Press conference: Security Council President Wittig presents program of work for September

Sep 5, 2012

Press conference: Security Council President Wittig presents program of work for September

(near verbatim transcript)

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“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

it's good to see you here. Thank you for your interest in the work of the Security Council. It's a pleasure to brief you on our agenda for the following month. It will be a busy month. We have a rather compressed agenda because the work of the Security Council in this month also partly coincides with the opening of the General Assembly, as you know. The lime-light in the week of the 25th is on the leaders of the member states who will debate issues in the General Assembly.

I want to lead you through the program and I want to start with the priorities of the German Presidency, two regional issues and one thematic issue that we have specifically on our mind as a priority of my country.

The first is, once again, the change in the Arab world. We will organize a high-level meeting on 26th of September in the Council during the GA week. That should once again address the various conflicts and developments in recent years in the Arab world – with many issues that kept us busy, some contentious, some more in agreement with each other. We want to focus specifically on the emerging role of the Arab League as a significant regional actor and contributor to conflict resolution.

The Arab League has undergone a remarkable development over the last two years. It is without any doubt a first rate regional actor with important decisions and resolutions, contributing to the resolution of conflicts. We want to acknowledge this emerging role and we want to explore the institutional ties between the Arab League and the United Nations. That should be one of the focuses of this high-level meeting. We will have two briefings: The Secretary-General of this organisation and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr El-Araby and the 15 member states of the Security Council will then pronounce themselves. The meeting will be presided over by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Most of the delegations will probably be represented by their foreign ministers. There are some who will be represented by their head of state. That is on the 26th September.

The other regional issue that is very much on our mind, not least because Germany is the pen holder in Security Council, is Afghanistan. We once again want to address the challenges of the transition process in Afghanistan and the challenges of the UN mission there on the 20th of this month. Afghanistan has been entering what we call a decade of transformation after the Bonn conference, which was a landmark event followed up by a series of conferences in Chicago, Kabul and Tokyo. We want to take stock of the process of transition and transformation and also explore the role of UNAMA in that context – an important mission that will rather increase than decrease in importance as we go along in that process of transformation of Afghanistan.

We have one thematic issue that is very close to our hearts and that is the issue of children in armed conflict. You might know that this is the only humanitarian issue in the Security Council that has its own structure. We have a working group entirely devoted to the issue of children in conflicts and I have the honour to preside over that working group. Last year, when we held the Presidency in July, we have taken the protection agenda forward with a new resolution, enhancing the field of the UN and enlarging the so-called list of "naming and shaming". This year we will once again open the floor of the Security Council for all member states to pronounce themselves on that important issue. We want to focus particularly on the issue of accountability for persistent perpetrators, persistent violators of the rights of the child – be them individuals, rebel groups or governments as they are listed in the annual report of the Secretary-General. So this is an important humanitarian issue that is very close to our heart.

Other regional or country specific situations: Syria will be very much on our mind. There's no formal agenda item for it this month. You know that UNSMIS expired last month, so we do not have the regular reporting system anymore. Yet Syria will be on our minds. I met yesterday – first thing in the Presidency – Lakhdar Brahimi, who was kind enough to see me in the morning. We discussed his new mission. He addressed the General Assembly so you know how he outlined his assignment. We discussed possible interactions with the Security Council and we agreed that we would explore the possibility to have him in the Security Council once he has completed his trip to the region. I once again expressed to him the support of the Security Council for his difficult job and I'm sure we will have an opportunity to interact with him in this month.

Sudan and South Sudan is one of the recurring conflicts that kept us busy over the last months and years. We'll start with a briefing tomorrow on Sudan and South Sudan by SESG Haile Menkerios, who will brief us on the state of play in this timeline we are going through. You might remember that the AU, endorsed by the Security Council, decided on a timeline for the two parties to the conflict to resolve their many outstanding issues. The timeline was not met, it expired on the 2nd of August but it was then extended to the 22nd of September and so we are in the middle of that new timeline. We will see tomorrow where we are standing. It will come up once again on the 20th of this month.

Sahel and the situation in Mali: this is a very important emerging conflict that is high on the radar screen of many countries, not only in the vicinity of the Sahelregion but beyond. We know that especially in the north there's an explosive situation with terrorist affiliated groups, Salafia groups, that create tension there. So there is a great concern and apprehension that the crisis in Mali contaminates the neighbouring countries, something we take very seriously. You might know that the Secretary-General has been entrusted with presenting a comprehensive Sahel strategy. On the 17th of this month we will hear from the Secretariat where we are standing in the preparation and implementation of that strategy. That leads up to a Sahel summit, not of the Security Council but at the margins of the General Assembly in the GA week, around the 26th of September. In the Security Council everybody agrees that there is a need for comprehensive action including the regional organisations ECOWAS, the AU and the neighbourhood countries.

