United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to see you again.
As you know, I have been travelling for much of the past month. I have been to Gaza and seen, with my own eyes, the human suffering there. I have been to Kabul, Islamabad and Baghdad, Davos and New Delhi, and some other places. Wherever I went I spoke for ordinary people ?- people at risk from climate change, people living in fear or war, people who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their children and families.
Let me begin with a brief overview of my most recent trip. It began, two weeks ago, with the high-level meeting on "Food Security for All" in Madrid, Spain. We do not see many references these days to the food crisis in the news. It has been eclipsed by economic fears. But we are still not out of the woods. I call it our forgotten crisis ?- because it has not gone away.
Kenya recently warned of a state of food emergency, affecting one quarter of its population ?- some 25 million people. Kenya is not alone. That is why, with Spanish Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero, I called on the international community to keep its priorities straight.
We called, loudly, for a sharp increase in agricultural assistance to the most vulnerable nations. Spain led by example with €1 billion over five years. A time of economic hardship, I told the delegates in Madrid, is a time to get back to basics. No human right is more basic than the right to eat.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, I spoke again for ordinary people ?- people too easily forgotten amid the sturm und drang of economic troubles. Despite the hard times, we must not waver in our commitment to the world's poor. We reminded wealthy nations of their pledges under the Millennium Development Goals.
In Davos, I urged donors to be more forthcoming. I sought new partnerships and allies ?- political leaders, business executives and philanthropists. Now, more than ever, it is time to deliver. During periods of crisis, it is essential to keep our eye on the big picture. That, too, is why I went to the Davos Forum ?- to speak out on climate change.
The negotiations to be completed in Copenhagen by the end of this year require global leadership of the highest order. We have no time to lose. The United States, China, India and the European Union and many other countries ?- all must show the way. We must provide for those least able to adapt.
I repeated this call at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, even as discussions turned to issues of peace and security. I am encouraged by developments in Somalia and was pleased to learn that additional African contingents are ready to reinforce the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The election of a new president is a direct result of my representative's efforts. We will do everything we can to assure that the African force has what it needs to act.
Darfur was a topic of intense discussion. I urged President [Omer Hassan] Bashir of Sudan to cooperate fully with the UN missions and ensure the safety and security of our staff and premises. He agreed to do so. Publicly and privately, I pressed both the Government and rebel forces around the city of Muhajiriya to withdraw and to safeguard civilians. Both sides have largely complied. I told everyone I spoke to, bluntly and categorically, that the UN would stand its ground.
The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has improved dramatically. We agreed, however, that the ceasefire is fragile and that UN peacekeeping forces must be reinforced in order to consolidate this progress.
I welcomed Zimbabwe's progress in forming a unity Government. But I told President [Robert] Mugabe, very frankly, that they still have far to go. I emphasized to the President that the Government must protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of all Zimbabweans. I urged him to release all those arrested or secretly detained in recent months.
I remain especially concerned about the humanitarian situation. According to the latest figures from WHO [World Health Organization], an estimated 3,400 people have died of cholera. More than 69,000 have been infected. On Friday, next week, I will send a high-level UN humanitarian assessment mission to Zimbabwe, led by Assistant Secretary-General of OCHA Catherine Bragg.
From Addis, I went to Afghanistan to meet with President [Hamid] Karzai. This is the critical year for addressing that country's security challenges and strengthening its democratic institutions. That presupposes a better coordinated and better financed humanitarian and development effort. It requires good governance, free of corruption.
It is impossible to come away from Kabul without a strong feeling that we need a stronger, more concerted, more strategic approach in Afghanistan if our work over the past seven years is to succeed. Regional cooperation is essential.
I have discussed this with many international leaders in recent months, including US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. I raised all these issues, as well, in Islamabad with President [Asif Ali] Zadari, Prime Minister [Yousaf Raza] Gilani and others.
I emphasized the importance of good relations with India and stressed the need for a full investigation into the Mumbai attacks. I also announced the creation of an independent UN commission to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to be headed by Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile.
