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Source: Secretary-General
5 March 2004

Q: (interpretation from Arabic): I thank you for affording us this opportunity to meet with you – albeit in a limited time frame that will probably not enable us to ask about everything that is of interest to us. But I shall be brief and direct. Do you believe, now after a year has passed since the end of the American war in Iraq and its occupation, that the United Nations role could have been different, or that your personal role could have been different in a way that could have helped prevent the outbreak of the war? Do you believe that the United Nations was probably used in order to justify an unjust war, and that things are getting out of control now because of so-called terrorism in Iraq? And as a Ghanian citizen from the heart of Africa, in the Third World, do you fear that perhaps the role of the United Nations as we know it has come to an end in a way that represents a great loss for developing countries and peoples? Is the United Nations now merely a mask for the United States? And finally, do you as SG feel guilty, and that the winds have taken you where you do not want to be?

Q: I would like to thank you again, Sir – in English this time – and I would also like, as this is our final session, to thank Ahmed Fawzi and his team for their patience and really hard work during the whole week.

My question is: In the light of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, how legitimate the war, you think, will stand now in the light of the United Nations resolutions? And speaking of WMD, when and what it will take for the Arab world to see United Nations inspectors going to Israel?

Q: The question of reforms in the United Nations is very important. Two recurring themes during the past five days have been very prominent. One is to do with the credibility gap of the United Nations and the other one is the image problem. They are both interconnected. Can there be any reforms – I know it is a bit of a broad question – but can there can be any reforms that would address your credibility gap and image problem? This is one thing.

The other thing: Ambassador Cunningham yesterday was saying that the greater Middle East project proposal was a working paper that was leaked to the press. With that in mind, it's not too late for the United Nations to chip in and say something about this?

Thirdly and lastly, the Arab development report which you expressed pride in – it has been used by certain Arab parties as a pretext to say, “Well, this cannot be supported because it's giving the Americans a pretext” – the reason to attack Arab liberals and to do it from without. What are you doing to encourage them to fend off for them those who authored the report?

Q: What are the limits of toleration with unilateralism, if any? Are there any general principles?

Q: My question is very simple. Now we live under very important labels and now Islam is becoming almost an adjective that means also fundamentalism. The legitimate struggle for freedom is now equivalent to terrorism. And it seems that now, if you oppose Mr. Sharon's policies, you are being branded as anti-Semitic. What do you think of that?

SG: First of all, let me thank you for the very interesting questions you have put to me, starting with the first one. I think perhaps I did well by starting in explaining the two United Nations that we have – the United Nations of the Member States and the United Nations of the Secretariat – and where the decisions lie. And I think as I answer your questions, we should bear that in mind, because the United Nations is the Member States and can be as effective as the Member States want it to be on any particular issue.

The question of whether the United Nations could have acted differently and taken steps to prevent the war and [of whether] the Secretary-General could also have played a different role in trying to prevent the war. First of all, let me remind you that the Security Council and the United Nations did not authorize a war. The Security Council, after lengthy discussion and lots of efforts, did not authorize a war on Iraq. The war on Iraq and the decision to go to war was taken by a group of Member States, led by the United States and Britain. A majority of the Council members were not in favour, but of course the question is: What could they have done as the Security Council and as an organization?

I think, throughout the debate leading up to the war, most of them made their positions quite clear. I myself indicated that a war would not be in conformity with the Charter and the credibility of any such action would be widely questioned and the legitimacy would be widely questioned. And this is what has happened.

When the war took place, the Council then had to deal with the reality and the aftermath and to consider how it can play a role in stabilizing Iraq and in helping the people of Iraq, and in that process passed a series of resolutions which gave the United Nations itself a legal basis to act on the ground. That is where we sent in Sergio Vieira de Mello and the others.

Yes, Iraq is under occupation and, for the United Nations as an Organization, it's an unusual situation that we are dealing with. As a result of that war, also, the United Nations – when you talk of credibility – took a really hard knock. Those who were opposed to the war, as I sense from the questions that you've asked – and most people in this building, and particularly those outside this building – could not understand why the United Nations could not have stopped the war, why the United Nations did not stop the war. And those who were in favour of the war were also upset with the United Nations and the Security Council for not supporting the war.

So we got it from both ends, which affected our credibility.

But I think it has to be clear that this was not a United-Nations-sanctioned war, and it was not a decision of the Council. And I think that's an important measure that you could have, I think, when you ask, “Could the United Nations have done something differently?” First of all, I think they took this issue so seriously in a whole series of discussions and attempts, and tried to ask for more time for the inspectors and to wait for a second resolution. But the United States and the British - which had forces in the region - went ahead anyway and conducted a war. And so, in my judgement, the Council acted the way that it should have, by taking the issue seriously, debating it and concluding that they could not support it.

