Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

14 June 2001
Press Conference of the Secretary-General
in Damascus, Syria, 14 June 2001
(unofficial transcript)

SG: Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am delighted to be back in Syria again. My objective in coming to the region at this time is to try and give new emphasis to the search for a comprehensive peace settlement based on UN resolutions, particularly Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Syria, needless to say, has a central role to play.

The immediate focus of my mission is the crisis between Israel and Palestine, but I also hope to help stabilize the situation on the Blue Line of Israeli withdrawal, with a view to avoiding further escalation by either side.

The recent violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians has cost many lives and caused great suffering, particularly among the population in the Occupied Territories.

The UN is now working with the EU and the co-sponsors of the Madrid peace conference to build on the ceasefire by ensuring that the parties implement all the recommendations of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact Finding Committee. This is a precious but a fleeting opportunity to re-start the political process. We must take advantage of it.

I had the chance this morning to discuss all these matters with President Al-Assad and I will now take your questions.

Q: Would you tell us what you discussed with the President?

SG: I just said it. I just indicated that I had the chance to discuss with him the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the need to pursue a just and comprehensive peace in the region. We did talk about the Syrian track as well and the Iraqi sanctions, as well as the Israeli Lebanese border and the need to keep it quiet.

Q: Did you get the impression that the Syrians are rather disappointed that the UN resolutions have not been carried out?

SG: They believe that the UN resolutions are fundamental and primordial and that we should all seek to respect these resolutions. And of course ideally they would like to see them implemented and believe that they are of primary importance and valued and should be preserved and constantly be referred to as a basis for action.

Q: Is there any coordination between the activities of the UN represented by yourself and the other international envoys coming to the area, like Mr. Burns, Mr. Moratino and also the others?

SG: Yes, we are working closely together. As I mentioned earlier, the UN is working with the European Union, the Americans and the Russian Federation and I am also in touch with the leaders in this region to try and move the peace process forward. We are working together.

Q: Was there any discussion with the Syrian leadership about the issue of the Lebanese and the Israelis prisoners?

SG: We did touch on the issue, yes, and this is an issue that I know will be raised also in Lebanon and it will also be raised in Israel when I get there. So it is an issue that I will have an opportunity to discuss with both sides now that I am in the region, and I have done it in the past, we did discuss it.

Q: Anything moving on this issue?

SG: I have nothing specific to report.

Q: What was President Bashar's reaction to your pushing the findings of the Mitchell Commission report? Did you get any support from him at all?

SG: I think President Al-Assad understands, insists, that the basic frame of reference is the UN resolutions, particularly resolution 242 and 338. We did discuss the Mitchell report and I indicated that the Mitchell report is not replacing the resolutions but it is an interim step to get the parties back to the table and in settling their differences it will have to be based on "land for peace", which is the basic premise of the UN resolutions.

Q: Did he support it or not?

SG: He did support it in that broad context, yes. But he didn't want it to be seen as if the Mitchell proposals are replacing the resolutions and that once it is within the framework of the resolutions and is an interim step to get the people to the table to discuss it, then he was quite relaxed about it.

Q: Can you give us details about your talks with the Syrian President on Iraq and sanctions?

SG: I think his view is that the discussions going on in the Security Council should bear in mind, the Council members should bear in mind the concerns of the neighbouring countries because the draft resolution deals with the relations between Iraq and the neighbouring nations and he believes that before the resolution is passed the Council ought to bear in mind the concerns of the neighbouring nations.

Q: Anything about the Iraqi oil exports to Syria?

SG: This is part of the issue that is being discussed by the Security Council Resolution and it is in that context and other issues that he indicated that the Council should bear in mind the concerns and the interests of neighbouring states.

Q: Sir, do you expect the President of Syria to issue a statement supporting the Mitchell report as a preliminary step towards implementation of all the UN resolutions and did you encourage them to do so … so they won't be left from the whole activities that are going around?

SG: We did not discuss that, and I don't know if they are going to issue a statement, but we did have a very good and healthy discussion. As I have indicated, we agreed that it does not supercede the UN resolutions but it is an interim step. But I can not say they are going to issue a statement. What is important is I think we walked away with an understanding.

Q: Did you discuss the cut down of the UN forces in south Lebanon, one, and two what about Syria's membership in the UN Security Council next year?

SG: We discussed the situation in southern Lebanon. We didn't dwell too much on the restructuring of the UN forces. I expect this will be one of the main topics when I get to Beirut. On your second question, it is quite likely that Syria will be elected to the Security Council as a non-permanent member beginning January and I look forward to working with them.

Q: Have there been any pressures for Syria to be elected, by any world forces?

SG: I have not sensed any pressure in New York.

Spokesman: Last question.

Q: There have been serious breaches of the ceasefire yesterday with casualties on both sides. Do you have any reaction?

SG: I am aware of the incidents or the breaches on the ground as you described them. I think it is important that the parties have the courage and the strength and the wisdom to deal with what has happened and to not allow the breaches to derail the ceasefire which has been so delicately put together. Thank you very much.

For information media - not an official record