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Center for Preventive Action Special Event with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Speakers: General John W. Vessey, USA (Ret.), and Peter G. Peterson, Chairman, Peter G. Peterson Foundation
Presider: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
Speaker: Kofi Annan, secretary-general, United Nations
March 6, 2002
Council on Foreign Relations


On the record

LESLIE GELB: Good Evening, my name is Leslie Gelb. I'm President of the Council on Foreign Relations and Commander in Chief of our black helicopter forces. Only kidding Kofi, the helicopters are yours. Tonight's event is on the record. And it's being webcast on the Council's website and also by CNN. A number of our colleagues from the press are here to report on this and to televise as well, so I remind you, it is on the record.

We gather tonight to honor two histories that have converged on a great new and special cause. One history is that of Cyrus Vance, the former Secretary of State, who made good history. The other history is that of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is still making good history. The cause, a special new cause, on which their lives converged, is the prevention of deadly conflict. Their lives converged in many ways, but this was something new, something special, something particularly awful that happened with the end of the Cold War.

The end of the Cold War opened the doors to ethnic and civil violence on a terrible scale. And the end of the Cold War also opened the door to diplomatic action that might prevent those conflicts. It had this paradoxical effect. Hundreds of organizations around the world moved to do something about this new curse on humanity. The Council on Foreign Relations did as well. We started our Center for Preventive Action.

Our Center is really not for scholars or theologians, though we wish them well. Scholars are needed to do good analysis, and there is a lot of good analysis out there. And we'll make use of it. And the theologians are needed to remind us of the higher angels that we should all remind our fellows of in these terrible conflicts. But we are not in the business of telling people that they should or must or need to. That kind of finger-waving is not our task.

We're trying to do something very practical with our Center for Preventive Action. First, we want to take what we now do very well here at the Council, a task force of diverse people in views and in backgrounds and bring them together to do the following: One, find out who is involved with those who are about to make conflict, those who have influence with them: governments, international organizations, particularly United Nations, business, nongovernmental organizations. Who is there? What contacts and influence do they have? Secondly, what kinds of—specifically what kinds of carrots and sticks do they have at their disposal or could they have at their disposal with acts of real, diplomatic imagination? How do we put tools in their hand to change the calculus of war and peace?

And, finally, the task forces will seek to get action for the strategies they derive, to convince governments and the press, and Congresses how to do something and to do something. Tonight is about that. Tonight is about that Center for Preventive Action and this larger cause that Cyrus Vance and Kofi Annan have brought our attention to.

We've been at this now for almost eight years. Let me thank some people. Our Chairman for the Center all along has been General John Vessey. And Jack Vessey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brings great wisdom to our enterprise. The present Director of the Center is Bill Nash, a retired Army General, who led the first U.S. division into Bosnia, and who played an important role for the United Nations in Kosovo. And before Bill Nash, we had Barney Rubin as the Director of the Center. Barney has written a terrific book which will be out shortly and which I commend to you most highly. I also wanted to thank David Hamburg. Eight years ago, David was President of the Carnegie Corporation, and, like Cy Vance and like Kofi Annan, committed to figuring out how to prevent deadly conflict. And David really gave us the wherewithall to launch this enterprise. I thank them. And we are here to honor them in their cause.

To advance our evening, it is my incredible pleasure to introduce the Chairman of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, Peter G. Peterson, whose brilliant suntan belies his civic accomplishments. (Laughter). (Applause).

PETER G. PETERSON: I rise to welcome you, but not to introduce my very good friend, Kofi Annan. Kofi, you can be very grateful that I'm not going to do that.

At the dedication of this Hall, Les Gelb, in an act of unbridled hostility toward me, asked Ted Sorensen to toast me—excuse me, roast me. As you may not know, I consider Ted the most gifted, by which I mean brutal, roaster in America. Kofi Annan was here that evening, and no one laughed louder or longer at me for Ted's rhetorical nuclear strikes than Kofi Annan. I promised myself that I would get my due revenge, to see if Kofi could laugh at himself as much as he did at me. I was tempted to try that this evening when I confronted the melancholy fact that I utterly lack Ted's gifts, if that is the right word.

Permit me to remind Kofi of two of Ted's dozen or so nuclear strikes that evening. Referring reverentially to my book, "Gray Dawn," he said let me tell you about Peterson's book "Gray Dawn." This is a book that once you put it down you will not be able to pick it up. (Laughter). In another of his first strikes, he said, "We're apparently here to anoint Peterson to sainthood," he said. "When I think of Peterson, I think of St. Paul: The dullest town in America." So Kofi, you can relax, but only for tonight. And in the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know that I'm actively recruiting Mr. Sorensen to do this duty on another occasion that affects you.

Now, a few words about the serious issues of the evening. We were originally scheduled, you know, to rededicate the Council's Center for Preventive Action on September 11th of all dates. Kofi Annan, the much admired leader of the United Nations, of course, was to address us that evening. We have learned much since then, and in that time we lost also a dear friend and a great statesman, Cy Vance, who had much to teach us on this matter. So I rise not only to welcome the Secretary-General, but to dedicate this evening to the memory of our former Secretary of State, the former leader of the Council, and of the Center for Preventive Action, and again our dear friend, Cyrus Vance. I want particularly to make mention also of Gay Vance who is here this evening. Also our friend of many years and a great friend of the Council as well. Gay shared Cy's passion for peace. She always made Cy's efforts easier for him and for others. So, Gay, we thank you too tonight. (Applause).