On the question of weapons of mass destruction, I would say that the question has also been raised when the United Nations would go to Israel - because I think on the question of legitimacy others have dealt with that. On the question of whether the United Nations would also go to Israel – here is the question – to inspect for weapons of mass destruction. Israel has not signed the Treaty, and there has been no similar Security Council resolution as in the case of Iraq. But we have always urged countries to cooperate with international instruments, to be forthcoming. And, in fact, there have been quite a lot of discussions about eventually taking measures to ensure that the whole region is nuclear-free, regardless of which country we are talking about. But concrete steps have to be taken that have not yet been taken. In fact, in resolution 687, there was a paragraph that dealt with a security zone for the region, and I hope that in future we will be able to go back to this.

Let me now turn to the question of transfer of power to an Iraqi Government. You are right; I sent a team, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, to Iraq, and I think they did a very competent report, which has been generally well received. I have been in touch with the Governing Council and also with the CPA, and have indicated that, once they have digested the report of Lakhdar Brahimi, I am prepared to send a team back to work with the Iraqis and the Governing Council to find an appropriate mechanism for establishing an interim Government or a caretaker Government to which power could be transferred on 30 June. So we are prepared to do it, and we are in consultation with them. Once they have agreed and we can fix a date, I would be prepared to send in the team as soon as practicable.

On the question of Israel renting Sinai as a possible solution or Arab countries absorbing the Palestinians, the United Nations resolutions and proposals for the settlement have always been based on land for peace. And the land that we have in mind is Gaza and the West Bank. In the case of Syria, it is the Golan. And, of course, in the case of Lebanon, there has been substantial withdrawal from the border; the only contested area is the Shaba'a farms. But, really, we were looking at those territories, not territories beyond that, to be swapped for peace. And so we need to focus on the issues.

I am glad our colleague from Tunis spoke so frankly, saying he was angry during the war. Lots of people were angry, including some in this building, so I am not surprised that you would be angry. But, as he indicated, the United Nations was paralysed during the war. I think the explanation I gave to an earlier question deals with that. Of course, again I would want to remind you, when you speak of the United Nations in this situation you are speaking of the Member States.

The occupation, as I said, has been a difficult one for us, and it has also led to major divisions among the Member States: those who were for the war and those who were against the war. It is only recently that we have begun to overcome it, and we are encouraging everybody to come together and to help. My view is that we should put the interests of the Iraqi people at the centre of all that we are trying to do, and see what we can do to help them, after a long period of suffering, to redeem their country, to stabilize it and to establish a Government that works for the Iraqis – a Government established by the Iraqis - and to establish an Iraq that is at peace with itself and with its neighbours.

On the question of United Nations reform, credibility and image, let me say that, in your region, this is also very much linked up with the issue of double standards, which has also been one of the questions. I have never been to a capital in your region where I have not been asked about double standards, either by the press or the leaders. The Security Council and the Member States of the Organization are well aware of that perception, which in some cases is more than a perception – it is seen as a reality. Of course, one often explains that one resolution was under Chapter VII, and the Member States were prepared to enforce it with force, which was the case with the resolutions concerning Iraq. The issue of the resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine are under Chapter VI and can be enforced only with the cooperation of the parties and through negotiations. But that should not mean that the international community should not do whatever it can - and put on as much pressure as it can - to get the issue resolved and, in some cases, play an active role. For example, in the case of the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon, we the United Nations got involved and worked with the Palestinians and the Israelis to ensure that the withdrawal was complete, to draw the Blue Line and then to confirm that they had withdrawn.

In the Israeli-Palestinian case, many attempts have been made, but all not too successfull. We now have a Quartet road map on the table. The road map is in distress; I do not think it is dead. But if it is going to be revived, we need a sustained collective international effort, with the keen involvement of Washington, to be able to move the process forward. Recently, there was a suggestion from the Prime Minister that they may withdraw entirely from Gaza, which is a positive development; it is the first time an Israeli Prime Minister has made such an announcement. But, of course, the territory concerned is not just Gaza; there is also the West Bank. And eventually, it would also entail dealing with the West Bank and eventual withdrawal from the West Bank.

But here, of course, is also another area where the international community, with Washington included, can play a role to ensure that the withdrawal indeed does take place, and does take place in a manner that is helpful to the peace process that one is trying to advance. This is something that I and all the Quartet members are monitoring very closely, and hopefully we will see some movement on that. If that were to happen, I think it could introduce a new dynamic that would really put some energy into the whole attempt to bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Arab Development Report was not intended to be used against Arabs; it was intended as an analysis by Arabs themselves as to things are wrong in society that need to be corrected. Since it was a home-grown analysis, we were also hoping that the action to correct them would also come from within. And in fact, in some countries in the region, the debate has started and people are trying to push for reforms from within and changes from within. And in fact, our own view is that changes cannot be imposed – it has to be home-grown – and this is what we hope the report will help propel forward: internal reforms.

