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Colin Powell Honours Kofi Annan - Speech

United Nations Association of the USA Visionaries Awards Dinner Honoring United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan

Secretary Colin L. Powell National Building Museum Washington, DC November 12, 2002

(9:00 p.m. EST)

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And thank you, Phil, for that very kind and generous introduction. It is, indeed, a great pleasure for Alma and for me to be here this evening as you honor a dear friend of mine of a number of years' duration, Kofi Annan. And I am especially privileged to be here with all the others who have spoken so far this evening and to thank them for the support that they have given to the United Nations over the years and to thank, especially, the dinner chairs for their support of this evening's activities.

I am one of the last to speak in this lineup because the lineup was determined by how recently you've paid your UN dues. (Laughter.) And I told Kofi earlier today that we are now paid up and we also rejoined UNESCO. So what else does he want? (Applause.)

You've recognized a number of people here this evening and you've recognized one several times already, but allow me to add an additional word of recognition and appreciation, and that's to our Permanent Representative in New York, John Negroponte. (Applause.)

John is a dear friend of mine of many years. He and his Deputy Ambassador, Jim Cunningham, and the whole team in New York have done a tremendous job during the course of this administration, especially over the last two months. John worked with me when I was National Security Advisor 15 years ago, and I was so pleased to be able to con him -- I mean, talk him back -- into government last year. (Laughter.)

But there's a little story I have to tell that John would rather I not tell. The fact of the matter is, in the course of the last eight weeks, John had to have surgery. And this was disturbing to me because I was going to lose my right hand in New York during this very delicate period if he was going to be in the hospital. But he assured me that he'd be out quickly.

And so the day he had the surgery, I was, of course, concerned, hopeful that it would go very well, and as soon as I had received word that he was out of the operating room and in the recovery room and was awake, I said, "Fine, get him on the phone. He's got work to do." (Laughter.)

And John, he did that work, recovering from an operation over the last eight weeks, has discharged his responsibilities in a brilliant way. And he is representative of the men and women you do have in your diplomatic service -- John and Jim Cunningham and all the others and Assistant Secretary Bill Woods and the Department.

I often think that Americans don't stop and reflect on the quality of their diplomatic service, and I think they should, because this nation is blessed with dedicated men and women who go in harm's way, not carrying a rifle, but carrying the values of the American people and representing us so brilliantly day in and day out, like John has done. (Applause.)

I was supposed to be in Asia this week, but because of what was going on in the UN last week I had to cancel that trip. But one of the pleasures of having canceled that trip is to be able to be here this evening and pay tribute to a visionary world leader, a Nobel Laureate, a consummate diplomat and my good friend, Kofi Annan.

Kofi's superb leadership has never been more critical for the United Nations before. The difficult months since September 11th of 2001 have shown how important the world community can be to international peace and security when it is united in principle and it is united in purpose.

I'll never forget that within hours after September 11th, Kofi had declared that the terrorists had struck not just the United States, but had attacked the world community, had attacked the civilized world. And within 24 hours, the United Nations General Assembly Security Council had met and declared their determination to take concerted action and rid the world of terrorism.

And over the past year, under Kofi's leadership, the United Nations has played an invaluable role in providing humanitarian assistance to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan in helping them on a road of reconstruction after we launched the campaign against terrorism.

I'll never forget, even while international forces still fought the Taliban and chased al-Qaida, the United Nations was inoculating Afghan children for polio. And at the Bonn conference in Germany, the United Nations was key to helping the Afghan people reach agreement on a process that will guide them in constitutional government.

And last Friday, as we have all noted and remarked upon, the Security Council took another far-reaching step in defense of international peace and security when it passed Security Council Resolution 1441. The unanimous vote was an unequivocal expression of the world community's resolve to eradicate the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Beyond that, the resolution is a clear demonstration of the United Nations at its best -- relevant, decisive, focused. It meant a lot to the United Nations, it meant a lot to the Security Council, for this vote to be unanimous. It shows that when the cause is clear, when we are united, when we are willing to listen to all sides, when we take the time, when we show the patience to come together, we can come together, and in a unanimous way, to meet this threat.

Kofi Annan was instrumental in working with all of the permanent members, representatives of the Security Council, as well as all of its foreign ministers who lived on the phone for the last eight weeks. His leadership was instrumental, and we are very, very fortunate to have him as our Secretary General at this time.

As he has said, if Iraq's defiance continues, the Security Council must face its responsibilities. And I am absolutely sure that with his leadership and in light of this unanimous vote last Friday, whatever the future may hold, the Security Council will face its responsibilities.

The United Nations organization itself, so ably directed by Kofi Annan, also has very special responsibilities with regard to Iraq, and it will be instrumental in assessing Iraq's compliance with this resolution. I can think of no one better able than Kofi to help the United Nations meet this challenge of assessment.

Those of us who have worked over the years with the Secretary General know that behind his calm voice and gentle demeanor that has caused it be noted today that nobody has an unkind thing to say about Kofi, we all know that behind that demeanor is a man of passion, a man of will, a man of tenacity, a man who fights for what he believes in.

Most United Nations resolutions, including the one just passed, have a concluding paragraph in it, and that paragraph says it decides to remain seized of the matter. Long ago, Kofi became seized of the United Nations -- or maybe the United Nations has seized him -- and our world is so much better for it.

And when Kofi Annan becomes seized with a matter, it stays seized. He is often among the first to see the significance of an issue and he tirelessly works at it and he keeps others working at it, even when it recedes from the daily headlines of our newspapers.

Kofi Annan will not yield in his determination to promote what's right, even as he combats that which is wrong. And each day under Kofi's sage and compassionate leadership, the United Nations is making a difference in the lives of ordinary men, women and children all around the globe, whether it's assisting refugees, whether it's peacekeeping, promoting human rights, fostering good governance, or pushing sustainable development. And nowhere has Kofi's leadership and foresight been more important than in marshalling the international community against the biggest problem that we have on the face of the earth today, and that's the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Kofi Annan projects just the right qualities to the world public and to the people who work for the United Nations: a deep commitment to serving humankind; unwavering allegiance to universal ideals; masterful diplomatic ability; and the ability, above all, to get things done. He works effectively with the high and the mighty, but he never forgets the least of God's children. There is no element of the United Nations program which he has not addressed, improved and made more accountable. Able to move minds and hearts, he is also able to move bureaucracies so that they better serve the needs of everyday men and women. He truly has brought the United Nations, as he puts it, closer to the people.

I know I also speak for President Bush when I say that in the past 22 months of our administration we have greatly valued Kofi's counsel on so many, many issues, and Iraq is only the latest. Kofi has been helpful in so many other areas, as well, in defusing tensions on the subcontinent, in efforts to end the violence and move the peace process along in the Middle East, helping at the Monterrey and Johannesburg summits to revolutionize the international approach to the development assistance. And just yesterday, our Secretary General put forward a bold, imaginative plan to resolve the longstanding Cyprus problem.

Time and again, Kofi has been wise and generous in offering the President, me, my colleagues at the Department, his very best advice. Our debt of gratitude to Kofi Annan is great. We, and the American people, are honored to call him a friend.

And so tonight, my friend, on behalf of President Bush, I join all of those assembled in recognizing you for your lasting contributions to the peace and well-being of the international community. Kofi, we look forward to continuing to work with you and the United Nations to build a world where terrorism and tyrants cannot thrive -- a world of peace, a world of prosperity, a world of freedom for all people -- and with you, we pledge to remain seized of the matter until that noble work is done.

Congratulations, my friend. (Applause.) [End]

Released on November 13, 2002


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