Ahead of his visit to Russia, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon in an exclusive interview with TASS has shared his expectations of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the state of relations between Russia and the West, as well as the situation in conflict zones of the Middle East and Ukraine.
- Mr. Secretary General, what will be your message to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, what key issues are you going to press on? And equally important, what outcome do you expect from the forum?
- The Forum is clearly a landmark event, providing a useful platform for business links and dissemination of information about the Russian business sector, facilitating stronger business ties between Russian and foreign companies and thus stronger economic ties between the Russian Federation and other countries.
The world continues to face bleak growth prospects, weak investment and a high degree of uncertainty, and this could undermine progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by all countries, including elimination of poverty, fighting the adverse effects of climate change and creating decent jobs for all.
Many commodity-exporting countries, which have benefited during the last decade from higher commodity prices, are facing serious economic challenges; to a certain extent, this is true also for the Russian Federation.
Therefore it is important that the participants of the forum address the challenges that continue to impede global economic growth, especially growth and investment in developing countries.
At the same time, there should be renewed efforts and strategies for addressing climate change, facilitating transfer of technology and diversifying economic base in many developing and transition economies.
In the specific case of the Russian economy, the participants should discuss the best ways of adjusting the economy to a protracted period of lower energy revenues, increasing productivity and competitiveness of the non-energy sector and identifying strategies for returning to a high growth track.
- One of the key topics of the forum is «Migration in the modern world: opportunities for the economy or a natural disaster?» How would you answer this question? In the recent days we received new reports concerning the death of hundreds of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean. Do you think enough is being done by the regional actors to prevent such tragedies?
Refugees have a right to asylum– not bias and barbed wire
- I have had an intense dialogue with many Governments and many regional organizations on these issues and we are working closely together to ensure an effective response in line with international law.
When managed properly, accepting migrants and refugees is a win for everyone. They come with skills and ideas, promoting diverse and innovative societies, and bringing in a new dynamism into ageing workforces.
I am deeply concerned by the trends to marginalize and demonize them, in far too many countries, including in Europe. These attempts are not only offensive to the individuals concerned; they are against fundamental human rights and dignity and undermine harmonious societies.
Leaders must counter xenophobia and fear mongering with reassurance, and fight inaccurate information with the truth.
The General Assembly is convening a high-level meeting on 19 September to forge a robust and collective international response to large movements of refugees and migrants. Refugees have a right to asylum– not bias and barbed wire. Their tragedy needs to stop.
- Last year the International diplomacy was celebrating a major victory - the Iranian nuclear deal. The UN sanctions were lifted and the country is rapidly returning to the world markets, becoming a key oil-producing player. What prospects do you see for Iran on the international arena?
- The achievement of the Iranian nuclear deal demonstrates that international proliferation concerns are best addressed through dialogue and patient diplomacy.
I hope that the success of this agreement contributes to greater regional and international cooperation for peace, security and stability in the region and beyond.
As part of that cooperation, I hope and expect that Iran will play a greater and more positive role in the region and in the international arena overall.
- What can be done to overcome the disagreements between Russia, United States and other key UN member states, stemming from security issues and of course, the crisis in Ukraine?
- It is true that regrettably, relations between Western countries and the Russian Federation have deteriorated over Ukraine. This has spilled over and has had serious implications for our collective ability to confront other grave global challenges, in addition to the Ukraine crisis itself.
But I believe these differences can be overcome and much has been [done] in this regard during the past year.
It has been the case on the Iran nuclear issue, and we have also made some progress on Syria. In Syria, the situation remains of extreme concern to me and is far from resolved but increased cooperation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry has had a positive impact.
Only compromise, dialogue, and a collective effort by the international community, with Russia as a key member of this community, can be the way forward.
Russia has always been a key promoter and defender of the UN Charter and the indispensable role of the Security Council, and I trust that it will continue to be a steady supporter of the ideals and the work of the United Nations.
- Considering all the problems your Special Envoy faced up to date, do you still think the timeline of the Syrian peace process endorsed by the UN Security Council is a realistic one, with elections to be held in 18 months since the start of the discussions?
- While the peace talks have indeed moved slowly, the important thing is that they are continuing. The talks in Geneva are by all accounts some of the most complex and difficult negotiations the United Nations is involved in. And the timeline remains as a set of markers to ensure that the sides will move forward and finally achieve the goals that the Syrian people have been waiting for.
Staffan de Mistura is doing an excellent job. He has designed this process to be flexible enough to withstand ups and downs.
There is so much at stake. The Syrian people have suffered enough. All the parties directly involved and those who have an influence from the outside need to continue to support this political process. There is no other solution.
