HomeUnited NationsPress Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters

Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters

Following is the transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference, in New York today:

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.  I wish you all a happy and healthy start to the year.  My message today for 2021 is a message of hope and determination.  Hope, as I believe it is possible to change gear and put the world on the right track.  Determination, as we must all do everything we can to make it happen.

We have just lived through the most difficult year of my lifetime.  Our world was rocked on its axis in 2020.  The COVID-19 virus set off a global crisis that is still unfolding.  This week, we passed the grim milestone of 100 million confirmed cases worldwide.

More than 2 million people have died.  Behind those figures lies immeasurable loss and grief.  Some 500 million jobs have gone; trillions of dollars wiped from global balance sheets.  This human tragedy will reverberate for decades to come.  Families, communities and countries are in mourning.  With some 600,000 new cases every day, the future is still full of uncertainty.  But we must chart a course ahead.

In this spirit, earlier today I shared my 10 priorities for 2021 with the General Assembly.  This must be the year when we put our world back on track towards peace, stability and opportunity for all.  Because it is clear that we have lost our way.

Those whose life chances were already reduced by inequality and injustice, based on income, race, gender and other forms of discrimination, are suffering most from the impact of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, this week’s report by Oxfam found that the money accrued by the world’s 10 richest billionaires during the crisis would be more than enough to prevent anyone from falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic.  It could also pay for COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone, everywhere — with change to spare.  If we fail to reverse these inequality trends, we are sowing dangerous seeds of discord, disunity and division for the future.  The red flags have been apparent for some time.  I, and others, have issued a series of global warnings and alerts.

While the world has made enormous progress on poverty, hunger, health, education and gender equality over the past two decades, it has neglected critical global commons and global public goods:  a healthy planet; a stable climate; universal health coverage; cybersecurity; effective global governance.

The impact of that neglect is now starting to overwhelm and undermine the hard-won progress that we have made.  Hunger and poverty are rising for the first time in decades.  Women’s rights are going into reverse.  Hundreds of millions of children are missing out on education.  Human rights are under assault.  Inequality is at obscene levels.

The global crisis triggered by COVID-19 is not some kind of Black Swan event.  It was predictable and predicted.  It is a symptom of neglect.  A crisis was always coming — but the world was not prepared.  Crisis provokes change.  Our challenge during this pivotal year is to make sure the change goes deep enough.

We must prioritize inequality, geopolitical divisions, widespread violations of human rights, the misuse of technology and the stagnation of the nuclear non‑proliferation regime for urgent, coordinated global action.  We need enhanced diplomacy for peace, and increased efforts for conflict prevention and resolution.

Among the challenges we face, there are three global emergencies that demand immediate attention.  First, the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19.  More than 70 million doses have been administered.  Fewer than 20,000 of these were on the African continent.  A global immunity gap puts everyone at risk.

If the virus continues to circulate in the global South, it will inevitably mutate.  New variants — and we are already seeing it — could be more deadly and more transmissible and threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics, prolonging or risking to prolong the pandemic significantly.

Vaccine nationalism is an economic, as well as a moral failure.  The latest research by the International Chamber of Commerce shows that without support to the developing world, this crisis could cost the global economy up to $9.2 trillion — almost half, including in the wealthiest countries.

That figure is 340 times more than the $27 billion funding gap that we have now in the ACT-Accelerator — our best tool to make vaccines available to everyone, everywhere and speed up a global recovery.

While every country has the right — and the duty — to protect its own people, no country can afford to neglect the rest of the world.  I thank the States and organizations that are supporting COVAX and the ACT-Accelerator and welcome the United States’ announcement that it will join them.  We must close the funding gap; ramp up vaccine production by making licenses widely available and sharing technology; and get doses into the arms of all who need them — starting with health workers and those most at risk around the world.  We need a global vaccination campaign to deal with a global pandemic.

The second area for urgent action is financial support for all countries that need it.  In today’s world, self-interest cannot be separated from solidarity.  The global economy is made up of an intricate web of transactions between developed and developing countries.  While the pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains, developed [economies] will not make a full recovery.

The implications are clear.  For a fast and full recovery, the developed world should not only share vaccines equitably; it should support developing economies by ensuring continued liquidity, including through the issuance of special drawing rights, and expanding debt relief to all developing countries and Middle-income countries in need of it.  We need a quantum leap in financing from all sources, including private creditors to developing countries in the world.  This is not an act of charity.  It is economic common sense.

