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Source: United Nations News Service (See also > DPI)
24 October 2005

New York, 24 October 2005 - Secretary-General's press encounter

Q: What would you like to see the Council do tomorrow, concerning Syria?

SG: I think it will be up to the Council. Basically we have a report from Detlev Mehlis. The investigation is ongoing, so I would be hesitant to say anything further. But Mr. Mehlis and myself will be with the Council tomorrow to discuss what action the Council sees next. As you know, I have extended his mandate so the investigation is still ongoing and I would prefer not to get into details.

Q: Would you like to see any sanctions consideration to be delayed until the end of the investigation?

SG: In my previous comment, I indicated that I felt that we are at the beginning of a process, not at the end. The investigator has done his work and his work is continuing. Then the magistrates and the judges will have to do theirs. And so, we have some way to go yet.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, did you hear from the Syrian leadership, from President Bashar al-Assad since the report came out, and what exactly do you understand when they say, “We have cooperated; and we will continue cooperation.” Are you demanding qualitatively different cooperation, or would you like them to come up with one?

SG: What I know is that the Foreign Minister is coming into town tonight and he has asked to see me tomorrow. I will receive him and hear what he has to say. [It was announced after the Secretary-General's press encounter that the visit by the Syrian Foreign Minister had been cancelled.]

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, Sir, what is the wisdom behind publishing the Mehlis report at this particular point in time, given that you actually mandated an extension? And about the sanctions, as a matter of principle, how averse are you to the idea of actually slapping sanctions on a government or a country?

SG: On the question of the work of Mehlis, a substantial part of his work had been done, and he had given the report to the Council with indications of areas where he still needs to do some work. He has been given time between now and 15 December to do it. But I think the report he presented to the Council had quite a lot in it for him to be able to report at this time, with indications that he will continue, that I have asked him to continue until December 15th. On the questions of sanctions, I am not sure the Council has decided yet to slap down sanctions, and I would not want to be drawn on that. I think we should all wait to see what happens when the Council discusses the report. I still say that we are not at the end yet.

Q: You are currently looking at the report prepared by your Special Representative on 1559, Terje Roed-Larsen. I understand you have probably had some consultations as to where to take that report. Could you tell us first of all when we could expect to see that report, and to what extent that might contain recommendations by yourself, your office, on ways ahead to deal with the broader issue of 1559 and Syria?

SG: Well, the report is more or less ready. It hasn't reached my desk yet. I hope to be able to review it today or tomorrow and give it to the Council in the course of the week.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, do you accept what the report says, the Mehlis report, about the fact that Syria did not fully cooperate in this investigation? Aren't you personally calling on Syria to cooperate more fully?

SG: I indicated that I will be seeing the Syrian Foreign Minister tomorrow and I will raise this issue with him.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, can you tell us the significance of this process? Is this a landmark case for the UN -- the Security Council authorizing an investigation into such a matter? Are there opportunities perhaps in the future in these types of cases?

SG: It is a unique case for the UN. I cannot exclude that in the future the Council may not give us a mandate of a similar kind. So, yes, it is unusual. I know that it has had quite an impact in the region. But we are trying to do as professional and technical a job as we can.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, how soon will you name your special negotiator, chief negotiator, for Kosovo, and is that going to be Mr. Martti Ahtisaari?

SG: I expect to name my Envoy in the course of the week. Yes, it is likely to be Martti Ahtisaari.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, once again, on your contacts with the Syrian leadership. Thank you for telling us that the Foreign Minister is coming, but, to your understanding, is he bringing you the answer, the letters that are supposed to specify how did they cooperate from their point of view? And did you at all talk to President Bashar al Assad?

SG: I spoke to him the day the report was issued. I spoke to both him and the Prime Minister of Lebanon to let them know that I had received the report, the report was going to the Council, and that copies were being sent to them through their Missions. I did not discuss with the Foreign Minister what he was coming to discuss with me. I am waiting to see him, to hear what he has to tell me.

Q: To what extent do you feel that progress in the political process in Iraq is incumbent on either the isolation of Syria or a change, a dramatic change, in Syrian foreign policy?

SG: I think we have a difficult situation in Iraq. Whether the situation in Iraq is dependent on change in Syrian foreign policy is a debatable situation, because you do have a very special situation in Iraq. The Syrian policy may have an impact; I don't want to get into details on that; but I think you have a general situation in Iraq that we need to focus on by itself. Of course, we need to be conscious the reaction and attitude and behaviour of the neighbouring countries can also have an impact, but the main issue is in Iraq.

Q: What is the message of the international community that should be sent tomorrow to Syria. What is the message to Syria tomorrow?

SG: I will leave it to the Council to determine what message it wants to send.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, questions were raised last Friday when the text was distributed of the Mehlis report, about the influence you might have had in the deletion of the names of high-ranking Syrian officials. Can you clarify this point, and how do you feel about the demands made by some that there should be an international tribunal to deal with this?

SG: I realize some of your colleagues have really rich and wild imaginations, assuming that I was sitting in my office with Mehlis editing the document. Indeed, as Mehlis told you, the truth, and the simple truth, and sometimes some people find it difficult to accept that, but that is exactly what happened, what Mehlis told you.

On your second question, I know that there are requests by some Lebanese political leaders for an international tribunal. I think it is too early for me to comment on that, and it is too early to make that judgment. We need to see how the Council reacts once they have reviewed this, and also how the investigation proceeds.

Thank you very much.

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