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Discussion with U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard

Aired August 19, 2003 - 11:39   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm told now we have Fred Eckhard with us, U.N. spokesperson.
Fred, maybe you can give us a sense for what the delegation, or when the delegation arrived, what was on the agenda, where were they at the time of this explosion? I don't know if you have seen the video via the Japanese television station, NHK, but we were actually had pictures of a press conference that was taking place inside the compound when the explosion took place.

Was this possibly a discussion among the congressional delegation when the explosion took place?

FRED ECKHARD, U.N. SPOKESMAN: I'm sorry I don't have information on the congressional delegation visiting the U.N. headquarters at the time of the explosion. I did see that dramatic NHK footage of the press briefing that was interrupted by the explosion.

Our concern, of course, is the dozens and dozens of U.N. staff who are trapped in the rubble or have been injured by this attack. And also, of course, by the number of dead. We don't know how many that is, but it could well be above ten.

PHILLIPS: Okay. We are now getting word in, actually, that possibly 13 people confirmed dead, Fred, and like you said, dozens of people trapped beneath the rubble.

First let me ask you, have you ever been to this U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Fred?

ECKHARD: I have not been, no.

PHILLIPS: OK. So I'm just trying to get a sense of how big it is. How many people does it hold. Do you know that information? How many people could have been in the building at the time of the explosion?

ECKHARD: On a normal day, I suppose, if everyone was in their offices you would have something like 300 people in that building. So, it's a substantial sized building. We don't have any specific information about how many people were there at the time of the explosion.

PHILLIPS: OK, but on a possible normal workday, 300 people inside the building.

Fred, let's talk about what has been taking place there in U.N. headquarters on a daily basis. Obviously talking about weapons inspections, humanitarian, development, refugee program. Tell us about the operations within U.N. headquarters there, and what type of setback this will be for the reconstruction process in Iraq.

ECKHARD: Well, the first signal we had came this morning from the Security Council. After they were briefed by one of Kofi Annan's senior political officers on what took place in Baghdad today, they came out, representative of the president of the Council, said on behalf of the whole council, that they were determined not to be deterred by this act from the work that they have undertaken to help rebuild Iraqi society and restore Iraqi sovereignty, working with the coalition.

So the determination to continue is there. But, in fact, we have to assess the security threat to not only the internationals that we have in the country -- that number over 600 -- but also to our Iraqi employees as well, who are roughly four times the number of the internationals. So we will be taking a careful look at the security risk that these people run in carrying out their daily tasks before deciding where we go next.

PHILLIPS: Fred, is this the first time, I should ask you this, that we believe it is the first time this has ever been -- or ever happened, an attack against the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Is this indeed the first time this type of attack has taken place?

ECKHARD: It's the first to my recollection, that an attack on a U.N. headquarters had grievously injured the special representative, members of his staff, other U.N. employees in the building, certainly on this scale.

So it's an unusual thing for the United Nations to be targeted when our objective in that country, I think, which should be recognized by all, is to just help Iraqis get back on their feet.

PHILLIPS: And, Fred, if, indeed, this is, to your recollection the first time this has taken place, I just have got to ask you, how are you going convince your employees, U.N. employees now, to stay in Baghdad and continue the mission? How are you going convince Iraqis to continue working within the U.N. headquarters there? This brings on a whole another issue. Obviously, it's hard enough trying to work on humanitarian issues, development issues, refugee programs. Now are you going to have to really put forth a massive effort to convince employees, please stay, we need you even more, and we will protect you?

ECKHARD: Well, even before this attack, we knew that this was a high-risk environment. I have been on a few missions myself, including Sarajevo when the war broke out there. And I have to say the reaction on the part of not only the international U.N. staff members, but all the locals as well, tends to be hang tough and do the job.

PHILLIPS: No doubt. Fred Eckhard, U.N. spokesperson, thank you so much. We will ask to you stand by. We want to continue to check in with you. We appreciate your time. We know you are a busy man now right now, Fred. Thank you.

ECKHARD: Thank you.


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