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United Nations Daily Highlights, 08-12-17
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YEAR-END PRESS CONFERENCE
U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It's a great pleasure to meet you.
As you know, this will be my last official press conference for this year. Before going on, let me say a little bit more -- that you need to be prepared. I may speak a little bit longer than usual; it may go on 12 minutes or 13 minutes. But I want to also wish you a very enjoyable and happy holiday, and I really thank you for all your support and friendship. You have been spending so many days ? and nights ? covering the news and our work at the United Nations and in the world at large. Thank you very much again for your hard work and support.
This has been a difficult year for all of us. I have called it the year of multiple crises. The coming year promises to be no less difficult. Our commitments and good intentions will be tested as never before.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the realm of human rights, we speak of the responsibility to protect. In the larger sphere of common international endeavor, we should speak of the responsibility to deliver. Looking back at 2008, I would say frankly that our record has been mixed.
I am pleased at the way the world has come together in the face of economic recession. Yet I fear we are only at the end of the beginning. This crisis will challenge the sense of global solidarity that is key to any solution.
I am pleased with our success in keeping climate change high on the global agenda. Yet the real test lies just ahead. I will speak more about that in a moment.
I am pleased at how we responded to natural disasters, like in Myanmar and Haiti and in many other places. Yet I am disappointed by the unwillingness of the government of Myanmar to deliver on its promises for democratic dialogue and the release of political prisoners.
UN forces have held the line in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with bravery under the difficult circumstances. Yet we have not been able to protect innocent people from violence.
Our record on human rights is on trial ? in many places, in many ways. In this 60th anniversary year, we must stand strong for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Our deployment in Darfur has been slower than I wished, despite our best efforts. The joint UN-African Union force will be 60 percent deployed by year's end, and 85 percent by March of next year. Yet we still lack mission-critical assets, including helicopters. Meanwhile, renewed fighting and political rivalry makes a political solution difficult and does nothing to advance the security of Darfur's people.
More positively, we can take pride in the quiet diplomacy that has helped preserve the vital Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan. We oversaw successful democratic elections in Nepal and Sierra Leone. We can be cautiously optimistic about progress in Liberia, Bangladesh and Cote d'Ivoire.
We have managed the potentially explosive situation in Kosovo through quiet diplomacy. EULEX has deployed without incident, and I am confident that we can proceed to reconfigure the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) with full cooperation from all sides, in conformity with relevant Security Council resolutions.
We have coped particularly well with one of the year's most serious challenges. The food crisis no longer dominates news headlines, but it has not gone away. I am pleased at how the UN system has come together to tackle the problem in its fullest dimension: nutrition, agricultural production, trade and social protection. We are well on the way to changing decades-old policies in agriculture and public health?mainstays of our work in promoting the Millennium Development Goals and protecting those most vulnerable to climate change, poverty and economic crisis.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Further challenges lie immediately before us. 2009 will be the year of climate change. This weekend, I returned from Poznan, Poland, after having attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference. We made progress. We agreed to a work plan and had a good exchange of views on a shared vision for long-term cooperation. We agreed to operationalize the Adaptation Fund. All recognized that climate change cannot await a resolution of the economic crisis. Most agreed on the need for what I call a Green New Deal.
We have only twelve short months to Copenhagen. We have no time to waste. We must reach a global climate change deal before the end of the year ? one that is balanced, comprehensive and ratifiable by all nations.
Success will require extraordinary leadership. The European Union's historic agreement on the climate change and energy package, reached last weekend, demonstrates its commitment. I salute President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Commission for their strenuous leadership. The United States under its new President-elect, Barack Obama, also promises bold new leadership.
I myself will continue to push the pace and galvanize political will. I plan to convene a climate change summit at the beginning of the 64th General Assembly. But I expect that world leaders will need to meet before then ? perhaps often ? if we are to conclude 2009 in triumph. Working together, we can fulfill our responsibilities to the planet and its people, and our responsibility to deliver.
Before turning to your questions, let me briefly speak to several issues of peace and security for the coming year.