- Your other Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is struggling to make progress in the intra-Yemeni talks. We have heard commitments from both sides, but the fighting is still ongoing. What is the problem in Yemen, in your opinion? Is it the lack of good faith from the parties to the conflict, or the lack of political will among their regional allies?
- The talks have been moving ahead, and my Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has made clear that there has been progress on political issues. He is working to ensure that each side makes the concessions necessary to move forward and achieve a lasting political solution.
I am convinced that seizing this opportunity to move the process forward will help resolve outstanding issues and bring the end of this prolonged conflict closer. The Yemeni people and the region deserve no less.
- On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, do you see the prospects of resuming the peace talks? During the UNSC sessions it was repeatedly noted, that the chances to reach the two-state solution are almost gone, with the continuing occupation and violence. What is needed to secure this solution?
Meaningful negotiations require leadership on both sides with the courage and legitimacy to reach an historic compromise, and the political will to implement it
- I believe it essential that the leadership of Israel and Palestine pull back from the brink by undertaking serious efforts to create the conditions which will enable a return to meaningful negotiations.
The obstacles to peace are clear. They include terror, violence and the incitement that fuel them; the ongoing settlement enterprise; and the lack of unity between Gaza and the West Bank.
Meaningful negotiations require leadership on both sides with the courage and legitimacy to reach an historic compromise, and the political will to implement it.
Both parties must ensure that their actions reflect their stated commitment to a two-state solution. And they need to stand up to extremists who are committed to derailing the peace process and seeking to hijack the agenda.
I am committed to working with my fellow members of the Middle East Quartet and with our key stakeholders, including regional countries, to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and in accordance with relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
- Mr. Ban, your second term is coming to an end and this may be your last visit to Russia as the UN Secretary General. Looking back to what you are leaving behind, do you see the UN as a more relevant international body than it was 10 years ago? What major challenges do you see ahead and what role can Russia play to help solve them?
- As you know, I am nearing the end of my tenure, but I am determined to make every moment count from now until then. It will be for history to evaluate my contributions as Secretary-General. All I can say is that I have given all of my energy, time and devotion to the job.
Over the last ten years, I believe that we have laid the foundation for many policies and ideas and I am doing everything to make this a year of implementation and action.
I feel privileged to have served the United Nations, and to have worked with so many dedicated colleagues and others around the world.
With so many crises, it is tempting to think the world is falling apart. But I remain optimistic about our future. I have seen so many inspiring examples of unity and creativity. This remains an era of wondrous opportunity.
In the coming months, I will do everything possible to seize these opportunities and leave a stronger United Nations to my successor. And I count more than ever on Member States, especially those with a central role in the United Nations such as Russia, to support my efforts.
- In the coming weeks we may know the name of your successor. The updated selection process is ongoing and is led by member states. But if you had a chance to influence the process, what kind of person would you like to see leading the UN? Also, do you think it is time for a Secretary General to represent the Eastern Europe? And to be a woman?
- The selection of the next Secretary-General is obviously a topic on which I do not wish to comment. There are certainly many female candidates with great skills and experience but I will leave it to Member States to make the best possible choice.
- On the crisis in Ukraine, do you think that there is a need for a bigger role of the UN in the peace efforts, since there is very little progress on the ground?
- From the earliest stages of the crisis, I have pressed, both publicly and privately, for de-escalation, direct, good-faith and results-oriented dialogue, and a peaceful, diplomatic and negotiated solution as the only way out of the crisis.
I have also remained in constant contact with relevant world leaders, both those with a direct stake in the conflict, as well as with others, who could use their measured stance and good standing with the parties to support a resolution.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine deployed in the country at the earliest stages of the crisis and has worked to provide objective and regular reporting on the human rights situation throughout the country.
The UN also continues to respond to the ever-increasing humanitarian needs of the population in eastern Ukraine.
Ultimately, however, the progress in the peace process depends on a display of resolute political will from all concerned parties toward full and urgent implementation of the Minsk agreements.
In this regard, I once again urge all sides to redouble their efforts to resolve this crisis. We all have a collective responsibility to help the affected, the vulnerable and the needy – in all quarters – to return to a life free of long-term hardships, free of loss and suffering.
- You were quoted numerous times as saying you are ready to play a role in bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. Do you see any way of using your good offices to achieve this goal? And do you plan to promote the peace solution to the crisis after your term ends, perhaps by continuing your political career back at home?
- The nuclear test and launches using ballistic missile technology conducted by the DPRK this year are very troubling. They pose a serious threat to international peace and security and are deeply destabilizing for the region.
I have and will continue to urge the DPRK to cease any further provocations and return to full compliance with its international obligations. There is strong international consensus on the need to work for the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
As I have repeated on a number of occasions, I am ready to play any role if it would be helpful in reducing tensions and facilitating dialogue on the Korean Peninsula, both as Secretary-General and beyond.