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EXCLUSIVE: UN Chief Antonio Guterres affirms Saudi right to defend itself

In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, addressed the pressing issues around the world and Middle East - especially Yemen and the recent Houthi missile attacks against Saudi Arabia.

The UN chief also commented on the Jerusalem issue, the Syrian conflict, the Saudi Vision 2030 and the anticorruption campaign in the Kingdom.

Guterres condemned the Houthi attacks against civilian targets: “…we consider first of all that providing missiles to any party of the conflict is a violation of the arms embargo and second that the use of missiles against cities is totally unacceptable.”

Following is the full transcript of the interview:

TALAL

I would like to start here, in 2 weeks time you have been for one year the Secretary General of the United Nations and let me be among the first to congratulate you on the first year, it has been a mixed year, you have had some successes, climate change is going the right way despite the withdrawing of the US of the Paris Accord, you also made great progress on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, parity, gender parity has been in good hands at the United Nations of Antonio Guterres and geographical distribution has been also, one good example, you are from the North, you are a man and your Deputy is from the South and is a woman.

But in the field of commitment to both prevention of conflict and conflict resolution the results have not been forthcoming, they have been poor to say the least. How frustrated are you, and what are you going to do in your second year to improve conflict resolution and prevention of conflicts because I can give many examples, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Rohingya/Myanmar, there are so many conflict we have failed, as the United Nations, to do something about.

GUTERRES

Well I am very frustrated as you can imagine, first we have now a new kind of danger that one year ago was not perceived, we have a nuclear danger and a serious risk of non proliferation to be in crises, the North Korean threat is of course something that is extremely worrying.

At the same time we see the Middle East getting more and more complex.
We had this recent decision about Jerusalem and our position is very clear, this should be a matter for final status of Jerusalem, this decision is creating an enormous discontent in the region, but we have everything interlinked, the Syria conflict, the Iraq conflict, the questiona between the two sides of the gulf, between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other countries and the Arab countries in general.

The problems related to Saudi Arabia and Qatar but also the recent problems in Iraq with the Kurdistan. All these things have been getting together, the potential confrontation between Israel and Hizbolla and the growth of the Hizbolla positions, all this, so the Middle East became a very dangerous global problem and of course I feel very frustrated that there was no progress in relation to the 2 state solution for Palestine and Israel, there was no progress in the solution for most of the crises in the region.

And then you see most of other the conflicts around the world are not stopping and we have the horrible tragedy of Myanmar with the terrible persecution of the Rohingya population, 700,000 had to flee Myanmar to Bangladesh, so it is a deep frustration.

Now my belief is that we will only be able to be more effective in prevention and to be more effective in conflict resolution, first of all we need the Security Council to be more effective, to be united, the divisions in the Security Council are a serious problem to overcome many of the crises we have, but we need countries that are involved in conflict or supporting those that are in conflict to understand that this situation now became so dangerous to everybody that the contradictions of interests that might exist are much smaller than the vital interests of everybody to stop this, because these conflicts are becoming interlinked and linked to this new threat of global terrorism. and terrorism that can strike anywhere.

And its not only terrorism of one side, people sometimes think about radical Islam, no, we see radical Islam but we see Neo Nazis re-emerging and white supremacists and we see Buddhist fundamentalists attacking Muslims, we see a radicalization, xenophobia and it is essential that countries understand that we need to put an end to these endless conflicts.


TALAL

I would like to move to Yemen, of course in the light of the latest attack against the Royal Residence to the King’s Palace by a missile which the Houthis admitted and they said this is a new policy of targeting palaces and economic targets in Saudi Arabia like oil fields, this is getting to a very dangerous stage. I noticed that on the 4 Nov attack, the missile against King Khaled Airport, the UN Secretariat has not issued any communication…

GUTTERES
No, no we condemned, we condemned, all missile attacks against cities are something that need to be condemned because we cannot accept in a conflict that civilian targets become military targets so we did condemn and we consider first of all that providing missiles to any party of the conflict is a violation of the arms embargo and second that the use of missiles against cities is totally unacceptable.

TALAL
Have you reached a conclusion on the Iranian supply of missiles to the Houthis in Yemen, because the Americans have and they showed the evidence and Nikki Haley (US Ambassador to the United Nations) said in the Security Council yesterday everybody is welcome to come and have a look at the evidence, 12 countries, 12 countries have already sent delegations to look at the evidence. Have you sent your people to look at the evidence and to reach a conclusion on these missiles that they were made in Iran and being used by the Houthis?

GUTERRES
There was a Commission of Enquiry that analyzed in relation to the first missile and the Commission of Enquiry could not take an absolutely 100% conclusion but said that indeed there were in the symbols of the missiles very close connections to what was an Iranian symbol and as I said we are in a situation in which the United Nations have imposed an arms embargo and a violation of that arms embargo cannot be accepted.

