Question of Palestine home
29 June 2004
SECRETARY GENERAL’S PRESS CONFERENCE
5:30 p.m., 29 June 2004
SG: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am pleased to be back in Doha. This is a difficult time in the region. I welcome the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq yesterday. The world is happy that Iraq has rejoined the family of independent and sovereign nations. The Interim Government faces great challenges to establish conditions of security and to carry forward the transition. If the Interim Government is to meet those challenges, it must be given the chance to exercise Iraq’s sovereignty fully.
I call upon all Iraqis to come together in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation, through a process of open dialogue and consensus-building, to lay down secure foundations for the new Iraq. Their first duty is to assist their interim government to establish security for the population so that the difficult process of the return toward normalcy can commence.
I am also deeply concerned about the Israeli Palestinian conflict which has defied all previous attempts at settlement. As discouraging as this is we should not give up.
The vision of two viable and independent states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side within secure and recognized borders, must be kept alive. I continue to believe that the Quartet’s Road Map offers a way to reach that vision. And I welcome the Quartet’s reiteration of support for the Beirut Arab Peace Summit Initiative expressed by Arab leaders at Tunis in May as a basis for a negotiated settlement.
The Israeli intention to withdraw from the Gaza Strip could help break the current stalemate – if it is carried out in the right way. It must transfer full authority and control to the Palestinians. And it should be accompanied by similar steps in the West Bank. In this regard the international community, and particularly the Quartet, must play a constructive role.
From here, I am travelling to Sudan, and will visit Darfur. The grevious situation in Darfur must be addressed urgently. Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake. Humanitarian relief efforts are intensifying, and international support for those efforts must be stepped up – now.
I will now take your questions.
Q: This is Abdalla Hamed from BBC. Mr. Secretary-General, I want to ask about after restoring the power for the Iraqis, what are the plans intended to be taken or what are the procedures to be ordered by the United Nations in the forthcoming stage of the Iraqi people to seek stability and security there?
SG: I think that on the security side, the resolution that the Security Council passed did authorize a multinational force to help secure the environment. The resolution also requires a coordination mechanism with the new Iraqi Government and that the multinational force has indicated that they will not take any major action without consulting the new Iraqi government. So the new Iraqi government has to work with the multinational force and they have indicated they need that force to help create a secure environment so that average Iraqis can go about their business, reconstruction can begin or continue and be expanded and that the UN staff could be back in larger numbers to able to assist the government. So I think here it would be a matter for the Iraqi Government and the multinational force to work together to bring about security and I notice that that is the top priority of Prime Minister Allawi – whom I wish every success – I think he and President Yawer have a difficult task but I think it can be done if the Iraqi people were to support and to work with them.
Q: Mr. Mousa from Qatar News Agency. Mr. Secretary-General, please, I have three short questions.
SG: There are lots of other people here, so I think you should make it one so others could ask their questions.
Q: After the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq do you have any intention to visit Baghdad and discuss with the authorities there the future role of United Nations there?
SG: Let me deal with the first question and if there is time I will come back to you. Let me say that now sovereignty has been returned to Iraq - and when you say return, do you mean the U.N. staff or me personally? Let me say that I have been to Iraq many times and I stand ready to go to Iraq in the future but I have no immediate plans to go to Iraq now, but I will go in the future.
Q: Your Excellency, don’t you see that the United Nations needs more modifications to be able to play more effective role towards the most explosive areas in the world like Iraq and Palestine, and how it will be modified? Thank you.
SG: I think the UN is also its member states. So when we talk about the U.N. in that particular situation we are also talking about the member states. Let us take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - the U.N. has passed some very important resolutions which have been generally accepted as the basis of settlement - that is, the land for peace. And the U.N. is an effective member of the Quartet which is trying to resolve this conflict. But I know sometimes when one asks that question, the implication is ‘Why can’t you go in with a force? And resolve this conflict?’
First of all, the Security Council hasn’t passed that kind of resolutions. The resolution that the Security Council has passed on that conflict require cooperation and consent of the parties before one can send in any force of the kind that you have in mind. But I do hope that as we move forward and the parties find a way of bridging their differences, even on the question of withdrawal from Gaza, I hope the international community will have a role to play in ensuring that the withdrawal is managed and it does not lead to a much more difficult situation, which it could if it is not properly handled.
Q: Mohammed Al-Makki from Al-Hayat Newspaper. Your excellency, how do you evaluate the current situation in Sudan and are you optimistic about the future of peace and human rights and democracy?
SG: We have a very difficult situation, particularly in Darfur. Let me start [by saying] that the peace talks between the north and south is going well and I hope that, if they continue to make the kind of progress they’ve made so far, that a comprehensive agreement can be signed between the north and the south. And the UN stands prepared to work with the parties to implement the agreement and the Security Council has given me the authority to prepare for such an eventuality and I have named a special representative, Mr. Jan Pronk, who has already taken up his functions. But we cannot talk of comprehensive peace in Sudan if the situation, the fighting and the gross and systematic human rights abuse in west Sudan, in the Darfur region, continues. And we have indicated that the first, in my mind, the sacred duty of any government is to protect its population.
