Bolton Briefing on Burma, Sudan, Iran & Ors.
Briefing on Burma, Sudan, Iran and Other Matters
Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative
to the UnitedNations
Remarks to the media following a Security Council Stakeout
New York City
September 15, 2006
USUN PRESS RELEASE #232
Ambassador Bolton: The Security Council just took a very significant vote, with 10 votes in the affirmative, four against, one abstaining. The Council has decided to put Burma formally on the Council's agenda. This is a major step forward for President Bush's effort to bring to the attention of the international community the situation inside Burma, and its effects in its region and around the world -- what we see as a threat to international peace and security because of the flows of refugees, illicit narcotics, HIV/AIDS and the human rights situation inside Burma. Obviously, we had hoped that we could put the item on the agenda unanimously. But there was very strong opposition from China. And you can see the votes of the other countries as well.
The occasion for seeking this vote was we have also requested a formal briefing of the Council by Undersecretary General Gambari. This would be the third briefing by Undersecretary General Gambari or senior secretariat officials, and we will consider, in light of that briefing, what further steps we might take in the Council. But for those who are not familiar with the arcane practices of the Security Council, which I have endeavored to explain somewhat unsuccessfully, I suppose, this makes it plain, beyond dispute -- beyond dispute -- that Burma is now a formal item on the Council's agenda. What action the Council takes is a different story, but you can see the significance in the UN context by the fact we had to have a contested vote in an open session. The Council were very pleased with the result, and we intend to press ahead vigorously.
Reporter: Ambassador, now that you've got, on the agenda, you're going to get the briefing. You have a prepared draft resolution on the subject. And, we are told, this was formally circulated to some members of the Council. What are you going to be seeking in that resolution? Will it have Chapter 7 authority? And when are you going to move ahead on that front?
Ambassador Bolton: We're moving one step at a time. We told Council members that the first step was to get the item formally inscribed on the agenda and follow it with a briefing. We're going to watch developments in and around Burma very carefully. And we'll make a decision on what our next step will be on that basis.
Reporter: Ambassador, are you worried that this may -- a couple questions here -- are you worried that this may sort of close off the in-roads that the Secretary General and Undersecretary General Gambari had made, the opening that they've created?
Ambassador Bolton: OK. Can I do these one at a time, then? Absolutely not. It's fundamentally important that the regime in Burma recognize that it's the other member-governments of the UN, other nations in the world, that are concerned about their practices. We think the action that we've taken today will support the efforts of Undersecretary General Gambari and many others who are trying to remedy the situations that lead us to conclude that Burma is a threat to international peace and security.
Reporter: If I may, Japan has in the past been very reluctant to step on ASEAN's toes in this topic, in this issue. And now, today they vote yes to include it on the agenda. Is there some shift in their attitude?
Ambassador Bolton: I don't think it's stepping on anybody's toes to recognize reality. And I think that's what this vote does today.
Reporter: Ambassador, were you surprised by the strength of the opposition, and how much will this set you back in your future efforts?
Ambassador Bolton: No, this was about the vote we expected. And I'll just to you again: The United Nations Security Council is not the council of the League of Nations. One of the reasons the Council of the League of Nations failed was the requirement of unanimity. It is a triumph for the Security Council that it has divided votes and that we have the opportunity to see this division. I still hope that the countries that voted no will see sweet reason and support our efforts. But we're going to press ahead. We only needed nine votes to inscribe this on the agenda, and we got 10, although not exactly the 10 we expected.
Reporter: Ambassador, on a different topic, on UN peacekeeping...
Ambassador Bolton: Hang on a second. I wanted to see if there are any other Burma questions here.
Reporter: Yes. One in-favor vote from Asia -- do you see the significance on that? Or is it the result of the friendly persuasion from your government?
Ambassador Bolton: I think it's an enlightened vote on the part of the Japanese government. It's certainly welcome and it will aid, materially I think, in having an impact on the region.
Ambassador Bolton: But I think this is the kind of public action that you have to take to show to the regime in Burma how it's regarded by much of the rest of the international community. And that is, as a potential threat to international peace and security.
Reporter: Yes. About the international peace and security, by putting it underneath this label, is that not what is bringing opposition to your request for this to be on the agenda?
Ambassador Bolton: The charter of the UN makes it clear that the jurisdictional threshold for the Security Council to take action is that it must deal with threats to international peace and security or breaches of international peace and security or acts of aggression. So this is a jurisdictional threshold that we have to cross. And I think that the issue, really, was resolved as far back as Resolution 688 dealing with the flow of Kurdish refugees into Turkey and elsewhere caused by Saddam Hussein's repression after the first Persian Gulf War. So I see the procedural vote we've taken today as being entirely consistent with 688 and other resolutions subsequently adopted by the Council. Anything else on Burma here?
Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, as you told us, China's position on this issue is so firm, how could you persuade Chinese counterpart to, you know, get the move ahead?
Ambassador Bolton: We're persuasive people. We're going to keep at it. Anything else on Burma?
Reporter: The Chinese ambassador had made this point that the word "Burma" is of one tribe in the country. I mean, he made that -- so I don't know, what's your position on that in terms of the naming...
Ambassador Bolton: You will see in the letters that I submitted to the president of the Security Council that I asked that the Council take up the question of "the situation in Myanmar," comma, "known to the United States as Burma." And the agenda item itself will say "the situation in Myanmar." We refer to it as Burma, which we think is the correct appellation. Anything else on Burma?
Reporter: Yes. Mr. Ambassador, is this meeting going to take place before Gambari's visit to Myanmar? And what effect do you think that will have on the visit?
