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Preview of the 61st UN General Assembly

Preview of the 61st UN General Assembly

Kristen Silverberg, Assistant Secretary for International Organizations Affairs
The New York Foreign Press Center Briefing
New York City
September 18, 2006

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. I ’d like to welcome Kristen Silverberg, Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the U.S. Department of State. She's here to discuss some of the upcoming meetings taking place at this year ’s UN General Assembly. Following her remarks, we ’ll go into Q&A. Please state your name and affiliation before asking your question. Also, following remarks and Q&A, we ’ll probably have time for one or two one-on-one interviews. Thank you so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Thank you all for joining. I ’m glad to have a chance to talk to you about our agenda here at the opening of the General Assembly. Secretary Rice has an action-packed schedule, as you ’ ve probably seen. She will focus in particular on President Bush ’s freedom agenda, on events in the Middle East and on Darfur. And I ’d like to talk to you more about that later.

We are especially looking forward to President Bush ’s speech to the General Assembly tomorrow. I ’d like to run through a few specific items and then I ’m happy to take questions. Earlier today, Secretary Rice attended a literacy conference hosted by Mrs. Bush. The conference highlighted nine programs to combat illiteracy, including programs in India, South Africa and Afghanistan. Secretary Rice addressed the conference and she talked about the importance of education as a way of breaking down barriers and inequality all over the world. She called it the greatest contribution to equality.

Secretary Rice met with Foreign Minister Li of China and Foreign Minister Livni of Israel. At the moment she is at the Iraq Compact Conference hosted by UN Secretary General Annan and she will meet with President Talabani later this week.

Tomorrow, September 19th, she will attend the President ’s meeting with President Chirac, his meeting with Secretary General Annan and his meeting with the new UNGA President al-Khalifa. At 8 p.m. she will have a dinner with the foreign ministers of the P-5 as well as Germany and Italy to discuss a range of issues, including Iran of course.

On Wednesday she will attend a meeting of the Quartet. She ’ll meet with foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council and she ’ll meet with the Kosovo Contact Group for a discussion of UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari ’s efforts to reach a status agreement this year.

On Thursday, September 21st, Secretary Rice will meet with NATO foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

And on Friday at 4 p.m., the Secretary will participate in an event focusing on one of the Administration ’s highest priorities: ending the violence in Darfur. This meeting came out of a discussion between Secretary Rice and the Danish Foreign Minister. They agreed that foreign ministers needed to convene to call attention to the grave humanitarian crisis in Darfur and to call for an immediate end to violence. So she will discuss the need to move quickly toward implementation of Resolution 1706.

Later that day, she ’ll meet with her counterparts to discuss a range of issues and then she ’ll attend a dinner of G-8 foreign ministers.

Then on Saturday, she will participate in an event to focus on the importance of women ’s political participation.

And then on Monday, she ’ll have a meeting with members of the Caribbean community.

There ’s much, much more on her schedule. As you can tell, it ’s jam-packed and full of lots of good opportunities to press our high-priority agenda items. So with that, I ’m happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. I ’m (inaudible) from the Italian newswire ANSA. About Iran, can you say now that the P-5+1 has become a P-5+2? And how do you see Italy ’s role in these negotiations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We think the Italian participation has been very helpful, as has the participation of a number of other countries. One thing we ’ve tried to do is build as broad a coalition as possible to help press the case for Iran to fully suspend. And one of the important things, I think, about the Iranian nuclear issue is that there are so few countries in the world, virtually no countries, first that are not persuaded that Iran has the intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. We really don ’t meet with anyone who believes that this program is for peaceful purposes and really very few countries in the world that believe Iran should have nuclear weapons. So we have been gratified that this is a broad coalition, one that enjoys support throughout the international community, and we're grateful for the Italian participation in that effort.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Beirut. You didn ’t mention anything about the Middle East, not only Quartet and also on Lebanon and the UNIFIL plus. Can you have – and also on Syria, if you can.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Yes, absolutely. As I mentioned in the very initial statements, the things she ’ll be particularly be focused on are the President ’s freedom agenda, including the major initiatives and events in the Middle East and also in Darfur, so it ’s absolutely the case that Lebanon will be front and center in our agenda, including implementation of 1701. You know, this is something that we ’ve worked closely with the international community and our Security Council partners on since well before Resolution 1559. We worked with them on 1680. We worked with them up until deployment of this UNIFIL force.

We have been -- I think felt good about a lot of the progress the UN has made since 1701, and so one of the things she wants to talk to the Secretary General about is what are the other things we can do to make sure that this force deploys successfully. I think this is likely to be a conversation she has with a number of her counterparts on the Council.