Cy Vance was a man committed to peace and devoted to public service. He ranked at the top of those who served in and out of government for more than 40 years. As Deputy Secretary of Defense under President Johnson, he was called on as a troubleshooter in a wide variety of diplomatic crises, including North Korea, Dominican Republic, Cyprus and Paris, where he and Averell Harriman began the Vietnam peace talks. As Secretary of State, Cy helped conclude the Camp David accords with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. He oversaw the formal normalization of relations with China and he negotiated the passage of the Panama Canal treaties.

In 1980, Cy took the rare step of resigning from the nation's highest cabinet post in protest of President Jimmy Carter's decision to attempt a military rescue of American hostages in Iran, an action that he considered ill-advised and futile. He was soon proven tragically to be right. Cy was a man of the highest principles. And I know from serving with him on the Council on Foreign Relations Board in the 80s where he was our Vice Chairman, he never failed to follow those principles.

In the 1990s, Cy was sent by the United States Secretary-General as a special envoy to guide the peacemaking process in Yugoslavia. His experience there further reinforced his devotion to preventing and resolving conflict and led him to cofound in 1994 the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. His partner in this project, David Hamburg, will talk more about his contribution to this more important endeavor after dinner. But, for now, in the spirit of Cy Vance's dedication to the honest conduct of preventive diplomacy, let us move forward into this evening's discussion for, as Cy would agree, the topic at hand has never been more pressing.

Please let me introduce our presider for this evening, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chairman of our Center for Preventive Action, General John W. Vessey. General Vessey will introduce our keynote speaker, our good friend and I'm proud to say our Nobel Laureate, the United States—the United Nations Secretary-General—perhaps that was a Freudian slip, I don't know, Secretary-General Kofi Annan. General Vessey, please. Thank you. (Applause).

JOHN W. VESSEY: Thank you, sir. Before I introduce the speaker, I'd like to say that Cy Vance taught me some important things. And one of the most important things was: You can disagree without being disagreeable. He was not only a wise man and a great patriot and a wonderful statesman, he was a very decent human being and every inch a gentleman.

My job is to introduce the speaker for this evening. And I want to say again, as Les said earlier, this is on the record, in contrast to many of the Council's events, and it is being webcast on the Council's website and on

Our speaker was born in Ghana in 1938. He undertook undergraduate studies in Ghana and he completed them, we Minnesotans proudly say, at one of our wonderful schools in Minnesota, McCallister College in St. Paul. I reminded the Secretary-General this evening that I passed the campus yesterday on my way to the airport in Minneapolis, and the temperature was a very warm 8 degrees Fahrenheit. His graduate work was done at Geneva in economics and at MIT in management.

His 40 years with the United Nations has taken him into almost every facet of the organization, from the World Health Organization, to the Economic Commission for Africa, to the High Commissioner for Refugees, to budgeting and planning for the United Nations, but most importantly for our session here this evening, many special tasks having to do with peacemaking, conflict resolution and conflict prevention.

In 1997, he became the seventh Secretary-General and the first one selected from the ranks of the United Nations. And having been the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to come through all the ranks in the Army, I have some feeling for that position. He was unanimously, by acclaim, recommended and appointed to his second term as Secretary-General, which began on the 1st of this year. His tenure as Secretary-General has been marked by two major thrusts. The first is reform of the administrative and bureaucratic mechanism of the United Nations, and the second is particularly significant for tonight's event, and I can best describe it by using his own words from the preface to the Study on Conflict Prevention that each of you has been given tonight. And in it, the Secretary-General said, "Since assuming office, I have pledged to move the United Nations from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention." His service has been recognized with the Nobel Laureate for Peace in December of this last year.

Another Minnesotan, a famous Minnesotan who had something to do with the United Nations, Harold Stassen, one of the drafters of the charter, didn't live long enough to know that on this earth at least that the Secretary-General was given the Nobel Prize. But the last time I saw Governor Stassen, he remarked to me about the Secretary-General, and in good Minnesota fashion, he said "He's doing just fine." So I'm sure that he would have applauded the award.

Please help me welcome the seventh Secretary-General, Nobel Laureate, Kofi Annan. (Applause).

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I noticed how courageous you in this room were because you were all laughing at Pete Peterson when he recited what Ted Sorensen wrote about him immediately after he had threatened me that he was going to take revenge, and you courageously laughed at what he had to say. But I will tell you, I can laugh at myself. And I look forward to being roasted by you, Pete. (Laughter).

I think without laughter, external laughter, my job would be impossible. So, I'm ready. And, Les, let me thank you for your wonderful comments and the way you described the mission of this new Center. General Vessey, thanks very much for your introduction and also for the greetings you bring me from Minnesota. As I watched you speak, I realized you were doing it with affection and fondness, and it reminded me that we Minnesotans must stick together. (Laughter).