In India, I addressed the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. I argued forcefully for "green growth" ?- a Green New Deal that stimulates economic growth and fights climate change by investing in renewable energy. This is a theme I will carry forward at the up-coming G-20 summit meeting in London on 2 April.
We face a global financial crisis. We, therefore, need a well-coordinated, synchronized global stimulus package that protects the world's poor, as well as the rich. Piecemeal, nationalist, protectionist policies will only hurt us all.
I concluded my trip with a stop in Baghdad, where I met President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and other parliamentary leaders. I wanted to show solidarity with Iraq's people. I wanted to congratulate them on such a resoundingly successful election, conducted democratically and without violence. I am very proud of the UN's role. For the people of Iraq, it is an immense step forward toward participatory democracy.
Visiting Baghdad, I found a new sense of confidence and optimism. If current trends continue, I can foresee a much greater role for UN agencies throughout Iraq during the coming months.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me close with a few remarks on two other crises.
I am gravely concerned at the plight of the tens of thousands of people caught by fighting in Sri Lanka. I telephoned President Mahinda Rajapaksa from India and expressed my deep concern over the high number of civilian casualties. He assured me that he would take all measures to safeguard the civilian population. I stressed that all actions must be consistent with the principles of international humanitarian law.
I remain no less concerned about the situation in Gaza. I saw, with my own eyes, how difficult life has become for ordinary people. These difficulties have not diminished since my visit. All but one border crossing remains closed. Nearly 1 million refugees depend on daily UN aid. Yet we are getting in supplies for only 30,000.
Meanwhile, Hamas militants on two occasions seized UN aid. The material has since been returned but I have demanded that it not happen again. Who pays the price? It is ordinary people ?- people without homes, without food or medicine.
That is why, in Davos, I launched a flash appeal worth $613 million to respond to emergency humanitarian needs in Gaza. That is why I am going to take part in the Cairo Conference on 2 March, co-sponsored by the Governments of Egypt and Norway with the United Nations and the European Union. And that is why I returned to New York determined to work harder than ever for peace in the Middle East.
It is critical that we consolidate the ceasefire, promote Palestinian unity and revive the peace process. I welcome the speed with which the new US President has engaged on this issue, particularly with the appointment of George Mitchell as Special Envoy to the Middle East. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will devote every effort to helping push the peace process forward.
Lastly, I should say that I have initiated steps to establish a UN Board of Inquiry into incidents involving death and damage at UN premises in Gaza. The Board will be headed by Ian Martin of the United Kingdom and will include legal advisers and a military expert. It should start work immediately and report to me within a month.
Thank you. And now your questions.
Question: Barack Obama yesterday and Ahmadinejad today, they talked about dialogue. If you speak with the President of the United States, are you going to encourage him to do it sooner, rather than later?
Secretary-General: My basic policy and principle as Secretary-General of the United Nations is that all the pending issues, differences of opinion or policies should be resolved peacefully through dialogue. In that regard, I would encourage all the parties concerned to Iranian issues, including the United States, to engage in dialogue to resolve this issue as soon as possible. Thank you.
Question: Following elections today in Israel, the Government there is expected to move to the right, and I'm wondering how you think that might impact UN efforts in Gaza. In particular, Mr. Netanyahu, one of the leading candidates, doesn't support a two-State solution. He wants further military action, or he has suggested that he would support further military action against Hamas. How will you deal with this Government on the issue of Gaza? And also, have you gotten any update on Israel's investigation into UN attacks? Are you pleased with the progress on that front?
Secretary-General: I think it is a bit early for me to make any comments on this ongoing, continuing election process. I understand they are still in the process of election. We have to see who will be the winner of this election and what kind of Government they will establish. Then I think we will discuss all the matters concerning this Middle East peace process.
Whoever may be in power in Israel, it will be important and desirable that they engage in the peace process as soon as possible. We have a very fragile ceasefire in Gaza, which needs to be translated into a durable and sustainable one. This is what the international community expects. And for the investigation, as I have stated, the United Nations is going to engage in its own independent investigation. When I met Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert, when I was in Israel, I urged [them] strongly to investigate and look into this matter thoroughly. He promised me that he would look into this issue and investigate and will come back to us. And I am awaiting that report.