There was also the question of limits to unilateralism. I think it's clear that we live in an interdependent world or a global village, and in this sort of world no one country is an island or no one country can deal with certain types of issues on its own. We gain by often working collectively, working with other countries and pooling our efforts. I think it is time Governments came to understand that, in an interdependent world, the collective interest is often the national interest and that sometimes, when one goes [it] alone, one runs into serious difficulties.

I think the United States, which went to war in Iraq without the approval of the Council – a war that divided the world – has had to conclude that it needs to work with the rest of the world and the other countries, including the United Nations. And now I am seeing very hopeful signs of all Governments coming together to help the Iraqi people, the United States working actively with the Security Council and the United Nations to find a way forward in Iraq, having concluded that it cannot do it alone. And so, in that sense, there are limits as to what even the most powerful country can do alone.

As to the greater Middle East project, I think I dealt with it in the sense that, first of all, I said that it has to be… The Arab League has also taken it up and the nations are taking it up. The proposal is not formally on the table. I have had the chance to discuss it very briefly in Washington, D.C., but I had also indicated that, if we are really going to make a major impact in the Middle East, we have to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli question first. We should be seen to be showing results, and without improvement in that situation, the persistence of the Palestinian suffering undermines every effort that one is trying to make in the Middle East.

That having been said, I am not implying that any reform in the Middle East should wait until the Palestinian issue is resolved. Arab countries, Arab intellectuals, Arab civil societies, Arab women are seeking empowerment and pushing this, and I think it should be encouraged, it should be applauded and it should be home-grown. Any attempt to impose it from outside cannot work. Outsiders can promote and support and encourage positive reforms, but reforms cannot be imposed from the outside.

On the question of United Nations credibility, we realize that our message is not getting through, and we are often also misunderstood in the region, although I believe that, on some of the contentious issues that we have discussed, we at the United Nations often say and do more than is appreciated. I mean, whether on the Palestinian-Israeli issue or other things, we have spoken out here, sometimes much louder than other others in the region. And we will continue to speak out. We will continue to stand up for the weak and the oppressed and I would hope that we will find a way of getting our message through.

In that context, we really hope to work much more closely with you, but working closely with you also means that we have to let you know what is happening. We have to state our cases and our position as simply and as clearly as possible so that it will be useful for you and your papers.

On the question, of Islam and Israel, I will say that I have had occasion to say very frankly that we should be careful not to confuse criticism of Israeli Government policies with anti-Semitism. One should be able to criticize Israeli Government policies, as we criticize policies of other Governments, without being anti-Semitic. I am against anti-Semitism and I am against Islamophobia, but we should be able to criticize without being accused of being anti-Semitic.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, we know you have given us a lot more time than we had asked you for, and I am most grateful. You will have noticed that only one journalist had the admirable self-restraint not to ask you a question. He would, instead, like to thank you.

Q: Having had all my questions vicariously asked for me by my colleagues, I would not like to miss the opportunity to express my thanks to you. It is an honour to meet you. I join my voice to those of my colleagues in thanking Mr. Shashi Tharoor, Mr. Ahmad Fawzi and Mr. Abdelhamid Abdeljaber and their team for the wonderful job they have done. We have enjoyed a great week here. And I would like to assure you that, if there is a bias, we would like to claim that it is a bias towards the United Nations, because we are biased towards international law.

SG: Thank you very much, and thank you very much for coming. I am really happy to have had the opportunity to meet all of you. Good luck on your way back. I hope this is going to be a long, fruitful relationship.

Q (interpretation from Arabic): Mr. Secretary-General, would you not consider the participation of the United Nations as a member of Quartet a kind of error: that the United Nations is implicating itself with other countries that have completely different interests and is becoming a member of a group instead of the main reference point for the rights of peoples, particularly the Palestinians?

SG: I think the issue of the Quartet and the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the United Nations has very clear and specific resolutions on the land-for-peace issue: when we came together with the Quartet it was to push for the implementation of those resolutions and to work with Governments and regions with influence, to pool their efforts and try and press the parties to implement the Security Council resolutions. And, in fact, since the Quartet was formed – or since the resolutions were passed: 338 and 242 – no different solution has been proposed. Even President Bush's speech of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side is exactly the same approach as the resolutions which were passed years ago. And so, for the United Nations to come together with a group of countries, particularly the Americans, which have influence on Israel, to try and push for the implementation of this goal I think is not a mistake. The process has stalled, and we are trying to see how we can get it back on track. But the objective really was to push for an implementation, or attainment of an objective that this Organization has stood for and insisted on all along. And President Bush made a statement in line with those resolutions. So we said, “Let's go ahead and see how we can all help implement it”. I do not think that was a mistake.

I think, if it had moved along as quickly and as smoothly as we had expected, I do not think you would even have asked this question. But now that it is in trouble and we are trying to get it moving, I think we should maintain our efforts and not be discouraged by the difficulties that it has run into.

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