So the international community is insisting that the Sudanese Government protects the population in the Darfur region, takes measures to stop the militia, particularly the Janjaweed, from attacking the population. We have asked for humanitarian access and I must admit that has improved but there is much more, much more is needed and they should facilitate entry of equipment for humanitarian activities and supplies and we need rapid issuance of visas also for NGO’s who are our partners. And we should also find a longer-term political solution to the conflict. And here again we are prepared to play a role in it.
And as you know I’m going to Sudan from here and I will have the chance of discussing these issues with the authorities and I’ll be able to see the situation on the ground for myself and have discussions with the UN and other humanitarian workers.
Q Al Jazeera English Service: Mr. Secretary-General:, in terms of the UN’s position on the multinational force in Iraq right now, now that the transfer of power has occurred, what are the troops there for right now. They’re going to be under UN direction and will there be UN resolution for those troops?
SG: Yes, the latest resolution covers the presence of the multinational force and their basic duty will be to help secure the environment, help create a secure environment and help with security, and also assist with the protection of United Nations staff and facilities when they go back. But they are there and they’ve indicated that if the new Iraqi Government were to ask them to leave, they would leave. But the Iraqi government has indicated it needs the help of the multinational force.
Q Al Jazeera English Service: If they were there before as an occupying force, now they’re there as part of the resolution. But before they weren’t under resolution. Is that right? Am I misunderstanding you?
SG: No, you had an occupation, the previous status was one of occupation. The occupation ended on the 28th of June. Those who have taken over have indicated that they need the multinational force to assist them with security and they have exchanged letters about how they coordinate their forces and the Security Council has a resolution also endorsing the presence for that specific purpose of helping provide security. And, of course, the difference here is, before the 28th of June, the multinational force could take any action without necessarily consulting any Iraqi authority. Now it has to consult the Iraqi authority before it takes any major action. That is one of the main differences.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, back to Sudan if I could. This is Jill Colgan of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. You have noted that the government of Sudan has failed to disarm the pro-government Arab Militiamen, the Janjaweed. Is it your understanding now that the government of Sudan is actively supporting the militias either by deliberately refusing to disarm them or offering other support, whether it be arms or political support?
SG: The government has committed, I think it was about ten days ago, to disarm the militia and to also protect the population. And this is one of the issues that I will discuss with them when I am there and also see myself and get reports from others who are on the ground as to what is happening. But it is important that they disarm. There have been suggestions and some have indicated that they suspect that the government itself supports the Janjaweed. The government has denied that, but it has said that it is going disarm them and I hope that process is going on and going on actively but I will find out when I get there.
Q: Your Excellency, I am from Radio Sabah. Mr. [Mohamed] El-Baradei has announced in Moscow that he wished to talk with the Israelis about the nuclear weapons and nuclear issues in Israel, which has opened the door for cleaning the region from weapons of mass destruction. Is this a reflection of the serious intentions of the United Nations to investigate the Israeli files about nuclear weapons?
SG: This is not an issue before the U.N. at the moment. So this will be an action by the Atomic Agency in Vienna, and, of course, it is an agency that is concerned about all nuclear issues. And in fact El-Baradei has suggested that there should be a regional non-proliferation zone in this region, and he is keenly interested in this issue. But the issue is not before the Security Council in New York. It’s at this stage an issue for the Agency, and that is why El-Baradei was the one who made the statement.
Q: From Al-Ahram in Egypt. How do you evaluate the Egyptian plan in Gaza after Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip?
SG: I think the Egyptian decision to help the Palestinians and to work with them strengthen and reorganize their security forces and reform their services, I think is an important contribution. And it would be helpful for the peace process and also for the period after the withdrawal because they must have the capacity to maintain law and order. So, anything that can be done that reforms the security forces and strengthens them for this increased role would be important. So I applaud Egypt’s efforts to assist.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I am from South African Broadcasting. Back to Darfur. If the aid does not come and you don’t see much movement from the Sudanese Government, how far is the international community or how far would you press the international community - there has been talk of sanctions. And will you talk to the African Union about a possible peace keeping force when you are Addis Ababa?
SG: First of all, the immediate responsibility falls on the government of Sudan. As I have indicated, it has a sacred duty to protect its citizens. If that government is not able or [is] unwilling to do it, the international community has to do something about it. It cannot sit still, it cannot sit idle and complain that, yet again we have had mass killings or a high number of people have been killed or starved to death or whatever. So, the Council also has the responsibility to protect the innocent and the weak and if the situation continues, we have to take it up and determine what measures it should take.
Q: Are you going to talk to the AU about this?
SG: The African Union has already, is deploying monitors to monitor the ceasefire and it is one of the issues I will be discussing when I go to the African Union summit. I will be going to their summit in Addis Ababa and I will have the chance to discuss this issue also with the other leaders and see what collectively we can do to help the Sudanese government discharge those responsibilities.
Q: I am Alexandra Zavis from AP. I am just interested in your response to the announcement today that Saddam Hussein is being transferred into the custody of the interim government. But at the same it is going to be months before he goes to trial.