TALAL
When are you going to reach a conclusion. The Enquiry is still going on, because the people in the Middle East, specially the citizens of Saudi Arabia, the government of Saudi Arabia have the right to self protection and self defense according with the Charter of the United Nations, you don’t want to see the situation exacerbate and get worse and more fighting in self defense, when are you going to reach the conclusion concerning these missiles.

GUTERRES
No we have, as I said, the report comes to very close to 100% certainty

TALAL
But Mr Secretary General there have been 78 attacks by missiles since 2015

GUTERRES
Let me conclude, and we are the first to say that the, in any solution of the conflict, the security concerns of Saudi Arabia need to be taken into account.

I think it is important to have a solution of the conflict finding for Yemen a government that is inclusive, that is representative of all the sectors of the population, that is democratic, but at the same time that there is disarmament of armed groups and that the security of the neighbours and in particular the security of Saudi Arabia, is fully guaranteed, and this is the kind of solution we would like to be working for.

TALAL
So do you concur with those who say that the Saudis have the right to self defense with reference to Article 51 of the (UN) Charter?

GUTERRES
Every country has the right to self defense. Of course, we are in the middle of a conflict in which it is important to find a solution for the conflict and that solution needs to take into account the complexity of the Yemeni situation and we are entirely at the disposal of the parties to the conflict, and we have a Special Envoy who has been trying to do his best in that regard, we are entirely at the disposal of the parties to the conflict to find, as I said, a solution that needs to be comprehensive, full, full respect of the security concerns namely of Saudi Arabia but an inclusive political solution for Yemen and a disarmament of the armed groups in the country.

TALAL
The legitimate government of Yemen has fully cooperated with your Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed, but since May, he needs two parties to talk to, since May, the Houthis have been refusing to talk to him, until yesterday, he declared he is going to Sanaa and they cancelled, they, the Houthis, cancelled yesterday his trip to Sanaa to meet with them, talk to them. They refuse to talk to him.

They have made many statements on that, how can you get the parties to sit around the table with the help of your mediator, if one party refuses to speak to this mediator, I mean many people in the area think Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed by March, when his mandate is finished, will not renew it because he has nobody to talk to from the other side.

GUTERES
He has had different opportunities in the past to talk and I believe that it will be possible to create conditions to bring the parties to the table, I think that we are now

TALAL
You still think that he will bring them to the table?

GUTERRES
I think it is possible to do it. I think we are now in a particularly difficult moment, we had recently complex events inside Yemen, which TALAL
You call them complex, others call them criminal. Killing Ali Abdulla Saleh

GUTERRES
I cannot be more in agreement that any murder, any assassination, is totally unacceptable, but as I said there is a complexity of the situation. My hope is that conditions will be created to force the parties to indeed come to a dialogue and I believe that will happen to the Houthis too.

TALAL
Alright, lets go back to the missile smuggling UNVIM is must and should play a very important part, the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism, that has been established and is based in Amman, just now there was team that went to Saudi Arabia and held talks from UNVIM, to strengthen UNVIM and to make it more effective to stop the smuggling that is coming from Iran.

The Saudi Ambassador was here in November and he invited UNVIM to go and they went. Can you tell us more about this mission of UNVIM and has it been successful to strengthen UNVIM to the degree to stop the smuggling?

GUTERES
I think that what UNVIM is doing is verifying or it iss supposed to do the verification because for the moment as you know the commercial traffic has stopped and we have only humanitarian traffic taking place, but what UNVIM is doing is the verification of those ships, but also the same applies to air, that are bringing things to be disembarked namely in the port of Hodeida and other ports.

Now I am absolutely sure that the system that is in place for that verification is effective, but there are other ways to do smuggling, this is a big region, you have desert, you have large areas of coast, so there are many ways to do smuggling and we are very keen in making sure that no humanitarian relief to Yemen and even, no, but that is not our business, even commercial relief, no commercial activities that are legal and normal should permit smuggling and I am sure that there is no smuggling based on humanitarian relief, but to stop smuggling in Yemen then it is a much broader mission that has to do with a huge coast, that has to do with a desert, with different borders, it is a complex thing, but it is crucial, in my opinion, to stop any conflict, one of the key elements is to make sure the arms embargo works perfectly and we are very keen on supporting the need of an effective arms embargo in relation to the conflict.

TALAL
In an interview with an American network you called this was a “stupid” war. Do you think this was the right word, diplomatically, to use?

GUTERRES
All wars are stupid. Can you give me an example of an intelligent war? I mean there is always an amount of suffering to the people that is totally unacceptable


TALAL
Buteople are dying in this war, people are fighting for the legitimacy of their government, people are fighting to restore peace to their country.

