PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS
Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press conference, held in New York today, 15 September:
On the Middle East: I am profoundly troubled by the lack of progress in the peace negotiations. It is vital that they resume. Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieving a two-state solution is long overdue. Time is not our friend.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attention, and now your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, welcome, and welcome back to the this traditional format for your press conference. We really appreciate it. And my question is this: Facing the tough countdown for the Palestinian issue, what can you do more in the coming hours as Secretary-General for the return to the negotiating table or for their request to be a state? And what is the risk for the United Nations in having the Palestinians considered or recognized by the General Assembly as an observer State? Thank you.
SG: Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieving the two-State solution is an aspiration and very important goal which has not been realized. It has been long overdue. That is why our collective priority must remain to create conditions for resumption of dialogue and negotiation to resolve all permanent status issues. The UN Charter is quite clear that the recognition of a State and membership in the United Nations are issues for Member States to decide and other UN intergovernmental bodies.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I wonder if you could clarify a couple of thing that you have said on Mid-East issues. On the Israeli-Palestinians, you said that you believe that any decision was up to Member States. Can we assume by this that if an application for UN membership was submitted to you that you would pass it on to the Security Council initially to consider? And when you were talking in your opening remarks about the Mid-East, you said time is not our friend. Could you elaborate a little more on what you meant about that?
SG: On the admission of a State into the United Nations, this is an issue to be decided by Member States in accordance with the Charter provision: first, they should go to the Security Council and get the recommendation by the Security Council, and that should be decided by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. My role as Secretary-General in this admission of a State is limited to a technical issue. When I receive an application from a State for admission into the United Nations, I review all these technical issues — whether this application is in proper form and stating that they are committed to implementing all the Charter provisions. Then, I refer it to the Security Council. I have not received any application yet. If I receive it, then I will refer [it] to the Security Council. You have raised three questions; what was the second question?
Q: The other one was time is not our friend in the Middle East.
SG: It has been long overdue. The two parties have been negotiating, the negotiations have been up and down. And it is really high time to resolve this issue, to realize a two-State solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security. That is the vision agreed upon by the two sides and supported by all the countries around the world. So, I am asking them to enter into a meaningful negotiation. And the international community has a duty to create some conditions favourable to this. And that means Israel has a duty to create such conditions. The issuing of all these settlements, new settlements, has not been favourable, has not been helpful. At the same time, the Palestinians should also try to sit together with the Israeli people. I am sympathizing with all these frustrations of the Palestinian people whose aspirations for an independent state has not been realized in the context of this two-State solution. That is why I am calling that time is not our friend.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. As part of the issue of the challenges in the Middle East, I would like to raise the question of natural resources, drilling for gas in the Mediterranean Sea. This issue is really dangerous, because Turkey is taking the lead. There is a former Turkish ambassador who said that there is a consortium, or a deal made between Israel and Cyprus on this matter, and Turkey is saying that it could escalate and it could be a problem. And this issue could escalate because Turkey is also willing to support Lebanon on this matter, because Lebanon has a problem with Israel. What are the steps taken by the UN in this matter? Demarcation and drilling gas.
SG: I am aware of this dispute over maritime explorations between Israel and Lebanon. This has become one of the sources of dispute between the two countries, and I have received letters from the respective parties - both Lebanon and Israel. The United Nations’ position is that this should be dealt with through their bilateral negotiations to determine the exact area of their exclusive economic zone area. At this time, I am just urging them to engage in further dialogue. Since you mentioned Turkey, again, I am very much concerned about this deteriorating relationship between Israel and Turkey over the release of the flotilla incident Palmer Report. Again, they are two very important countries in the region. Their harmonious cooperation will be very important in promoting Middle East peace and stability in the region. As Secretary-General, I have released this Palmer Report even though I have not engaged in any substantive recommendations. This is an independent report. I sincerely hope that their relationship will be normalized as soon as possible.
