United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to join you for this month's press conference. I will make brief remarks and, as usual, I would be very happy to answer your questions.
First of all, the global financial crisis continues to be foremost in our minds. This coming Saturday, I will attend the G-20 summit in Washington, D.C. I will be bringing three messages: First, we must do everything we can to alleviate the impact of the crisis on the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. This is clearly a question of will. The sums being spent to mitigate the crisis are already vastly more than the amounts allocated for ODA (official development assistance). Second, we need to address the systemic roots of the crisis. Third, the crisis is also an opportunity to address climate change. At a time of growing economic hardship, green growth can create millions of jobs.
I will be carrying the same messages to the Financing for Development Conference that opens later this month in Doha, Qatar. People around the world will be looking for a signal that aid will flow and that opportunities will grow.
Let me turn now to [the African Union (AU) regional summit on] the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region, which I attended last Friday in Nairobi. The summit issued a statement calling on all armed groups in North Kivu to observe an immediate ceasefire. It also decided to field a team of facilitators, which will report to the AU Chair, the regional chair and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I left Nairobi somewhat encouraged by these steps. The Heads of State were frank with each other.
Presidents [Paul] Kagame and [Joseph] Kabila joined other regional leaders around the table for the discussions, which touched on some of the most difficult aspects of the situation. I am heartened that Rwanda and the DRC continue to discuss the crisis between themselves.
Everyone has a better sense of what needs to be done at this time. For this reason I welcome the decision by Southern African leaders of SADC (the Southern African Development Community) to provide immediate military and humanitarian aid, as well as their diplomatic initiatives to come up with a regional solution to these urgent military and political problems.
But first and foremost, we must stabilize the situation on the ground and end this needless violence and suffering. UN agencies are delivering food, medicine, fresh water and sanitation supplies to areas where they can operate, most particularly in Goma.
But at least 100,000 refugees are cut off in areas north of the city, chiefly around Rutshuru and East Masisi. Because of the ongoing fighting, these people have received virtually no assistance. Their situation has grown increasingly desperate. I urgently call for an immediate ceasefire in these areas to allow humanitarian assistance to reach many thousands of displaced persons.
We remain caught in a very volatile and dangerous moment for the DRC and for the region. Despite the Nairobi declaration, there are continued reports of sporadic fighting. I am very concerned by reports of targeted killings of civilians, looting and rape. I want to remind all parties that, when the laws of war are violated, personal criminal responsibility may ensue, particularly for those in positions of command and control.
Following the Nairobi summit, I chaired a meeting of the Quartet in Sharm el-Sheikh. This was the first time that the parties jointly took the initiative to brief the Quartet on progress in their bilateral negotiations.
All of us regret that an agreement is unlikely to be reached by the goal set by the Annapolis process -- by the end of this year. However, all Quartet members were impressed by the commitment of the parties to pursue negotiations and remain focused on the goal: a final peace treaty, on all core issues.
We expect negotiations to continue uninterrupted through the coming period of transition. And all parties will be looking to the incoming US Administration to engage early, as a matter of highest priority. The goal remains clear to all: an end of conflict, an end of occupation, a two-State solution.
We also agreed on the urgent need to improve the situation on the ground and to support the work of the Palestinian Government to build security and improve living conditions. This requires action on Road Map commitments, including on settlements, as well as a cessation of actions such as house demolitions that are contrary to international law or alter the status quo, including in East Jerusalem.
We were acutely conscious of the distressing conditions in Gaza. I call for Hamas and all Palestinian factions to respond positively to Egypt's unity efforts. I call for the calm to be respected. And I call on Israel to ease the severe closure of Gaza by allowing sufficient and predictable supplies to reach the population, ensuring access for humanitarian workers and facilitating stalled UN projects.
Finally, let me offer a word about upcoming events.
I wholeheartedly support the convening of the interfaith meeting that will be held here at Headquarters tomorrow. The values it aims to promote are common to all the world's religions, and can help us fight extremism, prejudice and hatred. King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has made a tremendous effort in bringing this initiative to the General Assembly. The anticipated high-level turnout is testimony to its timeliness and importance.
It will also be an occasion to hold high-level consultations on the upcoming financial summit in Washington. I am going to meet a number of leaders -- among them Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- to discuss immediate and long-term strategies for addressing the global crisis.