And what's the question specifically?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: She will not be meeting with the foreign minister. I think that the larger question of Syria ’s role in the region, in particular Syria ’s role within Lebanon, will be a subject of conversation. Obviously this is something we continue to be keenly interested in.


QUESTION: Mark Tanner (ph), Financial Times. On the Middle East, you didn& rsquo;t mention a call by Arab governments for a foreign ministerial meeting on Thursday. Does that mean the U.S. has said we ’re not going to participate even if there is one, or what ’s your position on that? And also, what is the Quartet going to be able to come out with? Is there any sense that you can revive the roadmap, which the Arab countries have said is dead? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: The proposal for a ministerial meeting within the Council is still under discussion, but it ’s – I think there& rsquo;s no doubt that the Middle East peace process will be front and center. As I said, she met with Livni this morning. She has a meeting with President Abbas later today. She has the Quartet meeting. I would expect all of the issues related to the Middle East to be covered by the President ’s speech, and I think NSC gave some more detail about that in a briefing earlier this week. So I think this is likely to be the subject of discussion and of course we ’re keenly interested in how can we make some – how can we move the ball forward on the roadmap, what are the steps we can take to help make sure we reenergize.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We have a lot of questions about it. We want to make sure we know what the purpose of the meeting is, what the intended outcome is, what is the role of the – what is the proposal versus the responsibility of the Quartet. Generally, these issues are addressed with the Quartet meeting so we have a lot of questions about it, but we ’re continuing to discuss them.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks. (Inaudible) with New Delhi Television. My question is about the new UN Secretary General. India has a candidate in the fray. We& rsquo;d like to ask you who the United States is going to support in this important election in the coming weeks, months, and whether Shashi Tharoor you think is a candidate worthy of this post.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, we haven ’t endorsed any particular candidate and we ’re likely to keep our cards close to the vest on this one. We ’re considering all of the candidates very closely, but I can tell you a lot about the criteria we ’re looking for. We ’ve said that we want someone who is capable of managing this complex organization in a time of transition, so somebody who is committed to making sure the UN is held to the highest ethical standards, is well run, puts member-state resources to good use. We also want someone who has a commitment to democratic values, to the promotion of human rights, and we want somebody who will be a good partner with all of the international community. So we ’re looking at all of the candidates closely and we ’re talking to our partners about their views as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Networks Colombia. There will be a meeting with Colombia ’s President Alvaro Uribe. What are the topics that are going to be discussed and what is the approach for the very important topic of immigration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, you know, the -- I ’ll have to refer you to -- back to the spokesperson for the specific agenda items in the meeting, but I would expect them to cover both very specific regional issues, trade-related issues and also some of our global international concerns.

I think immigration -- this is a wonderful time to talk about it because we& rsquo;re coming off this event on migration, this high-level event which we thought was a great opportunity to talk about the United States strong record on immigration issues. There is so much confusion and I think misunderstanding around the world about the United States view on immigration and we want to really make the point that the United States remains welcoming to immigrants, that we count on them, they ’re an important part of our culture, an important part of our society, and so this is something -- the President makes this point very eloquently and I expect he ’ll make it again this week.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is (inaudible) with Kyodo News. Thank you very much. I would like to just follow the lady ’s question in the back on the next Secretary General. We have now seven candidates on the list and do you think you want to see any additional candidates or are you satisfied with the existing five candidate. And Ambassador Bolton is also saying the Council should reach a consensus at latest by early October. Is that a feasible and likely time target?

And plus, I have another question, if I may, on North Korea because you haven& rsquo;t mentioned that. On North Korea, we are told that U.S. is now asking counterparts to hold a multilateral meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly, and China, Russia seem to be a bit reluctant to hold such a meeting. Where does it stand, could you tell us? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Yes. On the Secretary General field, there are a number of very strong candidates right now. There may be more and we welcome -- we ’re thrilled to consider any well-qualified candidate who fits the criteria I described earlier. What we said about timing is that this ought to be a careful and thoughtful decision. It ought -- the person ought to come into the office with the full support of the General Assembly, which means that the person has to do a lot of outreach to the General Assembly, not only to the Council. But we ’d like the transition to take place soon enough to allow for a smooth transition of power. It ’s not the kind of thing you want the person rushing into at the last minute, in part because there& rsquo;s so much going on right now, there ’s so many weighty responsibilities on the Secretary General ’s shoulders. And a couple in particular are deployment of this UN mission to Darfur and of course the UNIFIL mission we talked about earlier. So we ’d like to have time for some kind of methodical and careful transition.

On North Korea, my understanding is that a meeting will take place but the details are still being worked out.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Estonian TV. Could you give us some highlights of President ’s speech that he gives tomorrow? You mentioned that it was already kind of introduced to us, but could you just tell us?