Question: You've been calling now for several days ?- we're coming on weeks ?- for Israel to open the crossings and there has been no reaction to that that anyone can see. We still have the same status today that we did before the war and now after the war. What is your opinion of the Israeli Government's actions in this case? Would you describe this as a crime, to seal off so many people from humanitarian aid? We're not even talking about recovery and rebuilding materials. We're talking about food and humanitarian aid.
Secretary-General: It's not even recently; all the times, I have been consistently and persistently demanding that the Israeli Government should open all crossings to allow humanitarian assistance smoothly and also to allow easy movement of Palestinians in Gaza. That is one of the ways to make this ceasefire a durable and sustainable one.
Now there is another way of making this ceasefire a durable one. There should be some measures to prevent illicit import of weapons and ammunition into Gaza. Therefore, I would urge again that there should be all the crossings opened. I understand that again today, because of the election in Israel, the crossings ?- all but one ?- are all closed. We are having serious difficulty, particularly our office in UNRWA, which has been taking care of all humanitarian assistance on a daily basis to three quarters of the total population of the Palestinians in Gaza. We are experiencing serious difficulty in getting all the materials, humanitarian assistance. So it is absolutely necessary that they open the crossings. I will continue to urge that.
Question: On Myanmar, Mr. Secretary-General, you met with Mr. Gambari after his most recent visit. There was very little indication that that visit produced any results. There's a quote that AFP ran from the spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party, saying, "I must say I have not seen any development yet overall of the UN Envoy visit," which did not include any kind of meeting with General Than Shwe. Is it time to admit that this track, this particular track, is really not moving the Government in a significant way and look elsewhere for help, perhaps to the Security Council for action under Chapter VII? Is it time to sort of pursue a different strategy and admit that this just isn't working?
Secretary-General: It's true that Mr. Gambari was not able to meet with Senior General Than Shwe. But he was able to meet with Prime Minister General Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and executive members of the NLD [National League for Democracy] party. He had good discussions there, even though one may not be totally satisfied. I look forward to building on this visit with the view to further promoting national dialogue and reconciliation through his good offices and my good offices. And I would again call on the Government and opposition to resume substantive dialogue without preconditions and without further delay. And I'm also going to discuss this matter with the Group of Friends on Myanmar in a short period of time, in the near future.
Question: On Zimbabwe, you didn't tell us what Mr. Mugabe's reaction was; you were reading him the riot act. This is a man who scoffs at outside criticism. Can you describe a little better how long this discussion took place and how did he react? Did he take you seriously?
Secretary-General: I'm not here to disclose all the details [of the conversations] which I had with the Head of State of any Government. But as I stated in my opening remarks, I told him that even though I welcomed this unity Government, I believed still it was not a perfect unity. They should build on it to make this unity solid and substantively adhering to the 15 September power-sharing agreement.
He was open to my call for the international community's support for humanitarian assistance, and he agreed to my proposal to dispatch high-level humanitarian assessment teams. In fact he appreciated the support by many neighbouring countries for humanitarian assistance, particularly on the cholera epidemic and particularly again the support from WHO and UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund]. He was quite open to that. But still we have not been able to narrow the gap on political issues.
Question: Did you mention that now that South Africa was no longer on the Council, the Council could move toward another attempt at putting sanctions on him? Did you mention this to him?
Secretary-General: I discussed with the President of South Africa on this issue, most recently after the formation of the unity Government announcement. And we are working together closely with South Africa and other members of SADC [Southern African Development Community].
Question: The first of March will be the launching of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. How much are you confident that this launching will not ignite a new crisis in Lebanon? And are you preparing a new report for the launching of this tribunal?
