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PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESIDENT OF 57TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY SESSION

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

10 September 2002

The incoming President of the fifty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly, Jan Kavan, today told correspondents at a Headquarters briefing that four priority fields will form the focus of his tenure. Those will be: better access to the advantages of globalization; enhancement of peace and security around the world; the role of the United Nations in achieving policy coherence; and strengthening of the role of the United Nations and the promotion of reform.

Mr. Kavan, of the Czech Republic, was briefing correspondents on the occasion of his accession to the presidency of the fifty-seventh Assembly session which opens here today, bringing together the delegations of all Member States, many of them led by heads of government or foreign ministers, for an examination of international issues. He will hold the post for one year until September 2003, taking over from Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea.

He said that while his four priorities were at present only outlines for the way forward, he hoped to make them the pillars of his presidency during the fifty-seventh session. “There will be many discussions which lie ahead before we can formalize these broader themes into a clear, concrete, definitive course of action. But, of course, we’re thinking along those lines already, and I am currently consulting with many other delegations."

Elaborating on those priority fields, he said that achieving better access to the advantages of globalization meant promoting integrated implementation of the Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus and the outcome of the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. That was to ensure that implementation would not be fragmented, since the conclusions of all three summits would be linked together.

On the enhancement of peace and security, he said he was fully aware that the general responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security lay with the Security Council. “But I do believe that the General Assembly can effectively contribute to the common fight against international terrorism, primarily through conflict prevention, and that it can and should play an important role in post-conflict reconstruction."

Mr. Kavan said he believed there was a link between globalization and the enhancement of peace and security. He explained that extreme poverty must be combated not simply for humanitarian reasons, but because it could be one of the ingredients that generated fundamentalist radical or even terrorist behaviour. He, therefore, believed that fighting extreme poverty had also to be seen in the context of the common struggle against international terrorism.

On the role of the United Nations in achieving better policy coherence, he said that could be achieved through enhancing partnerships between the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions and other development agencies, as well as by improving cooperation between major United Nations bodies such as the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Economic and Social Council.

He went on to say that the complex objective of revitalization of the General Assembly was clearly linked to the four priority fields he had outlined, which were broadly aimed at the enhanced effectiveness of the United Nations. It would include simplifying and rationalizing agendas, reinforcing the role of the General Committee, facilitating discussions, and seeking consensus on Security Council enlargement and reform.

“On that last item, I have no illusions after observing nine years of such discussions that we can make a major breakthrough. On the other hand, the difficulty of the task will not deter me from encouraging the relevant committee to continue discussion, try to focus the problem on more concrete issues, and see if we can reach a consensus during my presidency on at least one, and a maximum of two, aspects -- and in that sense promote Security Council reform”, he said.

Asked whether he was concerned that the preoccupation with terrorism, in general, and specifically with the threat of war with Iraq, would divert the Assembly's attention from the other crises that it should or it might be dealing with, Mr Kavan replied: “I’d very much hope that this will not happen. I am aware that potentially there is such a danger, but I do not believe that if we concentrate on the problems the United Nations has to deal with -– some of which I have mentioned already –- all energy, attention, efforts will be absorbed by other pressing problems. It’s going to be a challenging task to safeguard against that. I am fairly confident that this will not be a single-issue presidency. But obviously, such sensitive subjects as possible measures taken against the Saddam Hussein regime cannot be and should not be ignored by the General Assembly.”

He said that -- “extremely important and very sensitive” as this issue was -- he did not think that “it should preoccupy us to the extent that other issues will be swept off the table. I will do my very best to prevent this happening. On the other hand, of course, I do express my personal hope that Saddam Hussein will honour United Nations resolutions and permit the unconditional return of United Nations inspectors, and thereby foster a situation where military action will not be necessary”.

He added that as President of the General Assembly, he would always do his best to reflect the opinion of the majority of the Member States and that he would regularly consult as a way of testing the opinion of Member States. At present, he said, it was his understanding that the majority of Member States would prefer a political solution to a military one in Iraq, especially if the political solution would resolve some of the problems and not just postpone them.

He said the international community also had to be made aware of some of the consequences of military action. “For example, now is an opportune moment, since we are one day away from the anniversary of the terrible attacks against the United States -- in particular, New York. I very much welcomed the emergence of the worldwide anti-terrorist coalition which emerged after 11 September. I think the survival of this coalition is of utmost importance, particularly in the context of the still-existing menace of international terrorism, and I do hope that steps taken against Iraq will proceed in such a way that the coherence of the coalition will not be threatened.”

An ardent advocate of democracy and human rights, Mr. Kavan told correspondents that "I hope this will be the first of many opportunities that we will have to meet during my term of office. I am a lifelong believer in democratic principles and press freedom, having worked for almost 25 years as a journalist in Britain. I would like my presidency to be known as an open presidency. I can assure you that I will make myself available to the press as much as you will allow".

He paid tribute to his predecessor for handling the last preceding General Assembly session so ably, saying he hoped he would continue the process of streamlining the work of the Assembly so that it could be more effective and more responsive to the wishes of Member States.

Mr. Kavan was born in London on 17 October 1946 to an English schoolteacher and a Czech diplomat. He served as the Czech Republic’s Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign and Security Policy from 1999 to 2002, and as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1998 to 2002. He is currently a Deputy in the Czech Parliament.

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