REVIEW: Article

Extracts from an Interview with Kofi A. Annan

QUESTION (Q): Now elections, as you know, are due to be held in Iraq in January. Is it going to be possible to do that?

KOFI ANNAN (A): There’s a lot that needs to be done. We have helped the Iraqis set up a legal framework for elections. Despite the security situation, I took a calculated risk and sent in two teams: one led by [Lakhdar] Brahimi, that helped them set up the interim government and another one led by Karina Pereira, who is the head of our electoral division and we helped them set up the legal framework for [an] election political parties law [and] an independent electoral commission. And we’ve had some of the officers trained in Mexico and ready to go.

And there are quite a lot of things the Iraqis have to do themselves. We will advise and assist them, they will be running the elections not us. We will be giving advice and assistance and I hope they will be able to do everything they have to do but of course security will be a factor.

Q: But do you honestly expect elections in January? It sounds impossible.

A: You cannot have credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now.

Q: And so you’re saying there’s a good chance there will not be elections in January?

A: Well…the judgment will have to be made by the Iraqi government, which is going to run the elections….Obviously there may come a time when we have to make our own independent assessment.

Painful Lessons

Q: Are you bothered that the United States (US) is becoming an unrestrainable, unilateral superpower?

A: Well, I think over the last year, we’ve all gone through lots of painful lessons. I’m talking about since the war in Iraq. I think there have been lessons for the US and there have been lessons for the United Nations (UN) and other member states and I think in the end everybody is concluding that it is best to work together with our allies and through the UN to deal with some of these issues. And I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time.

Q: Done without UN approval—or without clearer UN approval?

A: Without UN approval and much broader support from the international community.

Q: I wanted to ask you…do you think that the resolution that was passed on Iraq before the war did actually give legal authority to do what was done?

A: Well, I’m one of those who believe that there should have been a second resolution because the Security Council indicated that if Iraq did not comply there will be consequences. But then it was up to the Security Council to approve or determine what those consequences should be.

Q: So you don’t think there was legal authority for the war?

A: I have stated clearly that it was not in conformity with the Security Council [and] with the UN Charter.

Q: It was illegal?

A: Yes, if you wish.

Q: It was illegal?

A: Yes, I have indicated it is not in conformity with the UN Charter, from our point of view and from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.

Road Map “In Distress”

Q: On the Middle East, we now have this proposed pullout from Gaza. The Israeli Prime Minister [Ariel Sharon] has not really come to you with this, he’s just cleared it through Washington….Wouldn’t it just be easier to say the road map is finished, that’s it?

A: The road map is in deep, deep distress  it’s in deep distress. We haven’t given it up yet. I know that statements have been made by leaders in the region, implying that they are moving away from the road map and I think in fact the quartet is going to be meeting next week. I don’t know what sort of a meeting we are going to have to discuss the developments on the ground, which has become very complex and very difficult.

They have problems on the Palestinian side and there are political problems on the Israeli side and of course we also have elections here in this country and we need to assess where we are and where we go from here and try and anticipate how things are going to evolve and what action we as the quartet would want to take.

“Atrocities” in Sudan

Q: The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has said that what’s going on in Sudan is genocide, do you agree with him?

A: …I’ve talked about the atrocious and systematic and grave…gross violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law….So all that will have to be looked at for one to make a determination and I think the [Security] Council is…discussing the issue of…setting up a Commission.

Q: How long will it be before you’re in a position to make that designation?

A: I can’t give you a time. We are going to be prepared to move as quickly as possible. But I also made it clear to the Council that we don’t have to wait for the results to act.

The situation is serious enough for us to take action to maintain the pressure on the government to do everything we can to assist the people in Sudan and they are going to support the expanded African force that is going to go into Sudan.*

* Editor’s Note: This text is extracted from an interview with Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan conducted by Owen Bennett Jones of the BBC World Service at UN headquarters in New York on September 16, 2004.

Issue Date


BBC World Service