Secretary-General’s press conference at Japan National Press Club Tokyo, 14 December 2017

SG: [inaudible] in the struggle for a fair globalization. Japan’s role in human security, in humanitarian aid, in the promotion of human rights around the world. Japan’s commitment to peace and security, to disarmament, are aspects in which this country has always provided leadership in relation to the multilateral system, and it is my pleasure as Secretary-General of the United Nations to recognize it and to pay tribute to that commitment of the Japanese Government and the Japanese people.  
At the same time, I want to express my deep appreciation for the strong support of Japan to the United Nations – financial support, but also political support in relation to the UN work in order to try to prevent conflict, in order to try to guarantee that we align sustainable development with sustaining peace, and again the Japanese concept of human security has been an extremely important instrument, an extremely important tool to bring together the different trends of activity of the United Nations for effective prevention and in support of human rights around the world.

As you can imagine, in my discussions with Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe today we covered many aspects of the international situation, but the main focus was in relation to North Korea. I would like to say that my position is very clear. It is essential that all Security Council resolutions are implemented. First of all, they are implemented by North Korea, then they are implemented by all the countries that have obligations derived from those Security Council resolutions. The objective is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and it is extremely important to preserve the unity of the Security Council. Unity of the Security Council – that is a very important tool to achieve this goal but also to allow for diplomatic engagement that might allow this goal to be achieved in a peaceful manner.

I think we all want to avoid that things get out of control and that misperceptions and mishandling of situations make us sleepwalk into a war that will have devastating consequences. We will have tomorrow again a debate in the Security Council in relation to this, and once again, I will be very clear in stressing that all Security Council resolutions must be implemented and that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is an essential objective for the international community.

Q: As you said, Mr. Guterres, you mentioned North Korea. Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, visited Pyongyang, had talks with the North Korean side. His visit to North Korea, his visit to Pyongyang, how do you look at the outcome of that meeting? And Mr. Feltman’s visit to North Korea for the future of North Korea resolution towards dialogue, towards that goal, what do you think was the impact of Mr. Feltman’s visit to North Korea?

SG: As you know, in diplomacy and especially in discreet diplomacy, it is difficult to measure an immediate result of any initiative. I think that the important thing was to convey a very strong message, and the message was conveyed – not only that Security Council resolutions have to be implemented, but there must be a sense of urgency in creating the conditions for a meaningful dialogue to achieve the denuclearization of the Peninsula. I think it is important for all parties to understand the urgency of finding a solution, avoiding the kind of confrontation that could have tragic consequences for everybody. I think the message was clear. I think the message was delivered and I hope that this will be a positive contribution in order for a solution in line with the principles that we have always advocated to be obtained. As I said, it is almost impossible to measure immediate results  in the kind of discreet dipomacy that is absolutely essential to solve today’s problems.

Q: I ask about a report by Professor David Kaye to the UN Human Rights Council. As you know, there are many criticisms in Japan that the report is very biased and one-sided and doesn’t reflect the reality of Japan. What do you think of the report, as Secretary-General of the UN,  and what do you think about the criticism to that report? And additionally, are you going to send such an envoy to Japan again?

SG: Well, we have a system of independent rapporteurs to the Human Rights Council. They act in full independence. They are not dependent on the Secretariat or the Secretary-General. They play their role, and their role is of course to do their reports in full independence, and it is up to Governments to take those reports into account in the way they see more adequate. I am not a commentator on the work of the tens and tens of rapporteurs that we have in this regard. I think these are contributions that are important for discussion, and of course, governments have the right to express in relation to these reports whatever criticism they consider adequate. But these are independent rapporteurs and I would be undermining their independence if I would start making comments on the product of the work of each of the many rapporteurs that are working for the Human Rights Council.

Q: I would like to ask you about the arrest of two journalists in Myanmar yesterday. These are Reuters journalists. These arrests are only the latest in a series of detentions of journalists by the authorities there. I would like to ask you if this amounts to an erosion of press freedom in the country?

SG: It is clearly a concern in relation to the erosion of press freedom in the country; but let’s be frank, my main concern is in relation to the dramatic violations of human rights that occurred in the country and led to 600,000 people being forced to flee the country. And probably the reason why these journalists were arrested is because they were reporting on what they have seen in relation to this massive human tragedy. I think it is important that the international community does everything possible to allow not only for the journalists to be released – freedom of the press is very important – but also to allow for those reasons that might justify or might have justified the reason or the reasons of the arrest to disappear, which means for humanitarian aid to be effectively delivered,  for violence to be effectively contained, for reconciliation to be promoted and for the right of return of this community to be fully respected and implemented.

Q: My question is about North Korea. I understand that the UN has been urging dialogue among North Korea and the international community. Recently, the US Secretary of State, Mr. [Rex] Tillerson, signaled the possibility of dialogue without preconditions. That is different from the position of Japan and that of conventional United States Government position. I wanted to ask for your comments on this.

