October 17, 2007
Kofi Annan

Ipek Cem's inaugural guest this year is Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1997-2007. They met in Paris and discussed a wide range of issues including reform of the United Nations, the problems of the Middle East, global warming and humanitarian aid.

Ipek Cem: My guest today really needs no introduction; he is Kofi Annan, former General Secretary of the UN, and Nobel Prize winner. Welcome to Global Leaders.


Kofi Annan: Thank you very much, I am happy to be here with you.


Ipek Cem: It hasn't even been one year since you were at the helm of the UN – I know you are very busy with some new developments...


Kofi Annan: Yes.


Ipek Cem: ... even though you took some time off  as a busy person like you can. What are some of the new initiatives that you are spending your time on?


Kofi Annan: I am working on global humanitarian initiatives, with the cooperation of the Swiss Government, where we want to set up a forum that will discuss major humanitarian issues. And, as a first theme, we intend to take up the impact of the environment on the individual and communities, and we have seen what has happened around the world, even this year with floods and droughts in certain places, and the projections are that this is going to continue, because of the global warming, and we are also going to see movements of people, whom one could reasonably describe as "environmental migrants", because when the country is under water stress, or there are droughts and there is not enough food and enough jobs, they will move. We need to plan ahead, and think ahead and take measures that will reduce the risks and help deal with some of these in a much more rational manner, rather than wait till it's on top of us, and then we all rush there in a crisis mode, with lots of staff, cameras and all this, to try and help.


Ipek Cem: We know that the Arctic cap is really melting away much, much faster than anticipated...


Kofi Annan: That is correct.


Ipek Cem: ... by even scientists, and this is posing many different international questions, such as oil and gas exploration: Who has rights over the Arctic?


Kofi Annan: Right.


Ipek Cem: What are your opinions on this? Should it be a power play?


Kofi Annan: That's a very good question. Of course today the key instrument is the law of the sea, the UN law of the sea which applies to such issues. The US, of course did not... has not accepted the law of the sea, even though, in principle, it applies, the requirements of the law of the sea. And most of those who are rushing to the Arctic to stake claim tell us they are basing their claims on the application of the law of the sea. But we need to be careful that this scramble for resources doesn't lead to further tensions in the world. Some have suggested that ideally there must be some international body that would treat areas like the Arctic as a global commerce, a bit like the way we treat the sea. It doesn't belong to any particular country, but to all of us, but I'm not sure some of the powerful are ready for that sort of solution.


Ipek Cem: Do you feel that the United Nations... I know that climate change is now one of the major topics... could play an increasing role in that?


Kofi Annan: I think it could if the member states are determined to do it, because the member states are the ones who decide -  the UN can be as powerful as the member states want it to be. And so I would wish that they would want to really come together and discuss the issues like that and come to a common agreement... even on the climate. You notice not everyone signed on to Kyoto, and now we are back and discussing how we deal with global warming. The interesting thing is, everybody focuses on the global warming as an environmental issue, as something outside our daily lives. But actually the impact of global warming is with us today. Communities are suffering. Communities in poor countries are the ones paying the price, they are not the ones who are polluting, and we need to help them adapt. And some little countries are doing extremely well, for example, the Maldives. I visited the Maldives a week after the tsunami. The highest point in the country is 1.8 metres, and some of the islands were washed away... but the capital, which was a larger island with a protective embankment survived.  So what the Government has decided to do is to move the population and concentrate them on big islands, and build a wall protecting these islands. That is a sensible approach, because otherwise they may go through this sea... wave surges... every year or so.  But now, what they are doing is sustainable, and it will not impact... disasters will not have the same impact on the lives of the people. And we have an obligation to help these poor countries go through their adaptation.


Ipek Cem: When you were at the UN, two of the most prominent goals were... one of them was the millennium development goals, and the other one was reforming the UN. And you know there is always much criticism of the UN, and other multination organisations, saying they are not living up to their goals. Have... To what degree do you feel you have reformed the UN? What remains to be done for it to become a more effective international body?