First, the Middle East. Below the radar, Israelis and Palestinians have engaged in direct, intensive negotiations. They have created trust where none existed and a framework for negotiation. Only they can reach agreement. But we must help. On Monday, the Quartet met to support a Security Council resolution to re-affirm basic principles and reinvigorate the Annapolis negotiations. Yesterday that resolution was adopted overwhelmingly by Council members. It is important to keep up this momentum so that, potentially, 2009 could be the year of peace in the Middle East.
Second, Iraq. Security has improved. Provincial elections are scheduled for January. I expect that Iraqis of all ethnic and political affiliations will participate. I urge Iraqi leaders to work together in a spirit of reconciliation as they assume full responsibility for their national affairs. All this requires strong UN support, and we shall give it.
Third, Zimbabwe. The humanitarian situation grows more alarming every day. Zimbabwe stands on the brink of economic, social and political collapse. I said so to President [Robert] Mugabe in Doha several weeks ago. I told him things needed to change, urgently, and that I and the UN stand ready to help. The president agreed to receive my envoy, Haile Menkerios. Now we are told that the timing is not right. If this is not the time, when is?
For the past eight months, the Southern African Development Community has insisted on leading international diplomatic efforts ? with little result. When the international community or a regional organization takes on a mission, it also takes on the responsibility to deliver. As I told the Security Council on Monday, we need a fair and sustainable political solution in Zimbabwe, as provided under previous agreements. And we need it fast.
Fourth, Somalia. The danger of anarchy in Somalia is clear and present. So is the need to act. I have spoken with the leaders of 50 countries and three international organizations about organizing a Multinational Force. Not one nation has volunteered to lead. Yesterday, therefore, I proposed to the Security Council a series of steps that 1) advance the Djibouti peace process, 2) deal with piracy and issues of humanitarian access and 3) reinforce the current African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and set the stage for a possible UN peacekeeping operation.
The Council's decision to authorize international action against pirates on land in Somalia is therefore welcome. It is also timely. Just yesterday, pirates seized four ships in the Gulf of Aden.
Last, Afghanistan. I am gravely concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation. Insurgent attacks are increasing. A political surge and a clear change of direction are required. The United Nations remains committed to carrying out its mandate, focusing on strengthening Afghan institutions and better coordinating international civilian efforts. It is our responsibility to deliver, for we know only too well the consequences of failure.
Ladies and gentlemen,
During this year, the last 12 months, I have had more than 700 bilaterals, including around 350 meetings with presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers. I spent 103 days on the road in 2008, visiting 35 countries and flying 254,128 miles; this becomes more than 400,000 kilometers, according to my over-worked travel office. Numbers do not equal results; I know that, of course. But they are a measure of our sincere engagement with all concerned parties.
Like you, I look forward to a holiday and the chance to read something other than briefing papers, as you recommended to me.
I thank you very much for your attention, and I am ready to answer your questions.
Q: On behalf of the UN Correspondents' Association and on behalf of my colleagues here, I would like to wish you a very successful year and probably less travel, so that we can talk to you more here at the UN, rather than you traveling around the world. I wonder if you have set the record for a traveling Secretary-General, because you want to be everywhere in the world where there is a crisis. Can you give us a sense of your mission and, if you have a choice, what will be your target to make it a success for the UN? In the past two years, we have seen you working tirelessly, but we haven't seen really any big story or any successful story. Can you please tell us what would be your choice if you want to bring some success for the UN?
SG: Thank you very much. First of all, before I answer your question, I'd like to also give you some compliments for your successful Presidency and Chairmanship as Chairman of UNCA [the UN Correspondents' Association]. I understand that today may be your official last day as President of UNCA and I appreciate your cooperation and leadership. I wish you all the best. On your question, I don't have any record of my predecessors, how much they have traveled. I think that different times require different styles. I think certainly we're going through multiple crises. Not in the past, as far as I understand, have we experienced so many crises happening at one time, like we have experienced. Of course, as I said, I'm very much conscious and determined to bring concrete results but, as you may understand, all the conflicts or initiatives are in the process. I don't know how long it will take. It's clearly a matter of political will on many cases. We have seen, increasingly, a lack of political will on many issues. We have seen so many regional conflict issues, where, if there would be some political will among the leaders, we could have resolved these issues.