The third global emergency is the climate crisis.  The recovery from the pandemic must embrace renewable energy and green and resilient infrastructure.  We have an opportunity to end our senseless war on nature and start the healing process.

At five minutes to midnight, Governments are finally starting to listen to scientists, businesses, cities, academia and in particular, the young people who have been global leaders on this issue.  Now, we need to build on that momentum.  The central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Every country, city, financial institution and company needs to adopt credible plans for transitioning to net‑zero emissions by 2050 and take decisive action now to put themselves on the right path.  Countries must review their nationally determined contributions before COP26 in Glasgow to cut global greenhouse‑gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.  We need to raise ambition across the board:  in mitigation, but also in adaptation and finance.  But this in itself will not end our planetary emergency.

This year is packed with different international meetings in which we must:  halt the extinction crisis; approve a post-2020 global biodiversity framework; reduce energy waste and turbo-charge the shift to renewable energy; end overfishing and drastically reduce maritime pollution including plastics; and reduce food waste and dramatically transform the production and consumption of food.

We are at the start of a pivotal year for people and planet.  We must use the recovery from COVID-19 to address global fragilities, strengthen global governance and deliver global public goods.  We have the chance of a reset.  We must grasp it.  Thank you, and I am at your disposal for any question that you might be willing to ask.  Let me just put my glasses and pick the pen.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  I think they are willing to ask.  Valeria, UN Correspondents Association.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary-General, on behalf of UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association], and it’s always a pleasure to see you here and wish you all the best for a safe and healthy 2021.  So, my question is if you had contact with the [Joseph R.] Biden Administration.  And if you do, what are the priorities for this new administration on the United Nations?  And what are your expectations, if you are optimist with this new administration… I don’t know… like, the Security Council can be more effective on some issues and dossiers that have been, like, difficult in the past years?  Thank you so much.

Secretary-General:  Well, I had some initial contacts; there are different other contacts that are being scheduled.  And obviously, the United States is an absolutely central partner of the United Nations.  And so, the announcements of the new relevant foreign policy measures by this administration that are directly linked to the UN are extremely important:  joining the Paris Agreement; joining the World Health Organization (WHO) or not leaving the World Health Organization; what was announced in relation to the Middle East process; and in relation to funding, namely, humanitarian funding for the Palestinian people; what was announced in relation to the UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] and other related decisions, and we could go on.  So, all those things are creating a very positive expectation.  And I can tell you that we will be working closely to fully support these changes of policy that go in line with what has been our continued position in relation to strengthening multilateralism and the understanding that only international cooperation… only coming together is the way to address the challenges of the present world.  And of course, the unity of the Security Council and reduction of dysfunctionalities in the relations among the biggest Powers is also extremely important for us.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Edie Lederer.  If I could ask all of you just to stick to one question so we can get as many of your colleagues on.  Thank you.  Go ahead, Edie.

Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General.  It’s hard to see you from behind that screen.  I have a follow up question on the new Biden Administration.  The US President has made clear that the United States wants to resume a leadership role in the world on global affairs.  How do you see this playing out?  Is this welcome?  And what obstacles do you see that his administration will face, given the “America First” policy of the [Donald J.] Trump Administration?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, it’s normal that the biggest economic and military Power of the world… it’s normal that it wants to have a leadership role.  What I believe is important is [for] that leadership role to be exercised in an environment of international cooperation and in an environment of a multilateral approach to the solution of global challenges.  And as I said, we are ready to cooperate with the United States Administration in this regard.  I think that there were a number of policies in the past that were not in line with this multilateral approach to the solution of global problems.  They are now being corrected by a number of measures announced and others that are expected.  And of course, we welcome those measures, and we are ready to cooperate in their implementation.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  Are there obstacles?  What are you… I mean, in terms of world reaction?

