Secretary-General Kofi Annan today discussed the post-conflict role of the United Nations in Iraq with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other European leaders and said afterwards he was confident the world body would have an important part to play.
"I've just had a very good discussion with the Prime Minister about Iraq and the role of the international community and the UN in post-conflict Iraq," Mr. Annan told a press conference in Athens with Mr. Blair, a key player with the United States in the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, at his side.
"I am confident that the UN will play an important role and as we move ahead in the next few weeks, I expect that role to become much clearer and the Prime Minister and I are confident that we will be able to work with all the other leaders and the (UN Security) Council members to find a way forward," Mr. Annan said.
Agreeing on the importance of the UN role, Mr. Blair added: "That is a role that should be there not only in respect of humanitarian issues but also in respect of political and reconstruction issues that arise."
Mr. Annan, in Athens to attend a European Union (EU) conference and hold talks on Iraq with various European leaders, said the views of the Middle East as a whole had to be factored into the Iraq equation "because Iraq and its neighbours want to live in peace and so what happens in Iraq is of interest to the region as well."
The Secretary-General also met with Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium – with whom he also discussed the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
He began the day with a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who reiterated his country's position on "the necessity of putting the UN in the driving seat for the reconstruction of Iraq."
Asked about divisions in the EU over Iraq, Mr. Annan said: "I think that what is important is that here the European leaders are strongly behind the UN. They support the multilateral approach, and I think in this interdependent world, international cooperation is the only way to resolve the issues that confront all of us."
Mr. Annan said he and Mr. Persson also discussed the Middle East and the "need to press ahead with the Road Map and settle this long-lasting conflict once and for all." The Road Map, a plan sponsored by the so-called diplomatic Quartet - the UN, EU, Russian Federation and United States - aims at settling the conflict through parallel steps over three years by the Israelis and Palestinians, culminating with the establishment of two sovereign states, living side-by-side in peace and security.
During a press encounter following his meeting with Mr. Ivanov, the Secretary-General said the two believed that it was important the Road Map be released as soon as the new Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, has formed his government. “Of course, the settlement of that long standing problem will have a very positive impact on developments in the region,” he added.
The Secretary-General later met with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany before holding a session with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Following his talks with the Danish leader, Mr. Annan was asked if it was possible to combine a UN reconstruction role with a US military presence in Iraq. “I think there are various phases of post-conflict Iraq and I am not saying exactly when the UN gets in,” he said. “But of course, the (Security) Council will have to take some decisions and if the UN were to go in, regardless of what stage it goes in, one will have to define the relationship between the UN, the occupying power and occupied Iraq.”