Later this month I will go to Doha to open the Conference on Financing for Development. World leaders will discuss reform of the international financial system. My chief concern will be to ensure that the interest in well-being of the most vulnerable nations of the world will be fully heard. We cannot allow the financial crisis to become an excuse for not delivering on our commitments to the Millennium Development Goals.
If there is a theme running through all of these efforts, it is that the need for global solidarity is more important than ever. Crisis has brought us to this new multilateral moment. In crisis lies opportunity. From the economy to peace and security, from climate to energy and food, the time has come to take multilateralism to a new, stronger and more inclusive level.
Thank you very much.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for this press conference. Washington is in a transition now and I wonder if you have any plan to immediately contact the new Administration of Barack Obama to discuss the financial crisis and what he can do for the UN in terms of reviving, increasing ODA and enhancing the programmes that you want to do.
Secretary-General: My team is in contact with President-elect Obama's transition to arrange a possible meeting as soon as possible, even before he assumes his office January next year. That's my wish, and I'm hopeful that such an opportunity will take place as soon as possible.
Question: Thank you. Can you tell us about your meeting with King Abdullah yesterday and what you discussed?
Secretary-General: Yes, I had about an hour-long meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. First of all I commended his initiative to bring this inter-faith dialogue to the General Assembly. He exerted a great deal of time and energy to converge the differences of opinions into one. It has been very much a commendable initiative. And we also discussed on many other issues in the region, particularly including the situation in the Middle East, including the recent Quartet meeting, the situation in Somalia, in Lebanon, the situation in Iraq. We will continue. I'm sure that I will have another opportunity of meeting him this evening and tomorrow morning. We are looking forward to his speech tomorrow morning at the General Assembly. As you know, I'm going to have a number of bilateral meetings with the leaders participating in this high-level meeting. The number of bilaterals will increase. In fact, as I have postponed this morning my visit to Los Angeles, so I'll be here during that entire period of time.
Question: What is the outcome that you hope for from such a meeting on a high level that you are convening here at the United Nations? Are we just having speeches after speech or are there concrete plans and aims that you hope to materialize?
Secretary-General: We need to be very realistic and practical. In fact, the world has suffered a lot because of the lack of appreciation, the lack of understanding and mutual respect, and the differences of opinions in religions and faith and culture. This is a good start. As you may know, a number of initiatives have been made by a number of countries in the United Nations. And all these initiatives should have some complementary effect. Among them, the Saudi King's initiative will also be very important. We also have an Alliance of Civilizations. And the high-level representation of Member States at this time also demonstrates the willingness of the Member States to have some better understanding and more appreciation of different cultures and different faiths and religions. I sincerely hope that this will be a very good start. At the end of the meeting, we will have a statement which [will] have been agreed by Member States participating in this high-level meeting.
Question: Not a resolution?
Secretary-General: It's not going to be a resolution.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, in a way you have changed your mind just in the last 24 hours about going to Los Angeles. Did you do that immediately after you met the King? What took you so long to change your mind and stay here to receive this big number of the Heads of States? And did you discuss with the King of Saudi Arabia the Arab Peace Initiative that of course relates to peace between Israel and Arabs? Kindly shed some light on your bilateral discussion on these different issues that you discussed with him, but what made you change your mind? Were you pressured by anybody?
Secretary-General: I have been considering, because of the conflict of schedule, this has been in my mind [for] quite a long time. The inter-faith dialogue schedule was decided after I had already made the firm commitment in Los Angeles. So I have been considering how to have some harmonious resolution of this. Then yesterday I made the decision that it would be better for me, even though it would be very much embarrassing and an inconvenience to many people and organizers in Los Angeles. That's why yesterday I spoke to Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger and the Mayor of Los Angeles and I spoke with the professor at UCLA because Chancellor [Gene] Block is now travelling abroad, and I'm now taking some necessary corrective measures and arrangements because of my sudden change of schedule. I discussed the issue of the Arab Peace Initiative with the King yesterday. I said that what we discussed during our Quartet, we reaffirmed that the Arab Peace Initiative is the cornerstone of the Middle East peace process, and I commended his initiative and I counted on his leadership on bringing peace in the Middle East, through and based on this Arab Peace Initiative.