Secretary-General:  I believe that the international community wants a United States that is fully engaged and fully committed, namely, to the values of the United Nations and of the United Nations Charter, be it in development, be it in peace and security, be it in human rights.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  We’re going to go onto the screen.  Alan Bulkaty, RIA Novosti.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General for doing this press conference.  I have a question regarding New START treaty.  You’ve already welcomed the decision by United States and Russia to extend it for five years, and you’ve said that that will provide time for reducing another [inaudible].  So, may I ask you, please, do you think that any other nuclear States, nuclear countries, should join this treaty in these five years?  And could you name them, please?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Now, one thing is the New START Treaty, and I believe the New START Treaty is what it is.  It is a treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States.  It was done in circumstances that are clear, and it is, I think, a very good decision that the two countries decided to renew it.  The other thing is a general perspective of non-proliferation and disarmament.  And in the general perspective of non-proliferation and disarmament, I think there is progress to be made in many areas, and in this progress to be made in many areas, many other countries are relevant and, namely, all the countries that have nuclear weapons today.  I think that we have witnessed, in this twentieth century, a number of positive developments in arms control and in disarmament.  Unfortunately, there was a reversal of this trend in the beginning of this century.  I hope that that reversal would be finished, and I hope that, both in non-proliferation and disarmament, we’ll have enhanced cooperation.  And as I said, there is a particular responsibility for the countries that have nuclear weapons today, all of them.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  James Bays, Al Jazeera?

Question:  Secretary-General, today, the Security Council was discussing Libya.  It’s almost 10 years since the start of the uprising in that country.  Your outgoing acting Special Representative described blatant foreign interferences continuing.  Can you please, today, give us your message to those countries that are still involved militarily in Libya?

Secretary-General:  It is very clear that the Libyans are making a remarkable effort to come together.  I mean, we have seen the Joint Military Committee making an agreement on a ceasefire.  The ceasefire is holding.  We have seen that the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum agreed on a number of key issues from elections to the nature of a transitional governance entity to the criteria to form that transition governance entity, and we see progress in several aspects of the economy and the economic reform.  So, the Libyans are doing their part.  It’s essential that all the others that are involved in the Libyan crisis also do their part.  And one thing that is crucial and my strong appeal is that all foreign troops and all foreign mercenaries should withdraw from Libya.  There was a first-time framework that has been exhausted.  There is the intention of the Libyans to have a second time frame.  I hope that this one will be respected.  It’s essential that all foreign troops and all foreign mercenaries move first to Benghazi and to Tripoli, and from there, move back and leave the Libyans alone, because the Libyans have already proven that, left alone, they are able to address their problems.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Frank Ucciardo and then Célhia.

Question:  Secretary-General, it’s great to see you.  I wish you a healthy and happy year.  Thank you for this press conference.  I want to talk to you about conflict resolution and prevention and… excuse me, and in about a month… I guess about two months, 15 March, it will be another grim anniversary for Syria and the conflict there.  Where do you see this going this year and in the future it’s… particularly considering the intractability of at least two members of the P5 on the Council that seem to be blocking any kind of UN progress on this issue?

Secretary-General:  I think, when one sees the situation in Syria, there is a positive thing that the ceasefire is more or less holding… it’s not perfect… more or less holding, but the truth is that we are in a kind of a standstill.  I mean, you have an area controlled by the Government with the support of the Russian Federation and of Iran.  You have an area in which Turkish forces are present.  You have an area in which the US and eventually other countries are supporting namely the YPG.  And this created a kind of a standstill.  Now, we need to move out of the standstill, and the only way to move out of the standstill is for the Syrians to come together.  The Syrians should look at the example of Libya.  The Libyans are starting to seriously come together.  And my appeal to the Syrian Government, to the Syrian opposition and to the other forces involved in Syria is to understand that they need to come together, because that will be the only way to diminish the foreign influence in Syria.  There is the restart of the Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva.  I hope it will move forward, but it’s not enough.  I think the Syrians need to come together and seriously discuss the future, the future in relation to reconciliation, the future in relation to elections, the future in relation to the constitutional framework of the country, human rights and all the other dimensions for Syria to become again a normal country.  And I sincerely hope that Syrians understand that they need to move in that direction.  The UN will do everything possible to support and facilitate it, and I hope that all those other countries that are involved in the Syrian crisis will understand that, if we can have a solution, that is to the benefit of everybody.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Célhia de Lavaréne.  Célhia?

QuestionMonsieur le Secrétaire général, parmi les Objectifs du Millénaire, la pauvreté était en première ligne à l’époque et devait avoir reculé en 2015.  En 2021, et pas seulement à cause du COVID-19, la pauvreté a gagné du terrain un peu partout dans le monde, y compris dans les pays développés.  Comment pensez-vous parvenir à convaincre les pays de réduire la pauvreté ?