There are many global challenges -- climate change, poverty eradication issues - all these require not only resources, it requires political will, political policy priorities set by the leaders. That is why I have been working tirelessly, meeting, telephoning, writing and my physical bilateral meetings speak for itself. I've been really trying to convince them, through my meetings, to demonstrate their political leadership. Of course, there have been many places, many leaders, many countries, who really required my presence, physical presence. That's why I've been responding, sincerely, to the needs. As a Secretary-General, I've been trying to prioritize where I should be, when I should be. It's not the case that I've been traveling here and there all the time without any prioritization. But this world simply is full of challenges, full of difficulties, and full of requests where I must be there. I'm going to focus of course on many important issues.
As I said, next year will be the year of climate change. I know that by the end of December next year in Copenhagen, we must have an agreement a ratifiable, comprehensive, effective and balanced one - where all the countries must participate, including many important countries who have been staying away from the Kyoto Protocol. On many regional challenges, I'm fully committed. I'll continue to exert all necessary time and energy. Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I have a question in two parts. One is Lebanon, we heard reports that the United States has passed information to the United Nations and UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] to expect a forcible attack by Al-Qaeda on a UNIFIL convoy. Can you shed more light on this? How credible is this information?
And then the second part has to do with the peace process. We Arabs are, at many times, we are actually accused of being paranoid with regards to double standards. We lately have heard statements by the Foreign Minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni, who is possibly going to be a leader of the Israeli Government, we don't know, concerning the 1.4 Israeli-Arabs living in Israel, that they should go and achieve their aspirations into a Palestinian state when it's created. We heard nothing from the UN, a statement, written or verbal. Maybe I have missed it, but I haven't. We haven't heard any Western leaders speaking about it. I would like to give you the opportunity here to correct this and prove to us that there is no double standard and such racist statements don't go unnoticed. Thank you.
SG: Thank you very much. First on Lebanon, there is no change in the threat assessment of UNIFIL. UNIFIL already has comprehensive security and protection measures in place, and no new security measures have been taken. Our focus remains on our operations and implementation of Security Council resolution 1701. The Lebanese Army has the primary responsibility for law and order in UNIFIL's area of operations, including the security of UN installations and personnel. Of course, UNIFIL will be fully alarmed. I have read that report and we will take all possible precautionary security measures.
On the peace process, you have watched yourself very intensive discussions among the major key players on the Middle East peace process. By this time, we had hoped, everybody had hoped, that we would be able to have a concrete agreement, the realization of the Annapolis peace process. Unfortunately, we may have to defer it until sometime next year. I hope the next US administration, President-elect [Barack] Obama and his team, will take the Middle East peace process as a matter of priority. That's what I have talked to him, and talked to his transition team and I have conveyed through many channels. Now there is still some, many, many, problems like you have mentioned just now. All these issues should be resolved based on mutual trust and confidence and also confidence-building measures. As I told you last time, according to their own briefing in Sharm El Sheikh, they have achieved quite promising and substantial progress, even though not much has been publicly released because of their agreement that, until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed. They have made quite good progress and this should be built upon, based on mutual trust and confidence. This is a very good process going on.
At the same time, I've been working again tirelessly with leaders in the region, particularly when it comes to the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank. I have been speaking, on numerous occasions, with Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and Foreign Minister [Tzipi] Livni and other defence ministers. All these efforts will continue. We had a very good Quartet meeting last Monday. Quartet representative Tony Blair is working very hard to improve the situation on the ground. This is a very good process of confidence-building measures.
Q: I'm very sorry but, sir, you didn't tackle this head-on. I'm asking about a particular statement by the Foreign Minister, an official, a high official who possibly could be the leader of Israel, making a statement that 1.4 million Israeli citizens should leave the country, based on their race, if a Palestinian state is created. If the Iraqi President stood up and said that Kurdish people should leave Baghdad and the Iraqi area and go up to self-rule of Kurdistan, or the Sudanese said that Darfurian people should get out of Khartoum and go to Darfur, the world would have stood and not sat down. We don't have anybody here from the Western leaders, from the United Nations, condemning such statements and, at least, saying they're not helpful to the peace process.
