long as he could operate, I never considered pulling the plug. If that became impossible, yes, then we would have done that.
Question: Mr. Brahimi spoke about the importance of the caretaker Government in terms of security. Do you believe that transferring power back to the Iraqis will have a significant effect on the level of violence, or do you think that will continue? On the question of elections, he spoke about that as being a very significant milestone, but again, given the current insecurity, the lack of international expertise, the situation as we have seen in Afghanistan and the problems they had, do you think you may be raising false expectations among the Iraqis that elections will take place in January?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that security affects everything. Security affects the process we are in. It affects elections. It affects reconstruction and recovery. It affects the lives of ordinary Iraqis -- their daily lives -- and so it is absolutely important that everything be done to improve the security environment.
Having said that, you asked me if I think the security situation would improve after handover. I really dont know. Some believe it may, others think it may get worse. But let me say that, if what we are witnessing is a resistance against occupation, and if the occupation were to end, I hope some would be dissuaded, not to continue fighting because, in a way, they would have achieved their objectives. This does not mean that there will not be people on the ground who will keep shooting at any foreign soldier on the ground and will believe that the resistance has not ended until all foreign forces are away. But I would hope that the ending of the occupation may have some impact.
And, of course, as I said, elections also require a certain calm environment for it to be effectively and fairly organized. We dont know what the future holds and what the situation will be like between now and January. In the meantime, we are working with the Iraqis to prepare the ground, as I indicated, establishing an independent electoral commission, establishing, hopefully, political parties, laws, and beginning to think through how you go about registering voters. So all this preparatory work will take place, and I hope the environment will allow us to put it in practice.
Question: A couple of questions on Brahimis comments regarding Israel: the point that was made by John Negroponte yesterday in the Senate hearing was that Mr. Brahimi is not connected to policy-making at the UN regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. But since the gist of his point was that the Palestinian issue and the Iraqi issues are connected, which is a point you have made in the past, the question is whether Brahimi, who comes from a country with declared animosity to Israel, does not get a voice in shaping that policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And also, the second question is whether these comments have helped in solidifying support for his plan inside Iraq.
The Secretary-General: On your last point, I cannot say whether it has helped in solidifying his position in Iraq. But let me say that -- lets put things in context: what Lakhdar Brahimi said was that -- and I spoke to him -- he was answering a question and indicated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way it is managed has an impact on other efforts in the region. And this is a position widely held. There is also the question of the convergence of the two crises. Everybody had been concerned, even before the war, that we have to be careful that the two crises do not converge in the minds of people in the region. And if it did, it would reinforce the hardliners and the extremists. And I think these were some of the issues that Lakhdar was discussing.
As to his impact on UN policy on the Middle East, Ambassador Negroponte is right: it is not his portfolio. I dont discuss Middle East and Israeli policy issues with Lakhdar before I go to Quartet meetings or before I speak to the Israeli Prime Minister or the other side. So I think he has his portfolio, and we should also see that the comments he made were also in the context of the work he is doing and the impact it has on his efforts and how the people in the region perceive these issues. He is a thoughtful man -- I think most of you know him, you have seen him around here and you have worked with him -- and I do not think he is someone who goes about making provocative statements.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, the Quartet will meet in a few days -- on the fourth of next month? Do you still believe that the Quartet has a vital role to play, especially in light of the unilateral disengagement plan and guarantees that were given by the American administration to the Israelis?
The Secretary-General: Yes, the Quartet will meet on 4 May, here in New York, to assess the situation and to see what we can do to move things ahead. And this -- the issue of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will be very much on the agenda. I mean, I have made it clear: in Roed-Larsens briefing to the Council, which I approved, we had indicated that the withdrawal, handled properly, could be a step in the right direction, if it is seen as a step in the process and if the plan or decision to withdraw is also complete: complete withdrawal from Gaza.
But then you will need the international community to work with the Palestinians to ensure security, law and order, because this is also one of the concerns of the Israeli side. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority has been weakened and depleted and is going to need help to be able to do that. And let me remind you, we had a similar arrangement when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. The UN worked with the Israelis and the Lebanese Government to ensure that the withdrawal was managed and orderly, and we confirmed that the withdrawal had taken place and also worked with the Lebanese to expand their administration and authority to the border. The Quartet, in the meeting on 4 May, I am sure will look at some of these issues.
People have asked me: is the Road Map still alive? And you have added: is the Quartet still alive? I think we do have a role to play; we do have a belief that the Road Map is in distress, but not dead and that we will try to encourage the parties to use it. And both parties have embraced it; even the Israeli Government recently talked about accepting the Road Map. And let me also say that we believe the final status issues must be negotiated between the two parties. And I think almost all the Quartet members agree with that.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, do you intend on asking for the same kind of circumstances permitting clause in a future Security Council resolution that would govern the UN being in Iraq after 30 June? And related to that, do you think that your pullout from Iraq after the bombing on 19 August has perhaps put in the minds of Iraqis that a similar kind of attack could drive you back out?