Ambassador Bolton: The procedural step that we took requested the president of the Security Council to convene this meeting before the end of September. So I understand the dates of the Gambari visit are not set, but it's certainly after that. I think that a briefing in the Security Council, a discussion in the Security Council, will strengthen Gambari's hand. And I think that's an important step for us to take as member-governments. After all, it is the member-governments that run the organization and give direction to the Secretariat. Any other Burma questions?
Reporter: Yes, you've been quite critical of some aspects of UN peacekeeping, procurement problems, sexual misconduct scandals. Why do you think that the organization is now fit to undertake an extremely ambitious expansion of its operations, initially East Timor, Lebanon and possibly Sudan? I mean, are you concerned that they have the sort of managerial capacity to handle this larger responsibility?
Ambassador Bolton: The requirements to establish or change existing peacekeeping missions are dictated by circumstances in the world. And that's why we have responded as we have. But there's no doubt that the problems that have been uncovered in the oil-for-food scandal and the questions of sexual exploitation abuse remain, and it will require considerable management attention. It's one of the reasons why, both in the case of Sudan and the expanded UNIFIL in Lebanon, the United States has offered to provide logistical planning, operational support, logistical support to try and help alleviate some of the problems that we've identified.
Reporter: On the subject of Sudan, is the U.S. considering, at this juncture, any other means of pressuring the Sudanese government, whether it's additional sanctions on members of the government, or no- fly zones perhaps? Are there creative ideas out there for...
Ambassador Bolton: Well, we're considering a number of things. In fact, I had hoped today we would have a presidential statement on the Sudan, too, in advance of the African Union Peace and Security Council Meeting on Monday. Unfortunately, that was blocked by China as well. But we're going to be looking at a variety of steps that we might take to find ways to get the transition from the African Union force in Darfur to a UN force. And part of that will depend on the reaction of the African Union on Monday at their ministerial-level meeting, if they extend their mandate and otherwise help smooth over this transition between the African Union and the UN. So there are no decisions made on it. In other words, we'll have to see early next week.
Reporter: Just to clarify: So, what those variety of steps might be will not be made clear until after that meeting, you're saying?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, we won't make decisions on exactly how to proceed until we see how the transition's going. The objective, to keep our eye on the ball, is to get the transition made effectively to protect the inhabitants of the Darfur region. So we're going to try and weigh the factors and come up with the right answer there.
Reporter: Ambassador, is there any possibility of an exchange, a meeting, a handshake between President Bashir and President Bush during this meeting as a way of trying to get Bashir to back down and accept this?
Ambassador Bolton: My understanding is President Bashir is not coming to New York. And that's my latest information. I don't know that for complete certainty, but that's my information.
Reporter: Similar to the other question, earlier this morning, the president, speaking to reporters, said the problem is that the United Nations hasn't acted. This week, Kofi Annan said that no troops can be sent without the consent of Khartoum. What is the next step for the Security Council on Darfur?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, that is sort of the question that was asked before. I mean, it is, as we tried to make clear yesterday in the Arria-style meeting that Professor Wiesel and George Clooney addressed, that while the diplomatic discussions are going on, the situation in Darfur continues to worsen. And there's a certain element that is inherent, I think, in multilateral negotiations, of deference to other governments and their concerns and going back and forth. That's why things take as long as they do. That's inherent in multilateral fora such as the United Nations. What our objective is is to expedite those processes and make this transition happen. So it's very much an operational concern. And it's one of the frustrations, I think, that even in terms of getting a presidential statement from the Security Council, we can find ourselves losing time and effectiveness.
Ambassador Bolton: But we're trying to keep our eye on the ball, and that is to accomplish the transition to UN command and control of the peacekeeping force and get it deployed and make it effective.
Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, I understand that there was a letter the Secretariat sense in response to your question about housing subsidies to UN officials. And I'm wondering if the letter -- if it's going to be released and when we could have it? And if so, why not, I guess?
Ambassador Bolton: I have the letter. I'm still considering what to do. And I'll let you know when I've thought about it some more.
Reporter: On Iran, Ambassador, OK?
Ambassador Bolton: OK.
Reporter: OK. To what extent has the sort of now ongoing series of talks between Larijani and Solana and/or the representatives, Iran's signals of maybe being willing to negotiation suspensions, and European support for that track put on hold or delayed the U.S. moving forward with the sanctions resolution, which at one point I understood you wanted to circulate next week and get progress on?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I haven't been doing anything here while the Europeans have been in these discussions. And I won't do anything until I get instructions to proceed. So that's what I'm waiting for.
Reporter: Just a quick on Iran. President Bush said that he will not be meeting with Ahmadinejad. I believe he said that earlier today.
Ambassador Bolton: What a surprise.
Reporter: What a surprise. Do you expect, though...
Ambassador Bolton: I won't be, either.
Reporter: Do you expect that this gentleman's presence in this building will move the discussion forward in any way? What should people be looking for, from your perspective?
Ambassador Bolton: Tempted as I am to answer that question, I think I'll duck it.
Reporter: (Inaudible) on that subject, does he even have a visa? And what about the visas for the Iranian government?
Ambassador Bolton: I have no idea what the status is on that subject. Anything else then?
Reporter: Out of the European Union and their meetings with the Iranians, they seem to be a little bit more optimistic, even the secretary general saying that he sees some improvement, some glimmer of hope. But statements from the United States are just saying that, basically, nothing's changed. What's the basis of that observation of that?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I don't think I'll really comment on that either. My job, when instructed to do so, will be to get a sanctions resolution. So if and when that stage comes, then we'll talk, OK. All right, thanks very much.
Released on September 15, 2006