Kofi Annan: I think we did go through quite a bit of reform, and I think we have achieved quite a lot. As I discussed earlier, I was disappointed we couldn't reform the Security Council. But in some of the other areas, how the UN agencies work together at the country level, where they all now share common premises, and pool their efforts, where on issues of management and transparency we've made progress... we haven't resolved all the problems. But reform is a process, and not an event. I recall when I started with reform, it was not even six weeks when an article appeared complaining that I had not reformed the UN. I have... I usually meet with the Security Council once a month to have lunch, and have informal discussions. The day the article appeared, I was going to meet the Security Council for lunch.  So the first thing I did was to apologise to them for failing to reform the UN in six weeks flat. And the Russian Ambassador – who is now the Foreign Minister, Lavrov, Sergey Lavrov  - said, "Mr Secretary General, what are you complaining about? You've had more time than God.". So I said, "You are right. But God had one unique advantage: he worked alone, without the Security Council, without the General Assembly, and above all from a clean canvas."


Ipek Cem: From this comment, I'm realising more and more reforming the UN is also linked with reforming the Security Council of the UN which you have mentioned... is pretty much not reflecting the times, and the power of the times. In what way... which countries are missing? How could it be reformed?


Kofi Annan: Now I think the proposal I put before the member states was that we should increase the membership of the UN, of the Security Council.


Ipek Cem: By numbers, you mean?


Kofi Annan: Yeah. By numbers. And now we have 15 members, and I think we could go to 25 members. So you increase it by ten, which would mean that you create additional six permanent seats, but without vetoes, and four additional non-permanent seats. And on the permanent seats, two will go to Asia, two was to go to...


Ipek Cem: Africa.


Kofi Annan: Africa, and then Latin America, one, and additional one for Europe.  And then, I think if you have that sort of a distribution, big countries in Asia could be represented. More than half... a third of humanity lives in that part of the world, if not half. You have a continent of 53 countries in Africa which are not represented in a permanent manner. You have Latin America that is not represented in a permanent... so, it is really not... neither representative, nor democratic. And we as a UN go around lecturing people about democracy and representation, but we are not applying it to ourselves. And member states believe – many member states believe - that the power structure, and the power base of the UN is so small... they believe that it is narrowly concentrated in the hands of five permanent members.


Ipek Cem: So do you think that's causing a mistrust by some of the UN processes...?


Kofi Annan: There is "Yes", there is no doubt there is some mistrust, and also a sense that some big powers manipulate the processes for national interest.


Ipek Cem: When you are talking about manipulating processes, we know that in 2003, when the United States started the operation in Iraq without a UN mandate, this was considered to be one of the failures of the UN. How does that power structure work, with the US being as hard pressing as they are on their foreign policy initiatives, and the UN trying to be a voice for the world, so to speak?


Kofi Annan: Yes... that's interesting. Let's look at how the decisions were taken in 2003. In 2003, the United States, and its allies in the coalition, did not get the support of the Security Council. To get a resolution approved, you needed nine votes.  They could not get those nine votes. Some will say it was because France had threatened to veto. It was not that. Votes were not there. They could not even get their neighbours, Mexico and Chile, to support them. And for France to say, "I will use a veto", is a normal part of the democratic process. The US does it. Other countries do it. And so, in my judgement, the UN acted the way it should have by not approving the war. The fact that the US went outside the UN process and declared war was unfortunate, but I think it reflects more on the US than on the UN.


Ipek Cem: When you look at the situation, four years after, and it's still very far from being resolved... sectarian violence, Al-Qaeda, all the works... As a leader, a world leader who has held many positions of power: are you disgusted? Are you disturbed? Are you hopeful?... that it can be resolved?


Kofi Annan: I am very worried... I am very worried, not just about Iraq, but about the Middle East, because the situation in Iraq has an impact on the whole region. In fact I dare say, on the whole world. And if we do not find a way of resolving these things, and containing the conflict within Iraq, and resolving it, if it were to spread to the region it would be extremely dangerous. And, of course now, one is hearing very aggressive and threatening language against... in relation to the Iranian conflict. And I hope no one is thinking in terms of use of force. The region is in a very dangerous and fragile state. We don't need another war in the region.  They should focus on working with the... through the Atomic Agency, and the Security Council to resolve this issue. The dialogue must continue. We are fortunate enough to have a wonderful Executive Director of the Atomic Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei , who is doing a serious work, and needs the support of the international community. He is competent. He is wise. He is reflective. And he is doing what he is there to do, and we should all work with him.


Ipek Cem: When you look at the UN policy towards Iraq, over the years sanctions against Iraq – Oil for food programme – many would argue that this has caused a nation to cripple down, and has not helped the Iraqis, and is also linked with some of the problems currently occurring within the country. Looking back, do you see this programme as flawed?