SG: Dialogue must have an objective. And this is what is important. The objective for us is to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to do it in a peaceful manner. So, this is what we define as the useful dialogue that is necessary. I do not like to comment on expressions that sometimes might not translate exactly the thinking of people there. What is important is that dialogue to be meaningful, must have an objective. That objective is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and to do it by peaceful means.

Q: I am from NHK.  You talked about your envoy sending a very strong message against Pyongyang.  Would you kindly elaborate on that very strong message? And, if ever Washington decides to launch a preemptive strike against Pyongyang, would you consider it, in the current situation, that would be a breach of international law?

SG: I never comment on things that have not happened, because they might only help things to happen. It is very clear what the message was. The message is that we need to achieve this objective that I mentioned several times. We need to do it in a peaceful way. And that there is a sense of urgency to avoid us all to sleepwalk into a conflict. That is very clear. Our objective is to avoid a conflict.  I am not going to comment on something that has not happened and I do not want to happen because I hope that this problem can be solved without this kind of conflict.

Q: I have also a question on North Korea. The United Nations Secretariat is trying to make it on a regular basis having a dialogue with Pyongyang and that is something to be commended, but in very difficult political circumstances what the United Nations can do is quite limited, I believe. So, as Secretary-General of the United Nations what do you think the United Nations can do in a concrete manner, or what would you like to do through United Nations activities vis-à-vis…

SG: Doing what the United Nations should do: First, the United Nations is a number of different things. The Security Council has taken the right decisions, and those decisions were taken in a unanimous way. As the Secretariat, we have to implement the decisions of the Council and to explore all ways to convey the messages that are necessary for those decisions to be implemented in respect for international law and at the same time aiming to do so in a peaceful manner. We are not miracle makers. We are people committed to a cause, and that cause is the cause of peace and security in line with international law.

Q: Secretary-General, visiting North Korea yourself, and having a meeting with Kim Jong-un, do you intend to have such a meeting?

SG: Meetings only make sense if there is a purpose for those meetings. I’m ready to go anywhere, at any time when it is useful. But I am not aiming at a protagonism just to appear in the cameras of the televisions. We did what was accepted by all parties. We did it in the way we thought it was the best way to do it. We are available, but we can only mediate when both parties accept our mediation.

Q: My question is about the reform of the United Nations, have you discussed this topic with Mr. Abe, could you give us some comments?

SG: I think that there are several dimensions in the reform of the United Nations. Japan has been very strongly committed to the reform of the Security Council and of course I also do believe that the reform of the UN will not be completed without the reform of the Security Council that to a large extent reflects the situation of the world after World War II. Things have changed, the world has changed. It would be justifiable to have a successful dialogue among all Member States, and there are two facilitators now with a mission to conduct that dialogue in order to achieve that result. On the other hand, we have important reforms to make the UN more effective more cost-effective, better coordinated, more accountable in the way the Secretariat works in the way the agencies are coordinated. These are also areas in which we are working. We ask for the support of Japan and other governments. So different fronts in relations to reform, they were all covered in the discussion I had with Minister Abe.

Q: In connection with the US acknowledgement of East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, did this topic come up in the meeting with Mr. Abe and have you made any request that Japan does not follow suit?

SG: The matter was indeed discussed. I did not make any request. Opposition is very clear. We believe the status of Jerusalem is a matter of final status that needs to be discussed in agreement between the parties, and we can see that any unilateral decision that can put at risk the peace process is undesirable. That is a very clear position I’ve expressed. We are at the same time completely ready to fully engage with both Palestinians and Israelis to see if it is possible to put an end to this tragic conflict that has lasted now for so many decades, and it is one of the factors that contributes to the instability of the international community as a whole.

Q: You mentioned during your speech at Sofia University the distrust and mistrust over UN various organizations. Unfortunately, that exists. The fact the Security Council resolutions are not fully implemented maybe due to such mistrust. Japanese people used to have a very favourable assessment of the United Nations which may be changing somewhat these days.  How are you going to further revamp the trust and the confidence on the United Nations?

SG: I mention mistrust in a more general way, mistrust of public opinion in relation to political establishment, mistrust in relation to international organizations including the UN. But it is a broader sense of mistrust. It needs to be solved in different ways, by different entities. It is clear that the UN Security Council is not able to take timely decisions on some of the most dramatic conflicts that we have today, and this contributes to the mistrust in relation to the UN. This is an area where of course Member States have to assume their responsibilities. At the same time, my role as Secretary-General is to make sure that UN agencies and the Secretariat do everything possible to deliver in relation to the expectations of the people, in relation to their aspirations and that we follow the needs and interests of the people and not the needs and interests of the bureaucracy.

Q: It will be one year since you have assumed the position of Secretary-General of the UN. What have you achieved in one year and what are some of the challenges that you have to accomplish in the remaining term?