Secretary-General: As I said many times, this Special Tribunal for [ Lebanon] to investigate into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri will officially be launched on 1 March in The Hague, the Netherlands. And I'm going to dispatch my Legal Counsel, Under-Secretary-General [for Legal Affairs] Patricia O'Brien, to represent me in that official launching ceremony. I'm confident that this will make a great step forward in ensuring that there is no impunity to any perpetrators of criminal acts. And at the same time, the launching of the Special Tribunal should give a very strong and important message to the world as a whole to prevent such potential perpetrators. This is very important, and I'm not so concerned about any impact on political stability. This will, on the contrary, solidify political stability in Lebanon.
Question: And a report?
Secretary-General: Reports should come in due course when there is progress.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, I was wondering if you had had any discussions with President Obama since he was elected, whether you have been listening to his speeches, whether you had any initial assessment of how he is engaging on a multinational track, and if you had any plans to see him? And, just as a follow-up on what you talked about on Afghanistan, since it is quite a big issue, I wonder if you had any more specific ideas on how to get some improvements in the consultations with the Government, other than promoting regional ties?
Secretary-General: As you know, I had two occasions of speaking over the phone with President Obama ?-during his transition, right after his election, and right after his inauguration. I was very encouraged when he called me on the third day after he was inaugurated. That I regarded as a strong commitment to his multilateralism. He told me clearly that he would find himself as a strong partner of the United Nations and multilateralism. He supported all the major objectives and goals of the United Nations, including climate change and the Millennium Development Goals. You may remember that he stated that the Millennium Development Goals are an American objective. We also discussed major regional issues like Afghanistan and Iraq and the DRC. And I am quite confident that we will be able to work very closely.
I am looking forward to an early opportunity of meeting him in Washington, D.C., to discuss all the matters pertaining to global issues and other regional development issues to which the United Nations and the United States share a common goal. I'm very optimistic about his engagement; he is very proactively engaging policies on major issues ?- a very swift and decisive choice of Special Envoys on Middle East on Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. That was also a very good and commendable measure he has taken at a very early stage of his Administration.
In that regard, I would like to make some clarification on a recent press report about my intention of convening a high-level summit meeting, inviting President Obama to discuss about climate change. As you know I have been pushing world leaders in the pursuit of a climate agreement for over two years; this has been my top priority issue. I have declared 2009 as the year of climate change ?- both because of the need to reach agreement by December in Copenhagen, as agreed by all UN Member States, and because the economic crisis can only be truly solved if new approaches on climate and energy pave the way. Reaching a new climate agreement this year will require direct involvement of world leaders. We need direct involvement at the highest level of Government. I have been consulting actively about the best way to engage them. One of the options I have discussed is a potential meeting of leaders in the next couple of months. On the question of the involvement of the United States, we should all remind ourselves that President Obama has only been in office for three weeks. I have discussed climate change with President Obama and Secretary Clinton in general terms and look forward to further discussions at the appropriate time. I understand they need to get settled, I know that they are very busy with the national stimulus package.
I can confirm at this time that I am planning to organize a high-level event with Heads of State and Government for all Member States on the margins of the General Assembly in September. The report you have seen these days about possibly convening another high-level summit meeting is now in the process of consulting with countries concerned. Of course, the participation of President Obama will be crucially important. I am going to continue to discuss, to consult this matter with the US Administration. But at this time I understand fully how busily President Obama is engaged in overcoming this national economic crisis, as well as the global financial crisis. I hope that you'll understand this.
Question: [in French] Did you meet the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi? And what would you say about conflict resolution on the continent? Do you think that this would be likely to facilitate things? And then secondly, with the economic crisis affecting all the major Powers, how does this crisis have a direct impact on the UN regarding its funding? Will people lose their jobs in the UN, as well as elsewhere?
Secretary-General: [in French] Thank you very much for putting that question in French. Yes, I had a very good interview with President Qaddafi while I was in Addis Ababa. We were able to discuss the question of the crisis on the African continent and in addition how we could address the poverty programme, and how we could strengthen the partnership between the United Nations and African nations. I was extremely satisfied with my conversation with President Qaddafi. We promised that we would work together very closely. I count on his leadership as the President of the African Union in the future, over the course of the next year. I think that he, too, was very satisfied with my leadership as Secretary?General of the United Nations. Thank you.
