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Annan Speaks to Press

Aired January 14, 2003 - 11:03   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go now to the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan now speaking.
KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: ... and these are only the crises in the headlines. The worldwide AIDS epidemic will claim many more lives this year than even a war in Iraq would and will then go on claiming more and more lives in 2004 and 2005.

In Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, as many as 30 million people face threat of starvation this year, and poverty everywhere is condemning mothers and infants to premature deaths, sending them to bed hungry, denying them clean drinking water, keeping them away from school.

Meanwhile, climate change is already here. It is one of the reasons why we have so many storms, floods and droughts, causing more and more humanitarian emergencies and tragedies.

And yet I'm still an optimist. Today's threats are not the first we have faced. What's more, I believe in the last 10 years or so we have been learning how to cope with them better.

It took too long, but the war in Bosnia was brought to an end, Kosovo is now being rebuilt, East Timor is independent, the horror in Sierra Leone was stopped, Ethiopia and Eritrea stopped their war, too.

Looking ahead, we can see that we are within striking distance of reuniting Cyprus, ending the long civil war in Sudan, and pacifying the Democratic Republic of Congo, the battleground of what some have called Africa's world war.

Nations working together can make a difference. Nations upholding the rule of law can advance the cause of a fairer world.

So that is the basis of my hope as we move into 2003. I remain convinced that peace is possible in Iraq, in Korea, and even between Israel and Palestine, if states work together on all these problems with patience and firmness.

And I'm convinced that terror can be defeated, too, if the 191 member states of the United Nations pull together to deny terrorists refuge and cut off their funding.

Before taking your questions, let me mention two other issues that are of particular concern to me at the moment.

I already referred to the threat of famine in Africa. As you know, it is particularly acute in Southern Africa. At the heart of the problem is the crisis in Zimbabwe, a country which used to be the region's breadbasket but is now wracked by hunger and HIV/AIDS.

This tragic situation is caused partly by the forces of nature and partly by mismanagement. We could debate endlessly which of them made the greater contribution. But the challenge now is for all Zimbabweans to work together, and with each other, and with the international community, to find solutions before it is too late.

The second is Venezuela. For the past 20 years, Latin America has been embracing democracy and turning its back on autocratic forms of government. I hope those who seek to bring about change in Venezuela will respect this achievement and stick to democratic, constitutional means in keeping with the principles of human rights and justice.

Let me conclude by saying that we should not see this as an age of threats, but as one of many new opportunities; not age of threats, but one of many new opportunities. Ours is the first generation that can defeat poverty if we put our minds to it and if we hold our leaders to the pledges they made here at the Millennium Summit.

Yes, the world is a messy place, but the instruments are there to deal with these problems; and foremost amongst them is the United Nations itself.

Thank you very much. And I will now take your questions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. On behalf of the U.N. 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's in fulfillment of some New Year's resolution you've 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?

Now, wearing my expresso (ph) hat, I'd like to ask you if you think the Security Council has got its priorities out of order? As you noted yourself -- well, perhaps you didn't note it -- but this house is at this moment obsessed with the issue of Iraq, which at this present moment seems in no position to threaten anyone with weapons of mass destruction, nevertheless the drive to war continues.

As you mentioned yourself, 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're focusing on Iraq the whole time. Has the Security Council got its priorities wrong?

ANNAN: 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 (UNINTELLIGIBLE), is focused on peace and security issues, but the other parts of the U.N. and the international community should be focusing on some of the other agendas that I -- other issues that I raised. And this is not an issue for the U.N. alone, but for the entire international community.

I think the council is seized with Iraq because it's been on this agenda for quite a while, and now, of course, inspectors are back in and have resumed their work. And Mr. Blix will give an update on the 27th of January.

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

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about a topic you don't really hear often about Iraq. You have in the past said Iraq must face its responsibilities, and you've also said you've been opposed to the war and any type of military offensive. Right now, the state of play, what is your opinion, should there be a military attack on Iraq if a country, such as the U.S., goes ahead, especially if no weapons of mass destruction are found?

ANNAN: I don't think from where I stand we are at that stage yet. The inspectors have a responsibility in Iraq. The council have asked them to pursue the disarmament program and report back. And then, the council will make a determination if Iraq has performed or not, if there is a breach. And the council will then have to take that decision.

I think the inspectors are just getting up to full speed. They are now quite operational and able to fly around and get their work done. I think we should wait for the update that they will give to the council on the 27th and hear what further instructions the council gives them. But the inspectors are carrying on with their work.

And I think the resolution is very clear that when the inspectors report back, either at the critical stages in their work or if there are unforeseen developments that they bring back to the council that makes the council determine that there has been a breach, and therefore there should be serious consequences. And I don't think we are there yet, and so I really don't want to talk about war, nor is the council talking about war.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, although you say that you would prefer that there not be a war, in the event that there is a war, what sort of humanitarian consequences do you see the Iraqi people facing, and is the United Nations prepared to respond?

ANNAN: We have been doing some contingency planning on that and we are extremely worried about the humanitarian fallout and consequences of any such military action. And obviously, we do not want to be caught unprepared.

And so we have gone ahead and made contingency plans and are in touch with governments that can provide some financial assistance for us to move our preparedness to the next level.

But we are worried, the consequences can be quite substantial and negative on the population and the refugees who may have to leave.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, there has been some debate about what cooperation actually entails in terms of the Iraqi government's relationship with the U.N. weapons inspectors.

Are you of the mind that the Iraqis are fully cooperating as set out in Resolution 1441 or is there a need for what is now being termed proactive cooperation?