SG: It’s a difficult answer to give. I think that we have been strongly committed to both prevention of conflicts and to conflict resolution. I have to recognize that results were limited in this regard. We are strongly engaged to make sure that the climate change agenda moves forward. I think it was very important the even after the US decision to withdraw, it was possible to rally the international community together, and even in the US we have states and cities fully committed to the Paris Agreement and to [fighting] climate change. I think that there is a growing commitment of the international community in relation to the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals and that is also something that I consider extremely positive, but I have to say that in relation to the capacity to prevent conflicts and to timely solve them, I feel a minimal amount of frustration.

Q: What may be the challenges that you still need to overcome in the remainder of your term?

SG: It’s very important to reform the UN, to make the UN more effective and more responsive to the needs of the people. It is very important to be able to mobilize the parties to conflict and those that have an influence to parties to conflict to make them understand that most of the wars we are having today are wars in which nobody is winning. Everybody is losing and that there is an interest on global security because of the links between conflict and terrorism that should force everybody to come together and put an end to those conflicts. It’s very challenging but it’s an absolute must, it’s an enormous need. At the same time, we need to make sure that we achieve the capacity to bring together States and also the private sector and societies to make globalization more fair. We see in the rust belts of this world, even if we recognize that technological progress and globalization have achieved remarkable results in trade and wealth, in the well-being of the majority of the world population, in the reduction of the number of absolute poor, but many people have been left behind, many frustrations have accumulated in societies. We feel those frustrations translate into a lack of trust so the battle for a fair globalization, the battle for finally defeating climate change and the battle to make countries understand that common interest for peace is much more important than the different interests that they might have and that have triggered the conflicts that they face, those three battles are the crucial battles we have in the years to come.

Q: What are your expectations for the meeting on North Korea at the UN tomorrow?

SG: I believe it will be important for the meeting to be again a very strong expression of unity of the international community in relation to the need to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and to do it using the adequate avenues of diplomatic engagement.

Q: I would like to ask the question on the treaty to ban the nuclear weapons which was adopted by the United Nations in order to create a nuclear free world. I believe as Secretary-General you mentioned that this is an important step forward, but what do you think about Japan is not really agreeing to this treaty, although Japan is the only country who is a victim to the nuclear bombing during war? And do you also plan Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the future and when would you like to visit, please?

SG: It is not for me to tell Japan what Japan should sign or not. But it’s important to recognize that contribution Japan has given to disarmament in the past and in relation to nuclear weapons. I would say that the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are probably the people with more moral authority in relation to our common goal of a world without nuclear weapons. This is something that is very important for me. I have been in Hiroshima and Nagasaki already in the past. I went there without cameras, or without any publicity to pay tribute to the victims and to feel it, in a place where such horrible tragedy occurred. It’s my intention to seize an opportunity when coming to Japan as Secretary-General to do it again.

Q: I have two questions. The first is about: to what extent are you concerned about the US could end up taking a military option? Can you give us a candid assessment? What’s the chance the situation could lead to a military confrontation? Secondly, in light of Secretary Tillerson’s comment yesterday, he said that he could have a direct talk with North Korea without any preconditions. In light of those comments, what’s your sense of North Korea’s eagerness to have direct talks with the United States given the recent exchange?

SG: It is my deep belief that meaningful engagement is necessary between the parties and that engagement should have the objective of a denuclearized Korean peninsula obtained in peace. This is what we work for and I hope that things will move in that direction. I am a believer that a military solution would have dramatic negative consequences and that we need to be able to achieve the goal to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and to achieve it through diplomatic engagement.

Q: A clarification please: you said that if necessary, as Secretary-General, you may visit Pyongyang. For Mr. Feltman, he has visited Pyongyang, so through the Under-Secretary, has there been a request from North Korea for the Secretary-General to visit Pyongyang or was there no such request?

SG: It was an invitation for Under-Secretary Feltman to visit North Korea and there was a decision based on our evaluation of the situation that that invitation should be accepted in the conditions that you know and with the objectives that I’ve already described.

Q: One last question: The Islamic State has been expelled out of Syria, peace process in Syria is not making progress. [Staffan] de Mistura, the Special Envoy, is working very hard but Assad and anti-government forces, direct talks between them have not materialized so far, how do you take this forward? And a related question: Russia, Turkey, Iran, these three countries are working in the Astana process which is being conducted, is it going to be useful in a UN process in Geneva?

SG: Astana has played an important positive role in de-escalating the conflict. Establishing the so-called de-escalation zones, and in deed reducing the level of fighting and reducing the number of victims. So Astana has been a positive contribution to the developments in Syria. It’s true. It has not been yet possible to bring the Government and opposition to talk. How to face the situation, I will answer you with the answer that was given by a very famous Brazilian politician that was elected president, that unfortunately died before he could assume his functions. He was asked what are the ten more important qualities for a politician. He answered in the following way, ‘I don’t know ten I only know seven: Patience, patience, patience, patience, patience, patience and patience.’ In relation to the capacity to bring together the Government and the opposition to talk, we will respond the same way. We will be patient and we will not give up until we reach that objective.  Thank you very much.