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Source: Secretary-General
10 March 2003

The Hague, Netherlands, 10 March 2003 -
Secretary-General's press conference (unofficial transcript)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I know many of you would like to hear how the Cyprus talks are going. You will forgive me if I don't say anything just now, since the talks are still continuing. I hope to have something to tell you later in the afternoon.

One of the difficulties we have had to face, in this latest phase of the search for a Cyprus settlement, is that our work has been overshadowed by the atmosphere of crisis and great anxiety that is affecting the whole world. The question of Iraq's disarmament has brought the international community to a dangerous point of division and discord. I'm sure you will understand if I devote the remainder of my remarks to that issue.

Let me start by repeating something which must be obvious: all peoples today feel the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It is an issue of the utmost gravity – by no means confined to Iraq. The whole international community needs to act together to curb the proliferation of these terrible weapons, wherever it is happening.

The determination of the Security Council to disarm Iraq of such weapons is the most urgent issue – because Iraq has actually used such weapons in the past, and because it has twice committed aggression against its neighbours. That is why the Security Council, ever since 1991, has passed successive resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm. On this critical question, there are no divisions, no grounds for doubt, dispute or delay.

All around the globe, people want to see this crisis resolved peacefully. There is widespread concern about the long-term consequences of war in Iraq for the fight against terrorism; for the Middle East peace process; and for the world's ability to address common concerns in the future if deep divisions are sowed today between nations and between peoples of different religions.

Indeed, one must have no illusions about what war means. In certain circumstances the use of force may be necessary to secure a lasting peace. But the reality is that it would cause great human suffering, whether it is long or short; that it may lead to regional instability and economic crises; and it can – as it often has before – lead to unintended consequences producing new threats and new dangers.

War must always be a last resort – arrived at only if and when every reasonable avenue of achieving Iraq's disarmament by peaceful means has been exhausted. The United Nations – founded to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war – has a duty to search till the very end for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The members of the Security Council now face a great choice. If they fail to agree on a common position, and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired. If, on the other hand, they can come together, even at this late hour, to address this threat in a united manner and ensure compliance with their previous resolutions, then the Council's authority will be enhanced, and the world will be a safer place.

Indeed, Iraq does not exist in a vacuum. What happens there will have profound implications – for better or worse – for other issues of great importance to the surrounding region, and to the world. The broader the consensus on Iraq, the better the chance that we can come together again and deal effectively with other burning conflicts in the world, starting with the one between Israelis and Palestinians. Only a just resolution of that conflict can bring real hope of lasting stability in the region.

Even beyond the Middle East, the success or failure of the international community in dealing with Iraq will crucially affect its ability to deal with the serious situation developing on the Korean Peninsula – not to mention the conflicts which are causing such terrible suffering in Africa, and setting back the prospects for stability and development, from Côte d'Ivoire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And there are many other scourges that the world has to face, besides war. Whether they are protecting themselves against terrorism or struggling against the grim triad of poverty, ignorance and disease, States need to work together, and they can do so through the United Nations. However this conflict is resolved, the United Nations will remain as important as it is today.

We have seen in recent months what an immense significance States and peoples around the world attach to the legitimacy provided by the United Nations Security Council, and by the United Nations, as the common framework for securing the peace. As they approach their grave decision, I must solemnly urge all members of the Security Council to keep this in mind, and to be worthy of the trust in them that the world's peoples have shown.

Thank you very much.

I will now take your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, as you know there does not appear to be much unity on the Council. The Russian Foreign Minister today said he would veto a resolution. How badly damaged would the Security Council, as an institution, by this lack of unity?

SG: I think obviously there are divisions and this is why they need to come together and seek a compromise and work together. It may be late or it may still be possible but one has to try and I will say that the Council has been divided before and yet has managed to come together and find a common basis for moving forward. We saw this when we were discussing resolution 1441. Many thought it would not be possible that the Council could not come together. I think with good will and determination and a real focus we should be able to resolve this one as well. But if we are not able to resolve it, as I have indicated, whichever way this conflict is resolved, we must be clear.

The United Nations will be important and [it] will have important roles to play, regardless of how this issue is resolved. We went through this with regard to Kosovo where action was taken outside of the Council and yet those who took action had to return to the Council to be able to deal with the aftermath. Here it is not just dealing with the aftermath of Iraq but also with all the broader issues that I have referred to and I hope that the Council members will be able to come together and deal with the burning issues of the day.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, could we have more details on the Cyprus talks?

SG: Well, you know I invited the two leaders to come here to give me a specific answer as to whether they will be ready to put the agreement, the plan, to simultaneous referenda and we are discussing that. The talks are on-going, and I cannot give you much more than that at this stage. I am meeting them again later today, and after that I may have something to say. So just be a little patient.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, tomorrow you will be at the inauguration of the ICC, do you see a parallel in America's behaviour on the Iraq question and their attitude towards the ICC – which they did not only decline to join but are fighting against it?

SG: Well, I think it is the sovereign right of a government to decide when to sign onto a treaty and when not to. And obviously, the US has decided not to sign onto the Rome Treaty. And the other members states, over 80 of them, who have agreed are pressing ahead, with the formation of this Court, which I welcome and I think my presence here indicates a strong support, I have for that Court and I have been able to take time out despite the Iraqi crisis to join those who are launching the Court and I think it is [an] important development in the Rule of Law and a development of International Law, and I believe that in time all nations are going to need the Court. And so I have not given up on those who have not yet acceded to this Treaty of Rome. I hope that, once the Court is launched and demonstrates what it can do, they will sign on.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that an attack on Iraq without a second Council resolution would not be legitimate. Would you consider it as a breach of the UN Charter?

SG: I think that under today's world order, the Charter is very clear on circumstances under which force can be used. I think the discussion going on in the Council is to ensure that the Security Council, which is master of its own deliberations, is able to pronounce itself on what happens. If the US and others were to go outside the Council and take military action it would not be in conformity with the Charter.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, your Special Adviser on Cyprus has said that you had invited the parties to answer a simple question and that you wanted a simple answer – yes or no. Are we to assume that talks could be extended until tomorrow?

SG: I think I have answered your question. I indicated that the talks are still on-going and I started by saying that I've asked to come and answer this question. I am seeing them later this afternoon and after that you will have an answer. And sometimes to get to what you call a simple “yes” or “no” takes quite a lot of doing.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, is this the last chance for peace in Cyprus?

SG: I think it is a real opportunity, it is a unique opportunity, which if it is missed, I am not sure is going to come around for a long, long time. And as I have indicated, I doubt if it will come around again during my term as Secretary-General and I have a little under four years to go.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, are you still expecting an answer today ? Or is it postponed?

SG: That's why we are here.

Any more questions ?

Thank you very much.

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