Secretary-GeneralRéduire la pauvreté, réduire la faim, réduire les inégalités doit être un aspect central d’une récupération inclusive de nos économies.  On est en train de dépenser – je ne sais pas comment on dit en français « trillions », je crois que c’est « mille milliards » – des milliers de milliards de dollars et de toutes les monnaies, pour la réponse au COVID et la récupération des économies.  On peut le faire de deux façons.  La première c’est en aggravant les inégalités, et ça veut dire aussi en aggravant la pauvreté et en aggravant la faim et en aggravant tous les autres malaises de notre monde.  Ou on peut profiter de cette mobilisation gigantesque de fonds et utiliser ces fonds pour obtenir deux choses essentielles : un monde plus équitable d’un côté, des pays avec des sociétés plus équitables, des réductions des inégalités et des réductions de la pauvreté.  Et en même temps une réconciliation avec la nature, dans une perspective de récupération verte, capable d’adresser le défi du changement climatique, le défi de la perte de biodiversité, tous les autres défis qui viennent de cette guerre qu’on a menée contre la nature.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  We’ll go back to the screen.  Philippe Rater, AFP.  Philippe?

QuestionMerci Stéphane.  Bonjour M. Guterres.  Il y a une impasse actuellement sur l’accord nucléaire avec l’Iran.  Téhéran attend que Washington fasse le premier pas et Washington attend que Téhéran fasse le premier pas.  Est-ce que vous envisagez une médiation pour trouver une solution ?  Comment est-ce que vous voyez une issue à ce problème ?  Merci.

Secretary-GeneralNous réaffirmons que le JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) – je ne sais pas quelles sont les… comment mettre les lettres en français.  Mais nous considérons que le JCPOA a été une grande victoire diplomatique et un élément essentiel pour la paix et la stabilisation du Golfe, et nous regrettons que l’Accord ait été remis en question.  A notre avis, c’est évident qu’il y a des difficultés et des obstacles.  C’est évident qu’il y a une complexité accrue parce que les Etats-Unis sont sortis, ont pris des mesures additionnelles de rétaliation, comme vous savez.  En même temps, l’Iran a pris quelques mesures en matière de développement de ses capacités nucléaires et il y a tout un travail à faire.  Bon.  Je ne m’attends pas à une solution immédiate, mais je crois que tout le monde, tous ceux qui ont souscrit au JCPOA et les autres forces intéressées doivent travailler ensemble pour réduire les incertitudes, pour adresser les difficultés et les obstacles et pour progressivement faire que les choses s’acheminent vers une situation où l’on puisse avoir un accord qui est, à mon avis, essentiel, pour la paix et la stabilité du Golfe et du monde entier.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Abdelhamid Siyam.  We’ll stay on screen.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary-General, and happy New Year, and good luck with your bid for a second term.  Mr. Secretary-General, yesterday, there was a high-level meeting on Palestine at the Security Council.  The three things came across by all the speakers except the representative of Israel.  The first point, they were all committed to the two-State solution.  They all called for halting of all settlement activities, and they all called for activating the Quartet.  How do you envision the situation this year?  Can you take some initiatives?  Is there something that the Palestinians can expect?  How long they going to be hearing the same language again and again and again about the two‑State solution?  And their land is being taken from their… themself… from them every single day.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.

Secretary-General:  I think we were completely locked down in a situation in which there was no progress visible.  I think that has changed.  I think there are reasons to hope.  We have tried for a long time to make the Quartet meet, but we never had the agreement of all the members for that to be possible.  And we have tried to have inclusive other formulas — possible of an enlarged Quartet with several other important players in the region, and unfortunately, this has not been possible until now.  I think it became possible now.  And you can count on us to explore all forms of initiative from the United Nations in order to facilitate the resumption of a true peace process and a true peace process that, in our opinion, can only be successful if it is based on the two-State solution and if it is based on all the international agreements that already exist in this regard.  And we hope that both the elections in Palestine, in the State of Palestine, and the elections in Israel will also contribute to create a positive environment for the future of the peace process in the Palestinian Israeli situation and for the rights of the Palestinian people, namely, its right to self-determination and its right to independence, to be fully respected.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Michelle Nichols, Reuters.  Michelle?

Secretary-General:  Always, of course, with two States that we hope will live in peace and security with security guaranteed for both of them.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Michelle?

Question:  Hello, Sec… hi, Secretary-General.  Michelle from Reuters.  A question for you on US China relations.  The incoming US Ambassador said yesterday that China is driving an authoritarian agenda at the United Nations.  Do you believe that China is driving an authoritarian agenda at the UN?

