INTERVIEW: New General Assembly President will seek every opportunity to build trust
The incoming President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, has said that the world is suffering mightily from a lack of trust, and while planning to do all he can to move the needle forward on a host of global challenges – from the climate crisis to the war in Ukraine and food shortages – he will also use his mandate leading the UN’s most representative body to help restore trust among nations and strengthen confidence in the international system.
“We are in a very dire situation [regarding the need to build trust]. And we must acknowledge that the UN is a mirror of the general [state of] the world. But the UN has always had another feature. It has shown solutions. It shown opportunities,” Mr. Kőrösi told UN News in an exclusive interview.
The General Assembly’s standing as a global forum for dialogue and the role of the wider United Nations in building consensus must be seized, he continued, adding: “Opportunities are there for building trust among actors here, in this chamber,” referring to the iconic Assembly Hall where the interview took place.
With this in mind, Mr. Kőrösi, a Hungarian national, said that, among other initiatives, he plans to regularly host a series of ‘fireside chats’ among UN diplomats that would “be very open, and very informal consultations on very difficult issues.”
Indeed, he said the participants discuss “issues that may have a direct bearing on the deliberations in the General Assembly. No formalities [just] investigating what are the facts [of particular situations] on the ground. I think it can build a bit of trust.”
The new Assembly President also told UN News that the theme for the body’s 77th session, would be ‘solutions through solidarity sustainability and science’, aiming specifically to enhance the role of science in the UN body’s decision shaping.
“Member States are struggling with declining trust [and] division. Our task is to find solutions based on evidence; solid evidence that can help us move forward. Science can provide science-based evidence, Mr. Kőrösi said, stressing; “We are not asking scientists to tell us what to do. We are asking scientists to show us the options and to show us what might be the consequences of our actions or inaction. Science should be invited as a ‘supporter’, but ultimate political decision making remains with the Member States.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
UN News: Every new General Assembly session begins with a symbolic handover of the famous gavel from the outgoing to the incoming President. How heavy, metaphorically speaking, does the gavel feel to you? What do you think will be the most important decisions and resolutions approved with a strike of this gavel during your presidency during the Assembly's 77th session?
Csaba Kőrösi: The physical weight of this gavel is very, very modest. Despite the divine origin of this object. But the political and spiritual weight that it carries will be much more because the world is in a very complex crisis.
The UN is reflecting the affairs out there. The UN is as divided today as the world is out there. So, what we must do is basically try to solve some of the big issues that divide us. This means crisis management and the UN is supposed to help Member States to look forward. It means transformation. All those big decisions that may come through the lenses of crisis management and transformation will come under the gavel.
UN News: Mr. President, you have suggested solutions through solidarity sustainability and science as the theme for the new session of the Assembly. While solidarity and sustainability are more familiar, science seems to be a new component to the formula. How do you plan to introduce this into the work of the GA during the session?
Csaba Kőrösi: If you don't mind, I would like to touch upon all the forests, not only because they are a nice metaphor or nice alliteration of all letters.
Solutions. Because we have so many treaties, so many agreements, so many goals, so many targets, and action plans. But we are much weaker on implementation, and it is time for implementation. It is a time not only for more actions but for more transformative actions.
Solidarity. The inequalities [have been] growing in the world for many, many years, within countries and among countries. And if we let those inequalities grow infinitely, it would inevitably lead to more frictions, more tensions, more conflicts and more crises. We have to do something about it. And the most important [way is by] honoring our commitments – commitments within our countries and among all countries in the international [arena]. If we let communities down, the whole world will suffer. Let us not forget: we stand or fall together.
Sustainability. This is about transformation. It's about responsibility. It's about looking forward. What kind of world are we going to have today? Tomorrow? What kind of world are we going to leave for our children and grandchildren? And the responsibility is here and now. Sustainability means that we take integrated views on very complex issues.
UN News: How does science fortify all those efforts?
Csaba Kőrösi: Member States are struggling with declining trust, divisions among States [and] among communities. And of course, it will be very difficult to look for ideological solutions. And that’s not our task. Our task is to find solutions based on evidence; solid evidence that can help us move forward. Science can provide science-based evidence.
