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TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN AT HEADQUARTERS, 2 FEBRUARY 1998 Press Release SG/SM/6451 2 February 1998 THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I've just briefed the Council on my report on the oil-for-food scheme. Obviously, the report is going to generate quite a lot of discussion, not only because of its importance, but also the timing and the projected expansion of the programme. I was able to explain to the members of the Council why we have recommended such an expansion. I also pleaded with them that there should be no linkage between the discussion of humanitarian issues and the crisis that we are trying to contain, caused by Iraq's refusal to implement Security Council resolutions. And I am confident that the Council will review this report on its merits, and that the Council's concern will be whether it is adequate and whether it can be implemented effectively, and that it will not be influenced by what is happening today. You will also notice in the report that, even though we are more than doubling the programme, we have maintained the breakdown in the humanitarian area. Basically, what we are trying to do is to improve the calorie intake for the Iraqi population from about 2,000 to 2,450 kilocalories per person per day. We are increasing the amount of medicine we are sending in, and we are also trying to work with them to improve their agricultural output, particularly in the area of poultry and production of eggs, to give them better food content. In addition to that, we are improving their schools for young people. You will notice in the report that there's considerable emphasis on children at risk. We have also proposed a one-time expenditure to refurbish the infrastructure, which is in a terrible state of disrepair. We believe that if we do not repair these infrastructural facilities, the impact will be to undermine all the good we are trying to do by bringing in additional supplies. If they don't have clean water to drink, it will lead to diseases, and more medicine will be required. If you don't have electricity for refrigeration, for hospital operations and other things, you undermine the effectiveness of these hospitals. So, there are proposals for improving the water system, sanitation, electricity and these kinds of infrastructures. But those will be a one-time payment. In other words, if after these first six months we were to come up with another six-month [inaudible], it could be reduced by the expenditures currently proposed for the one-time expenditure on infrastructure. The other issue I think I should share with you is that we did not get the kind of cooperation we had expected from the Iraqi authorities in the preparation of the plans. I have had the chance to talk to them at the highest levels and stressed the need for them to cooperate with us. But now that the report is out and is before the Council, I am going to engage them immediately to get their reactions to the report.. We did get lots of informal inputs and have had informal contacts, but no formal reaction from the authorities. The other question that will be raised is, would Iraq be in a position to export that quantity of oil? The proposal calls for $5.2 billion and currently it is exporting $2 billion. That we are also going to take up with the Iraqi authorities, who, in the past, have indicated they have far greater capacity than they are allowed to export. Other experts tend to agree with that, but, of course, we won't know until we sit with them. So, we are working on the assumption that they have the capacity to export, and we will find out when we sit with them. Finally, in my discussions with the Council, I did stress my own grave concern, which I know most members of the Council also share, about the increasing tension caused by Iraq's refusal to comply with resolution 687 (1991). I indicated that I felt the Iraqi leadership must understand that if sanctions were to be ended, and if it wants sanctions to be ended and to see light at the end of the tunnel, Iraq must comply fully. It is my sincere hope that diplomatic efforts to this end will succeed; failure risks another round of devastating military action, which may have unpredictable consequences. The Charter requires both Governments and the Secretary-General to exhaust all peaceful means before undertaking any military action. I have indicated to the Council that I stand ready to offer my good offices for whatever purposes the Council may deem helpful. I will now take your questions. QUESTION: Did you, either directly or by body language, get a sense of how your proposal is accepted by the delegates you talked with? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think my sense was that, generally, it was welcomed and there was support and understanding of the need to improve the basket and improve the situation of the Iraqi population. No one in the Council wants to hurt innocent civilians, and so there is support for it. There may be some disagreements when they get into the details of it, but as of this morning, I walked away confident that there was broad support for the proposals. QUESTION: You just said that you told the Council that you offered your good offices. Are you considering going to Iraq, for example, particularly since you will be in the region rather shortly? And if not, why not? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let me say that lots of efforts are being made in the search for diplomatic efforts. During my trip in Europe last week, I had very important discussions with leaders in France at the highest levels; with the Foreign Minister in London; and also with the Turkish Foreign Minister in Davos, who also had an interesting approach. He had hoped to convince all the neighbours -- Iran, Jordan, Syria -- to go together to try to plead with Iraq to back down and work with the United Nations in order to avoid another military escalation in their region. I did encourage him to do it. We are encouraging all these efforts.. My own involvement, if it becomes necessary in the future, will be determined by what developments or successes come out of these current efforts and what we collectively think we should further do. I am in touch with those who are absent in voice and I am also in touch with the Council, and in the next few days, [inaudible] make a judgement. QUESTION: Regarding this current crisis, have you had contact with Iraqi officials? Have you spoken to them about their intransigence about the United Nations inspectors? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have been in contact with the Iraqi authorities quite often on these issues, not just with Tariq Aziz. I also had a chance to talk with Mr. Yassin Ramadan, the Deputy Prime Minister, when we met in Tehran, and I am constantly in touch also with the Ambassador here. I intend to talk to him again this afternoon. QUESTION: This would be about, not oil for food, but about -- THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have talked to them on the broader issues, on the other issues as well. QUESTION: The bombing seems almost imminent; that it will happen in a day or so. Do you think the danger of Mr. Saddam's refusal of the United Nations people to investigate justifies the bombing? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: You know, we are dealing with a Chapter VII resolution, and the Council and the Member States have been quite determined to see disarmament proceed. This is a decision for the Member States and the Council, of course, but I think, from the point of view of the Council, and maybe of the international community, compliance with this Chapter VII resolution is something that we would all seek. I think no one in the Council is pushing for the use of force in the first instance. All those who are talking about it are looking at it as a last resort. We hope that President Saddam Hussain, for the sake of the Iraqi people, who have suffered so much, will listen to the messages that are being taken to him by these senior envoys from Russia, from France, from people in the region, leaders in the region and elsewhere, and really avoid taking his people through another confrontation. They don't need it; the region doesn't need it; and the world certainly can do without it. And so, hopefully, the leadership will have the courage, the wisdom and the concern for its own people to take us back from the brink. QUESTION: There's sort of an ongoing debate over whether the United States, if it elected to launch a military attack, would have authorization without further action by the Council. I've been looking back at the history of it, and one of your predecessors in 1993 was either forced or somehow voluntarily opined that there was pre-existing authorization for that specific time. Could we ask you to express your opinion, whether there would have to be further action or whether [inaudible]? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think the international community has acted in unison on Iraq in the past, and I think everyone would want to maintain that unity. There have been statements that the United States does not require a Council decision to undertake air strikes against Iraq. Despite that, there are intensive consultations between Council members both here and in capitals. And so consultations are going on, and I think everyone would agree that it would be preferable to get Council authorization before one engages in a military action. And as I said, consultations are going on, and I would not want to prejudge the outcome. QUESTION: If there is to be military action, would you evacuate all United Nations personnel, would they be notified before? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Obviously, we would not want to place our staff at risk. We have about 475 international personnel in Iraq who are doing courageous and credible work, and I would hope that they would be able to continue their humanitarian work, as well as the inspections, at the end of this crisis. But your point is valid; I mean, the question has arisen. If we believe they are going to be in danger, we would not keep them in harm's way. QUESTION: Aren't you sending mixed signals here in calling for rehabilitating or propping up the infrastructure, the power grid and such, which had been weakened by sanctions, and at the same time saying that Iraq must comply in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel when sanctions will be lifted? I think a lot of people may read it this way. THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I hope they do not. As I indicated, we are dealing with two issues: the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people and the pressure the international community is putting on the Iraqi Government to comply with Security Council resolution 687 (1991) and to work with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). We have determined that we should try to refurbish these infrastructures if our objective is really to ensure that the Iraqis have a certain minimum standard of health. And if we do not do it, as I have indicated, there are very serious implications and repercussions. We cannot also assume that Iraq is going to be bombed. We have been there before, and Iraq has turned back from the precipice. It may change its mind, and we may not need to go forward. So in the meantime, I think we should go ahead with our plans, deal with the humanitarian issues to try to help the Iraqi population, and, as I said earlier, I hope President Saddam Hussain and the Iraqi leadership will share the concern I am displaying today for the Iraqi population and have the wisdom to take the right decisions. QUESTION: From your comments just now, it sounds as though the United States does not have Security Council authorization to act militarily in the region. I am wondering, without that authorization, is the United States justified in starting this kind of action to achieve Security Council compliance? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have not said that. I think I gave the indication that although the statement has been made that the United States does not need specific Council authorization to go, we should look at the facts. The United States is talking to Council members, both here and in capitals, on this particular issue. I don't think the United States itself has taken the position that it doesn't matter what the Council thinks and we are going ahead, because there are very serious consultations going on. And I have indicated that everybody, including the United States, I am sure, would agree that it would be preferable to hold everyone together. You are not quite satisfied, but anyway, we will talk later. QUESTION: Can you just make it clear to us -- does the Security Council have authorization to act now in case Iraq still shows this unwillingness to cooperate, or not? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: The Security Council is the master of its own decisions, and it could decide to do what it thinks is appropriate. And if they want to take a different direction, they can decide that too. And so the Security Council can either decide to act on a certain resolution, if it chose to interpret it that way, or take additional specific decisions. QUESTION: What justification have the Iraqis given you for not complying fully in the implementation of the oil-for-food programme? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: They haven't given us any specific explanations, but I think that when a country is going through this sort of crisis, when you want to deal with sensitive issues, which takes courage and commits the officials concerned, you often do not find them when you need them. And incidentally, that also happens in this Building. On sensitive issues, sometimes people vanish. And I have a feeling we saw a bit of that in Iraq, but now that the proposal has been put forward and the Council is seized of it, I think they will react to the proposal and we will be able to engage them seriously. QUESTION: A highly hypothetical question: if a United Nations Member country attacks another United Nations Member country without the approval of the Security Council, would that country be subject to sanctions? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: If it is an attack like the one Iraq undertook in Kuwait, you saw what the international community did. But if my understanding of your question is right, you are working on the assumption that the United States does not have the authority to hit Iraq alone, and that a fresh Council resolution will be required. I think I have answered that by telling you about the sort of discussions that are going on, and I refuse to be drawn further. QUESTION: Still, if there is an attack without Security Council approval, how would the United Nations react? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think first that it is an issue the Security Council is very much engaged in. They are in close touch with the United States, they are seized of the problem, and if at any stage they have problems with what is happening on the ground with any development, we will hear from them. QUESTION: What about your visit to the Middle East? Are you still going to go ahead with it, or do you want to change the situation? Are there any changes in your plans? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: At this stage, it still stands. QUESTION: I was wondering, considering some of the comments made by Mr. [Richard] Butler [UNSCOM Rxecutive Chairman] last week, how seriously do you view the potential threat that Iraq poses in terms of biological or chemical weapon threats to its neighbours? Is there in fact a clear and present threat right now? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think Mr. Butler clarified what he meant to say, and also we have a group of technical experts in Iraq now making certain assessments. And I think I prefer to wait for their report to comment on the capacity of Iraq. QUESTION: Since President Saddam Hussain has all the strength, why don't you pick up the phone and talk to him directly and bring up the whole picture to the Council? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I tried once, but it is not easy to get him at the other end of the line. But maybe I should take your advice and try again. QUESTION: There have been reports today that Saddam Hussain -- this is coming supposedly through the Russians -- has offered to make eight presidential sites available for inspection, with the inspectors being accompanied by ambassadors from various countries. This comes at the same time that your proposal has gone before the Security Council. Some might say that this may be taking shape as a compromise -- [between] what is happening here on the humanitarian end [and] his attempt on the other. Would you see this as a move towards compromise on his part? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Well, I think he has to allow free and unfettered access to these sites. And if he does, then he will be in full compliance. I don't think the objective is to let the President decide which palaces the inspectors and the diplomats can go to. You talk of eight palaces. We hear reports of as many as 60 palaces. Why those eight and not the others? So, the problem is really still there. I hope that the discussions that are going on will clarify this. But, as I said -- this question was put to me also in Europe, if this oil-for-food scheme would be seen as a carrot to get the Iraqis to agree. We do not see it as a carrot. We have always maintained that we should try to assist the Iraqi population. The Council introduced the oil-for-food scheme right from the beginning, six or seven years ago, and we could have implemented it if we had had the agreement of the Iraqi Government. And most Council members recognize that sanctions are a blunt instrument, and you have to take measures to protect vulnerable populations. QUESTION: Although there are a lot of discussions going on, and one hopes for a compromise, is there any kind of timeframe of how long Iraq will be allowed to keep non-cooperating before some action will be taken? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think in these sorts of situations it is always very awkward to come up with a very tight and rigid timeframe. Lots of things are happening, lots of irons are in the fire. And there can be very rapid developments one way or the other. But I am not in a position to talk of timeframes. Besides ... I think that's enough. QUESTION: Aren't you concerned about the counter-productive use of force? Let's say there is a military strike and the United Nations is thrown out of the country, and then the point of the United Nations being there, which is to inspect the weapons programmes, goes right out the window. THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: I have no disagreement with that. But let me say that quite a few people are concerned. This is why we want to maintain the inspectors. And even those who are recommending military action are still hoping that, after the action, inspection can continue. That happened in the past. Would it happen this time? I don't know. But our main objective, the focus, is the disarmament of Iraq, and we should stay on the ball. So, in that respect, I see where you're coming from, and almost everyone agrees with you on that -- that the objective is to disarm Iraq. And, in fact, on that objective, the Council members are unanimous. And the [inaudible] attempts to find a solution [are] precisely to make it possible for us to continue sticking to our objective. QUESTION: In the Congo -- the status of the Commission of Inquiry? THE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Yes, the Commission of Inquiry is back in, and I hope that they will be able to continue with their work. They are hoping to move ahead. President Kabila saw them. In fact, he had hoped to get hold of me this morning and then I had to go in to the Council. But we expect them to be able to move ahead with their work. In my last letter to President Kabila, I indicated that they may have to go until May or beyond. We didn't accept the February deadline in his exchanges with Ambassador Richardson [of the United States]. We had an understanding as to the mandate and the role of the mission and of the period it would take for them to complete their work. And, although we are grateful to Ambassador Richardson for trying to facilitate and de-block the impasse, his involvement was not intended to change the basic premise of the objective of the mission and the time we had assessed it would take us to do our work. And so they are there, and they are going to continue and do their work until they complete it. * *** * -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html