Secretary-General:  Well, in relation to the United Nations, I can guarantee that we are very strongly committed to make sure that the UN is a beacon of all the values related to peace, security, development and human rights.  But, what, for me, is important is to say that I hope we will see a reset in the relations between the United States and China with different dimensions.  It is clear that, in human rights, there are two completely different views, and it is clear that, in human rights, there is no scope for an agreement or a common vision.  There is an area where I believe there is a growing convergence of interests, and my appeal is for that area to be pursued by the two sides together with the whole of the international community, and that area is climate action.  I think there are reasons to hope that the two countries will be strongly involved in the preparation of the COP26 and in moving to carbon neutrality in the quickest possible way and in having forms of mobilization, of capacities and resources that will lead to a positive outcome.  And then there is an area in which we might have competition or cooperation, which is more complex.  It’s trade and technology.  And my appeal is for a serious negotiation on trade and technology in order to make sure that it is possible to preserve one global economy, one global Internet, cybersecurity and, at the same time, to have all that in support of the values that are our common values, of justice, of equality, of international cooperation, and also of the respect of human rights.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Betul, and then we’ll go to Iftikhar.  Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  Betul Yuruk, Turkish news agency Anadolu.  Following your phone conversation with the Turkish Cypriot leader a few days ago and your recent report to the Security Council and your intention to bring the two parties together, when and where are you planning to convene a meeting among those two leaders?  And a follow up on the same issue, the newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader says that “we deserve our own state”.  Is the UN open to new ideas, or you still support a federally unified Cyprus?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, it is my intention to convene early March a meeting of the 5+1, which means United Nations together with the two communities in Cyprus and together with the guarantors — means Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.  And that meeting, we decided it will be an informal meeting without preconditions to allow for the parties, and there is this change, as know, in the administration of northern Cyprus, so it is important that there is a chance for people to, frankly, discuss among themselves how they see the future and how they see things moving forward. Now, I have a mandate for the Security Council for UN involvement in relation to the negotiations, and that mandate refers explicitly the bi-zonal, bi-community solution, as you know.  Obviously, this does not… is not an impediment, for in the meeting that we are convening every… of the interlocutors to present the positions that they will present.  And I am always ready to go to the Security Council, and if there is an agreement of the parties in enlarging the scope of negotiations, to be the interpreter to have a common agreement in this regard.  But as I said, the first step is to bring them together, to listen to them, and to see the result of that discussion.  And the fact that I stick to the mandate I received doesn’t mean that I’m not open to listen to everybody and to take the conclusions of that discussion, based on whatever the parties can come to a common view about the future.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  We’ll go to the screen.  Iftikhar Ali, Associated Press of Pakistan.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Mr. Secretary-General, best wishes for your success in 2021.  Sir, while you expressed strong hope in your opening statement for peace and stability in the world, tensions between nuclear armed India and Pakistan stemming from… as they do, from the dispute over Kashmir, where tensions are now at an all-time high.  In your landmark statement of 8 August 2019, you called for a resolution of the dispute based on UN resolution and the Charter, but there is no movement in that direction.  Meanwhile, human rights abuses in Indian occupied Kashmir, across the Line of Control, violations have continued unabated since India ended the special status of the disputed territory.  Sir, your thoughts on this deteriorating situation.

Secretary-General:  Well, what I said in the statement you mentioned is, unfortunately, the same that I can say today.  I mean, I do believe that it is absolutely essential to have a de-escalation of the situation, namely in the Line of [Control].  I think it’s absolutely essential for the two countries to be able to come together and seriously discuss their problems, and I think it’s essential that human rights are fully respected in all territories that you mentioned.  Now, things have not moved in the right direction.  Our good offices are always available, and we will insist within it of finding peaceful solutions for problems that have no military solution.  It is clear, when seeing Pakistan and India, any military confrontation between the two would be a disaster of unmitigated proportions for both countries and for the whole world.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Margaret Besheer, Voice of America.  Margaret?