SG: There are many unresolved issues, including the return of refugees and all this --
Q: These are not refugees, they are citizens.
SG: -- and establishing these two States who can live in peace and prosperity side by side. Until this time is achieved, I think one should really be very sensitive before making any official positions. But I do not think this is an official position of the Israeli Government. Therefore, let us wait until any such official position is announced. I understand this as a statement by Foreign Minister Livni, I do not regard it as an official position. It's not desirable if it is.
Q: Secretary-General, yesterday, as I'm sure you heard, [US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice said that the Americans hope the UN Security Council will authorize a peacekeeping force to be sent to Somalia by the end of this year. Given your own reservations and the problems getting a multinational force together, what's your reaction to this American position and do you expect any countries will contribute troops?
SG: As I said, I've been trying very hard during the last four months to establish a multinational force, as requested by the Security Council. I have contacted at least 50 countries but I have not been able to identify any single country who volunteered to lead this mission. There was only one country among the Security Council members who has expressed their willingness to provide funding, air lifts and all other equipment, and there are just a very few countries who expressed their willingness to provide some troops but not a lead country. Therefore, my efforts to establish international stabilization forces may not be materialized at this time.
I know that there are some Member States of the Security Council, including the United States, who favour to establish United Nations peacekeeping operations there. I believe, and all my senior advisors and staff in the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and concerned departments, still, their assessment is the situation is not ripe, the conditions are not favourable to consider a UN peacekeeping operation. As I said today and yesterday, before we can think about establishing a peacekeeping operation there, we need to first of all strengthen the capacity of the African Union, the capacity of AMISOM [African Union Mission to Somalia], through providing funding, equipment and training. Another option could be that we train those Somalis themselves through, again, providing necessary resources and training. And we also should consider establishing a maritime task force with the eventual possibility of establishing UN peacekeeping operations. That is what I believe is the right course of action.
Q: Something that we're expecting relatively soon would be the decision by the ICC [International Criminal Court] on the arrest warrant of President [Omar al] Bashir and so far there is no strong reason to believe that it will not be issued. What would your recommendation be to the Security Council in that case? And how would you ensure the deployment and safety of UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] if that happens?
SG: I do not have any authority, I do not have the information to prejudge what the judges of the ICC will determine about this application for President Bashir's indictment by Prosecutor [Luis Moreno] Ocampo. As I said, the ICC is an independent judiciary organization whose judgement and verdict should be respected and upheld. That's my basic policy. Whatever the decisions of the ICC may be against President Bashir, Sudan and President Bashir have a responsibility, in accordance with all international law and Security Council resolutions, to provide all necessary cooperation and assistance to, first of all, facilitate the deployment of UNAMID forces, for the peace and security there, and also to accelerate the peace process between South and North, in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
We have seen some cooperative measures from the Sudanese Government and President Bashir in the deployment of UNAMID and also we have seen some cooperation in the peace process. Mr. [Djibril] Bassole, who is the AU-UN Joint Chief Mediator, has been meeting with all the parties concerned and we expect the peace process, in accordance with the Qatar initiative, may materialize as soon as possible early next year. Therefore, what I'd like to emphasize again is that it's up to the responsibility of the Sudanese Government and President Bashir to fully cooperate with the United Nations mandate.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, you said that on Somalia that you'd contacted 50 countries and three regional organizations and no one came forth to take the lead. I'll refine it a little bit: did any of those countries say at all that they would provide troops? Was there even one that was to provide troops, and if so, how many? And also, in the larger picture, what is your concern, can you define the gap that is existing between desires for peacekeeping operations like Somalia, like 3,000 extra troops in DRC, like full deployment of UNAMID that and the gap that you find when you get on the phone with these world leaders and ask them to support peacekeeping operations with troops, and they say no. How dangerous is that gap and how would you define it?
SG: The gap is very wide. I have received just a few replies but those replies were either very lukewarm or negative. I have just, as I said, one Security Council Member State who volunteered and expressed their willingness to provide all necessary assistance, except troops. And there are one or two countries who have expressed their willingness to provide some troops. Other than that, most answers have been negative ones. Therefore, this option has been very much limited. That is why I'm now asking the Security Council to consider some other viable options, as I have stated now.