Question: When did you make up your mind? When did you actually make up your mind to postpone your trip to Los Angeles?
Question: After your meeting with the King?
Secretary-General: It was even before. There is not a clear timing. But this has been on my mind since a long time.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, Saudi Arabia is probably one of the least tolerant countries on earth when it comes to other religions. They have an entire police force that is used to make sure that only one sect of Islam is practised in public. They regularly arrest people for trying to engage in Christian worship. Why is the United Nations being used as a platform for a conference or a discussion on religious tolerance, sponsored by a country that has none?
Secretary-General: I hope that through our meetings of this kind of high-level dialogue the whole world will be able to live in a society where more tolerance and a more harmonious and more peaceful atmosphere exist.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you started out the discussion today mentioning the transition in the White House. How would you compare and contrast the experience you have had with the Bush Administration in charge and what your expectations are with President[-elect] Obama? You did congratulate him the other day, but perhaps you could reflect a little bit on that for us. And also just one other follow-up question. Just before the election, there seemed to be a lot of sentiment, or you heard a lot of statements among diplomats in this building, garnering favour for one particular candidate over the other for President. How do you explain such a phenomenon within the United Nations, when actually the United Nations is supposed to be a neutral body that represents all Governments and doesn't pick and choose politicians, or is not supposed to?
Secretary-General: As a matter of principle, the United Nations does not take any stand on any individual Member State's domestic politics, including the United States. I read that report, suggesting that the atmosphere in the United Nations seems to be favouring a particular candidate, but I cannot represent any individual staff's thinking. But UN staff, being intergovernmental staff, intergovernmental organization staff, has clear principles that we do not take any position vis-à-vis any domestic politics. That is a firm principle. It may be too early for me to make any comments about how I compare between President Bush's Administration and incoming President-elect Obama's policies. As I said earlier on many occasions, I am quite confident that I can have a very harmonious and cooperative, good relationship with any Administration of the United States. And I am looking forward to working very closely with President-elect Obama, particularly on many areas of mutual concern, because the United Nations and the United States have a shared responsibility, and shared views and goals and ideas for peace and security, common development, common prosperity and promotion of human rights. These are goals which all Member States should adhere to and uphold, but particularly the United States as one of the important countries and one of the founding Members and now being the world's leading country. I am quite confident that the US Government will have much, much more cooperative relations in the future under President-elect Obama.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, this conference -- this inter-faith conference -- how can this conference be representative when almost one third of humanity is excluded? What I am talking about is there is no representation of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. I mean, we're only talking about the faith of Abraham that is over here. So is it only the Middle East peace conference? And if it is, in fact, not representative, what steps can you take to bring in the other religions too?
Secretary-General: This is an open-ended meeting. There was no such restriction to other participants. As you may know, when there was a meeting in Madrid -- was it in July -- I think all religious leaders, from Hinduism and Taoism; they were all there. And they adopted the Madrid declaration. And on the basis of these meetings, this initiative has been brought to the General Assembly. And the General Assembly is open to all the Member States of the United Nations. There are no such restrictions.
Question: Secretary-General, do you think that 3,000 extra troops need to be sent to the eastern Congo, and do you worry that if those troops aren't sent, the UN could fail in its mission there to protect the people?
Secretary-General: I have requested on an urgent basis to the Security Council for additional resources and manpower. That's somewhere around 3,000; a little more than 3,000 soldiers. I hope the Security Council will consider this positively and favourably as soon as possible. My meeting with African regional leaders in Nairobi last week again reaffirmed my recommendation. And it is also based on the recommendations and wishes of many African leaders there. MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), while they have been working very hard to protect peace and stability and to protect the civilians there, has been overstretched. Therefore, we urgently need some additional resources. I am still concerned that even with the strong joint statement by the African leaders, supported by the United Nations, the sporadic fighting is still taking place, and there are serious human consequences. We have 250,000 displaced persons. As I said in my remarks, at least 100,000 people have been cut off from basic necessities. This is a very serious and dire situation. I am mobilizing all necessary UN humanitarian agencies, in close partnership with international partners, to provide humanitarian assistance. After the Nairobi meeting, I have convened brief meetings with Western countries, participants -- the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Canada, Japan and there was an African Union representative also; the European Union was represented by France; and the United States. I have appealed to them, first of all, to provide whatever necessary humanitarian assistance and also report positively for the necessity and importance of providing additional resources to MONUC.