Question:  Hi, Secretary-General.  I would like to follow up on Michelle’s question about China.  You said in your answer that you’re strongly committed to the United Nations being a beacon of human rights.  So, following on to that, the US outgoing Administration on its last day designated the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide against the Uyghurs.  The new Administration is looking to keep that designation.  I’m wondering, do you agree with that?  And if not, could you explain?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Genocide is a technical expression with technical implications.  It’s not a matter for me to comment on that.  It’s a matter for the organization competent intergovernmental bodies and for the competent courts or tribunals to determine.  What is important is to say… and I reaffirm… the need for human rights to be respected, also in Xinjiang, and for the needs for policies to be in place that fully respect the identity of the communities there… religious, cultural identity… and simultaneously give the conditions for each community to feel that they are part of the nation as a whole.  That is our position; it is maintained.  And we… as you also know, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has asked to visit the territory.  That request was fully supported by me.  Negotiations are taking place.  There is a perspective of a technical mission, and I hope that all these will move forward.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Yoshita Singh, Press Trust of India.  Yoshita?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  India is assisting countries in the South Asian neighbourhood and beyond with COVID-19 vaccines.  It has airlifted 6 million doses to nine countries and also plans to supply COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX.  Your thoughts on this initiative by India to help countries around the world in this fight against the global pandemic?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, I would like to say how much we count on India.  I mean, India has one of the most advanced pharmaceutical industries.  India played a very important role in the production of generics for use that was outside… a very important element of democratization of access to medicines all over the world.  I appealed once again today for licenses to be made available in order for companies around the world to be able to produce some of the vaccines that already exist.  I know that, in India, there is a production, a very high level of production, both of Indian-developed vaccines, and I think there is a perspective, very important perspective, of also others.  And we are in contact with Indian institutions for that.  And we strongly hope that India will have all the instruments that are necessary to play a major role in making sure that a global vaccination campaign becomes possible.  I think that the production capacity of India is one of the best assets the world has today, and I hope the world understands that it must be fully used.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  We’ll stay on the screen, and then we’ll come back to the room.  Rick Gladstone, New York Times.  Rick?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  Happy New Year to you.  I had a question I wanted to solicit your thoughts on, when you envision a return to what passes for normalcy at the United Nations Headquarters.  When do you see that happening?  And I’d like to get your view on whether you feel that there… that the person-to-person diplomacy that is inherent to the United Nations campus has now been permanently affected even after you return, or you and your staff return, to full-time there.

Secretary-General:  Well, I believe that nothing will be exactly as before.  I think we also have learned the potential news of digital capacities for many, many purposes.  And, so, we will not be exactly as we were in the past, but I would say to have a normal environment for diplomatic action means, of course, the possibility of physical contact among people and, of course, a presence of many more members of staff and diplomats within the premises of the UN.  My hope is that if the vaccination campaigns become really global and if they are successful and if new mutations do not undermine the efforts that are being made, my hope is that things will improve substantially during the summer and that we’ll have positive developments, progressive positive developments.  But, of course, there is a level of uncertainty that I don’t think anybody can answer.  I’m particularly worried with the risk… if there is not adequate vaccination in the global south, the risk of the… the more the virus spreads, the biggest risk of mutations, and mutations can, as we have already seen, increase the easiness of transmitting the virus.  It can increase the mortality.  And there is now an investigation being made, as you know, in relation to, namely, the South African variety, whether or not it increases the resistance of the virus to vaccines.  So, I mean, the idea that we can vaccinate half of the world and let the other half of the world not vaccinated is an idea that would be a disaster, because the risk of the half vaccinated all of a sudden seeing their vaccines no longer effective is there.  So, we absolutely must have a global vaccination campaign.  And if that happens and there are conditions to do so, it’s possible, if that happens, I sincerely hope that, from the summer onwards, we will progressively return to normality.  If this doesn’t move as quickly as we would like and if more obstacles come, I mean, there are levels of uncertainty that nobody can predict now.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  James…?

Question:  All right.  But are you envisioning a normal General Assembly in September then?  It sounds like you’re not.

Secretary-General:  I think it will be difficult to have a normal General Assembly.  I think that, from the summer onward, it will be possible to have progressively a more open way to… but to have a full-fledged General Assembly like in the past in September seems to be difficult to foresee.  Probably, we can have something better or more advanced than the last one, but I don’t think we will have… you will be in a condition to, all of a sudden, have thousands and thousands of people going around from all parts of the world.  Probably, we will not be in that situation in September.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Back in the room, James Reinl in the back.

Question:  Yeah, thank you so much for the briefing, Secretary-General.  You’ve spoken a lot in the past to us about free speech, hate speech, and online social networks.  It’s a complicated area, for sure, but do you think that Twitter made the right move when it closed down the account of Donald Trump?