Kofi Annan: I think... obviously these were the decisions by the Security Council, and we all admit sanctions is a blunt instrument, and in the case of Iraq,  I admit that it had impact on innocent civilians. And normally when you are going to have those sort of sanctions, now people have realised and they talk of "smart sanctions"  trying to target the individuals whose behaviour you want to change. But in the mean time, a whole society has been impacted upon, and it is not... I suspect, even those who pushed for sanctions against Iraq initially probably did not think it will last for more than six months to a year. You know. And that sort of assumption is valid if you are working with a democracy. In a democracy, people will vote out the leader who has brought that sort of hardship on them.  But in the situation of Iraq, of Saddam days, how would that sort of sanction bring about a change if the leader was determined to hang on, which was the case. And so I think lessons have been learned, and even Council members are beginning to reconsider the application of sanctions, and how they applied.


Ipek Cem: Now, like you mentioned, eyes are also turned on Iran for a... for a variety of reasons, and UN sanctions against Iran are also on the table, being talked about. What is you view on whether they would be an appropriate means or not?


Kofi Annan: Well, we haven't seen fully the nature of the sanctions, but regardless of what sanctions that are being discussed, I think what is important is that we search for a peaceful solution, and that the dialogue continues. And we work as hard, and as fast as possible to find a solution that would be mutually satisfactory. It's a difficult issue, and as I said, we should work with the Atomic Agency under the leadership of ElBaradei and the Council. Whether the Council comes up with new sanctions at the end of November, or December, is something that we have to wait and see, but I have always urged the Iranians, who have maintained that their programme is a peaceful one, is to find a way of convincing the world that it is peaceful by opening up their programmes to inspection, and if need be flood the place with inspectors. Let them go everywhere, and remove the doubt that exists in the minds of some.  That it is a peaceful programme.


Ipek Cem: In Turkey, one of the dossiers you held had to do with Cyprus. And there was the "Annan plan" that was really accepted by the Turkish part of the island, and then rejected by the Greek Cypriots. Again, with hindsight, looking at the Cyprus issue, looking at Turkey vis-à-vis the European Union, and the Greek Cypriots becoming part of Europe, do you feel that that issue is left now kind of left hanging?


Kofi Annan: I would have preferred to have seen it resolved at the time of the referendum.


Ipek Cem: Yes.


Kofi Annan: It was unfortunate that it was not resolved, and a divided Cyprus joined the European Union, making the issue much more complicated, but I don't think we should give up. I think that we should continue to work on it, and Turkey itself is looking at its own membership, but we should try and work to resolve the Cyprus issue as quickly as possible, but that would also require cooperation from Nicosia, and from the European Union members. But it I a problem that should not b left hanging for long.


Ipek Cem: Do you feel that it's still on the agenda of the UN?


Kofi Annan: It should be. It should be.


Ipek Cem: You mentioned the Middle East and it's a hotbed for conflicts and the Palestinian / Israeli conflict, the situation in Lebanon, just to name a few after Iraq. Do you feel that there could be a different, more cohesive approach by Western states, or by the UN to address these issues in a concurrent manner? Would that be valuable?


Kofi Annan: Let me say that we need to look at these problems in this totality. We cannot approach it piecemeal, even if we take it in its totality and have a strategy to decide which one we tackle first. But they are all inter-linked, and we cannot deal with them in isolation. And so I would agree with the implication in your question that it should be handled comprehensively, and we should see that we have a problem in the region, and that it needs to be resolved and not that we are going to focus on one issue at the expense of the others. If we do have a plan for tackling the totality of the issues and we proceed methodically, picking them up in manageable chunks, we can do well and make progress. But one thing is certain: we need to find a solution to all these problems. We do not solve this situation, the problem in the Middle East by focusing on one issue and ignoring the others.


Ipek Cem: The European Union is trying to form a cohesive whole, in terms of foreign policy formulation, and we hear many stories that they don't see eye to eye on many issues. Do you feel they could become more of a cohesive voice in world affairs? Would that affect crisis resolution?


Kofi Annan: I think the potential is Europe is... economically is very important. Its role in all these international organisations are important. They have influence around the world.  If they have one common policy, and a cohesive approach they would even be more powerful, and more influential. And I know quite a few of them are looking at this problem, and I hope they succeed.


Ipek Cem: Thank you very much for your time.


Kofi Annan: Tesekkür ederim.


Ipek Cem: Yes! Wonderful!


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.