Question: Thank you. Mr. Secretary-General, your report on Kosovo is now delayed for quite some days. Why is it so, and how do you view the refusal of the Pristina government not to go with the proposal which is somehow shaped by the six objections of the Belgrade Government for the deployment of EULEX?
Secretary-General: I am also disappointed that my proposal and negotiations with the Serbian Government on the six points, while it was agreed by the Serbian Government, it was again met with some reservations and opposition by the Pristina government. The Security Council was scheduled to meet today, Tuesday, but I understand that, because of this current situation, the Security Council has to decide yet another date, possibly by the end of this week. I hope that the Pristina government will understand and react to this with a sense of practicability and reality, with a sense of flexibility. We have come from a long way to address the situation in Kosovo and I am in close contact with many leaders in the European Union and the United States Government. Even during my stay in Sharm el-Sheikh, I've had a series of meetings with the Foreign Ministers of the European Union and the United States, and yesterday also I had a talk with the European Union presidencies on this matter. My Special Representative, Mr. [Lamberto] Zannier, is now in New York for consultations. I do hope that the Pristina government will consider my proposal and this process of negotiation positively and favourably for the future of their country.
Question: But you're satisfied completely with the Belgrade objections and you've accepted them as those who should be involved in your proposal in your report?
Secretary-General: As far as I am concerned, this is what I have proposed and we have negotiated with the Serbian Government and with the understanding of other interested stakeholders. And there is an agreement of all the stakeholders on these negotiations. Now, it is [time] for the Kosovo authorities to positively and favourably consider these proposals, so that first of all, all the process can be carried out and conducted in accordance with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and also in accordance with the package I have reported to the Security Council.
Question: Thank you. My question is about the global financial crisis. This Saturday, when you go to Washington, what kind of message do you want to bring in terms of reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) or the World Bank? People talk about the importance of inclusiveness, but what particular reform do these institutions need now? And do you see any worrying signs that the rich countries are already scaling back from providing enough aid to development assistance that has been promised before?
Secretary-General: I do believe that, in the course of discussing the reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, the process should be done in an inclusive multilateralism. That is the basic principle. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as I said, I am going to bring three messages. First and foremost, I am more interested and more concerned about the plight, the challenges, of the most vulnerable developing countries. I would welcome any measures and initiatives to address this global financial crisis, including the reinvention and reform of the basic structures of financial institutions. But I am more interested, and my focus will be more, on how to insulate the interest and well-being of developing countries from the financial crisis impact. That is more important at this time.
As you may imagine, discussions on restructuring or institutional reforms will take time. While the United Nations will actively participate in this process in an inclusive multilateralism, I will, at this time, devote more focus on protecting the well-being of the developing countries, as well as major UN development goals, including climate change, food crisis issues and financing for development. This is just a beginning. I think this will have to be followed by many subsequent meetings and consultations.
Question: Mr. Secretary, a follow-up on Erol's question on Kosovo -- Belgrade's stand is that EULEX should be status neutral, not to implement [Martti] Ahtisaari's plan... does that mean that you, as Secretary-General, are supporting that?
Secretary-General: I have made it quite clear on many occasions that UNMIK and EULEX activities there in Kosovo should be status neutral, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, on Cyprus, it seems like the optimism about the prospects is scaling down a bit. There are even some leaders there speaking about an impasse. Are those assessments correct? And if yes, are you thinking about taking some measures on the process there?
Secretary-General: I would guard against any scepticism. Unnecessary scepticism may not be desirable for the ongoing process. The international community should always encourage this very fragile negotiation process. My Special Envoy, Mr. Alexander Downer, arrived yesterday in Cyprus, and he will engage in dialogue with the leaders of both parties. The negotiation process has been, I think, encouraging. Both leaders have demonstrated very strong political will to resolve these long-standing, four-decade-long issues through dialogue, through a mutually acceptable formula. This is encouraging. I have also met on many occasions with both leaders -- [Dimitris] Christofias and [Mehmet Ali] Talat. I was assured and I was impressed by the two leaders' very strong commitment to resolve these issues. I understand, they told me, that they have been for a long time friends with each other. So I think that their dialogue and negotiations will be much better than before.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that you met with the Saudi King yesterday, and you tackled the whole issue of the Middle East, including Lebanon. And you said also that you will have bilateral meetings with leaders. Will you meet with President [Michel] Suleiman of Lebanon?
