Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at United Nations Headquarters

28 October 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at United Nations Headquarters

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press conference held in New York today, 28 October 2009:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a great pleasure to see you again.

This is a sad day and a very difficult day for the United Nations.

As you know, militants attacked a UN guest house in Kabul early this morning.

At least 25 UN staff members were there, including 17 women and men of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) election team.

Five staff have been killed and nine wounded, according to our latest information.

I want to extend my deepest condolences to the families -- and to our UN family.  I have just spoken to my Special Representative, Kai Eide, and conveyed my deepest condolences.  I really wanted to be with them on this very difficult and sad day.

The UN team in Afghanistan has lost colleagues and friends.  The world has lost women and men committed to the values of peace, dignity and respect for all.

I condemn this shocking and shameless act, and the terrorists who committed this crime.  It is unjustifiable by any standard.

If anything, this incident should remind us how tough our job is.  Our people work, often selflessly, in the most dangerous places in the world.

Those who gave their lives today came to Afghanistan armed not with guns or bullets.  They came with a more powerful weapon -- hope.  Hope for a better day for Afghanistan and a commitment to help its people build a better world and a better future.

We will not be deterred from this noble mission.

We stand by the people of Afghanistan today, and we will do so tomorrow.

We will, of course, review our security procedures, as we do regularly for the Afghanistan Mission as a whole.  We will take all necessary measures to protect our staff.

We have also witnessed an appalling bomb attack in Peshawar today.  More than 80 people have died, according to our reports.  I want to express my outrage at the loss of so many innocent lives.

Before taking your questions, there are some other issues I would like to raise.

First, climate change.

We have only five weeks before the UN Conference in Copenhagen on Climate Change.

There is a long way to go still.

I have been working closely with the Danish Prime Minister, who is in turn engaged intensively with other Governments on the substance and form of an agreement that may emerge.

All countries must commit to limit emissions.  Developed countries must adopt ambitious mid-term targets.  At the same time, developing countries must also limit the growth of their emissions, moving away from a “business as usual” trajectory.

Let me also touch on a few other matters in the news.

In Iraq, we saw a bomb attack earlier this week, in which hundreds were killed and wounded.  As elsewhere, these acts of violence target the innocent and aim to disrupt the country’s fragile democracy.

In response to a request from the Government of Iraq, I will send Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco to Iraq for preliminary consultations related to Iraq’s security and sovereignty.

We have also seen disturbances at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound.

Events in Jerusalem can undermine trust throughout the region, and I call upon all to avoid provocative acts.  We should see this as a reminder that, in the absence of progress in direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, political tensions in the Middle East will only grow.

The Human Rights Council has now referred the Goldstone Report to the General Assembly, which will consider its findings and recommendations.  I look forward to its decision.  I have called repeatedly on both the Israeli Government and the Palestinians to carry out full, independent and credible investigations.

Meanwhile, 10 months after hostilities ended in Gaza, we see no progress on reconstruction or the reopening of borders.  At the donors’ conference in Egypt, we raised $4.5 billion in financial assistance.  Little if any of that money has been delivered.  Families have not been able to rebuild their homes.  Clinics and schools are still in ruins.  I urge Israel to accept the UN reconstruction proposals as set forth, recognizing that the only true guarantee of peace is people’s well-being and security.

On Iran; the inspection of the new Iranian enrichment site in Qom, conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week, is a positive step.  Meeting with President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad in September, I urged Tehran to take this step and cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues.

I also welcome the draft agreement, circulated by the IAEA, related to the supply of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.  Agreement would constitute an important confidence-building measure and could set the stage for further advances in the negotiations between Iran and the “EU 3+3”.

Let me close where we began, on Afghanistan again.

As you know, the second round of presidential elections is scheduled for 7 November.

No one underestimates the difficulties, especially in the aftermath of today’s attack.

At this point, I would simply say that all operational preparations are being put in place to minimize fraud.

If the first round showed anything, it was that fraud does not win.  It merely undermines the legitimacy of the results.

Once again, I urge Mr. [Abdullah] Abdullah and Mr. [Hâmid] Karzai to uphold the law and the Constitution, to encourage participation of the Afghan people and, after the vote, to work to unify the country around an agenda for progress.