SG: I think under international law that he either should be charged or freed and I think the fact they are transferring him to the authorities and the authorities have indicated that they are going to put him on trial - they have not indicated any time table and when that is going to be done - but I think it is important that the Iraqis see justice being done and being done as close to the scene as possible. So I have no problem Iraqis trying him, as it was indicated by the Prime Minister.
Q: Al Watan Newpaper, Doha. How do you look at the critical situation in Saudi Arabia, especially that the American ambassador has asked for foreign troops? Do you intend to interfere or do you have any other solutions?
SG: Are you talking about Saudi Arabia? I did not hear what the American Ambassador said. But I don’t think the UN nor I have contemplated or thought of any possibility of sending troops to Saudi Arabia.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, President Chirac expressed his concerns today about the way President Bush interfered with the European Union. Do you agree with Mr. Chirac’s stance and how do you see it from your point of view? Thank you.
SG: You want me also to interfere in European Union affairs? (Laughter) I think that that statement stands for itself and I don’t think I need to comment on that.
Q: (From Qatar News Agency) After your visit to Sudan you’re going to visit Chad – neighboring Sudan. What role do you think Chad is going to play to alleviate the suffering of people in Darfur? And will it play a major role in this? Thank you.
SG: The Chadian Government and Chad hosts over 150,000 refugees, which is a burden for Chad. Of course, the international community is trying to assist and many more are crossing as the situation in Darfur gets worse. We should also not forget that it was President Deby of Chad who presided over the talks that led to the ceasefire between the Sudanese Government and the SLA and JEM. So they have played a role but we need to continue the process and secure a definitive political agreement that will deal with the root causes of the problem. This is also one of the issues I will discuss with both governments - both the Chadian and the Sudanese governments – as to how best to proceed on it and how we intensify and energize the process and give it the urgency that it deserves.
Q: Andrew from Reuters: On the question of Darfur, as to whether there could be more of some Security Council action or some serious activity, do you imagine any sort of timescale for when things could get serious? There are these requirements of the Sudanese government but how long do they have and how would you judge what point would judge? And would you be pressing them about this when you get there? Would you be saying that ‘this is how serious it could get’?
SG: I have given several reports to the Council. In fact I’ve sent two missions to the region – one a human rights mission which reported gross violations to the Council; the second one was led by the Director of the World Food Programme, Jim Morris, on the humanitarian side and we also gave them indications of the situation on the ground, and what was required. And after my visit I expect to brief the Security Council. I think they are constantly seized of it and we’ll give them the report when I get back and depending on what we see on the ground and what is happening on the ground the Council may have to take further steps.
Q: Peninsula Newspaper. How exactly sovereign is Iraq considering that its own government does not have control over the foreign multinational force operating there or the assorted militia that are operating in the country? And would this become a new yardstick for measuring sovereignty in a country might face a similar situation in the future? How important would be the UN in the context of the Iraq war?
SG: Let me say that I doubt that we’re going to see another Iraq situation very soon. I think there are lessons in Iraq for everyone. And I don’t think we need worry about repetition of what happened in Iraq anytime soon. What I couldn’t get was your second question. What would be the role of the UN after Iraq…?
Q: What I was asking is how sovereign is Iraq?
SG: Obviously with a 160,000 troops on its territory and with a government that is beginning to form and strengthen its own armed forces and security, it is not a normal sovereign state in that sense. At the same time, the government has indicated that it wants that force to stay there to assist it in security matters and also has exchanged letters with them on coordination mechanisms. So even though this impinges on its sovereignty in the traditional sense, it seems to willingly to accept it until such time that their presence is no longer needed.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, away from international issues I want to ask about Qatar. There is a new approach here for democracy in Qatar, there is an elected municipal council, free parliamentary elections are scheduled, women get rights and participate in political and social activities here and there is the constitution. What do you say about this approach, about democracy in Qatar?
SG: I think it is a wonderful development, particularly the rights the women are given because, quite frankly, any society that refuses to use the talents of 50 per cent of its population is going to lose out in the long run. So I’m very pleased that not only are you going the democratic route but women are being empowered and given their rights and are very active in society. And I think the kind of reform that’s taking place here is taking place all over the world. People want to have a say in decisions affecting them. People want to have a say in how they are governed. And it is in the interest of the leadership to introduce that kind of dynamism. And so I applaud what is happening here and the reforms that are taking place here.
Q: The first part of my question concerns the destruction of Palestinian house and the destroying of lands and the Israeli political policy … how does the UN view this or what are the rules by which the UN is going to play this matter? And my second part is that during your talks here in Qatar do you already get some guarantees of financial aid or financial support for the Darfur people?
SG: Obviously, I am on record as condemning the demolition of houses, which has led to very serious hardships for Palestinians and Palestinian families and some innocent victims in this. So this is not something we condone and I have made my views known to the Israeli government privately and publicly. We also have our own organization on the ground, UNRWA, which is doing a lot for the Palestinian people. It is the largest organization on the ground assisting the Palestinian people. And they see what is happening, the impact on their work and the grave humanitarian situation that kind of military action poses and it is something that no one can condone.
On your second question, I haven’t concluded my talks in Qatar. It is ongoing and I hope I can answer your question positively at the end of my stay.