ANNAN: I think the inspectors who are working with the Iraqis have been very clear. And in their own analysis of the Iraqi declaration they have determined that there are major gaps which needs to be filled up. They have indicated that they would prefer and they would expect Iraq to be proactive in its cooperation.

And I suspect that will be one of the main topics of discussions when Mr. ElBaradei and Blix go to Iraq next week. They will press for the gaps to be filled in, they will press for Iraq to be more proactive in its cooperation, and they will do whatever needs to be done for them to fulfill their mandate.

And so it is not perfect. It's better than what it used to be. But I think the inspectors are pressing for the gaps to be filled in.

QUESTION: Dr. Hans Blix gave an interview yesterday to the BBC where he said that he did not know how long the American government was willing to wait for them to complete the searches. And he also said that it could be that one day they will say, "Move aside, boys, we are coming in."

Can you explain to us what is the procedure of pulling the inspectors out? Can he take the instructions of a member state or does he have to have clear instructions from the Security Council to pull inspectors out of Iraq. There was a controversial decision made by Mr. Butler in the past. Will there be a repeat in the future?

My second question about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, sir. The bloodshed is continuous. Isn't it time the United Nations take the bull by the horn, personal initiative, one-on-one meeting, you going to the area? It seems that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) conference in London is not going to go nowhere. So isn't it time maybe you should take the lead, sir, in stopping this bloodshed?

ANNAN: Let me start with your first question. I think the Security Council resolution 1441 is quite clear that the council will have to meet based on reports from the inspectors to determine what action the council should take. And I would expect, if the inspectors find anything, they will report to the council and the council will take a decision. And depending on that decision, we will all see where we go from there. On your second question, I think it is a tragedy the bloodshed continues, but this 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 only get there if you take concrete steps and define what is demanded of each of the parties. And 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 next month or so, and press ahead with the peace effort.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, I wonder if you regard North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a grave threat to international peace and security and whether or not you favor bringing that issue to the Security Council.

ANNAN: Yes, it is grave, and I have issued a statement. North Korea's the first country to ever withdraw from the treaty and I hope they will come back into compliance. The atomic agency board has met to discuss it, and they have given them a big more time to come into compliance before they decide what the next step should be, including bringing it to the council. But they are not going to bring it immediately. They've given them time to come into compliance.

And as most of you know, I myself have sent in an envoy to discuss a humanitarian situation in North Korea given the new situation, and the possible negative impact on the population, because we are going to find it difficult to raise the money that we need and the supplies that we need to continue our humanitarian programs in North Korea.

So Mr. Maurice Strong is in North Korea today. He'll be there for a few days discussing with the leaders. He'll focus mainly on the humanitarian issues, but of course he's also available and prepared to listen to any other issues they may want to discuss with him.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, don't you think that the crises in Iraq and North Korea have undermined any peace initiative regarding to Palestine?

ANNAN: I wouldn't say that it has undermined any peace initiative in Palestine, or Israel-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 this is what I hope the quartet will do in the coming months.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, you raised two new issues at the end of your opening remarks, one involving Zimbabwe and one involving Venezuela.

There has been some talk of an initiative that would lead to the retirement of President Mugabe. I was wondering whether you or the United Nations was involved at all with either side in trying to promote some kind of a new initiative in Zimbabwe.

And secondly, Mr. Chavez is going to be here at the United Nations tomorrow, and I was wondering what your message to him is going to be.

ANNAN: On the first question, I have also read the reports in the press. I and the United Nations have not been directly involved in the Zimbabwean issue and I do not know whether the report is correct or not, but we have not been involved.

On Venezuela, yes...

HARRIS: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan there briefing the press in his annual briefing, first of the year here. And Richard Roth, we saw moments ago, was there in the crowd. We managed to get him out to give us a report of what he has heard there so far -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, a laundry list that Secretary-General Annan read out at the beginning, the crises facing the world would make one not want to get out of bed in the morning, but Kofi Annan said he is an optimist, nevertheless.

For Mr. Annan, he is the eternal optimist, the world's senior diplomat, but many of the questions dealt with Iraq. And on this subject, the secretary general definitely holding to a very cautious line. He said he doesn't think we're there yet, when I asked about the issue of war, and whether there could be an attack, and whether he would favor such an attack, even if weapons of mass destruction were not found.

So Mr. Annan is again sticking to the time lines. Hans Blix briefs the Security Council January 27. He says the inspectors are doing their job, and yesterday he told me they should be given more time, which is what many countries, other than the United States, feel at this time. But the U.S. is also saying that Blix and his teams can be still at their post as troops mass in various countries around Iraq -- Leon.

HARRIS: As a matter of fact, we also heard him also talk about the matter of cooperation there. He also echoed what we've been hearing here in the U.S. by saying that Iraq has not been cooperating, and they want them to be more proactively cooperative. Also that there's some gaps in that declaration that also need to be filled in.

But let me ask about this one. The other question I thought that was very interesting was the one that was asked at the top, Richard, about whether or not the Security Council has got its priorities in order when you consider how they're approaching Iraq as well as -- besides North Korea and Israel and other matters as well.

ROTH: Yes. Well, Annan never likes to tell the Security Council what to do because he is really an employee of the 15 nations. So, thus, for Annan, he's going to stay clear of telling the council what to do.

They have got a full plate, and they have handled it before. North Korea would be a little too much, but right now it's Iraq and a lot of other issues.

HARRIS: He also said the press had something to do with that too. So, that's another matter for us to discuss, but we won't here. Richard Roth at the U.N., thanks much.


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