TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN
AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, ON 28 APRIL 2004
On your last point, I cannot say whether it has helped in solidifying his position in Iraq. But let me say that - let's put things in context: what Lakhdar Brahimi said was that - and I spoke to him - he was answering a question and indicated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way it is managed has an impact on other efforts in the region. And this is a position widely held. There is also the question of the convergence of the two crises. Everybody had been concerned, even before the war, that we have to be careful that the two crises do not converge in the minds of people in the region. And if it did, it would reinforce the hardliners and the extremists. And I think these were some of the issues that Lakhdar was discussing.
As to his impact on UN policy on the Middle East, Ambassador Negroponte is right: it is not his portfolio. I don't discuss Middle East and Israeli policy issues with Lakhdar before I go to Quartet meetings or before I speak to the Israeli Prime Minister or the other side. So I think he has his portfolio, and we should also see that the comments he made were also in the context of the work he is doing and the impact it has on his efforts and how the people in the region perceive these issues. He is a thoughtful man - I think most of you know him, you have seen him around here and you have worked with him - and I do not think he is someone who goes about making provocative statements.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, the Quartet will meet in a few days – on the fourth of next month? Do you still believe that the Quartet has a vital role to play, especially in light of the unilateral disengagement plan and guarantees that were given by the American administration to the Israelis?
The Secretary-General: Yes, the Quartet will meet on 4 May, here in New York, to assess the situation and to see what we can do to move things ahead. And this - the issue of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will be very much on the agenda. I mean, I have made it clear: in Rød-Larsen's briefing to the Council, which I approved, we had indicated that the withdrawal, handled properly, could be a step in the right direction, if it is seen as a step in the process and if the plan or decision to withdraw is also complete: complete withdrawal from Gaza.
But then you will need the international community to work with the Palestinians to ensure security, law and order, because this is also one of the concerns of the Israeli side. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority has been weakened and depleted and is going to need help to be able to do that. And let me remind you, we had a similar arrangement when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. The UN worked with the Israelis and the Lebanese Government to ensure that the withdrawal was managed and orderly, and we confirmed that the withdrawal had taken place and also worked with the Lebanese to expand their administration and authority to the border. The Quartet, in the meeting on 4 May, I am sure will look at some of these issues.
People have asked me: is the Road Map still alive? And you have added: is the Quartet still alive? I think we do have a role to play; we do have a belief that the Road Map is in distress but not dead and that we will try to encourage the parties to use it. And both parties have embraced it; even the Israeli Government recently talked about accepting the Road Map. And let me also say that we believe the final status issues must be negotiated between the two parties. And I think almost all the Quartet members agree with that.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, first a quick follow-up on your Quartet answer: Have you spoken to the Israelis and the Palestinians about a possible UN role in Gaza involving the pull-out? My question is about the whole issue of sovereignty as it relates to Iraq and the caretaker Government that is going to take over on 30 June. Do you believe that this Government is going to have full and complete sovereignty? Because I am sure, as you have read, in Washington there are some people who believe that this Government will only have limited sovereignty. Is there such a thing as limited sovereignty, or is this Government going to have complete sovereignty, and how would you define it?
The Secretary-General: On your first question: yes, my Envoy on the ground has spoken to both sides, and I have also spoken personally: in fact, when the Israeli Foreign Minister was here, that was one of the issues I discussed with him. So, we have taken it up, and the Israeli Government knows our position, and so do the Palestinians. But we will see, once we move forward, how that will be taken up.