Q: Is that a dangerous situation though?
SG: The situation is very volatile and dangerous, risky for peacekeeping operations to operate there. As you know, the mandate of UN peacekeeping operations is very much limited, in terms of using firepower and in terms of launching military operations. This is a peacekeeping operation, this is not a peace-enforcing operation, so therefore there should be some differentiation and there should be some clear understanding on the role and mandate and function of peacekeeping. If there is no peace to keep, peacekeeping operations are not supposed to be there.
Q: The death threats made against the President of the General Assembly -- do you feel concerned about it? And also regarding the Declaration of Human Rights: You mentioned the responsibility to protect. Some Member States in their speeches last week, they talked about this responsibility should be taken only by the national governments. Do you agree with that view, or do you think it should be taken up by the international community, represented by the Security Council, for instance?
SG: First of all, about your first question, I read the report and statement by the President of the General Assembly. If it is true, that is very alarming and a most serious one, and I condemn it. But I am not aware of any substantive information. As a matter of principle, the President of the General Assembly is a very important person, and that position is a very important position. And regardless of who [it is], safety and security should come first and foremost, and is of paramount important to everybody. That is my answer to that.
On the responsibility to protect, as you know, I made it quite clear that is it one of my commitments to operationalize this very important concept, which has been agreed and endorsed by the leaders of the world through their summit meeting. My Special Advisor on this issue has been working very hard to make some improvements in the concept, how to operationalize the responsibility to protect. In fact, I am going to make an interim report to the General Assembly tomorrow morning, during an informal General Assembly meeting. And we will continue to discuss and consult with the Member States. I know that there are certain Member States who are still expressing some different opinions and reservations on this issue.
Q: Secretary-General, you have been at the helm of this organization for two years now; could you describe your feeling towards the job? And do you agree with one of your predecessors, Dag Hammarskjöld, that the job is the most impossible job in the world?
SG: It has been quite a humbling experience for me as the Secretary-General during the last two years. If I may just reflect personally, I started my job as Secretary-General with excitement. It was very exciting for me, personally and officially. Then this excitement and exciting period turned into a sort of a very humbling period. Having seen so many people whose human rights, whose personal well-being had been not well treated, I felt very much humbled. Then there is always a problem of lack of resources and lack of political will; thus I have not been able to see the progress of all the initiatives and all the measures and all the country issues, which made me very much frustrated and troubled. This is something which I have been experiencing during the first year.
Then this year we have been confronted with so many crises, multiple crises. This has been really a very difficult period, how to navigate these troubled waters as Secretary-General. There are so many issues where many stakeholders are to be involved. Then with the global financial crisis, still we are feeling sort of a panicking. Many people have felt panic. These are some things that I feel personally, just a personal reflection. But as far as my commitment is concerned, there is no change; even those challenges have made me much more resolved to work harder and harder. I do not believe that there is such an impossibility. As you may remember at the early stage of my tenure, I said my mission is to make this impossible mission a possible mission. So I will continue to do that.
Q: Missing completely from your opening statement was any reference to the tensions on the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. I know, sir, you spoke to the leadership in Indian and Pakistan, but this tension has been exacerbated following Indian incursions into Pakistani territory and Indian attempts to crush a nonviolent civil disobedience movement in occupied Kashmir. Sir, have you done anything more to restart the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan?
SG: While there have been some periods when India and Pakistan were at war or these tensions over many issues like Kashmir and some other issues, I believe that India and Pakistan are two very important countries in that region, and peace between the two countries will have great implications not only in the subcontinent, but also throughout the world. They are all big neighbouring countries, they should maintain and improve their relationships through continuous dialogue, which they have initiated, composite dialogue, and also mutual respect and understanding. The tragic terrorist attacks against civilians in Mumbai just last month was an unacceptable one. While we have condemned it strongly, while we praise this endurance and the courageous handling of this issue by the Indian leadership, I sincerely hope that all these issues should be resolved in a harmonious way. Terrorist attacks cannot be justified under any circumstances; that is a firm principle of the international community and the United Nations. To resolve this issue, all the countries must be united in fighting against terrorism. That is more important than looking at bilateral tension issues.