My dear friends, let me say that September 11th was the date I was originally expected to deliver this address. That was the day of calamity of many paths. It was an attack on one country, the United States, that wounded the entire world; and yet, in a very real sense, if we look at it, it may have been failure of intelligence or failure of security, but in a real sense, though an indirect way, September 11th marked a failure of prevention. There is a clear, if complicated, trail from the absence of engagement with Afghanistan in the 1990s to the creation of a terrorist haven there to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Today, in a time and a city still darkened by the memory of September 11th, it is surely beyond question that ignoring or neglecting prevention is a recipe for disaster. In the case of 11 September, it was a disaster for the people of the United States. But as we meet today, there are other disasters looming, perhaps not for the United States but for other, much weaker peoples fighting lonely battles against poverty, instability and illegitimate governments. Tragically, in those cases, a grim and sometimes bloody future is all too easy to predict. Unless we, as an international community, begin to take seriously the rhetoric of conflict prevention and act where only action can make the difference between war and peace.

That is why I'm particularly pleased to join you today for a discussion on conflict prevention and preventive action. There is no cause more central to our work at the United Nations and more important to our mission. To have the Council on Foreign Relations make it a priority as well, by creating the Center for Preventive Action, under the leadership of General Nash, and bringing your expertise and resources to bear on this essential effort is very encouraging indeed for me and for the United Nations. It reflects the wisdom, not only of your present leadership, but also that of our friend, Cy Vance, whose memory we honor tonight. And Gay, we are really happy to see you, and Cy Vance's daughter is here, Amy, is here with us. And we are happy to see you here.

But we do honor the memory of Cy tonight. As a statesman, a diplomat, humanitarian, and a true citizen of the world of laws, Cy did as much as anyone to help lay the foundations for effective preventive action by promoting democracy and the rule of law within and among states. Through his humanity and profound decency, Cy exemplified, as few others did, the principles of cooperation, dialogue, and negotiation that I believe must form the core of successful relations between states and peoples. He was a role model for many of us in this room.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have made great efforts to focus the attention of member states on the importance of prevention of armed conflict. A few years ago I chose it as the theme of my annual report to the General Assembly and told the members, as you heard earlier, to move from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention. And more recently, I issued a report to the Security Council on conflict prevention, and I think you all have copies here in the room. It had the explicit end of recommending new ways of enhancing the organization's work in preventing armed conflict. This report, I believe, should be—would be useful for those of us interested in the ideas and suggestions that were put forward to the Council and those who are keen to pursue conflict prevention in whatever form they choose.

But, my friends, before looking more closely at the challenges of effective preventive action and conflict prevention, I should say that the Security Council has responded very positively to the recommendations in my report, both in terms of strengthening its own rules and that of the Secretary-General. As an organization, we are determined to focus more and more on preventive action. There will be in the future frequent Security Council visits to areas of potential armed conflict, just like the one the Security Council did on the trip to Ethiopia and Eritrea where we expect to announce the results of the border demarcation very shortly and I think their presence was helpful to try and explain to the leaders in the region and calm the waters before the results are released.

Though the increased use of factfinding and confidence-building missions. And recently you all know we've done a couple of unusual things by sending out factfinding missions to Congo, to Sierra-Leone, and to find out who is exploiting the resources of these countries and using them to pay for guns and weapons and other things. And we will be doing more of those things. There will be more frequent reports to the Security Council from me on potential conflict situations. And here I would mention two recent reports that we gave to the Security Council on Liberia and on Madagascar alerting the Council to rising tensions in those countries.

There will be the (inaudible) to the Security Council in the context of conflict prevention of information from the UN system on cases of serious human rights violations and potential conflict situations arising from ethnic violations, religious and territorial disputes, poverty and lack of development. And, finally, we are going to use the UN system, the development of a UN regional prevention strategy that seeks to address the long-term structural and root causes of conflict, and also sensitize people in the particular region as to what is developing in their region and the need for them to stay on top of it and stay engaged. And I will say a bit more about this later.

I'm encouraged that the Security Council responded to my request with a resolution that strengthened the message of my report and emphasized the commitment of the Council to conflict prevention. Significantly, this commitment includes an expression of the Council's readiness to address potential armed conflicts resulting from violations of human rights and humanitarian law. I know Mr. Roth of Human Rights Watch who is here with us would be very happy.

Whether these kinds of messages are implemented will depend on two critical factors: First, political will. In this case, the determination to invest political capital today in order to prevent the crisis of tomorrow. We are not always ready to do this. Effective conflict prevention requires states to rethink the ways in which they define national interests in any given crisis. As the world has changed in profound ways since the end of the Cold War, our conceptions of national interests have failed to follow suit. A new, more broadly defined concept of national interest would make it easier for states to come together in the cause of preventing conflicts among and within states. The fact is that in confronting growing number of challenges facing humanity, the collective interest is the national interest. And collective action is often the only viable option. The second thing that is needed is resources. This means that there must be appropriate or commensurate resources for the complex tasks that prevention entails. Just as importantly, however, it means strengthening those regional institutions which often can play a more effective role and less threatening role in bringing parties back from the brink of conflict and toward a peaceful resolution of their disputes.