But it is very important to understand: we are not asking scientists to tell us what to do. We are asking scientists to show us the options and to show us what might be the consequences of our actions or inaction. Science should be invited as a help. Science should be invited as a ‘supporter’, but ultimate political decision making remains with the Member States.
UN News: So, you plan to draw on the experience of the UN system in general, like the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations, as well as external groups, the global community. Is that right?
Csaba Kőrösi: Yes, indeed. We would like to resort to the knowledge and advice of the UN agencies who are working very deeply and who are involved very deeply in science. But it may not be enough at this time around. We would like to build and conduct regular consultations with science-based institutions, with faith-based institutions, with business communities, financial institutions to advise us on how they would approach the very complicated questions that are coming up on the agenda of the Member States. And not only to having a sounding board, but to make sure that their suggestions, their advice could and should reach the Member States.
We also would like to convene a regular consultation process. Earlier, it was called ‘morning consultations’ and ‘morning coffees’ or ‘morning dialog’, with smaller group of members, of ambassadors in a very relaxed, very informal environment. [These talks would aim] to see what advice is put forward by the science community, or the business community, what the interests of the Member States are, what are the facts on the ground… and what can we do together. [That would be a discussion] without any obligation. So, it's a bit [like] preparing the decision-making process that would take place in the GA.
UN News: Speaking of solutions, when talking to the media after being sworn in, while answering a question about Ukraine, you said war cannot bring prosperity, it can only bring suffering and that [this] war must be stopped. How do you plan to utilize your offices to find the solution and help achieve this goal, both during the upcoming high-level week and beyond?
Csaba Kőrösi: Thank you for mentioning it. I think the aggression [against Ukraine], as it was described in a resolution of the General Assembly, was a turning point in the thinking of many countries. A very large majority of the Member States have spoken up on this issue. They understood that we are at the threshold of a new era in history.
This war, this aggression, brought suffering to millions in Ukraine, in Russia, in the neighboring countries, and actually to many other nations thousands of miles away from the conflict zone through the disruption of food chains, food supplies, energy supplies, by [driving] up inflation rates to levels which were unprecedented in the last few decades. It introduced a general uncertainty and mistrust. And most importantly, it started decomposing the system of cooperation built on trust and agreements. So, we have to rebuild it. I'm not naive. I'm not suggesting that it be done within one year. But we have not a single day to lose. Because suffering must be alleviated.
Humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach suffering people. The open threats to the [global security architecture] should be curtailed as soon as possible. Therefore, I’m asking all of us to work for an urgent ceasefire. And to make sure that human suffering is alleviated.
And in concrete terms of what you have asked, the 11th emergency session of the General Assembly is [ongoing]. It can be reconvened at any time if Member States ask for it. Upon the request of Member States, based on the circumstances, it can be convened within 24 hours. And I'm ready to do so.
Find out more here about special emergency sessions of the General Assembly.
UN News: You mentioned that there are many uncertainties in the world, and besides conflicts, there are other crises. Climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, to name just a few. On different occasions you mentioned the water crisis. You have sounded the alarm about that. Are you going to keep this topic high on your agenda during the 77th session?
Csaba Kőrösi: Yes, very much so! Because it is probably the next major challenge we are going to face.
Actually, this challenge has already [begun]. Look at Pakistan. Look at the huge droughts across continents. We have basically three types of problems with the water: too little water, too much water or water [that is polluted]. And [many] countries are suffering from all three at the same time, in different regions. It is a complex problem that can bring down sustainable development. It is capable of undoing progress made on many, many fronts – from poverty eradication to food security, energy production and economic transformation.
It's a very complex issue with bearing on political lives. It has security, human dimensions [and] economic dimensions, and [touches on] the general state of our environment. It’s a central issue. And it [has now been] almost 50 years since the UN convened its first full-fledged conference on water … since 1977. [The upcoming UN Water Conference] will give an opportunity to the Member States to [take] transformative steps.
We know what the problems are. The problems have been enumerated many, many times. Now it’s time for solutions. It’s time [for] transformative solutions.
UN News: Speaking of unity… As part of your [mandate] as President of the General Assembly, you are expected to assist delegates to reach consensus and by extension to unite the world. What will you and your office do to build trust and reestablish the spirit of cooperation between countries?