And also tomorrow, I understand President Bush will be in the UN at the same time with the Iranian President. That is a kind of interesting, dramatic moment, how you approach that. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, I ’ll refer you to the briefing from the National Security Council this week and I ’m sure we can provide copies if it ’s helpful, but in essence what they said about the President ’s speech is that he will focus on the freedom agenda, in particular efforts to help promote democracy around the world and on a hopeful agenda for the Middle East. So the President -- and he -- this morning at the literacy conference made some more statements to this regard, but he has a view that we should have the highest aspirations and ideals for every part of the world, that we shouldn ’t resign ourselves to failure for some parts of the world. And so I think what he ’ll spell out is his hopeful agenda for the Middle East.

And I ’m sorry, your second -- oh, the second question about the -- you know, this happens every year at the General Assembly. Obviously, many heads of state, including some who disagree in the strongest possible terms, are in the General Assembly together. It ’s happened before and we don ’t expect it to be particularly dramatic, we don ’t think.

QUESTION: James Byrne (ph) of the London Times. What is the status of John Bolton after the postponement of the vote in the committee? I mean, there seems to be an increasing view that he ’s not going to get confirmed by this Congress and that he can ’t become -- have a second recess appointment. Can you tell us what the status is?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Sure. Well, we still hope and expect that the Senate will confirm Ambassador Bolton. There ’s obviously been a lot of discussion in the press about committee views on that, but it ’s still our strong view that this is the best thing for the United States. And I can point you to a number of reasons why that ’s true. One is when you look at the highest priority issues in the Security Council, it is abundantly clear that John Bolton is the right one to handle them. Iran is a good example. Who knows the Iranian issues better than John Bolton? He used to be the Under Secretary for handling these issues for the United States. There ’s no one who's more tireless or smarter or more willing to roll up his sleeves to get these things passed, so we think it ’s just abundantly clear that he needs to be confirmed.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: To follow up on Mr. (inaudible), a question about DPRK or North Korean meeting. What we've heard so far is that it's going to be a six-party talk plus five others, minus North Korea. And could you please detail who those five others are?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I have to get back to you. Obviously I have to get back to you on the other five. Sorry, I didn't bring it with me but we'll follow up.

QUESTION: Will it be maybe the same five as those that met in Kuala Lumpur?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I would expect so but let me get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Yes, in the back in the red shirt.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Kosovo's public broadcaster. On the Kosovo meeting with the Contact Group, is the Contact Group still aiming for the end of the year for a solution to the Kosovo issue and what would that look like, especially taking into consideration that the sides are as far as apart as ever and an agreed solution as prescribed by the Contact Group is not very likely?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I understand that Mr. Ahtisaari still is hoping for resolution by the end of the year. We know it's very difficult and we'll hear more about it from him directly at the meeting.

Yes. Oh, I'm sorry, actually I haven't asked the (inaudible) woman.

QUESTION: Yes, (inaudible) Danish Broadcasting. Ambassador Bolton has threatened to withhold money if the reform process doesn't go through. Could you please spell out what exactly it is that the UN should do?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Yes. There has been legislation passed by the United States House of Representatives, I think three times now, essentially saying that if the UN doesn't meet some reform bars then the U.S. should withhold a significant amount of its payment to the UN regular budget. They -- what I think Ambassador Bolton was referring to is the fact that Congress feels very strongly that there are some steps the UN needs to take to make sure that a scandal like oil-for-food never happens again. We found that to be a horrifying example of misuse of member-state funds for the benefit of individuals and it's the kind of thing that's intolerable and can't happen again.

So among other things, what we'd like to see the UN do is finish the reforms on ethics and oversight, so the things that would make sure that we can count on no fraud or gross mismanagement at the UN. We would like to see the UN take some steps around what we call "mandate review," which is the review of all of the existing programs to make sure that they still serve important purposes, that they're being administered effectively, that there's not too much overlap or duplication. So those are the things we'd like to see out of the UN in the near future.


QUESTION: Same topic. There are those in the Secretariat who basically share your desire for management reform and your European allies who also do, who say that John Bolton basically has (inaudible) position and failure to negotiate crashed the reform process and destroyed any chance of actually coming to an accommodation with the developing world. Do you think that there's going to be a change in atmospherics and actually increase diplomacy, rather than all or nothing, as you go forward to try and actually go through some of these reforms that you claim to want?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I don't think the U.S. has taken a particular extreme position on this. I think, in fact, the bulk of the reforms are things that are fairly obvious or should be fairly obvious. Again as I said, the UN has some mandates in place from the founding of the organization, so it has some 60-year-old mandates sitting on its books. And there isn't a process for going through methodically to look at does this mandate still make sense, is it still relevant, is the program being performed effectively. Well, I think virtually anyone from any country you would ask would say that's a reasonable thing for an organization with this size budget to do. That's the kind of thing we're pushing for.