Secretary-General: Of course, yes, yes.
Question: (inaudible) the meeting on [resolution] 1701 (2006) and the report on the build-up of Fatah al-Islam in the south of Lebanon. What is the issue on the Shab'a Farms? There is very quiet information coming from Shab'a Farms. Can you update us on this issue, please?
Secretary-General: Today and tomorrow I am going to have meetings with President [Shimon] Peres and Foreign Minister [Tzipi] Livni [of Israel] separately to discuss the issues, my forthcoming report on Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). I am going to discuss all the matters, including Shab'a and the withdrawal of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) from Gaza and all the current situation on the ground, how to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and I am going to urge them to stop the demolition of houses and stop settlements. My meeting with them will include comprehensive agendas.
Question: And on Shab'a Farms?
Secretary-General: This is on my agenda.
Question: Mr. Secretary-General, one quick follow-up on the conference tomorrow. You are hosting a dinner tonight and there are going to be two days of the possibility of... you have the President of Israel coming, and you have a lot of senior Arab leaders. Are you going to be doing anything to try and promote some meetings between the Israelis and Arab leaders? I notice, particularly, that you are hosting a dinner tonight. Is the Israeli leadership coming along with, I assume, a lot of the Arab leaders who are in town?
That was just my follow-up, my question was about Zimbabwe. It appears that the talks between the Government and the opposition are falling apart following this meeting of SADC that Mr. [Morgan] Tsvangarai has rejected. Is the United Nations trying to do anything? Are you trying to do anything to try and help promote a Government with both parties?
Secretary-General: Yes, it is quite unique when you expect that President Peres of Israel and the King of Saudi Arabia and many Kings and leaders from the Arab world are having a sit-down together and having dinner. This is quite encouraging and positive. In that regard, I sincerely hope that, through their participation in the meetings, and through this kind of a social, diplomatic gathering, that they will be able to promote further understanding.
The bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have been going on. And their joint brief meeting sitting down together with the Quartet members was also very much an encouraging one.
On the second part of your question, my Envoy, Mr. Haile Menkerios, was in the region to participate and observe the summit meeting of SADC. Of course, you know I share your concern and your frustration that the Zimbabwean Government and political leaders have not been able to agree on power-sharing. I am going to continue to discuss and coordinate with the African leaders.
Question: Can you say that the King of Saudi Arabia and other Kings will be sitting at the same table with Israeli President Shimon Peres, or in the same room? Can you clarify that please?
Secretary-General: You will have to come and see. (Laughs) I am not going to disclose any protocol matters. But you will be able to see later. I do not want to disclose any detailed arrangements on this matter.
Question: Will there be surprises for us?
Secretary-General: In what sense? (Laughter)
Question: An Arab King, an Arab President, an Arab country that doesn't have relations with Israel, sitting with the President of Israel at the same table, having your good food?
Secretary-General: You know I have not said anything about the same table, same room, you know. Let us see.
Question: What about food?
Secretary-General: Yes, same food.
Question: Can you explain to us, please, Sir, why the Annapolis peace process has failed in reaching an agreement by the end of the year, as it was supposed to?
And also, on Afghanistan, is there anything you can do, Sir, to stop the killings of tons of civilians by frequent US air strikes? And how do you feel about the latest one, which happened just a few days ago? Thank you.
Secretary-General: I wouldn't describe it as a failure of the Annapolis [process]. It is regrettable that Annapolis has not been able to achieve the agreement by the end of December. It is unlikely, as I said, that there will be an agreement by the end of December. Both leaders agreed that this negotiation will continue. These will be ongoing, continuous negotiations and one that all Quartet members have supported, even during the transition in the United States and in Israel. That is very encouraging. We will continue to support such progress. We were told by the parties that their negotiation has been promising and substantial, but because of the confidentiality of these very delicate negotiations, we didn't discuss at length on this matter. One of th