Q: You mentioned, sir, one of the priorities of the upcoming Obama Administration is dealing with the Middle East. What other priorities do you have, I noticed, not mentioning the Iranian defiance of the Security Council resolutions, what other issues do you look forward and want to work with them in 2009?
SG: There are, of course, many more serious issues in the world. Because of time constraints, I was not able to mention all the issues. The Iranian nuclear issue is one of them, certainly. I have been very much worried and concerned, and I have expressed deep concerns on many occasions on the Iranian nuclear issues. First of all, they should have fully complied with the Security Council resolutions. They should have fully cooperated with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to verify all the concerns raised by the international community. I sincerely hope that with the new administration of the U.S. Government this will also get some momentum for an accelerated pace of resolution.
Q: Tomorrow is the International Day of Migrants. What, in your opinion, is of the meaning of that day, and what kind of challenges do migrants face?
SG: As you know, I have participated in two important international forums on migration and development, one in Brussels and the other one in November in Manila, in the Philippines. The migration issue has surfaced as one of the very serious and important issues to resolve in the course of globalization. It comprises many very important matters of principle, including human rights. Not only the economic well-being of migrants, there are serious cases of abuses of human rights and their integration into the host government, the host country is also very much important. There are also many socioeconomic problems caused by the migration issue. Therefore, migration should be tackled in a comprehensive manner. I am glad that this issue has been given high attention by the international community, and there is going to be a succeeding conference in Greece next year. And many countries are now in line to host this conference. This conference itself may not be an end in itself, but through these conferences, we can, first of all, build a mutual understanding between and among the host countries and migrating countries. You cannot just avoid this continuing flow of migration in this globalization period. At the time of global financial crisis, the economic downturn is much more slow to look after the well-being and the social and legal status of migratory workers.
Q: Secretary-General, Dr. Susan Rice is joining the U.N. as the U.S. U.N. Ambassador fairly soon. And she brings a vast experience in African affairs. In what ways are you hopeful that she may be able to contribute to the Congo crisis and be able to provide some guidance? Because you have really taken the DRC in your hand, and it's failing, and I would like to see what your ideas are, in terms of her being able to contribute.
SG: I am very encouraged personally that Dr. Rice, even though that I have not met her before, is going to be the next Permanent Representative of the United States in the incoming administration. Her past experience as Assistant Secretary of State on African Affairs and her own involvement in these African issues will certainly help greatly in coordinating with all other Member States in addressing many African challenges, including the DRC. And not only challenges in Africa, I have heard a great deal, very many good things about Dr. Rice, on her ability to deliver, on her ability to harmoniously consult with the Member States. That is very good for the United Nations and for myself. And I am looking forward to working very closely together with her when she comes.
Q: Secretary-General, what do you plan to do or what do you believe you can do to prevent 2008, the year of global financial crisis, turning 2009, the year of climate change, into 2010, the year of failure on climate or other pressing issues? And can the new U.S. administration alone come to the rescue?
SG: That is exactly the point on which I have been raising my voice. Not only climate change, I have been very speaking out loud and clear on many occasions in Doha and in Poznan and in the G20 Summit meeting in Washington and many other places, through public interviews. While I am deeply concerned about this financial crisis and while I would strongly encourage and welcome industrialized countries first of all to tackle this financial crisis, they should not lose sight of the many global challenges, many important U.N. development agendas, including climate change and MDGs [the Millennium Development Goals] and particularly the well-being of the poorest of the poor. Those messages have been very well received by the world leaders. And it has been reflected in many important documents, like the G20 Summit and Doha outcome document and Poznan meetings.
I am going to continue to do that. And I am sure that world leaders will pay due attention to the importance and urgency of climate change. The financial crisis may be short-term and mid-term, and it can be overcome with the massive bailout packages, national stimulus packages, with the cooperation of Member States. I think they have shown and demonstrated leadership. And now I think that we are on the right track, with another G20 Summit meeting in London in April next year. We will be in a much better course. Before that, the General Assembly will have discussed by the end of March what kind of a format through inclusive multilaterism we can contribute to this; and before that, the finance ministers have been tasked to come up with concrete guidelines and recommendations to address this issue. Now in parallel with this, climate change should be given highest attention. This is an issue which affects the whole spectrum of humanity and even Planet Earth. This is much more serious, where the highest priority should be given.