The United Nations is committed to doing all it can to support the Afghan people as they once again cast their ballots and shape the destiny of their country.

Thank you very much, and now for your questions.

Question:  Secretary-General, I want to thank you on behalf of UNCA [the United Nations Correspondents Association], for coming here and taking the time to talk to us.  There are a lot of issues out there, as you made clear.  I wanted to raise quickly two that I know UNCA members care about.  The first has to do with climate change.  You yourself spoke of an agreement that may emerge from Copenhagen, and your climate adviser, Mr. [Janos] Pasztor, spoke earlier this week of the Copenhagen meeting producing a politically binding agreement that would chart the course for post-Copenhagen talks that would yield a legally binding agreement.  Expectations are being pulled way back and we’re just wondering if you don’t find this disappointing.

The second issue has to do with the Goldstone Report.  There were specific recommendations that were made for you as Secretary-General, but [Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] B. Lynn Pascoe yesterday made clear to us that they don’t see a direct line between the Human Rights Council and the Secretariat in terms of responsibility and obligations.  Why is that?  If you could explain things on those two.  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  On climate change, I’m still optimistic.  This Copenhagen meeting will be an important milestone in our common efforts to address climate change issues.  As I have been repeatedly saying, if we can agree on four political elements, then that could be a hallmark of success on climate change.  First, ambitious mitigation targets by developed countries -- and also by developing countries -- on their own nationally appropriate mitigation action.  Then there should be a strong adaptation framework to help particular developing countries to mitigate and adapt.  And there should be substantial financial and technological support for developing countries, again for their adaptation and mitigation efforts.  And fourth, there should be a global framework, a governance framework, to manage all these processes.  Now, if we can agree on these four political elements, that will be a fairly good success.  Then, immediately, we will have to continue these technical negotiations so that all these agreements can be built upon to make a legally binding and comprehensive and equitable and balanced one.  That’s our target, and I have been actively engaging myself with world leaders.  Even this morning, I had a very good videoconference with Prime Minister [Lars Løkke] Rasmussen of Denmark, and other world leaders, and this will continue.  I have been engaging myself with many other leaders of countries.  Every country -- both developed and developing countries -- they have a role to play and they have worked together for a common and long-term goal to address this issue.  We are not lowering expectations, as you said.  We are still keeping ambitious expectations and targets.  We will continue to do that.  There are some other important negotiation processes remaining in Barcelona.  We will have, of course, the Copenhagen process.  Before we go there, we will continue to do all we can.

On the second question, Goldstone -- as you know, the Human Rights Council is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, thus their report is now in the hands of the General Assembly.  I understand that the General Assembly President is now going to hold a General Assembly meeting to discuss this matter.  This is what I have discussed with the President of the General Assembly.  I met at least twice with the representatives of Arab Member countries and, also, I have spoken with the Israeli leadership; I have spoken with the Foreign Minister of Israel, I met the Vice Prime Minister of Israel.  And I will continue again to discuss this -- as I said in my remarks, I am waiting for any guidelines and decisions or recommendations by the General Assembly for me to act upon.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, on Afghanistan, given this turbulent security situation in the country, what do you think of the new Japanese Government’s intention to suspend its refuelling activities in the Indian Ocean?  Do you think it would have a negative effect?  What else would you want the Japanese Government to do for the betterment of the situation?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I appreciate the Japanese Government’s longstanding commitment and contribution to regional peace and security, including Afghanistan, and also their contribution in the Indian Ocean.  When I met the new [Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs] of Japan, [Tetsuro] Fukoyama, I asked the Japanese Government to continue their cooperation and contribution, as the Afghanistan Government and the situation in the region is now going through a very volatile and unstable situation.  They require the international community’s continued support and cooperation.  That’s what I want.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, on Iraq, I wonder if you could tell us first whether you are going to recommend that there is a UN investigation of the previous bombings in Iraq that the Iraqi Government asked for, and whether perhaps this might be extended to the latest bombing.  And I wonder if you could elaborate a little on the mission that you’re going to be sending the Assistant Secretary-General on.  What exactly is he going to be doing there and talking to Parliament members about?