Csaba Kőrösi: If the question were whether I could do miracles, whether I could solve all the big issues within one year, then, of course, the answer would be ‘It’s not realistic!’ But as I mentioned earlier, we have no time to lose, not a single day. We are in a very dire situation. On building trust...we have to acknowledge that the UN is a mirror of the general [state of] the world. But the UN also has another feature. It has always had another feature. It has shown solutions. It shown opportunities. And I think that should be seized. Those opportunities are there for building trust among actors here, in this chamber.
As I mentioned, I plan to organize on a regular basis, very open, hopefully very interesting and inspiring informal consultations on very difficult issues. Let’s imagine 20 ambassadors sitting around almost a ‘fireside’, discussing issues that may have a direct bearing on the deliberations in the General Assembly. No formalities, no records. Investigating what are the facts on the ground, what is the scientific evidence that could be taken into consideration and what might be concerns of certain countries? I think it can build a bit of trust.
And I think it also can build a bit of trust if we listen to those who are outside of this chamber – many, many millions of people who are expecting the United Nations to deliver.
It's their hope. It’s their hope for this institution, for this Organization. They have needs. They have knowledge [and] experience on the ground.
I hope to have consultations with [civil society or non-UN] organizations to give them the opportunity to inform Member States. I think it's always good to be on the same page, to have the same information, to listen to the same sources. So, it's important, of course, that those sources should come from all corners of the world.
UN News: Mr. President, would you also use the information and the insight of multiple sources when discussing the matter of revitalizing the UN and the General Assembly, an issue citied in the Vision Statement for your presidency? And would this also be the approach that you're going to pursue when, for instance, discussing Security Council reform?
Csaba Kőrösi: Yes, very much so, though the licenses of the PGA are rather different when we talk about the General Assembly’s affairs and the Security Council’s affairs. But let’s acknowledge: the world is changing. The realities in the world by changing. The complexity of the challenges we are facing is changing. So must our Organization. So must our institutions. Institutions have been created to help us address our problems and solve our problems.
And if the problems and the challenges are very different from those which were prevailing when the organization was created, then the organization needs reform. And we are in the middle of the reform of the United Nations, including the General Assembly. And I wholeheartedly support the further reform, the further so-called revitalization of the work of the General Assembly. And I think the direction that has been taken by the Member States is very encouraging.
On the Security Council reform… I’ve been following these discussions, negotiations, and now, as we call it, intergovernmental negotiations, for more than 20 years. And I’ve heard all the arguments – pros and cons – and I’ve also seen the results, or lack of results. While the world is changing, the challenges are changing and becoming more and more complex. It’s evident that communities out there are expecting the United Nations to do better for their safety and security. And I think the Security Council has a great role in that, a very special role.
Therefore, I think the intergovernmental negotiations should [continue], should be impact-oriented and should be results-oriented. And of course, I will nominate co-facilitators and I will ask them to be as objective-oriented, as impact-oriented, and as results-oriented as they only can be.
But you know much better than I do, it’s a Member State-driven process. It’s not up to the [General Assembly President] to tell them what the result of the negotiations will be and when we can arrive at the result of those negotiations. I will help the co-facilitators. And in case of need, I will help Member States as much as I can in my modest capacity.
UN News: Thank you, Mr. President. If I may ask a final question. You promised that your office would promote the values of multiculturalism and multilingualism. In what ways are you going to do so?
Csaba Kőrösi: Multiculturalism is the shared value, a shared heritage for all of us. We belong to very different nations with very different traditions, very different cultures. Altogether, what we represent is the common heritage of humankind. Any piece of that common heritage that is lost would be a loss for all of us. So, I will pursue it on many, many occasions. Be it with side events, be it exhibitions, [or] special events, I will encourage Member States, bring your heritage, bring your values, share it with other Member States.
On multilingualism, we all know there are six official languages of the United Nations. We also know the rules [on how] to use those languages. We also know that it’s a very expensive exercise. But as much as I can, I will push to [ensure that] all six languages are used at the same level. And if possible, let [we should] pay attention to other big languages across the world, because they carry culture, they carry our shared cultural heritage.
UN News: Thank you very much. Let me again wish you every success in holding firm the gavel of the President of the General Assembly and in your work that begins now.