I am encouraged and hopeful that the Obama administration will pay the highest attention on this. I have been reading, you must have been reading all the public statements issued by the Obama transition team. Also, when I met Senator John Kerry, who is going to be the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, he assured me that not only himself as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, but also the Obama administration will pay the highest priority to mobilize resources as well as galvanize political will. He assured me that they will become strong partners of the United Nations.
Q: Secretary-General, as we speak, the people in Gaza really, really need your personal support. Are you able to talk to your good offices, to provide some relief, because really they are in a bad shape?
SG: I fully share your concern and sympathy on the humanitarian challenges suffered by many people in Gaza. This has been one of my top concerns. I have been speaking to the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of Israel on many occasions, on a number of occasions through telephone, through my bilateral meetings. On several occasions, they have eased these restrictions, and then they have closed again. I know that there is concern on the part of the Israeli people and Government, because of their serious, legitimate concerns of security and safety. Rockets have been fired into the Israeli side; they had to defend their people. While admitting all these security concerns, the humanitarian issue should never by forgotten; the security concern should not give any reason to neglect or abuse the humanitarian situation, and human rights also. Therefore this will be a top priority of not only me and the Quartet principals and many other international community and United Nations. I will continue to do that.
Q: At this moment, as we speak, they are really bad shape. If you will just have somebody there, they will give you the full picture the suffering children, women and older people, those people who are really suffering in that place?
SG: I am fully aware of that.
Q: Secretary-General, thank you for this opportunity. I would like to ask you a question about Congo, about your new special envoy, former Nigerian President [Olusegun Obasanjo]. Do you think there is a conflict of interest issue, considering that fact that one of issues that [General Laurent] Nkunda raised with him has to do with the Chinese project for which he was almost implicated at home, and this seems to be one of the stumbling blocks of the discussion that he is trying to build between Nkunda and the President of Congo. Do you think there is at least an appearance of a conflict of interest?
SG: You mean the President of Congo?
Q: No, your special envoy, former President Obasanjo. Nkunda has raised the issue on the Chinese deals between the President of Congo as one of issues in dispute. And former President Obasanjo also has a similar problem, again with the Chinese deal when he was President, which is being reviewed by the current Nigerian Government. Don't you think there is a appearance of a conflict of interest for your Special Envoy in trying to resolve this issue?
SG: First of all, President Obasanjo in his capacity as my Special Envoy has been making great efforts; in fact he has made some great improvements in the situation there. He was able to broker a cessation of hostilities in that region and he himself and his aide met several times with General Nkunda. This will continue. He is a former President, and whatever he had done as his national government policy at the time of his Presidency, I think he is now out of his Government; he is acting only as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. Therefore I do not think there is any conflict of interest in his carrying out of duties as a Special Envoy. I understand that during his bilateral meeting with Nkunda, that particular issue was raised by General Nkunda. Now, the DRC Government, they can have economic cooperation with any country, any partner in the world, including China. I do not see why you are raising this issue. There may be some political motivations raised by Nkunda, but at this time, it is up to the sovereign government with which country they would have economic cooperation. In a sense, many direct foreign investments in many parts of the African countries will really help African countries to make their economic development.
Thank you very and I hope to see you again soon.
BAN KI-MOON WELCOMES LIFTING OF STATE OF EMERGENCY IN BANGLADESH
The Secretary-General welcomes the lifting today of the state of emergency in Bangladesh as a positive step towards ensuring the right of all Bangladeshis to free, fair and credible parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for 29 December 2008. He encourages all stakeholders, including the main political parties, to continue to address the nations challenges together, collaboratively and collegially.
The Secretary-General reiterates the need for Bangladesh to achieve its full potential for democratic development through credible elections and a peaceful transition to a stronger democratic order following the elections.
