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UNSG Kofi Annan Talks Peace In Wellington

Following today's Beehive press conference with the world's leading diplomat Scoop can now report that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's softly spoken voice sounds almost identical in person as it does on CNN.

The highlight for the media of Kofi Annan's visit to New Zealand occurred this morning when Annan held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The press conference opened with an introduction from Prime Minister Helen Clark who said she and Annan had covered a wide range of subjects in talks this morning. Specifically Annan had thanked New Zealand for its deployment of troops to East Timor and for its involvement in demining operations in Cambodia.

They also discussed nuclear disarmament, and the upgrading of conventional weapons presently underway in Europe an issue which had possible implications of this for arms races in developing nations with large quantities of older weapons now available for disposal.

Kofi Annan then took questions from the assembled Press Gallery, beginning by saying he had been "delighted to wake up in bright sunshine in a very harmonious city".

The first question to the Secretary General asked what "fresh direction" he saw coming out of the planned millennium summit of the UN - to be held later this year? And would this address the perception that the UN was a giant bureaucracy?

Annan said he would not wish to imply that UN reform was completed, but that said, the UN had already "slimmed down considerably". In terms of a "fresh direction" for the UN which he hoped would come out of the millennium summit he hoped the emphasis would be on "vision" for the future rather than UN structure.

"How to make globalisation work for everybody… work on establishing norms and facilitating relationships between countries… elimination of poverty."

Annan was then asked about the Iraqi sanctions regime and the recent resignations of two UN humanitarian officials.

"We have lost three officials," Annan replied. The latest officials to resign would be coming to New York to see him shortly to report.

"I will admit that sanctions are a blunt instrument. The Security Counicl itself has been concerned with this and there are discussions going on on how to influence the leadership of Iraq."

Annan spoke of a new generation of "smart sanctions" which would for example take the form of closing bank accounts of national leaders, and their families, and refusing the same visas to travel. Such sanctions, Annan said, had worked well against the leadership in Haiti

Annan said the council would be further discussing the issue of the sanctions against Iraq in April. "It has been ten years now. But until the [Security] Council changes policy we will have to continue to apply sanctions."

"There are many in council who have doubts, but I would not say there is strong support to remove sanctions at this stage," he said.

The next question asked whether the UN was on occasion too slow to deal with humanitarian and military crises when they arose?

"When we talk about the UN in these circumstances we are talking about two UN's," Annan replied.

One was the UN Secretariat which he headed, the other UN was the UN of the member states which had resources and troops available to deal with crises in a practical fashion.

Annan then referred to the experience in East Timor. "What happened in East Timor was remarkable," he said, "because the will was there and the resources quickly followed. Normally it can take two to three months to get troops on the ground."

"Rapidity of deployment can make a big differenc. If we had got to East Timor three months later then we can imagine what the situation would have been like."

What about Rwanda? A questioner asked.

"In Rwanda the world was focussed on what had happened in Somalia," Annan replied. There US soldiers had withdrawn after suffering casualties. "Rwanda was a victim of Somalia. A similar debate is now underway in the council on the Democratic Republic of Congo. That is a huge country and even though we have approval to send in troops and observers there is a great deal of hesitancy."

"It is unfortunate in today's world that we have lots of huge armies who want to have zero casualties," Annan said.

The next question concerned the Kyoto (Climate Change - CO2 Emissions) Protocol and NZ's recent announcement that it intended to ratify it. Annan replied that this was a good thing and he would be encouraging more nations to do the same.

Scoop then asked its question; "recently the UN aplogised for its failure in Sebrenica, in light of that apology do you consider there is a role for redemption and forgiveness in international relations?"

Annan replied that the report on Sebrenica had several purposes. Firstly people should know what had happened. Secondly it was important for all the world to know why the UN had failed. The report was also intended to ensure that next time round "we know what to do".

Annan cautioned that it was important not to regard the UN's apology as in anyway granting absolution to the "actual criminals" who were facing trial in the Hague for war crimes. Nor should the report be taken as an indication that the UN would consider paying reparations.

Annan was then asked what he thought of NZ's future as a member of the UN and about what more was needed in East Timor.

"The wonderful thing about peacekeeping," Annan replied, "is that a group of nations come together. You may be able to contribute ten troops or ten thousand." Annan said that whatever NZ was willing to provide for future peacekeeping operations by the UN would be welcome.

As far as East Timor was concerned specifically Annan said there were now sufficient peace-keepers available. No more peace-keepers from NZ would be needed. However much work remained to be done on the development front. Annan said he would like entrepreneurs in particular to consider what they could do for East Timor.

Should Indonesia pay reparations? A questioner asked.

"We are involved in intense discussions with Indonesia on a number of fronts. The question of reparations has not been raised at this stage," Annan said.

The final question asked whether NZ's target of Overseas Aid of 0.7% of GDP - which has never been achieved - was unrealistic?

"You are not going to get me to say that that is an unrealistic figure," Annan replied, smiling. "It is a figure I would encourage countries to meet. There was a very interesting study done recently which showed that Americas thought their government was giving a lot more than it was and that they supported that."

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