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Transcript: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Interview


(Windows Broadband 20:19 min.)

Transcript of interview:

MR. HEINLEIN:
Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for joining us today. You're off soon on your first trip as Secretary-General to the Middle East. You've set as one of your priorities to make your own contribution to the challenge of bringing peace to the Middle East. As a member of the Quartet, you have a powerful platform, but the Quartet has recently been, shall we say, in need of resuscitation. But the Quartet now has the Mecca Accord to work on. The Palestinian Government is coming forth. The United States seems to be renewing its emphasis on the Middle East solution. Condoleezza Rice is leaving for the region about the same time you are. Several Arab states seem to be engaged on this matter. Are we witnessing the dawn of a new day in the Middle East? If so, what's the key to the strategy that you're developing to seize this moment?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I'm looking forward to my forthcoming visit to the Middle East as an important opportunity for me, first of all, to engage in dialogue with the leaders of the countries in the region, and to assess myself the situation there. I have been actively participating in the Quartet process during the last two months. There was a Mecca deal. The Quartet process has been re-energized.

It was very encouraging that the American government, led by Secretary of State Rice's initiative, is visiting the countries in the region. I am hoping to have another meeting while we will be in Israel. I have just spoken this morning with Secretary Rice. We are going to exchange our views during our visit to Israel.

We are visiting at almost the same time there. There was a national unity government launched. I hope that the national unity government will respect and abide by all these principles laid out by the Quartet process. And it is important for the international community to encourage this ongoing peace process in the Middle East.

MR. HEINLEIN:
One of your main stops on this trip will be Riyadh, for the Riyadh Summit, at which the Arab, or Saudi, peace proposal will be discussed. It was criticized in many quarters when it was first introduced in 2002, including by the Israelis, who saw it as a plan, which they objected to parts of its plan for return of the Palestinian refugees. But recently Israelis and Americans have spoken positively of some elements of the plan.

What merits do you see in it? And can it be the basis of a way forward? How does it fit with your vision of a settlement?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I think the Arab peace initiative of 2002 by Saudi Arabia is one of the pillars, which will facilitate the peace process in the Middle East. It is encouraging that the Americans and the Israelis are now trying to revisit this Arab peace process.

I know that there are still some reservations shared by the Israelis. But one cannot be always fully satisfied with one or two agreements. We must build upon all these good principles. Therefore, we will be able to see the vision realized, where Israelis and Palestinians live peacefully side-by-side, in peace and security. This is our end goal and vision. And there were some discussions during the meeting of the Quartet.

MR. HEINLEIN:
Now, the Palestinians, as you mentioned, have a new unity government. But, of course, one of its entities is Hamas, which two members of the Quartet, the United States and the European Union, view as a terrorist organization. Part of the Quartet's fundamental premise is that any Palestinian government must recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Do you see signs that the unity government is ready to respect the signed agreements with the PLO that renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist? And given that this government doesn't fully live up to that promise yet, how do you see the Quartet engaging with it?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
The initial report coming from this national unity government seems to be a little bit disappointing. They have not clearly stated that they will abide by all these three principles. I urge that the national unity government will surely adhere to and respect the principles laid out by the Quartet. It is important that the parties concerned should respect the right to exist, particularly Israel's, and engage in dialogue without resorting to violence. And also respect all of these previously agreed international agreements and principles.

MR. HEINLEIN:
Thank you. Turning now to another of your agenda items, you've said the Great Powers must exercise their leadership. But on one of the pressing issues of the day, the suffering in Darfur, it seems that, for the past four years, no amount of Great Power pressure has persuaded Sudan's President (Umar Hassan Ahmad al-)Bashir to permit effective intervention in Darfur's civil war. President Bashir, in his latest letter to you, seems to have reneged on the deals made at Abuja and Addis Ababa that many in the West had thought might quickly lead to introduction of a U.N. peacekeeping force that would have the strength to stop the widespread killing.