As for the role of the Secretary-General, my own efforts have focused on third-party mediation in disputes that have yet to become conflicts and on personal diplomacy aimed at persuading political leaders to seek compromise of a conflict and ensuring that all the representatives of the international community involved in a particular conflict present a unified position to the parties. And it is often when the international community comes together and pool their efforts and bring their collective pressure to bear that we make progress and are able to break the will of the protagonist. And I think what is also important is to be able to encourage parties to act before it is too late. We've had some very good examples that I would want to share with you, not all of it entirely due to efforts by the United Nations. In some cases, it did not work.

Let's take Madagascar. Immediately after the elections when it became clear that the leader of opposition was challenging the results of the elections regardless of the decision by the Supreme Court, that he came first with 46 percent of the votes and the sitting president was second and that another round was needed, the president—the opposition leader refused. He said he had his own figures that he had won outright and that he should be declared president. I sent in a team. I spoke to both of them. Quite a lot of people went to talk to them. We thought we had an agreement with them which would lead to the next round, and we were going to flood the country with lots of observers for the second round of elections to ensure that there was no cheating. He wasn't patient enough. He declared himself president and now this country is split. He has the support of the capital, the president has the support of the countryside, which embraces five regions. We don't know what will happen. Our mission has been trying to get them to come together. Whether we will succeed or not only time will tell.

Another example is the Bakassi Peninsula on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, which is rich in oil resources. Where the two countries could have gone to war about it, we encouraged them to go to the International Court and of course that tends to take time and there was a feeling that they should perhaps resolve it by other means. But they are in the Court and the (inaudible) will come with a decision.

I will mention two other cases where the parties have gone to Court, Qatar and Bahrain. It took ten years and there were periods during that period when they were very nervous, impatient, not knowing what will happen with the court's decision and the temptation on the part of one or the other to be a bit more proactive. But last year, when the court gave its decision, both parties, both countries applauded. They embraced each other and I told the judge, the head of the International Court of Justice, that he had become a Solomon, to come with a judgment of that kind that the two parties embraced and accept the way they did.

And, finally, let me say a word about Saudi Arabia, also in that same region, which settled its border dispute with Yemen, the longest-running border dispute. It goes back—dates back to the 30s. But they did not only resolve it, they did—in the treaty, they provided for negotiations in case they find natural resources on their common border, including the possibility of joint exploration. And this is I think a very wise way to do it.

And of course, you also know what happened in East Timor, and I don't want to belabor the point.

But, my friends, let me say that the victims of today's conflicts and acts of violence, whether at the World Trade Center, in the Sudan, or anywhere else in the world, are increasingly to be found among unarmed civilians. And when I say unarmed civilians, there are high proportions of women and children. All too often, they are not just victims, but targets of violence. Failing to prevent such wars and such behavior should be morally and politically unacceptable to an enlightened international community. And yet, I must tell you frankly that the biggest obstacle to effective prevention is the attitudes and priorities of states. States, threatened by conflicts, frequently refuse to admit that they have a problem or to accept external assistance. And many states, which would be well-placed to assist are reluctant to intervene. Those in the first group fail to see the problem and now are offended by offers of assistance. Those in the second either do not see the danger that problems are afflicting their neighbor might also spread to them, or are unwilling to confront their neighbors with unwelcome, but necessary, pressure and advice.

If we are to establish a true culture of prevention, we need to cultivate a sense of community across borders, a real international community that would overcome both these sources of reluctance. A significant conceptual innovation in this regard was presented in the recently published report, "Responsibility to Protect," drafted by the International Commission on Intervention in State Sovereignty. There, the authors suggest a constructive shift in the debate on intervention away from the duty to intervene toward the responsibility to protect. The difficult reality is that political leaders have often found it very hard to sell prevention policies abroad to the public at home because their costs are palpable and immediate, while the benefits, usually an undesirable tragic event that does not occur, are much more difficult to convey. Political leadership, therefore, is key condition for successful prevention.

The other main lesson I want to emphasize is that effective conflict prevention is a long-term investment. While the proximate cause of conflict may be an outbreak of public disorder or a protest over a particular incident, the root causes are more likely to be found in illegitimate governance, socioeconomic inequities, systematic ethnic discrimination, denial of human rights, disputes of a political participation, or long-standing grievances over the allocation of land, water and other resources. Addressing these root causes requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both short-term and long-term political, developmental, humanitarian, and human rights programs.

Conflict prevention and sustainable development reinforce each other. An investment in prevention should be seen as simultaneous investment in sustainable development, since it is obvious that the latter is more likely to happen in a peaceful environment. One does not have to accept—and I certainly do not—that terrorism and poverty are necessarily linked. The poor have enough burdens without being considered likely terrorists simply because they are poor.

Still, it is essential to understand that draining the swamp of terrorism, as some have put it, requires more than attacking its sources of funding and support. It requires addressing those grievances which terrorists find useful to exploit for their own ends. Where massive and systematic political, economic and social inequities are found, and where no legitimate means of addressing them exists, an environment is created in which peaceful solutions are all too often not possible and lose out against extreme and violent alternatives. If we are to be successful in preventing deadly conflicts, we must have a clear understanding of the causes. Not all conflicts or sources of violence are alike. And no single strategy is likely to provide all the solutions.