We will follow up on events in Libya, in Yemen, Guinea-Bissau – all conflicts that have kept us busy over the last months. We will renew mandates of the missions of the United Nations in Sierra Leone and Liberia – two countries that we visited as a Council in June of this year and they deserve our continued and sustained attention. And then last, but not least, we have Iran and the sanctions regime against the government of Iran on our list here. My colleague, the chair of the Iran sanctions committee will report to us on the state of the implementation of the sanctions. That is usually the occasion for the Security Council members to pronounce themselves on the issue of the nuclear programme of Iran – and that will happen also on 20th of this month.

I think I will stop here and give you the opportunity to ask questions if you have any.”


[Q. on Syria]

Wittig:”Your question corrobates what I said before: Syria will continue to be on our mind and you are right, the situation in terms of violent clashes – of first and foremost the Assad security forces – is dramatic. The refugee crisis is dramatic as we heard last week in the Security Council. No, the situation couldn’t be more concerning and dramatic. Yet the Security Council is divided over many issues. We know where the fault lines are. We deplore this. All Council members are not happy about the lack of unity in the Council. It is certainly to the detriment of this body and the United Nations in general that we could not come to an agreement. But it doesn’t make sense to gloss over it.

Many hopes are now pinned to the new Joint Special Representative. He has been very mindful of not raising expectations that he cannot fulfill. I share this concern that he might be overburdened with expectations for a sudden change. There’s unity in the Council on lending support for Lakhdar Brahimi. But he is, and I think that is what we have to understand as dramatic as the situation on the ground is, he is in an exploration phase, where his leverage is, where he can find an opening – and we should give him that time.

Once again I would be the last not to deplore the inaction of the Council. You might know that there were three resolutions on the table. We helped to draft them, we cosponsored them, and some members of the Council vetoed them. And that we deplore – but we have to find a common ground in the future and this is very much on the mind of the Council members.”

[Q. on Syria debate during the GA week]

Wittig:”Leaders will surely discuss this intensely during their bilaterals here and I’m sure also in our high-level meeting that we organize for the 26th in the Security Council. There will be Council members who will speak out on Syria. We don’t want it to be a very acrimonious or contentious meeting. And we don’t expect it to be. But of course many members will feel that they cannot address the Council on issues of the Middle East without being very clear about Syria. As I said, we would support any concerted action in the Council if it would be meaningful and I agree with you the price of your lacking unity has to be paid by the Syrian people and that’s most deplorable.

[Q. on main GA themes]

Wittig: ”The President of the General Assembly gave some some lead questions to the members adressing the General Assembly. This is just a guidance and I think the head of delegations will adress a whole range of issues according to where they hail from. But, I think it’s safe to say, the big issues of the Middle East and that includes Iran, will be very high on the agenda, the situation in Afghanistan, the big African conflicts that I, in part, mentioned: Somalia, Sahel, Congo, Sudan and a host of other issues that I cannot fully enumerate – they will all figure very prominently in the speeches.

[Q. on various Syria meetings outside the Secuirty Council.]

Wittig: “I would say there is a complementarity of formats here. As I said the Security  Council has not been united on crucial questions to deal with the Syrian crisis. But that doesn’t mean that we simply cease to discuss this crisis and I wouldn’t exclude that we in the future can once again be united. You have the Groups of Friends of Syria, yes, some Council members are active in that group, my country belongs to that group, there is the Action Group, the P5, then there are other configurations of a regional nature. I wouldn’t see that necessarily as taking away the importance of the Security Council but hopefully – in the best case – those efforts can come together. But I admit we are not there yet.”

[Q. on refugees]

Wittig: “You mentioned the refugee issue. And I want to tell you that in my country as in other countries, the people feel for the refugees. It’s a big humanitarian crisis. How can we not feel compassion with the victims of that violence? So people in my country ask: "How can we help them?" And the answer is that the priority should be help for the refugees on the ground, be it in Syria itself or be it in neighbouring countries where hundreds of thousands now sought refuge in camps. This is our prioritiy, we have been very generous in contributing financially. We are contributed tens of millions of dollars to the international efforts. So this is the state of play. The refugee crisis concerns us, moves our citizens but we want to help them in the region first and foremost.

[Q. on risk of genozide]

Wittig: “I am speaking in my national capacity now. We have been warning all along, since the outset of that crisis, of an intensification of killing and of ethnic tensions. That was our warning and that's why we felt it so urgent that at the inception of this crisis something meaningful is done. I think the responsibility for this escalation of violence including the ethnic dimension lies squarly with President Assad and his secuirty forces. He’ll have to be held accountable one day for that failure to stop the killing and initiate a meaningful process of transition.