Q. And my question is really about Palestine. Legally, you are in a position to accept a move by Palestinian Observer State — if it becomes one — to what do you call it that treaty — the Rome Statute - so that they can be able to become part of the International Criminal Court. As a depository, you can accept that legally. Are you willing to exercise that right? Are you willing to accept it once it comes to you as a principle? And since you are a man who upholds the principal of justice in everything you have done, do you feel that the Palestinians deserve equal justice to others, or should there be an exception because circumstances? Thank you.
On this observer status, I know that in the past, the Secretary-General, on certain cases, acted directly to provide certain states with observer status or observer facilities, rather than observer status – observer facilities. In such a case, the General Assembly had not taken any decision on that decision. However, in the case of Palestine, it is quite a different case. The General Assembly has already granted a specific observer status, in accordance with Resolution 52/250 of 7 July 1998. Therefore, any change in that status would require a decision of the General Assembly.
Q: This was not my question, Secretary-General, my question was that as an observer state, if Palestine becomes an observer state, by the General Assembly resolution, they can go to you, as Secretary-General, and we are told that legally you own the decision to accept or to not accept the ratification of the treaty, as a depository of the International Criminal Court.
SG: The ICC.
Q: My question is about the ICC. Do you have any problem accepting that?
SG: I don’t want to prejudge what may or may not happen here at the United Nations on this particular case. Let me have some other opportunity to answer your question, when something really happens.
Q: I have asked the same question to [ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno] Ocampo and to high officials within the ICC, if the Palestinians go to the General Assembly and obtain the recognition as a state and observer state status, is there any objection, is there any hurdle for them to join the ICC and the Rome Statute — the answer was no. Are they right in their assumption, or do you think there are any problems with that? Thank you.
SG: On this ICC case, I think I have already answered. It involves some legal issues, political issues, let us wait [to see] how the situation evolves.
Q: If they applied for membership of the ICC, and to be part of the Rome Statute, do you see any way you can prevent them from this? Because if they are a state, although they are not a member of the United Nations, but they are a recognized state — do you think there is any way, because according to — I have it on the record, in June, from Ocampo — that there isn’t any, and they can ask for an investigation of crimes that took part in Palestine since 2002, not only the Gaza war?
SG: This Rome convention is different from the United Nations system. This is a separate, independent judicial organization based on Rome [Statue]. Therefore it is up to the State Parties to the ICC treaty, so let us wait for that.
Q: Thank you, Secretary-General. The relations between Egypt and Israel are deteriorating, and also between Turkey and Israel is falling apart. Do you think the question of Palestine is in relation of why these relations are falling apart, and if you ought also to speak with President Assad, if you at all want to speak with him, what would you tell him now? Thank you.
SG: I have spoken many times to President Assad. I told him to take decisive action, bold action, before it is too late. Then, he said he would engage in dialogue and he said that he would stop using military force in handling the demonstrations, but he has broken all the promises. That is why I said broken promises. I would repeat the same things. He must now listen to such urgent calls from the international community to stop killing his own people. On the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, as well as the Israeli-Egyptian relationship — all these are very important factors affecting overall peace and security in the Middle East. I am deeply concerned that with the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we are now experiencing, witnessing, a very deteriorating, rapidly deteriorating, situation between and among many important players in the region. The Israeli-Turkish relationship is now going in a very negative way. Again, this recent attack against the Egyptian Embassy — that was again very worrisome. I would really urge and appeal to the leaders in the region to improve their relationship on the basis of some strong, visionary leadership, for lasting peace and security in the Middle East. This is not only beneficial for individual countries concerned, but for the region, and peace and security have global implications. That is why the UN always has been discussing this matter during the last 60, 65 years. How many resolutions have we adopted at the Security Council and the General Assembly? Numerous resolutions have been adopted, but they have not been fully implemented. All this needs some strong political commitment and leadership, and with a vision.