Several of the wars of the 1990s were characterized by the exploitation of different ethnic, cultural, and religious identities by political leaders intent upon expelling or exterminating an entire people. The solution in every one of these cases is clear, if often difficult to achieve in practice: to promote human rights, to protect minority rights and institute legitimate and representative political arrangements under the rule of law. To do so, however, states in peril need the help of an international community that recognizes the benefits of preventing disaster in one country, and that, in the long run, is in everyone's interest.

Besides that, every step towards—taken towards reducing poverty and achieving broad-based economic growth, whether through development assistance or private sector investment, is a step towards conflict prevention. Every step taken to shore up nation building, such as the one undertaken in East Timor by the United Nations in partnership with many NGOs is a step towards conflict prevention. Every step taken towards restoring security in post-conflict societies is a step towards conflict prevention. This is most urgent in the case of Afghanistan today where we are trying to ensure that the international community stays fully engaged. Prevention in this case means insuring that security is provided throughout the country and not just in Kabul. Otherwise, the risk is great that we will return to violence and conflicts.

My dear friends, the policies of conflict prevention that I have outlined today will succeed only if the root causes of conflict are addressed as well, and not just by governments or the UN, but also by civil society, the private sector and institutions such as the Council. As an independent organization devoted to foreign policy, you have a unique ability to step outside the rule of the protagonist or government agency. You can offer candid warnings about escalating tensions in a region or a country and candid suggestions about how to prevent them from escalating into full scale war. You can help us convince the parties of the folly of conflict and deepen the work of prevention by supporting local, civil society prevention programs, which are often more effective and more acutely needed than government initiatives. There are areas where NGOs and private groups are playing increasingly important roles, and the Council is very well-positioned to be a leader in this kind of preventive action. Under the distinguished and energetic leadership of General Nash, I have no doubt that you will indeed play that role, and I look forward to working very closely with you in this vital aspect of our work for peace and prosperity. Thank you very much. (Applause).

JOHN W. VESSEY: Ready for questions?

I remind you, again, that this session is on the record. If you want to ask a question, stand, wait for a microphone, state your name and your affiliation, then ask your question.

Now, I also remind you that I'm presiding over a question period, not an oratorical contest. So, if you have a speech to make, save it for another session because there are many questioners who would like to ask questions of the Secretary-General.

Yes, sir. Wait for the mic.

QUESTION: Larry McQuade, River Capital. This Administration came into office saying that nation building was not our job. And, of course, we face the problem of nation building in Afghanistan. And is this something which—how will that work? Without our support can the UN make that work?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: I think nation building is a rather complex task. And we would prefer that it didn't have to be done. But we face situations where we have no other choice but to get into nation building. I think when we look at the history of Afghanistan, and we all accept that if after the Russians had withdrawn, the international community had gone in there and assisted them and helped them set up their own state, it may not be Switzerland, but a state that was stable and at peace with its neighbors, we probably would not be confronted with the situation that we have today.

I trust we have learned our lesson, and now we have decided as an international community that, after the military action that has taken place in Afghanistan, we cannot just walk away and create a messy situation. I think Washington accepts this position and was one of the countries that pledged money in Tokyo to help rebuild Afghanistan. The main responsibility has been given to the UN, but the UN cannot do it alone. The UN has its member states and we will rely on the member states to stick with us for the long haul to make the resources available for reconstruction and recovery, to make the resources available for the current administration in Afghanistan to set up a government and expand its authority throughout the country.

Apart from the resources issue, security is key. If we cannot create a secure environment for the government to establish itself and begin to rule, or for us to carry on our humanitarian work or for recovery and reconstruction to begin, then all our efforts will be for naught. If we do not have security, the same government that enthusiastically placed $4.5 billion for reconstruction will not disburse a penny on the grounds that you don't pour money into a chaotic situation. So, we really need to work together to ensure that we do, this time, help turn Afghanistan around.

So nation building, whether we like it or not, is an essential part of the international community's effort to help Afghanistan stand on its feet. And I trust all the member states of the United Nations will have voted for them given that the mandate to do this will support it for the long haul.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Alec Boraine of the International Center for Transitional Justice. I'd like to thank you, sir, for your wise and strong words tonight. You aptly mentioned or described September the 11th as a failure in prevention. I'd like to hear your comments, if you wish to make them, on the conflict in the Middle East and how one, in your judgment, would prevent further conflict in that very tragic situation. Thank you.

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: I think you used the appropriate word when you said "tragic." It is indeed tragic when we look at the loss of life in the sense of civilians, women and children. We have been searching for a solution. We have tried Tenet. We have tried Mitchell. The parties accepted both—the Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet understandings, but they have not been able to implement either. I think Mitchell report, the Mitchell recommendations, were originally seen as a bridge that would get us to the negotiating table after the violence exploded. But the way we've approached implementation has become so conditioned that it's almost a roadblock. So while there are very good ideas in it, for us to sort of, we keep saying we have Mitchell and Tenet, and not look for other creative ways of breaking this issue, I think is a problem. And there is a search for fresh ideas, fresh approaches, and in that context, it is very interesting that an initiative came from Saudi Arabia. Not only the timing was important but the fact that it came from Saudi Arabia and has been supported fairly by a wide number of Arab states. The European Union is trying hard. The U.S. has sent in Zinni and in discussions with them I think they are getting ready perhaps to do more.