As previously announced, the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel, headed by Mr. Francesc Vendrell, will return to the country later next week to assess and report on the conduct of the last stages of the electoral process and developments in the immediate post-election period
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UN SYSTEM
BAN KI MOON WELCOMES INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN: The Secretary-General, in a statement attributable to his Spokesperson, notes the challenges that Afghanistan and its international partners are facing and is thankful to all those Member States contributing troops and assets to the International Security Assistance Force and other international forces in Afghanistan, which, together with Afghan security forces, are supporting the efforts of the Government of Afghanistan to bring security and development to its people. In this context, he welcomes the adoption by the Parliament of Japan, on 12 December 2008, of the Replenishment Support Special Measures Law, which allows Japan to continue for a further year its activities in support of international operations in Afghanistan.
SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES WORK OF LEBANON COMMISSION: Daniel Bellemare, the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon, briefed the
Security Council in an open meeting this morning on the press made in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other attacks. He affirmed that the case can be solved, and added that he is committed to this process. I did not come out of retirement to be associated with a failure, he said. Bellemare noted that, as the Secretary-General has made clear, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is fully on track to commence functioning on 1 March 2009. He asked for a two-month extension of the Commissions mandate, so that there can be a smooth transition between the end of its activities and the start of the Tribunal.
SECURITY COUNCIL TAKES UP DR CONGO, LIBERIA AND GREAT LAKES REGION: Following its meeting and consultations on the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon, the Security Council held consultations on sanctions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Liberia. In the afternoon, the Security Council plans to hold consultations on the Great Lakes region, with a briefing by Joaquim Chissano, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Lord's Resistance Army-affected areas.
GAZA CROSSINGS REMAIN CLOSED: The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that all crossings for goods going into Gaza are closed today. No fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities are being allowed in. UNSCO also notes that the Gaza power plant is operating with limited output, meaning continued power cuts in Gaza City and elsewhere.
U.N. ENVOY LAUDS OPENING OF VOTING AREAS IN BASRA, IRAQ: The
UN Mission in Iraq noted that Iraqs Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has announced the opening of 34 Sub-Centres that can provide the registered voters of the Governorate of Basra the option to sign in support of the proposed referendum to form a region. Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-Generals Special Representative for Iraq, said that the United Nations extends its full support for this significant step that ensures the right of Iraqi voters to request a referendum that leads to the formation of a region.
MORE THAN 300 ETHIOPIAN TROOPS JOIN PEACEKEEPING FORCE IN DARFUR: More than 300 Ethiopian troops have arrived in Darfur to join the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The first group of the Ethiopian Infantry Battalion, consisting of 107 personnel, arrived yesterday and the second batch of 212 personnel arrived today in El Geneina, West Darfur. The remaining personnel are scheduled to arrive later this week. The new peacekeepers will be joining 341 Ethiopian peacekeepers already deployed in Kulbus, West Darfur, bringing the total number of the Ethiopian Infantry battalion to 860. Their principal duties will include conducting security patrols within their area of responsibility, to enhance security and encourage confidence within the local population, and conduct escorts for humanitarian convoys. UN Security Council Resolution 1769 (2007) authorized the deployment of up to 19,555 military personnel, including 360 military observers and liaison officers and up to 3,772 police personnel and 19 formed police units comprising of up to 140 personnel each. To date, the total number of military forces deployed in Darfur totals 10,708.
THIS YEAR LIKELY TO BE ONE AMONG THE TEN WARMEST: This year will likely rank as the 10th warmest on record, according to the latest data
compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In 2008, the volume of Arctic Sea ice dropped to its second-lowest level ever recorded, and climate extremes including devastating floods, droughts, heatwaves and cold waves were recorded in many areas, WMO says. The preliminary information comes from data from networks of land-based weather stations, ships and buoys, and satellites. WMO will publish its final updates and figures for 2008 in March of next year.
SEMINAR ON WORLD LANGUAGES TAKES PLACE AT U.N. HEADQUARTERS: UNESCO and the Department of Public Information today opened a
seminar at U.N. Headquarters on Languages Matter! Linguistic Diversity, Globalization and Development. Examples of how linguistic diversity and multilingualism are being achieved in different parts of the world will be presented during the two-day seminar, which is one of the final events of the International Year of Languages.
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