Secretary-General:  First of all, I’d like to make it clear that, to commence an investigation, we need a clear mandate by the Security Council.  As you know, the Iraqi Government has requested me to begin such an investigation, but I explained to them, for that to be possible, I need a clear mandate, an official mandate.  But before that, I expressed my willingness and, as I have announced this morning, I’m going to dispatch the Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Political Affairs to engage in exploratory consultations with the Iraqi Government.  Then we will see.

Question:  These are exploratory conversations on the possibility of perhaps a broader investigation, on a wide range of issues?

Secretary-General:  At this time, I’m not in a position to say anything definitely. 

Question:  Will your envoy, the Assistant Secretary-General, go to Syria, because our understanding is that Syria rejected your appeal to them or your movement with them to have them receive your Assistant Secretary-General or any envoy?

Secretary-General:  We will see, after Mr. Oscar [Fernandez-]Taranco visits Iraq, after initial discussions with the Iraqi Government, we will have to decide, in close consultation with the countries in the region, whether we will expand these consultations with these regional countries.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, about your continued appeals to Israel to respond to the different things you were asking, from the borders to the internal investigations to stopping violations of Lebanon, they seem to be always falling on deaf ears, including that related to Mr. [Richard] Goldstone’s Report.  And the impression is that everybody is passing the buck when it comes to Goldstone’s Report and the Security Council.  I understand now that you said you’re waiting for the [General Assembly], but can you pronounce yourself on the substance of the Goldstone report -- in the sense that, do you feel that this issue, his recommendations regarding both Israel and Palestinians involved in war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, should this arrive at one point to the Security Council and to the ICC [International Criminal Court]?

Secretary-General:  I have stated my position in the past.  I have clearly stated my support for the Goldstone Mission.  And I have tried my best to provide necessary administrative and technical assistance for their activities.  Now that the Goldstone Report was adopted by the Human Rights Council and is in the hands of the General Assembly, I am now waiting for a debate among the General Assembly Member States.  And I will decide my own course of action upon that.  I have again made my position clear; wherever and whenever there is violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian laws, there should be necessary investigation and the perpetrators of these crimes and violation of human rights should be held accountable.  This is what I can tell you at this time.  I am aware that the Government of Israel and the Palestinian authorities are now going to have their own investigations.  I have not received any further details, but that is positive, I would say.  I have been repeatedly urging the Israeli Government to institute a credible domestic investigation process.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, are you considering scaling back or leaving Afghanistan in the wake of this attack?  Do international staff get more protection than the local staff?  And on the revelation about Karzai’s brother, does this complicate efforts to eradicate opium, to have a fair election, since he apparently cheated for his brother?  And does it hurt international support for the Karzai Government, this revelation?

Secretary-General:  I was assured by Mr. Kai Eide, through my telephone talk with him this morning, that President Karzai had instructed his Interior Minister to provide strengthened security for United Nations staff there.  The United Nations, while we ask the Afghan Government to provide strengthened security, will also take necessary measures, administrative measures, to further strengthen the safety and security of premises and our staff, not only in Kabul, but all other areas where we have seen that the situation is very dangerous.

Question:  Anything about Karzai’s brother, do you have anything to say the revelations?

Secretary-General:  I read the report this morning and a few days ago.  That is something I think I’m not in a position to make any comment on at this time.  But I have been repeatedly urging, whenever I had an opportunity of meeting President Karzai in the past, that he must make sure to eradicate these corrupt practices, including opium cultivation and opium trafficking.  I have been repeatedly stating that, unless he addresses these corrupt practices prevalent in Afghanistan, it will not be possible to expect to have credible governance.  You must have seen me speaking publicly in my press conference together with President Karzai several times, particularly on these issues.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary-General.  Regarding the Israeli violations, in light of the latest incidents in south Lebanon yesterday and the weeks before and months before, and also on your latest [resolution] 1559 (2004) report, there were a lot of concerns on the less balanced reports that you produced last week.  And there are these concerns, specifically on the violations, Israeli violations, not too much stressed upon.  Do you have any response on that?  And also, do you fully support your Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen in this, because also there are concerns about him, about this report?