But I think we need to challenge the leaders. The two leaders have a responsibility to their people. The two leaders have to ask themselves: "Where does this lead? What does this do for our people and for our nation?" And lead. The people want leadership. And if they do, then quite frankly, the international community is prepared to help, and I'm working what they call (inaudible), what we call the court of the U.S., the European Union and the Russians, trying to work together and pool our efforts to eventually be able to influence the situation. But the inspiration for peace and settlement must come from the leaders. And they must lead, and the people are looking to them. And if they fail, I think history will judge them harshly. And their people will not absolve them.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Mr. Secretary-General, you know that this is being webcast worldwide, and we have a question from a CNN viewer in Amsterdam. Mr. van der Steen from Amsterdam. His question is: The sanctions against Iraq are now taking more than 10 years. In your views, are they a failure? (Laughter).

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: Let me start by saying that the UN program in Iraq is basically a disarmament program. The Security Council required Iraq to disarm and sent in inspectors who have not been back since 1998. The Council also indicated that the punishment for not disarming is sanctions. And that the moment the disarmament is complete and that the inspectors have confirmed that the disarmament has been completed,the sanctions will be lifted.

Quite honestly, I don't think when this regime came into force anybody expected that 11 years on we will still be at it. We have pleaded, and other friends of Iraq, the friends of Iraq have pleaded with them to cooperate with the UN to disarm, to allow in the inspectors, for the inspectors to be able to confirm to the Council that indeed they have disarmed and they will see light at the end of the tunnel.

Once that is done, under the resolution, the sanctions are supposed to be lifted. I am limiting myself to UN resolutions—the sanctions are supposed to be lifted. So, obviously, the population has also been affected by the sanctions. The Security Council has tried to assist by introducing the oil-for-food scheme. That does not satisfy all the needs of the Iraqi population, and there's no doubt that it has affected the population.

Tomorrow I'm receiving an Iraqi delegation in New York to discuss the implementation of the UN resolutions, including the inspection and the return of inspectors. And I hope that we will find a constructive way to begin the inspection so that they will see light at the end of the tunnel.

But let me say that the UN program in Iraq is not a sanctions program. It's a disarmament program. And we have not succeeded in disarming.

JOHN W. VESSEY: The lady over here, please.

QUESTION: Katherine Roth of the Associated Press. What if Iraq does not agree to allow inspectors into Iraq? Continuing dialogue without Iraq's commitment to UN resolutions does not necessarily seem to serve the cause, particularly given your role as the guardian of UN resolutions. Is there a point at which dialogue only serves to play to Iraqi intransigence?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: What other option do we have? I know there are other options that have been considered for the UN. The sanctions have been in force for 11 years. We want to get the inspectors and the inspectors should get in. There are certain things that the inspectors only on the ground can do. The Iraqis came to me through the Secretary-General of the Arab League who went to Baghdad to talk to them, and they sent me a message that they wanted to talk without any preconditions. And I asked them to come.

Of course, my mandate is clear. It is the Security Council resolution. And what I'm interested in is implementation. And, we've had this standoff for about three years and if they want to talk and they were to come and want to cooperate, I think we should find out. We should test it. And if that is the way to go, fine. If that fails, the Council will have to decide if there's any further options it wants to take.

JOHN W. VESSEY: The lady in red here, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Linda Fasulo, NBC News at the UN. Following up on that question, we know that the United States briefed the sanctions committee today showing intelligence information that Iraq has converted or has reportedly converted thousands of trucks into military vehicles, including rocket launchers. Given that and other evidence that Iraq clearly still has its weapons of mass destruction, can you imagine or share with us under what circumstances you might think that you could support preventive action or in this case, perhaps, preemptive strikes against Iraq to prevent further conflict?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: I think it's a good start that the United States has gone to brief the Council on what they have. This is a Council resolution. And as I indicated, the Council had prescribed the punishment for Iraq for noncompliance. If there are going to be further actions from the UN point of view and my point of view, it will be better that the Security Council acts again. If the Security Council were to determine that we need to take further action and to take an appropriate decision, we would. I know there are a lot of lawyers here who will have—quite an interesting debate. If, indeed, Iraq is being punished through sanctions for not performing, can we punish them again? This is a question that some are asking. And there are others who are asking, "If we are helping enforce Security Council resolutions, shouldn't the Council act again and authorize any further action that is required?" These debates are going on in the building. And I will wait for the Council's decision.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Mr. Secretary-General, I've planted a question out here, and I can't find my plant. (Laughter).

So I'm going to ask it myself. I'll get to you. (Laughter).