First, what does this experience say to you about the limitations that the U.N. has in addressing challenges such as those posed by President Bashir?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I know that the frustration is growing in the international community because of this lack of progress, or slow progress, in deploying peacekeeping operations in Darfur to help, first of all, bring security, and also help those people suffering from [a lack of] humanitarian assistance. The political track dialogue has been going on, with my Special Representative, Mr. (Jan) Eliasson, and A.U. Special Envoy Mr. Salim (Ahmed) Salim, having dialogue with them.

It was regrettable that President Bashir has made several reservations to my proposals to deploy a heavy support package and the hybrid peacekeeping operations. This proposal was done in close coordination with the African Union, in accordance with the Addis Ababa and Abuja Agreement. This is something they must accommodate.

I have also proposed the nomination of the joint representative and the force commander. We have laid out all preparations so that we will be able to contribute to the resolution of the Darfur issue. I hope that I will be able to discuss this matter with the leaders while attending the League of Arab [States] Summit Meeting. I have spoken with many African leaders.

MR. HEINLEIN:
What can the U.N. do right now to protect the people of Darfur against human rights abuses, while we are getting through this negotiating process?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
My Under Secretary General of OCHA, Mr. John Holmes, is going to visit Sudan next week to discuss this matter, to help facilitate the humanitarian assistance on this matter. And my Special Envoy, Mr. Eliasson, and A.U. Special Envoy, Mr. Salim, are also going to visit Sudan next week. We are taking all possible diplomatic initiatives at this time, with my own conversations and the initiative with African Union leaders.

MR. HEINLEIN:
On another subject, in your previous role as South Korea's Foreign Minister, you played an important role in the Six Party Talks. But, for a long time, they were stalled. Now, they seem to be making progress. But, your position has changed. You represent an entity now that's really not a party to the talks. But you can't be a different person. You can't divorce yourself from the hopes that you had and your understanding of the issues involved.

First, how are you continuing your involvement in seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I have been closely monitoring, in my capacity as Secretary-General of the United Nations, using my experience and know?how dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue. It was a very encouraging development of the situation on the Korean Peninsula when the Six Parties have agreed on these nuclear issues and denuclearization process. North Korea has committed to dismantling all nuclear weapons and materials in return for economic assistance and security assurance.

This was a significant step forward in implementing the Joint Statement adopted in September 2005. I have been trying my best, first, to facilitate this ongoing peace process. I met the chief negotiator of the United States. I have discussed this matter with Secretary of State Dr. Rice, and many other senior officials of the other governments. I will try my best effort to facilitate at this time this ongoing process, so that the Korean people and the international community will be able to see the only realization of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And this issue has now entered into management. It is a matter of implementation.

And the Director General of the IAEA, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, also had a very good discussion with North Korean authorities on implementing this agreement.

MR. HEINLEIN:
Do you think that your elevation to the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations has been beneficial to the cause? Has it changed the dynamic in such a way that you think maybe this is the chance?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I'm not quite sure whether it has any correlations or direct relations, but I hope that as Secretary General of the United Nations I will be able to facilitate this process, smooth the process, toward the full implementation of the Joint Statement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

MR. HEINLEIN:
What in your opinion has changed in recent months that has resulted in this agreement by North Korea to enter into these talks with the United States and others that could lead to normalization of relations?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
It's always good for the parties to engage in direct dialogue in a bilateral setting, or a multilateral setting. And it is also encouraging that North Korea has decided to engage in dialogue. It was, I think, a good policy for them.

MR. HEINLEIN:
On another subject, the United States and its allies in Iraq would like the U.N. to do more to bring a measure of stability to Iraq. The U.N. hosted the Iraq Compact that hopes to raise funds for reconstruction. But the U.N. still only has a few dozen foreign staff on the ground there. What more can the U.N. do to help on the ground in Iraq? And at what point would you consider a significantly larger U.N. foreign staff presence there?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
During the last four years, since the beginning of this Iraqi situation, the United Nations has been participating and helping the Iraqi people and government in political/national reconciliation, drafting constitutions, and redoing constitutions, as well as providing humanitarian assistance. The United Nations Secretary-General, my predecessor, Kofi Annan, has initiated an International Compact with Iraq. And Friday last week, I have opened and chaired another international compact with Iraq.