Secretary-General:  First of all, the full and faithful implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions, including 1701 (2006) and 1559 (2004) is the foundation and basic principle of ensuring and maintaining peace and stability, as well as prosperity, not only in Lebanon, but in the region.  Unfortunately, we have seen many such cases where these resolutions have been violated, as we have seen recently over the last several weeks.  The preliminary investigations by LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] and UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] suggested that those were clear violations of [resolution] 1701 (2006).  We will try to ensure, to see that these resolutions be implemented.  On many occasions, whenever and wherever I have been meeting with the Lebanese and the Israeli authorities, I have been emphasizing and urging them to fully comply with these resolutions.  And my Special Representative on Security Council resolution 1559 (2004) enjoys my full confidence and trust, and he will continue his functions.

Question:  Like Sylviane was saying, there was some straight criticism for Mr. Roed-Larsen yesterday, that he is expanding his mandate and covering stuff that is really not related directly to his mission, and also the criticism that his reports always stress the request of disarming the Lebanese militias and non-Lebanese militias, while only referring very briefly to the Israeli violations.  That’s criticism by several countries at the Security Council yesterday of Mr. Roed-Larsen.

Secretary-General:  All my Special Representatives and Envoys, while conducting their missions, are required and they are in fact doing in close coordination with the relevant departments and concerned Governments.  And also they conduct their missions strictly under my guidance and instructions.

Question:  Secretary-General, you have hundreds of UN staff working in Kabul at the moment directly on the elections.  As I understand it, they are now under lockdown, just days before the second round is due to take place.  It is now clear that the UN is a direct target, as far as the Taliban is concerned.  It is also now clear that the Interior Ministry troops who were meant to be outside that guest house are clearly not doing a good enough job to protect your staff.  How on earth can the UN continue to conduct the work that they have been trying to conduct in terms of a second round of elections with any sense of legitimacy at all?  Because your staff just aren’t on the ground doing the work they should be.

Secretary-General:  In principle, we are not, and we should not, be deterred by these heinous terrorist attacks.  We will continue our work, particularly on helping the Afghan Government and people, carrying on this second presidential election, scheduled on November 7th, while ensuring and strengthening the safety and security of our premises.  That is what I am going to do, and that is what I have discussed this morning.

Question:  But, forgive me, how do you do that?  You have hundreds of staff.  There is no room to accommodate them inside UN compounds.  They have to continue living in Kabul.  And it is clear they are not safe.

Secretary-General:  We have to first of all get the full support of the Afghan Government, the Afghan national security forces, as well as the allied ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces there.  They are providing us with necessary security.  Of course, it is quite an unfortunate fact of life that we cannot ensure 100 per cent security, because of these suicidal terrorist attacks, but we must take all necessary precautionary measures in terms of our security.  That is what I can tell you at this time.  But we will never be deterred by these terrorist attacks.

Question:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary-General, the issues that you spoke about today -- almost all of them are in the Islamic world.  In light of this fact, how well do you work with Muslim Governments?  How well do you work with the Arab League, with the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference]?  For example, Turkey has peacekeepers in Afghanistan.  Do you think that, for example for Pakistan, there should be a Muslim peacekeeping force?  How do you coordinate these things?

Secretary-General:  First of all, what we have seen taking place on the ground should not necessarily be related or understood or interpreted with regard to any specific regional group or ethnicities or group of countries.  We are now facing a multiple crisis, including international terrorism, which we have to work with.  In addition to this, we have so many multiple crises -- climate change, economic and financial crisis, and food security.  I have been working very closely with all the Member States, all the regional groups, and all the countries, and even all the leaders of the world, regardless of where they belong.  That is my job, and I will continue to do that.  It would be a little bit dangerous to suggest that this is something to do with any particular group of religions, group of people, group of countries.  This world is facing many difficult challenges, on which we have to work together.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, I had two questions, with regard to both the bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq.  First of all, on Iraq, did you make your decision based on the latest bombing in Iraq, Baghdad, because [Foreign Minister] Hoshyar Zubari had requested that you dispatch a special envoy after the 19 August bombing.  And also, they recently, within 24 hours of the blast in Baghdad, they started removing blast barriers -- does that exactly send the right message in terms of security?  And on a security issue, over in Afghanistan, do you believe it would have been better to have the United States step up to the plate and contribute more troops ahead of the elections there?