In that introduction, you said that you wanted to move the United Nations from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention. If you were to talk to the leaders of the leading nations of the world, who all have been caught with a culture of reaction rather than prevention, what would you tell them about changing the culture?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: I think one would have to give them examples of inaction and the consequences that led to. We mentioned Afghanistan. There are other areas that could be mentioned. And I think in my statement, in my discussions earlier, I indicated that we also have to get countries, including the big countries you refer to, to think in much broader terms about national interests. And in today's world, there are so many problems that can begin at one end of the world and come to haunt us even when we think we are so far away from it and it doesn't. If we were to have a broader sense of collective interest and national interest, we would move much faster to assist, to protect, to intervene and put pressure on governments and regions to act than we do today.

We have seen situations, I can give you one example. Take the conflict in the Congo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When Rwandan and Ugandan troops crossed into Congo on the grounds that they wanted to protect their border, and went quite deep into Congo, the Security Council did not condemn the action. That conflict today has embroiled six, seven countries in the region. If the Council and the leading nations had been very firm at the beginning saying, "This is not correct. This should not happen and we are keeping an eye on it," I think it would have sent a very powerful message to the others we eventually got engaged with.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Julia? Use the mic, please.

QUESTION: I'm Julia Sweig with the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Secretary-General, it's no accident that I'm sitting next to James LeMoyne, your able Deputy who, until recently, was on the ground in Colombia until the very tragic collapse of the peace process there, where the insurgencies have been brewing now for over 40 years. My question is: Anticipating that it's likely that a president will be elected there shortly with close ties with the paramilitaries and that those conflicts and the war there will escalate very dramatically as it is today and has been, what is your vision for how the United Nations might be able to enhance its role, both in Colombia and with the region—Colombia's five neighbors—to face brewing conflicts on their borders and within their countries?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: I think the question you've asked offers me a vivid example of what I was referring to. Colombia has not always been open to UN intervention. And, in fact, we don't have a mandate to act in Colombia. They are very wary of foreign involvement and foreign intervention, including that of the UN. I'm using my own good officers to assist. And James and (inaudible) before them went at my behest to offer these good officers and try and help. So my good officers are available and will be available if the parties want to use it. We have suspended our activities to some extent because of what has happened. We were assisting in the discussions when the FARC undertook these activities, outrageous activities, and the President suspended talks with them. If, at a future date after the elections, if some of the parties are prepared to talk in good faith, and need our facilitation, or want to avail themselves of my good officers, we'll be prepared to assist. But they have to be prepared to do it and to do it in good faith. And I think James did a very good job there, and we did make some progress until it became impossible to continue.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Over here by the post.

QUESTION: Allen Hyman, Columbia-Presbyterian. Mr. Secretary-General, I commend your efforts and the attention you've given to the scourge of AIDS. As you know, that epidemic continues to spread around the world, particularly in Asia and especially in Africa, Subsaharan Africa. Recently, I've read that in many of the countries, the leaders have failed to address the problem appropriately and that the spread of AIDS and the mortality continues to increase. But it is not simply a matter of scarce resources. It's a question of political will. And I wondered: What pressure can the United Nations bring on the leaders of those countries?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: We are putting pressure on the leaders and also working with them. And not only are my representatives on the ground working with these leaders, in my own encounters and phone calls I press them to act and remind them that, in this particular epidemic, silence is deadly. And that they have to lead. And the leadership has to come from the top. It's been very difficult to move some of them.

For example, an African president was going to make a speech on this, and there were two lines about the use of condoms. It took them two weeks to convince them to agree to utter those two lines. He said, "I'm the father of the nation. How can you expect me to go and tell the young people to be promiscuous?" And he wouldn't do it even though it would protect lives. In the end he did it.

But we have the UN AIDS program and our own presence, and now with the establishment of the global fund to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, we are going to be much more active working with these governments. We are requiring each of them to come up with an AIDS strategy on a national level and encouraging groups working on AIDS to apply to the fund for support. We are not limiting support to governments—community organizations that are efficient, NGOs that are efficient, civil society groups can apply for support. But what is also encouraging is that in addition to the leaders, civil society is becoming very active on these issues. We've seen it in South Africa. The energy and dynamism of the civil society is admirable. But we cannot do it without the political leadership. It requires complete social mobilization from top to bottom to defeat this epidemic.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Wendy? We'll get you.

QUESTION: Wendy Luers, the Foundation for a Civil Society. Again, it's such an honor to be in the presence of this great man. We're all seeing an escalation of military action in Afghanistan, not with blue helmets on. And at the same time, the United Nations is continuing its humanitarian assistance, taking care of mine fields and exploding unexploded ordinances. How practically can the UN work to increase internal security at this moment? And what are the plans for the immediate future in Afghanistan?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: That's a big question. I think there is quite a lot going on the question of security, you're absolutely right that our workers on the ground have to be very careful moving around and distributing food. This is one of the reasons why we have become very engaged on this issue of security. Today, we have the multinational forces called ISEF limited to Kabul. They are only in Kabul. Their mandate is limited to six months. There is a debate concerning the extension of the mandate and expansion, geographic expansion, of the force beyond Kabul to other parts of Afghanistan. From my own discussions with the governments, I have a sense that the extension of the mandate beyond six months is doable and will be done. The geographic extension of the force is much more problematic because governments have not quite decided if they want to do it. They think it's risky. It will require a lot of resources. And the debate continues. The emphasis seems to be on training Afghan police and Afghan National Army. And that will take time. Let's assume it takes a year. What do you do in the meantime? If you do not expand or bring in international forces, if you don't do that, are there local forces of sufficient influence that can mold quickly to fill in the gap? These are some of the issues that we are dealing with.

