Kofi Annan's Conference in New York
February 24, 1998
A few days after United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's deal with Iraq, he spoke at a news conference in New York. The NewsHour has excerpts from the conference meeting. Annan gives an overview of what occurred between himself and Saddam Hussein and takes questions covering topics from the U.S. military presence in Baghdad to how far one can trust Saddam Hussein.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General, United Nations: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I just finished briefing the Security Council, and I am pleased to tell you that I had a general sense of approval from the membership as to the agreement that I signed in Baghdad.
Obviously, there are details which will have to be worked out, and explanations which must be given, but none of it gives me and my team any difficulties. And I am convinced that once the explanations are given, we will have a unanimous and strong council support. What is important is, in my judgment, this agreement can and will work, can and should work. There is a qualitative difference about this agreement that the others did not have.
First of all, we have to remember that in the years that the U.N. has been present in Baghdad, many agreements have been signed, but none have been negotiated with Saddam Hussein. This one was negotiated with the president, himself, and the leadership has got the message that he wants cooperation, he wants it done. They are very disciplined and hard working people, and I think with that leadership we will see a qualitative difference in their attitude.
We on the U.N. side and UNSCOM staff members also have to handle Iraq and the Iraqis with certain respect and dignity and not push their weight around and cause tensions. And there are other things--I think we need to make other arrangements and take steps to ensure that relationship can be maintained smoothly. We should have a mechanism for resolving conflicts before they become dilemmas and almost bring us to the verge of war. And I think there are lessons in this for everyone. But this could not have happened if all involved, including the Iraqi leadership, had not shown what I asked for: courage, wisdom, flexibility.
And I thank all those involved for giving us a chance. But it is a victory not for me, if we call it victory, but a victory for the United Nations, for this organization, that sent me there as a servant. And I hope that this new phenomena, where peoples from all over the world come together and focus on something and get it resolved, is something that we're going to see more and more of. I'll take a few questions and then, if you permit me, I'm tired, and so I will go home and sleep.
TED MORELLO, President, U.N. Correspondents Association: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. The question is: You had mentioned on more than one occasion the linkage between the embassy and preparation for the use of force, if necessary, and you have just spoken of not throwing your weight around. In that context, I wonder if you feel that the military presence in that region should be downgraded or downsized at this point, or very soon, in any case.
KOFI ANNAN: I must say you are trying to get me into dangerous waters. Let me say that the point I have made is that diplomacy can be effective, but it helps to have a military presence in the region. And, as I've said, if, in fact, you don't get to use it, it's even the best--you're showing force in order not to use it, but you can do a lot with diplomacy, but a diplomacy backed up by force you can get a lot more done.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC News: Mr. Secretary-General, you suggested that you were hoping that there would be some ways of getting rid of conflicts, and you suggested that there needed to be a dignity in the way the inspectors approached these sites. Are you suggesting that you think in the past there wasn't? And there is some confusion as to whether Mr. Butler is still in charge. Is UNSCOM in charge, or is this new commissioner, this new procedure in charge? And secondly, you said that Saddam Hussein said that he felt he could trust you. Do you feel that you can trust him?
KOFI ANNAN: Let me start by saying that on the question of the UNSCOM Butler stays--he remains the head of UNSCOM. I discuss--I inform the Iraqi authorities, and they know that, in fact, Mr. Butler, unless his plan has changed, is due in Baghdad next month and Tariq Aziz told me I'm waiting for him, and we will work with him, be reassured. So I think there's no problem. Butler will continue.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Does he have to report to this new commissioner?
KOFI ANNAN: No. No. Sorry. I'm so tired I forgot your first question. You asked so many questions.
SPOKESMAN: Can you trust Saddam?
KOFI ANNAN: Can I trust Saddam Hussein? I think I can do business with him. I think he was serious when he took the engagement, and I think we--I'm not--I think perhaps not as pessimistic as some of you are. I think he was serious when he took the engagement. I think he realizes what it means for his people. He realizes that if he's going to see light at the end of the tunnel, Iraq has to cooperate and work with UNSCOM and UNSCOM should respond in kind to accelerate the process of disarmament and implement the resolutions to make that possible. So I think he is serious.
RICARDO ALDAY, Mexican News Agency: Can you share with us your personal view of the personality of President Saddam Hussein. And, also, what did he ask you for regarding the lifting of sanctions?
KOFI ANNAN: Well, he's very calm, very, very calm, never raises his voice, and well informed--contrary to the sense outside that he's ill-informed and isolated--and decisive, and decisive. In the negotiations I was impressed by his decisiveness. And that is what also made the agreement possible.
RICARDO ALDAY: What about sanctions? What did he ask you for?
KOFI ANNAN: You know, that the sanctions are hurting his people, and they have done quite a lot of work. They have, in their judgment, fulfilled all the conditions. And they really don't know what else there is to find, but they would want to see the sanctions ended. Their people are suffering, and he hopes the international community understands this.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM, Al-Hayat Newspaper: How will you bring to the full attention of the Security Council the issue of sanctions, and can you make yourself clear on--
KOFI ANNAN: Let's keep it clouded for the moment, and it will clear very soon, as we go on--
RAGHIDA DERGHAM: I beg to ask you for a clarification on your position--
KOFI ANNAN: No. I have indicated quite clearly that the responsibilities of Iraq will have to be fulfilled before the sanctions are lifted. And not only that, he understands it, but he asked me to pass onto the council the suffering of the people--of his people, and how long this has gone on, and for how long--how much longer is it going to go on, and I've shared that with the council this morning.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary-General, in the absence of a Security Council resolution that would threaten consequences if this agreement is breached, the United States seems ready to make that judgment unilaterally and commit military action in the Gulf unilaterally if it feels the agreement is breached. Are you comfortable with that situation, or would you prefer to see the Security Council take that up?
KOFI ANNAN: Let me be clear here. Ladies and gentlemen, I have done my work. I trust the council will do its duty and leave unto Caesar what's Caesar's. Thank you.