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

14 January 2003




Question:  On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, let me wish you and your wife, Nane, a happy and peaceful 2003.  Thank you for coming to visit us so early this year.  I hope that is in fulfilment of some New Year’s resolution that you have made to spend more time with us, your in-house press corps.  What can we do to ensure that you stick to this new habit?

Wearing my Expresso hat, I would like to ask you if you think that the Security Council has got its priorities out of order.  As you noted yourself – well, perhaps you did not note it, but this house is at this moment obsessed with the issue of Iraq, which at present seems in no position to threaten anyone with weapons of mass destruction.  Nevertheless, the drive to war continues.  As you yourself mentioned, there are dangerous new developments in the Korean peninsula. In the Middle East, the bloodbath of the Israeli occupation and Palestinian suicide bombers continues.  And yet, we see that we are focusing on Iraq the whole time.  Has the Security Council got its priorities wrong?

The Secretary-General:  Let me say that, from my own remarks, it is obvious that the world is facing many challenges.  The Security Council, by the nature of its remit, is focused on peace and security issues.  But the other parts of the United Nations and the international community should be focusing on some of the other issues that I raised.  This is an issue not for the United Nations alone, but for the entire international community.  I think the Council is seized with Iraq because it has been on its agenda for quite a while.  Now, of course, the inspectors are back in and have resumed their work.  Mr. Blix will give an update on 27 January.

But I am not sure that it is only the Council that is responsible for this emphasis and focus on the Iraq issue.  I am afraid that you, ladies and gentlemen, also have something to do with it, because I have given you a whole list of issues that are – or should be – very high on the international agenda.  Why is it that we focus on only one?


Question:  ... My second question is about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The bloodshed is continuous; is it not time for the United Nations to take the bull by horns – a personal initiative, a one-on-one meeting, you going to the area?  It seems that the conference in London is going to go nowhere.  Is it not time, maybe, that you should take the lead, Sir, in stopping this bloodshed?

The Secretary-General:  ... On your second question, I think it is a tragedy that the bloodshed is continuing.  That is why the Quartet has been very active in trying to work out a road map – a road map that will operationalize the objective of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, that everybody has embraced.  But you can get there only if you take concrete steps and define what is demanded of each of the parties.  That road map is ready, and I hope we will be able to put it on the table and to the parties, formally, as soon as possible – perhaps in the next month or so – and press ahead with the peace effort.


Question:  Do you not think that the crises in Iraq and North Korea have undermined any peace initiative regarding Palestine?

The Secretary-General:  I would not say that it has undermined any peace initiative in Palestine or with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.  If anything, I would say that it underscores the urgency of doing something about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  I think it is even more important today than ever that the international community energetically tackle the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  And that is what I hope the Quartet will do in the coming months.


Question:  Have you received any information about China’s intention to join the Quartet?  What do you expect from China so it can play a better role in the United Nations?  I understand you just met with China’s Ambassador to the United Nations yesterday.

My second question is, do you worry about whether it will be possible to implement the Quartet’s road map in reality, since we still have lots of violence in the Middle East?

The Secretary-General:  China has become quite active in the search for a settlement in the Middle East, and I believe they have appointed, or intend to appoint, an envoy to oversee developments in that situation.  I am not aware that they have made a formal request to join the Quartet, but I am sure they will work very closely with the Quartet.  I do not think that should be a problem.


Question:  Back on to the Israel-Palestine issue:  This week, Tony Blair has called a conference in London, the aim of which is to get the Palestinian Authority to reform itself.  And although the Israeli Government says the Palestinian Authority must reform before it talks, it refused their representatives to leave to go to London for the talks.  First of all, could you comment upon the Israeli Government’s decision in this case, and secondly could you give some prognosis of whether this was a genuine attempt to get the Middle East peace process moving or whether it was just a cover for Washington’s seeming lack of attention to the problem?

The Secretary-General:  I think the Israeli decision was unfortunate.  I believe the Palestinian delegates should have been allowed to attend the conference to hear from others what is expected of them and to be given support for the reform of the Palestinian Authority, which the international community has been working with them for a while to assure.  So I personally wish they had been allowed to go.  I also believe that each time you bring the parties together to discuss a possible solution, including reform, it is a positive step.  It is good that they were brought together in London.  My own Representative, Terje Rød-Larsen, is there along with the others.  As someone who pushes for dialogue as a way of resolving these conflicts, I think any step that encourages dialogue and discussions is something that we should pursue.  So I am grateful to the British for bringing everybody together.


Question:  First, just a quick follow-up on the questions regarding the Israeli positions.  Do you consider what they did vis-à-vis Mr. Blair a slap in the face to British diplomacy?  And do you personally feel that the Israelis ignoring your repeated and continued appeals to stop the demolition of homes and to stop using disproportionate force is a slap in the face to you? ...

The Secretary-General:  On your first question, I really cannot speak for how Prime Minister Blair feels, but, talking for myself – I sometimes get these kinds of questions – my answer has always been that it is always better to make an attempt to do the right thing, to try to correct a situation and fail, than to do nothing.  So the question of a “slap in the face” when people do not listen or do not do what is right does not bother me at all – and I do not consider it as a slap in the face.  I will continue pressing for what I think is right.


Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

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