In the meantime, our staff, who are very keen to get to the needy, continue with their work, taking risks. We are trying to strengthen our own security arrangements of our staff. But our capacity is limited. And we need to rely on the governments and those on the ground to create that secure environment that will allow us to get our work done and also to allow recovery and reconstruction. So this is what we have. But our staff has been very courageous and I applaud their efforts.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Next, in the back row there.

QUESTION: I'm from MTV International, it's Russian television worldwide. I wanted to ask you, Mr. Secretary, of American troops in Georgia—mainly in Chechnya, do you see any role of the United Nations in the conflict between Chechnya and Russia?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: We are already involved very actively in Georgia. We've been there for many years. I have a special representative in Georgia working with the two parties and with the Russian government. We also have UN military observers who have been working alongside the CIA's troops. On the question of the introduction of U.S. troops to help train the Georgians, I know that President Putin himself has indicated that he saw no problems and that it was up to the Georgian government to decide how it organizes itself to fight the scourge that it's dealing with. But we are involved, we intend to stay involved unless something unexpected happens that makes it impossible for us to continue our work.

QUESTION: Diana Dougan from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and also of Cyber Century Forum. Mr. Secretary-General you've talked about conflict prevention, but in the context of nonmilitary, nonmediation, what about UNDP and other agencies within the UN? And there's been a lot of discussion, for example, about the dot force and a variety of things attacking and addressing the digital divides and using electronic communication through mediation. Could you comment a little bit about how you look to radiate this priority to other parts of the United Nations, and particularly UNDP?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: In fact, governance and institution building is now very much the mandate of the UNDP, working with governments in the developing world to try to strengthen the institutions' regulatory system—and encouraging the use of technology. And we have a high-level task force on digital divide to be able to provide advice to governments and see how we can work with the private sector, with civil society, to help bridge the digital divide. And this is going to take time. But it is very much part of our agenda. I think we also have come to recognize that if we are going to focus on sustainable development and help countries develop, we have to provide the right foundations. They have to have the right institutions. They have to have a transparent government, and they have to create an environment that releases the energy and creativity of their people. And if you do not do that and help them to do it, you may be building on sand—it can collapse very quickly. So we have put in quite a lot of effort, and we have reoriented the work of our development activities into this area.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Ken Roth, if you have a 20-second question, you have the floor.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch. One of the great new UN institutions in prevention is the International Criminal Court, which of course promises to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity. As you know, 52 of 60 governments have now ratified the court and it should begin operations in a year. Washington will not ratify the treaty, we all know that. But it is trying to decide whether to stay engaged in the Court to influence the selection of judges and to affect the culture of the Court or turn its back on the Court. What message would you send to Washington as they contemplate that decision and why?

SEC.-GEN. KOFI ANNAN: Let me say that the International Criminal Court will come into force. I hope by July this year we will have the 60 ratifications required for us to begin to establish it. We are at 52. And we are not moving as fast as we have because I understand everybody wants to make history and be the 60th country that does it. (Laughter).

So I have to find a way of getting the eight countries to come together. And they will all make history and they will all be responsible for the establishment of the court. I think given what we have lived through recently, given the challenges that we have been sorting out, the Al Qaeda and Taliban, and the difficulties that we've had decided in their status and what to do, I think an international court should be in the interest of everyone.

The U.S., as you say, is not supporting the Court. But I hope this is not something that is going to last indefinitely. For the moment, the U.S. is not with it, but I think when the Court is established and begins to work and demonstrates what it can do, even if U.S. hasn't joined formally and will not join for sometime, I hope it will cooperate and support the Court. We've had other instances where the U.S. has not joined but has found issues—what we've done very useful. Take the Law of the Sea—the Law of the Sea is a very useful instrument. The U.S. is using the treaty to resolve conflicts. It has been adopted and applied everywhere. I hope a similar thing will happen with the International Criminal Court. I believe that Washington and Americans who are really interested in the rule of law, and as a nation of laws, to see the Court established, in my judgment, is something that should normally please them because really it's introducing a missing link in the development of international criminal law.

Today, a man is more likely to be prosecuted if he killed one person than if he killed 10 or 100,000. Because usually they are often in charge or nobody in their country will put them on trial. If the UN is not around to establish a special tribunal for Rwanda, for Yugoslavia or the one we are doing in Serbia, nothing happens. But how many special tribunals are you going to set up? Isn't it easier to have one permanent criminal court that will establish and introduce that to make sure that we do punish these criminals, horrible leaders, who need to be punished? And I think when the time comes, the U.S. will be with us and with the Court.

JOHN W. VESSEY: Mr. Secretary-General, you honored us with your presence tonight, with your insightful comments and your very frank answers to the questions. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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