We were frustrated by the delay in implementing the Ethics Office, which is now in place. Well, again, this wasn't a radical reform. It was a pretty, I thought modest and reasonable thing to ask that the organization have an office in place to make sure to train people in their ethical responsibilities. Things like reforms to prevent sexual exploitation by peacekeepers, well, no one can disagree that it is a tragedy -- a travesty when people who are entrusted with protecting civilians in these conflict situations commit these terrible acts of sexual exploitation. Well, we want to see some steps taken to make sure that doesn't happen.

So again, these aren't extreme views. I think they're very reasonable and modest ones and we fully support Ambassador Bolton in his efforts to press them vigorously.


QUESTION: Can you please talk to us about the new Middle East agenda, specifically in the area like Lebanon and Syria, Israel?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I think -- and again I'll defer the bulk of this to the President's comments tomorrow. He's a much better spokesperson for this than I am. But I think what he's likely to talk about are a couple different kinds of governments we see in the Middle East. There are governments like the Government in Lebanon, elected governments that want to represent their people in an accountable way, that want to be responsible participants in the international community who need our support and assistance and that's what we're committed to give to make sure the Government of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon have what they need to really fulfill their expectations.

There's another set of governments that has chosen isolation and confrontation over dialogue and that's the government in Tehran is a good example. And I think what you'll hear the President say is that we need to be resolute in taking action to stand between the Government of Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: He -- again we'll refer you to his comments tomorrow. I don't want to get too much into the detail about what he's likely to say.

Yes, one more.

QUESTION: One more thing on Yemen, Burma. The Council last week had (inaudible) Bolton put Yemen on the former agenda of the Council. But it seems to kind of, you know, dead man because China's position on this is so firm. And Ambassador Wang (ph) of China has really said that they don't accept any resolution to be passed. So what's Washington's point of view and what's the game plan? Do you have specific game plan from now? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Sure. Well, you remember a year ago we proposed to have an informal briefing in the Council on Burma, to call attention to all of the problems we see in Burma. And everyone said you'll never be able to get support from the Council to do this. But we worked really hard with many of our Security Council partners and secured agreement for a briefing. When we didn't see steps from the Burmese junta to take steps to address the situation, we said really we need to add this to the Council's formal agenda. And everyone said you'll never be able to get the nine votes to do that. Well, we -- I think on the merits were able to persuade countries to support us. We are grateful for the support from the Government of Japan. And we just Friday, with ten votes in support, were able to add Burma to the Security Council's formal agenda for the first time ever.

And so we think that presented with the facts on the ground, with the continuing grave and urgent human rights abuses with the refugee crisis, with the drug traffic flow, the threat of HIV/AIDS, the threat of avian flu, all of the impact of Burma's internal situation on its neighbors, I think that Council members will be persuaded that this merits Council attention and it's something we have to take very seriously.

One more in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) journalist from Tokyo Broadcasting System. Ambassador Bolton mentioned that he's using as a precedent Resolution 688 when Kurds were falling into Turkey for this -- to call this Myanmar, Burma situation threat to international peace and security. Could you explain more why it's international peace and security that's threatened and not some humanitarian and economic problem and societal problem? There seems to be some disagreement there.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, here's it's both. And the really interesting thing, which I thought was documented persuasively in this report by Desmond Tutu and Václav Havel (ph), was the amount of instability in the region that's provoked by the internal situation in Burma. So the refugees, because of sheer numbers, are having a destabilizing impact, the disease flows, the crime traffic, all of these things within Burma are really reaching a boiling point. You know, the situation in Burma has been I think intolerable for -- since the late 80s, so that's not a new thing. But we are seeing a real deterioration of the situation on the ground and so that's why we've decided to press vigorously for Security Council attention to it now.


QUESTION: James (inaudible) London Times. On Iran, the Washington Post reported today that it's a possibility the European foreign ministers will begin talks this week with the Iranians and there will be a suspension and then the Americans will join in. Is that a sequencing that you can see happening?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Well, I don't want to answer a hypothetical. We have said that -- the Security Council that Iran needs to suspend. That because Iran has failed to suspend the Security Council needs to take action. And I think it's worth recalling that we had years of negotiations with the EU-3 and Tehran. We had numerous IAEA Board of Governors resolutions. We have a Security Council PRST. We had a Security Council resolution and at every step Iran was presented with this clear demand from the international community that it suspend. And the reason why that demand enjoys so much support is because of the grave distrust the international community was left with after the disclosure that Iran had been misleading the international community for decades.

So we think it's clear that Iran has made a choice. We think that unless Iran suspends the Security Council needs to move forward.


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