Question: [in French] He promised to come to New York in September? Is that right?
Secretary-General: [in French] I'm not sure.
Question: [in French} The financial crisis which affects the major Powers ?- we hear of people actually losing their jobs in the United States and in Europe. Does this crisis have a direct impact on the workings of the United Nations, and are people there, in the UN, losing their jobs because of this economic crisis?
Secretary-General: [in French] I do think that the global financial crisis affects everybody, the United Nations included. This is why, I myself am committed in my talks with world leaders. I discussed matters with President Qaddafi as well, to see how we could help the African countries during the financial crisis. It is the African countries that bear the brunt of this, and I am very concerned by the challenges facing the African countries that are affected.
Question: Mr. Secretary?General, the Middle East is preoccupied, among other things, with the news from two courts nowadays. The first is the International Criminal Court (ICC), with the expected decision by the judges on the arrest warrant for President Bashir of Sudan. Now, I understand you had this conversation with the President, but, in the light of the repeated warning by officials that they cannot control the reaction of the streets, the people, the anger in case the decision of the judges comes negatively towards the President, what assurances were you given that your operation, your people, your staff will be shielded and protected from any anger in the streets of Sudan? And in the other court is the Special Court of Lebanon; on 14 February, Saturday, is the fifth anniversary of the [Rafiq] Hariri murder ?- this year is the fifth year. There is a feeling that the Court is going nowhere in the Middle East. Can you give your undertakings that justice will be done, the perpetrators will be brought to justice, sooner or later?
Secretary-General: The first question, on what kind of impact from the ICC indictment, if it happens, against President Bashir: As I have repeatedly told you, the ICC is an independent judiciary organization. Their function and responsibility are quite distinct and separate from the United Nations Secretariat. And, therefore, I will have to await the decision of the ICC. Whatever the circumstances or decisions of the ICC may be, it will be very important for President Bashir and the Sudanese Government to react very responsibly and ensure the safety and security of the United Nations peacekeepers, and protect the human rights of all the population there, and also faithfully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And he should fully cooperate with whatever decisions that the ICC makes. This is a very important fundamental principle that he should take.
On the establishment of a Special Tribunal [for Lebanon], I have, again, made it quite clear that with the launching of [the Tribunal], this in itself will give a very strong message and this had very legal political symbolism, when we decided to establish it. It took quite some time to be able to establish this one. It was only possible [because] of my own strong political, determined will to carry on. Of course, I should be very grateful to all the leaders in the region and the world who have generously contributed to be able to establish this Tribunal, and the necessary judiciary, legal proceedings will continue. And I have already appointed the judges, and the Prosecutor has already been appointed, and the Administrator is already in place. Therefore, let's wait and support and encourage the smooth proceedings of this...
Question: Do you have faith that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, sooner or later, that one day they will face their judgement?
Secretary-General: Of course, perpetrators must be brought to justice. That's basic.
Question: And about financing?
Secretary-General: As I said, the necessary financing for the establishment and operation of this Court for one year has been secured. And I have to discuss with Member States again for the necessary funding for the operational costs for the second and third years.
Question: You had not wanted to meet with President Bashir, for legal issues in the past, because your legal department advised you against it. Yet you did. Did you discuss with him the potential that you would be unable to continue to meet with him should the Court invoke the indictment? And on Gaza, the investigation board, do you have assurances from the Israelis that they are going to work with you, they are going to allow this team in? Because they have a history of rejecting such boards to come in ?- Ahtisaari and others ?- do you have assurances that they would cooperate, especially that you have been under a lot of attack, and some people are telling you to distance your own UNRWA, they are asking you, I don't know if you feel bullied by that? And lastly, on the Tribunal, do you expect indictments soon? Because in the past you have said, well, take it easy, we're not going to go into indictments right away ?- do you now feel that you should leave that to the Court? Do you have any idea you will be going faster or slower on the indictments?
Secretary-General: On this inquiry, I have informed both the Israel