The Secretary-General: I think the phrase circumstances permitting, I hope, is still relevant and will be relevant in the new resolution. And I trust that Member States will go along with that. I am not sure if I can accept your second premise, that having been driven away once, the Iraqis may think they can drive us away again with another attack. I hope no one is contemplating that. And we are not going to set ourselves up. We are going to be very, very careful to make sure that we are not exposed. And I think you have noticed how careful we have been this time around.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, first, a quick follow-up on your Quartet answer: Have you spoken to the Israelis and the Palestinians about a possible UN role in Gaza involving the pullout? My question is about the whole issue of sovereignty as it relates to Iraq and the caretaker Government that is going to take over on 30 June. Do you believe that this Government is going to have full and complete sovereignty? Because I am sure, as you have read, in Washington there are some people who believe that this Government will only have limited sovereignty. Is there such a thing as limited sovereignty, or is this Government going to have complete sovereignty, and how would you define it?
The Secretary-General: On your first question: yes, my Envoy on the ground has spoken to both sides, and I have also spoken personally: in fact, when the Israeli Foreign Minister was here, that was one of the issues I discussed with him. So, we have taken it up, and the Israeli Government knows our position, and so do the Palestinians. But we will see, once we move forward, how that will be taken up.
On your second question: I think these are issues still under discussion between the CPA and the Iraqis. In the presentation to the Council by Lakhdar Brahimi, he did indicate that this Government would be expected to be a caretaker Government and, therefore, not take decisions that will bind the future, duly elected Government, and that they perhaps would have key specific roles: helping organize the elections, providing civil administration and others. But, of course, these are issues which will have to be discussed. I think that apart from those issues, there are other relationships that will also have to be looked at: the relationship between any international force on the ground and the Government, between the Government and the multinational force and the UN, and other relationships that would need to be sorted out. So, there are quite a lot of discussions that will need to take place, I think, between now and the end of June.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, with regard to the oil-for-food programme investigation, there are many complaints that your terms of reference are not tough enough and that Mr. Volcker does not have the ability - he himself admitted that he does not have the ability to subpoena people -- that his investigation is limited in terms of the teeth that he can put into a serious investigation. How do you address this issue, and how do you ensure that once there are perhaps certain revelations -- that some of these accusations are proven to be true, lets say -- that you will really go after those people, those guilty parties, perhaps even some of your colleagues within the UN, who have been accused of certain wrongdoings?
The Secretary-General: Let me say that the UN in this sort of situation does not have the power of subpoena. So there will be no question of the UN providing a power of subpoena to the panel or to Mr. Volcker. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I went to the Council to get their support, and after discussions with Mr. Volcker, who said that a resolution would strengthen his hand, and we went back to the Council to get a resolution.
If you look at the resolution, there is also a paragraph in there asking the regulatory organs of the various Governments to cooperate with the investigation and encouraging the Governments to cooperate with the panel we have set up. The Council members have indicated they would, and they are urging other Member States to do the same. If, in the end, any UN staff members are found guilty of wrongdoing, we will deal with them. In those cases, in some situations, we may even want to lift the immunity of the staff so that we do not impede the judicial process.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, allow me to turn your attention a little bit to another part of the world. In its most recent report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) expressed its concern that Kosovo could become Europes West Bank. When you talk with your advisers on that issue, what do you talk about? Do you share that concern? And, how do you see, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the future of Kosovo?
The Secretary-General: We at the UN and the Mission on the ground are guided by the [Security Council] resolution 1244 (1999). In the plan we have set up, we are trying to work with the Kosovars to establish institutions, to strengthen their institutions; and we have set up certain standards that we are working with them to achieve. The plan had been to work with them on the attainment and achievement of the standards and then deal with the question of status - whichever way it goes.
But given what happened on the ground, there is a need for us to rethink our whole approach, which we are doing. We are reassessing where we are. And we are talking to our partners. I am not at the stage yet where I will say that Kosovo is becoming Europes West Bank, as you said. I am not yet in a position to make that kind of judgement, but we are reassessing the situation with our partners in Europe and in the region and also with other interested parties, to see what adjustments in our plans, what adjustments in the direction we are going need to be made. But, of course, in doing that, we also need to work with the neighbours. You may know that I met Mr. Rugova here, and these were some of the issues we discussed. Of course, he raised the question of independence with me.
Question: And what did you answer?
The Secretary-General: I told him that we are bound by resolution 1244 (1999) and that these are issues that will be discussed later. There is no UN position on that now. But we need to talk to our partners about that.
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