It was encouraging. I was very much encouraged by the large number of representations by the international community. The international community should continue their efforts to help the Iraqi people, so that they will be able to see a united, democratic and peaceful country. The United Nations will continue to engage. However, at this time, there is some constraint because of the situation on the ground. As the situation improves ?? and I am now seriously considering how we can increase our presence, how we can increase our contribution to the Iraqi people, in the form of politically and promoting national reconciliation and constitutional reviewing process, as well as providing economic assistance.

The International Compact was a good example of the U.N.'s direct involvement and contribution.

MR. HEINLEIN:
Increasing the U.N. staff on the ground would be a big symbolic boost for the Iraqis. How close do you think you might be to making that decision?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I have to consider all the aspects at this time, because of the continuing sectarian violence and the limited moveability of the U.N. staff because of the security concern on the ground. But I am now in the process of consulting with the countries concerned.

MR. HEINLEIN:
Now a few questions for our many language services at VOA very quickly. First, on Burma/Myanmar. Are you ready to appoint a new Special Representative to Burma/Myanmar to facilitate the national reconciliation process? What's your plan for persuading Burmese leaders to free pro?democracy activists?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I am still concerned about the lack of progress in the democratization process in Myanmar. My predecessor, former Secretary General Kofi Annan, has appointed a Special Envoy for Myanmar’s Human Rights, Mr. (Ibrahim) Gambari. And I am also going to use his experience in the future to help the Myanmar people to democratize their systems.

MR. HEINLEIN:
And on Somalia, the United Nations funded two previous reconciliation conferences, in 2000 and 2003, that led to formation of Somalia's transitional government. Now that government is asking for a third conference. Will the U.N. support it? And what can the U.N. do to ensure a positive outcome?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
It was encouraging that President (Abdullahi) Yusuf announced his intention to convene a national reconciliation congress on April 16. I hope they will have good discussions to promote national reconciliation.

At this time, the international community should fully cooperate and support this process, which has created this momentum. This momentum should be sustained.

When I met President Yusuf in January in Addis Ababa, I urged him that, while the international community will be providing the necessary assistance, he should also engage himself in promoting national reconciliation. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am prepared to provide such assistance.

MR. HEINLEIN:
And on Iran, what role can the Secretary-General play to persuade Iran to comply with IAEA and Security Council demands regarding its suspect nuclear activities?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
I have taken my own initiative. Whenever I have an opportunity of meeting Iranian officials, I have urged them to fully comply with the Security Council resolution, and engage in dialogue with the international community, led by the EU?Plus?3. Now, it was very much regrettable that they have not met the deadlines set out by the Security Council. It is now in the hands of the Security Council. They are actively discussing the second sanction measures.

Even at this time, I would urge that the Iranian authorities engage in a serious negotiation to resolve this issue to the expectation of the international community. And on the part of Iran, as a responsible member of the United Nations and the international community, they must comply fully with all the resolutions of the Security Council, and alleviate all the concerns, which the international community has. Their right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in accordance with NPT provisions, is not without any precondition. There is a condition that their peaceful uses should be governed by verifications of the International Atomic Energy Agency's to the fullest satisfaction, full?scope safeguard agreement.

MR. HEINLEIN:
And one final question about India and Pakistan. They are making another attempt to settle their longstanding dispute. What can you do, what would you like to do, to further support the India?Pakistan peace process?

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
It was encouraging to see that, even with the political situations, the Indian and Pakistan governments have been engaged in composite dialogue, alternating their meetings between India and Pakistan. Even at the time of the terrorist attack, in the train bombings, they decided to go ahead with this composite dialogue.

I, as the Secretary-General, will always encourage such composite dialogue for the peaceful resolution of this longstanding India?Pakistani conflict.

MR. HEINLEIN:
Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your time, and good luck on your trip to the Middle East.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN:
It has been a great pleasure. Thank you.

[end of transcript]

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