Secretary-General:  Well, I think that the question is not the right question, if I may.  The right question is, should be a company, the entity, that has the power decision on these issues, or should we create mechanism in which there is a regulatory framework with rules that allow for that to be done in line with law?  And my clear answer is the second.  I mean, I do not think that we can live in a world where too much power is given to a reduced number of companies, and I must say that I’m particularly worried with the power that they already have.  I mean, the volume of information that is being gathered about each one of us, the lack of control we have about our own… the data related to ourselves, the fact that that data can be used not only for commercial purposes to sell to advertising companies or to… but also to change our behaviour, and the risks of that to be used also from a political point of view for the control of citizens in countries, all this is something that I believe requires a serious discussion.  And one of the objectives of our road map for digital cooperation is exactly to put these things on the table.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Back on the screen, Pam Falk, CBS News.  Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Secretary-General, for the briefing.  It’s very important to us.  You said that the global pandemic or the global crisis related to COVID-19 was predictable and predicted.  What… do you think it was on this scale, that people knew it would come?  And why did people… why did world leaders and UN agencies not know enough to warn everybody, or who’s to blame?  And on that front, does the… do UN agencies do any contact tracing of either diplomats or staff at Headquarters or around the world?  Thanks so much.

Secretary-General:  Sorry.  I didn’t understand all the question.

Spokesman:  The last question was about diplomats and staff getting…

Secretary-General:  No, no, that one I understood.  The first question.

Spokesman:  Who is to blame…

Question:  The first question is just what… [cross talk] How is it… [cross talk]

Secretary-General:  Well, it is clear that… first of all, we do not have a multilateral system with teeth in this regard.  The World Health Organization has the right to inform, to propose, to advise, but there’s no enforcing capacity.  So, there is a structural problem that I hope will be on the table of the panel that is looking for the future and we have already a first report that, I think, underlined also the situation.  We need to strengthen our institutional framework of governance.  And then there is a problem in the absence of these multilateral, strong governance institutions, every country went by himself or by itself, and we had different strategies, different policies.  And the virus benefited from the lack of coordination, the lack of solidarity.  But in addition to the second point, I’d like to tell you that we keep a very… I receive every morning a report in relation to the cases in the UN system, in the whole of the UN system, Headquarters and field, agencies, programmes, peacekeeping operations, etc.  Everything is being followed very closely.  There is a systematic approach to testing, tracing and quarantine.  And I have to say I’m particularly proud that we were able to avoid the UN Headquarters in New York to become a spreading centre during all this period.  I mean, there was no transmission in the UN Headquarters, and I’m particularly happy with that fact.  But in other parts of the world, it’s, of course, more difficult, namely peacekeeping operations, as you can imagine.  But there is a permanent control, a permanent policy of systematic testing, tracing and quarantine.  And as far as I know, it’s being applied.  We have systems of monitoring that are in place.  And as I mentioned, I receive every day a report on the situation of every agency and every operation around the world, country by country, in relation to the number of cases, in relation to the number of deaths, in relation to the risks of spreading and, I mean… so, we are doing that control in the most possible effective way.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Mr. Sato, NHK?

Secretary-General:  Sorry, she’s…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry, did you…

Question:  Just a clarification:  Are you calling for the WHO to have more power?

Secretary-General:  I think we need a stronger governance system.  I leave to the panel that is studying it the concrete proposals on how to do it, but I’m not going to replace the panel that is studying it.  But my belief is that we need to strengthen our governance system.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Mr. Sato, Mr. Sato, NHK.

Question:  Good afternoon, Secretary-General.  My question is about nuclear disarmament, which you touched on in the morning session of the General Assembly.  Do you have a will to visit Hiroshima this summer?

Secretary-General:  I have that intention, and I hope that the COVID situation will allow me.  I wanted to go to Hiroshima in the… I mean in the… remembering session last year, because last year was particularly important.  I was in Nagasaki the year before.  I still strongly hope to be able to go to Hiroshima this year, and I really want to do it.  So, I hope that the COVID situation will allow me to do so.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Elena Lentza from Lusa.  Elena?

Question:  Hello.  Good afternoon.  Thank you so much.  I’ll ask the question in English for the colleagues to understand.  In your remarks to the General Assembly this morning, you said that terrorism in places like Mozambique is a major concern, and we need a more united Security Council, and we need a peace enforcement and counter-terrorism operation mandate for Africa in the Security Council.  So, I wanted to ask, how do you envision this being implemented to help countries like Mozambique?