[Q. on German tenure on the Security Council]

Wittig: “Look, I am not frustrated, quite to the contrary, I am full of energy to lead the Council through a successful, productive month of September. This is not a time to draw a balance, this will come later.”

[Q. on Iran sanctions]

Wittig: ”The Security Council adopted four resolutions, imposing sanctions on the Iranian government or affiliated institutions. The European Union imposed additional sanctions. Those are targeted sanctions, very targeted sanctions of individuals and personnel. They are not supposed to hit the average Iranian and so far I think the various bodies have managed to avoid hitting the Iranian population. Those are sanctions as far as the Security Council is concerned, mostly with relevance for the proliferation. And that’s what we took great care of. So my answer is: the sanctions that the Security Council – mostly in great unanimity – decided upon are targeted sanctions to signal to the Iranian government to heed calls and the legal obligations of the Security Council – and not hitting the population.

[Q. on Mali and Somalia]

Wittig: “On Mali, you might remember that the Council in August discussed the plans of ECOWAS in a preliminary way to send out a couple of thousand military personnel to Mali. There was a frank discussion, there were remaining question marks on the size, feasibility and on the consent of the Malian authorities including the military. Now we are reading that information you just cited and I think it's now for the African actors to follow up on this. We don't know yet whether the Malian consent has been officially communicated to the ECOWAS authorities. I think that has to be taken forward now by the actors immediately concerned. It’ll give us an occasion on the 17th to take it up, maybe in a slightly modified form in the light of the news that you just quoted.

On Somalia: we've been hearing Augustine Mahiga last month on the situation in Somalia. It was a rather upbeat briefing with a couple of good news among rather dire facts on the ground. One piece of good news was that AMISOM has made some headway in reconquering territory and also stemming back the influence of Al-Shabab. It's now too early to comment on those recent skirmishes, I would reserve my judgement on that.”

[Q: reform of the Security Council]

Wittig: “Well, I don't want to comment on what participants in the NAM-summit said about the Security Council, I wasn't there, so I cannot really comment on that. Our position is very well known, we are part of a reform-minded group that wants to reform the Security Council but quite frankly speaking – I'm ready to discuss this with you one-on-one – I think this should be a discussion about the work of the Security Council in the coming month, so let's not confound the things here, but I'm more than ready to discuss this with you.”

[Q. on Mali & Middle East debate]

Wittig: “The first was on Mali and on the Middle East on the 17th. Yes, that's the usual routine discussion on the situation in the Middle East that's focusing on the first Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Lebanon. Second question: Mali is part and parcel of the Sahel discussion and third question...”

[Q. on Brahimi]

Wittig: ”…as I said we are in a very preliminary phase of our interaction with Mr. Brahimi. So I am rather hesitant in this point in committing Mr Brahimi; first he has to start his work of exploring opportunities and then we see whether we find a suitable date to hear him in the Council and then we take it from there with what Mr Brahimi thinks fit and what we as a Council decide. But I’m sure the Council is a very transparent council and very little remains secret from you, so you will be probably comprehensively briefed afterwards.”

[Q. on Brahimi]

Wittig: “I agree with you that Mr. Brahimi brings with him an enormous wealth of experience outside and inside of this organization. He has a lot of credentials also concerning the region, mind you that he was one of the decisive architects of the Taif agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war. He has been serving in the conflict resolution of the most contractible issues that this organization has to offer, so he is really a heavy weight and I think we all have to trust him.”

[Q. on Brahimi/Syria]

Wittig: “What we try to tackle is to facilitate a decrease of violence and then try to find the entry point of a meaningful, inclusive transition towards  a more democratic, pluralistic society. That is our aim and that has been our aim in the past. As I said, we are not being very operational right now in the Security Council. It’s our mindset to achieve that eventually – and hopefully Mr. Brahimi can contribute to achieving that aim.”

[Q. on safe havens]

Wittig: “I have not heard anybody in the Security Council advocating a military intervention. Let me say this very clearly, to halt any speculations, we have had a Security Council meeting as you know, an open briefing last week. In the Council very few countries are speaking about a militarization, quite the contrary most people are afraid of militarizing the conflict any further. My own country is always advocating a political solution and warns of further militarization of the conflict. So that is not an issue or a question in the Council.”

[Q. on Turkey]

Wittig: “Turkey is bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. Turkey is looking for ways and means, in a remarkable way, to help the Syrians, they have taken in refugees on Turkish territory. Turkey deserves our gratitude and our support for how they handle this crisis. There is a discussion in Turkey how to protect Syrians against the violence and against attacks from its own government. And that discussion has partly found an echo in the intervention of the Turkish foreign minister. I have nothing to add to his intervention. He speaks for himself.”

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