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Annan on lurching from nuclear crisis to crisis

Secretary-General warns against lurching ‘from crisis to crisis’ on nuclear proliferation

With the international spotlight shining on Tehran’s atomic ambitions, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed for a long-term and visionary approach to the problem of nuclear arms proliferation.

“Today’s headlines concern Iran – rightly so, for basic treaty obligations and commitments are at stake,” he said in London on Tuesday evening, stressing that for signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the right to develop nuclear energy is conditional on the obligation not to build or acquire nuclear weapons, and to comply with standards set and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“But when we step back from the headlines, it should be clear that we cannot continue to lurch from crisis to crisis, until the regime is buried beneath a cascade of nuclear proliferation,” he told an audience at the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom at Central Hall in Westminster.

He lamented missed opportunities to strengthen the foundations of the NPT regime, by agreeing on more robust IAEA inspections, saying: “We cannot afford any more such squandered chances.”

In a question and answer session that followed, Mr. Annan was asked to reflect on his term as Secretary-General. “You cannot do this kind of job for as long as I have done in the world we live in and not have regrets,” he replied bluntly. “I do have regrets. I regret that I was unable to breach the divisions amongst member States over the Iraq war. The divisions are still there. They are healing, but I was really deeply disappointed that I could not help bridge the differences,” he added.

The Secretary-General also brought up the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme, voicing regret that he had not paid attention to problems it faced sooner. “Whether I would have been able to deal with it or not, given the way it was set up and the responsibility centres were distributed,” remains an open question, “but I should have probably paid more attention to the difficulties in that.”

The UN has also been hurt by “politically-motivated campaigns against the UN” in which “instances of corruption by staff members (are) blown completely out of proportion.” He pointed out that after a $36 million investigation, “and the kind of scrubbing the UN was given,” only one staff member was found to maybe have taken some $150,000 out of a $64 billion programme.

“If there was a scandal, it was with the companies and not so much with UN individuals,” he said. “There may have been instances of mismanagement, yes, maybe we didn’t manage it effectively, but not corruption.”

The Secretary-General said these accusations have been harmful. “We have very serious dedicated staff members who give their all, who go to places around the world to serve the needy, they serve in places that governments do not dare send their soldiers and I think they deserve a little bit of thanks and a bit more respect than the badgering” they get, he said.

Among his proudest accomplishments, Mr. Annan cited broadening the constituency of the UN, “reminding the public and the members that they should not be only an organization of governments talking to each other, that we needed to bring in the peoples, we needed to work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations), with the private sector, foundations.”

He also hailed the broader definition of security now prevailing. “Today we consider poverty, infectious diseases and environmental degradation a threat, along with terrorism, along with weapons of mass destruction.”

This is critical in a world where concerns vary. “Depending on where you live and where you stand, your perception of threat is quite different. I live in America and if you were to ask me because of the way the press plays it and the speeches you hear, I would probably tell you terrorism is the most important threat. But if I go to South Africa, they would probably tell me HIV/AIDS. Someone else will tell me hunger. And if I lived on a small island, which could be washed away through global warming, I would tell you it is environmental degradation and climate.

“So, we have really opened up a debate and I think intellectually it was quite an achievement to get the Member States to walk away with that understanding.”

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