Secretary-General:  My decision to dispatch Mr. Oscar Taranco had been considered before this second terrorist attack.  Immediately after this 19 August bomb attack happened, I have been consulting with Iraqi Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and other leaders in the region, on what the United Nations can do and should do.  Unfortunately a second attack has taken place, and this is appropriate timing for me to expedite his dispatch to the Iraqi Government for initial consultations on how the United Nations can address this issue.

On your second question, I understand that President Obama and his Administration are very seriously considering what to do with further military augmentation.  That is what the United States Administration will have to decide.  Military augmentation will be one of the effective means to ensure peace and stability there.  At the same time, I would also hope that there needs to be a political reconciliatory dialogue initiated by President Karzai with many other ethnic group leaders, and also regional countries’ leaders.  That is what I have been saying.

Question:  Would it have helped the situation and sent the right signal that the US would have dispatched troops before the coming elections, because you are talking about a security issue here, where your workers have to go out and try to get out there to ensure a good election, so if you have more security forces, would that not help the case?

Secretary-General:  Ensuring better security to allow the free presidential election so that people will not be intimidated and threatened, that would be necessary and important.

Question:  The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel treatment, Manfred Novak, today was barred from leaving South Africa to enter Harare, Zimbabwe, on a week-long tour.  The invitation was essentially withdrawn at the last minute.  I wonder what your reaction to this is, and more broadly, what your reaction is to the continued strife or strain to the cohesiveness of the unity Government in that country.

Secretary-General:  I will get back to you later for more detailed information on this.

Question:  On the Cyprus problem, if you are thinking about getting more involved personally on the issue?

Secretary-General:  I am reasonably optimistic about the prospect of resolving this longstanding Cyprus issue.  I am encouraged by the commitment and continuing negotiations led by the two leaders, Mr. [Dimitris] Christofias and Mr. [Mehmet Ali] Talat.  And my Special Adviser, Mr. Alexander Downer, has been continuously engaged and facilitating this dialogue.  I hope they will continue their negotiations.  Since they have finished the first round of negotiations, then they have, a couple of weeks ago, entered into a second phase.  Now it is time for both leaders to be more seriously considering to make the necessary compromises and show flexibility so that they can move ahead.  Through the first round of negotiations I think they have picked up a good political atmosphere on the basis of mutual trust and commitment, and now it is time for them to make real progress, demonstrating flexibility and agreeing on compromises.

Question:  Thank you.  With reference again, Mr. Secretary-General, to the Goldstone Report, I think what would happen in the General Assembly and in the Security Council is reasonably predictable, but it occurs to me that there have been allegations made with reference to the Hamas government that they are hiding behind their own civilian population, that they are putting their military installations, artillery pieces and such, in civilian areas.  If these allegations were in fact true, it would be next to impossible to establish that unless you get some colossal group of international whistleblowers, and take them and put them in some kind of international witness protection programme.  Without that, do you not think it would be impossible to prove that or establish it?

Secretary-General:  All the allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law must be addressed and investigated.  Whoever may be responsible should be held accountable for that.  The Goldstone Report has stated that both these violations committed by Israelis and also committed by Hamas should also be subject to be investigated.  This is what he has made findings and made recommendations to the Human Rights Council.  I hope that all aspects and all the allegations should be fairly addressed.

Question:  Do you have an update, Sir, to your request you made to the Israeli Government over three months ago regarding the compensation they should have paid for damages they made during the Gaza war?  And the number of the compensation -- it was over $11 million.  Do you have an update on that?

Secretary-General:  As you know, the Legal Counsel has submitted officially the request for financial compensation for the damages inflicted upon the UN premises.  This is now, I understand, being considered by the Israeli Government.  Last week, when I met the Vice Prime Minister, Mr. [Silvan] Shalom, I raised this issue.  And I again urged, in my telephone talk with Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Liberman, that they should expedite this process as soon as possible.  I understand that they are considering this issue.  I expect that they will come back to me as soon as possible with necessary actions.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.