GUTERRES
What I am saying is it is much better to solve problems peacefully. All wars are stupid in my opinion, we need to do everything to be able to stop them and I believe that this is the deep will namely of the countries that have been engaged in this situation like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and others, I think their deep will is that a peaceful solution that takes their security concerns into account that a peaceful solution is found.

TALAL
You asked the United States also in that interview to put pressure on the Emirates and the Saudis to stop the bombing but did you

GUTERES
No, no, no, no at a certain moment what we said was it was important in relation to humanitarian access to have, because of the tragic situation of the population of Yemen, to have humanitarian access re-opened.
And it is important to say that it has happened and it is important to say that even with this last attack we have information that the humanitarian access would be open.

There was a moment in which indeed there were problems and difficulties and doubts and there I must say I used all diplomatic instruments that I had at my disposal to protect the dramatic humanitarian situation of the innocent population of the country.

TALAL
Understand, I would like to move now to the Middle East Peace Process Sir, Jerusalem, the vote on Monday which was defeated by 14-1, by 1 vote, many people noticed your absence from that session in the Security Council on Monday yet you are speaking tomorrow in the General Assembly. You are not speaking tomorrow…

GUTERRES
I am in The Hague
In these resolutions the Secretariat has no place, the Secretariat can intervene invited by the Presidency to brief the Security Council but this was not the situation to brief the Council, this was a resolution that was voted by member sates, there was no role for the Secretariat.

But our position was very clear.

If you remember immediately after President Trump made his statement
I myself made my statement saying very clearly that any unilateral action that can put at risk the peace process is undesirable, that Jerusalem is a question for the final status for the negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis and more, I had the opportunity to say that I still hope to see one day in which the two states, there is no plan B to a two state solution, the two states will live together and Jerusalem can be the capital of the two states, of Palestine and Israel.

TALAL
Tomorrow there is a GA (General Assembly) meeting under United for Peace and there will be a resolution presented with the same principle of the first resolution. However Nikki Haley, the Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations, made it very clear in tweets and in statements that they will be watching how the countries vote and that they will be taking names.

The President of the United States just made a statement today, saying all those nations that take our money and the they vote against us at the Security Council or vote against us potentially in the General Assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us, meaning vote for Jerusalem, well, we are watching those votes, let them vote against us and we will save a lot of money. We don’t care.
What do you say to such statements?

GUTERRES
It is very simple. When we have matters of this importance the vote must be strictly based on principles and for us in this situation there is a matter of principle, as I said and it is the official position of the United Nations, Jerusalem is a matter for the final status and so independently of whatever or whoever says, I believe countries must vote in accordance to their beliefs and to their principles.


TALAL
I have a few topics and time is catching up so I need quick answers from you. On the Palestinian Peace Process, are you willing to take the place of the United States, President Abbas called for that, that they want the peace process led by the United Nations instead?

GUTERRES
We are ready to do everything both parties accept, because we cannot mediate if both parties do not accept. I am a true believer that we absolutely need a two state solution and a peace solution for Palestine.

TALAL
On Syria, de Mistura, the Special Envoy, said that the government is refusing to talk directly to the Opposition, the government is saying until the country is cleared and all the terrorism, we will not talk about the Constitution or the election and de Mistura thinks that will take a long time. Your position Sir.

GUTERRES
It is absolutely essential that government and opposition talk to each other and I believe this should be done without preconditions, that both, they have their different positions of course, completely different positions, but it is important that they talk to each other without preconditions.

TALAL
On Libya, after the statements of General Haftar that the Skheirat Agreement, the political agreement for Libya, is no longer, and that he will hold elections.

GUTERRES
We believe that the agreement should stand, we believe that the political process should go on, that the dialogue should go on, and as a result of that dialogue elections will take place at the right moment. But we believe that we should not loose what was gained by the agreement that was established.

The worst thing that could happen is if conflict would erupt again and if the different components would start shooting each other again, that would be a disaster.


TALAL
In Saudi Arabia Sir, how do you see the Vision of 2030 and the plan to reduce Saudi dependence on oil and the liberalization policies, specially towards women. How do you view these moves?

GUTERES
I think that a country like Saudi Arabia absolutely needs to reform its economy, absolutely needs to create alternatives to oil, it is my deep belief that with the global response to climate change the role of oil in a few decades will be totally different from what it is today so countries absolutely need to diversify their economies and in relation to the measures that were taken to improve the status of women I was the first to commend them and to praise them and I hope that, as you know, gender parity is my objective here in the United Nations, and everything that can be done for gender equality everywhere in the world will have my full support.

TALAL
Mr Secretary General we could speak for another hour, there are so many issues, so many topics, but time is short and we thank you and we wish you a better year next year on all levels Sir and we thank you for this interview.

GUTERRES
Shokran and we really need a better year

TALAL
Thank you Sir

GUTERRES
Shokran

 

 

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Last Update: Thursday, 21 December 2017 KSA 17:57 - GMT 14:57
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