Secretary-General:  Well, we have several African forces operating at the present moment in Africa, in counter-terrorism operations and peace enforcing operations.  We have the G5 Sahel.  You have the multi-country force in the Lake Chad with the Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Nigeria.  You have AMISOM (African Union Mission) in Somalia.  And I believe that these kind of forces… and eventually, if tomorrow Africans decide to have some form of cooperation, for instance, among SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, in relation to the threat of terrorism in Southern Africa, I’m a strong believer that African forces in peace enforcing operations — because these are not peacekeeping situations, they are peace enforcing operations, with a strong counter-terrorism component — that those African forces should be able to act with a strong mandate, Chapter 7 of the Security Council, and with predictable funding, namely the assessed contributions.  If you look at the G5 Sahel, the G5 Sahel or even worse, in the Lake Chad, there is no mandate under Chapter 7, and there is funding based on voluntary contributions, which creates a level of uncertainty that doesn’t allow to have an effective security platform to deal with terrorist problems in these areas.  Having said so, I also said in my intervention that it’s not only the question of the security capacity, it’s also the question of the capacity to address the economic, the climatic, and the social root causes that facilitate the work of terrorist organizations.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Benno Schwinghammer, German Press Agency?

Question:  Thank you so much, Secretary-General, for doing this press conference.  Also, I apologize that my camera is not working today.  My question is about the news that you put your Technology Envoy, Mr. [Fabrizio] Hochschild, on leave as he’s facing harassment allegations.  Could you comment on this case?  Also, is it the first time allegations like this were made against Mr. Hochschild?

Secretary-General:  I only took notice of this, I think, the day before yesterday, and there are allegations, indeed.  The allegations are being investigated, and that’s the right thing to do, and we decided what is the precautionary measure that makes sense in this sense, which is that our envoy should be on leave.  So, I hope that the investigation will be quickly conducted.  We have now a much more powerful system of investigation of all forms of harassment, and I hope that, based on conclusions, a due process will follow.  But one thing I can guarantee is that there is zero tolerance, and, from my perspective, there will always be zero tolerance in relation to sexual harassment or other forms of harassment.  I don’t know yet exactly what is the nature of the accusations that were made.  This is a process that it belongs to our investigation department to deal with.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  One last question from Sylviane Zehil, L’Orient-Le Jour; Sylviane?

QuestionBonjour Monsieur le Secrétaire général.  Merci.  Ma question est au sujet du désarmement du Hezbollah au Liban.  Selon le Président Macron, Joe Biden et l’administration américaine doivent adopter une attitude plus réaliste à l’égard du Hezbollah pour aider à mettre fin à l’impasse politique et économique au Liban.  La France considère que la question des armes du Hezbollah doit pour l’instant être mise au second plan, l’urgence étant de sortir le Liban de la faillite économique, tandis que Washington en fait l’axe principal.  Vous venez de dire que les Etats-Unis étaient un partenaire central des Nations Unies.  Dans ce contexte, pensez-vous, comme le Président Macron, que les Nations Unies doivent montrer plus de souplesse vis-à-vis des armes du Hezbollah, faisant fi des différentes résolutions, notamment de 1559 et 1701 sur ce plan ?  Et quand pensez-vous nommer, Monsieur le Secrétaire général, le remplaçant de Ján Kubiš, qui prend ses fonctions très prochainement pour la Libye.  Merci beaucoup.

Secretary-GeneralJ’espère que ce remplacement soit rapide.  Vous savez que sa nomination pour la Libye est venue dans des circonstances inattendues, mais on va travailler rapidement dans cette direction.  Je crois qu’il faut savoir quels sont les principes, et les principes sont clairs.  Dans un État, on doit avoir un monopole de l’utilisation de la force armée par l’État lui-même.  Ça, c’est un principe essentiel.  Et ça sera toujours très difficile pour un État d’être fonctionnel s’il y a à l’intérieur de l’État, plusieurs forces armées, et par l’unité qui est nécessaire.  Ce principe est clair.  Et on dit ça et dans la réalité de la situation, nous avons toujours eu une approche qui est une approche en simultané, basée sur le principe et travaillant pour le principe, mais avec la capacité et le pragmatisme nécessaires pour conduire les négociations et les conversations, les mesures de la façon qui puisse le mieux contribuer pour que le Liban puisse adresser ses problèmes.  Et puisse vaincre non-seulement la crise économique, mais aussi réaliser toutes les réformes qui sont nécessaires pour le succès du pays.  Et naturellement, que dans le cadre de ces réformes, une question centrale, c’est naturellement la réforme du système de sécurité et le monopole par l’État de l’exercice de la force, au Liban, comme partout dans le monde.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.  Merci beaucoup.  I’m sorry for those who did not get to ask a question, but we will hopefully see the Secretary-General back here soon.  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.


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