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Remarks on the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, and the UN budget

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN
Remarks to the media following a Security Council Stakeout
New York City
December 21, 2007

USUN PRESS RELEASE #385 

Good afternoon, we had a good session this morning heard the report of Under-Secretary Pascoe about the Middle East. The discussions focused on two parts; part one dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli track and there was positive statements made about the momentum in the aftermath of Annapolis, the Paris meeting where $7.4 billion of pledges were made. This was very much welcomed by everyone and urged that those who made the commitment should deliver on it. Two, I mentioned that we will be – that the administration is committing in FY 08 $550 million including a $150 million dollar in terms of support of the Palestinian Authority budget request, of course subject to Congressional approval. Also that the president is going to go to the region as a sign of our commitment in January for the process to move forward. We did spend some time also in the Lebanese situation and we made the point, as did a number of others, and there will be a press statement on the first issue we discussed. But on the Lebanese situation that there is a stalemate political statement that is very unfortunate due to a minority in the opposition that’s holding the situation hostage there and not allowing the constitutional process to go forward. And also that some external players are also being unhelpful in this regard, particularly Syria it was mentioned. And I raised the issue that the Council, given the risks that this political statement presents, the Council needs to be prepared to consider steps, additional steps to incentivize those who are responsible for the stalemate to change their stand and – but meanwhile there was a statement by several colleagues that we support the legitimate government and the role that the armed forces and the government is playing until the election of a new president and the selection of a new government. Thank you very much.

Mr. Ambassador, about Lebanon there are many positions that America is doing the stalemate, I mean causing that stalemate by supporting one side against another. Would you support a national unity government after the election of a president?

Well, first thing our approach is one step at a time and the constitution should be followed. And the election of the president is – the constitution has a road map for it, that has to take place. I know some people – while there is broad agreement about Mr. Suleiman that everyone has agreed to a minority within the opposition are holding that election of the person that there is broad agreement on to a decision on the government and whether there will be a blocking presence of the opposition in the government. These issues in our view are separate from each other. The president has to be elected and that is what the majority of the Lebanese members of Parliament also believe and they are being blocked by a small number of the opposition.

Mr. Ambassador the fifth committee has apparently booked the room for negotiations until midnight tonight. Partially there are of course reports that the U.S. is unhappy with the process and at least accusations by some Council members that it’s holding up agreement. Could you comment on the budget process and where we are?

Well, first of all there has been progress made on the budget with regard to the submission that was made. You have heard me say before that we have not been happy that we don’t have a full budget, it is a piecemeal budget. It is a budget that has been presented as a part of the total budget for the biennium budget that’s the UN process. There was a request for $4.5 plus billion dollars for that piece and there has been progress made to savings and reductions have been identified and I applaud the work that has been done with regard to that, hard work that has identified savings. We also however are concerned about the total budget, what the total number that member states would have to provide would be and want to make sure that that total is a number that can be supported. There is need for prioritization, there is need for discipline, we certainly cannot support a 25% increase in the budget. It would be not sustainable, it’s not supportable politically. So we need to find offsets, we need to have an overall number. I know there are some new issues that we have asked the UN to do. I mean there are issues with regard to Iraq, there are issues with regard to Afghanistan, there are IT reforms with regard – there are priorities. But at the same time it has to be an overall budget that is sustainable in terms of support. People work very hard to pay taxes, not only in our country, in others they want to make sure that every effort has been made to get rid of the fat, that there is discipline, there is prioritization, there is offsets that have been identified. So we are still working on it, as a matter of fact I had some discussions this morning even with some of my colleagues. So we look forward to engaging and working on this. I think that’s what the American people would expect me to do. That there tax dollars that are contributed here – this is what is really needed and that we have the discipline necessary, the Secretariat and others in terms of prioritizations and offsets.

Ambassador, allow me to first of all wish you a Eid Mubarak and happy holidays.

Eid Mubarak to you too, thank you.

Ambassador, I just - about Russia’s supply of nuclear fuel to Iran and it also it seems is going to be continuing to supply that. Do you think it will hamper your efforts of the invested nations in trying to ask the Security Council to impose more sanctions on Iran? And also its determination to supply it further?

Well, I have said, you have heard me before that we have asked the Iranians to suspend their enrichment program because once they are able to enrich uranium in the name of their power reactor that they can enrich it for weapon purposes too because the same technology that enriches to - uranium to 5% can be used to enrich it to 70, 80, 90% which are usable and necessary and is two thirds of the way for a weapons program. What’s important about this issue is that if Iran suspended, we have said we understand the need for the fuel and there has to be a way to provide that fuel in a reliable way that doesn’t yet contribute to proliferation. So the Russian offer makes it unnecessary for Iran to have its own enrichment because the Russians have said they will provide the fuel that is needed for the power reactor. We were open minded in terms of other alternatives to discuss post suspension but at least the Russian offer undermines the logic that we need to have enrichment because we need fuel for our reactor and of course there is the back end which we will come to, what happens with the spent fuel of the reactor is an issue with regard to reprocessing the plutonium that will be in the spent fuel. That’s an issue that’s also critical for proliferation in terms of proliferation. Thank you.

The budget? Can I ask you one thing about the budget? It is said down in the fifth committee that some of the cuts they are proposing, the fifth committee, involves funding for the proposed UN headquarters in Iraq, involves cutting funding or sun setting funding for the procurement task force. Can you speak about whether these cuts are…

On the procurement task force we supported continuing and I have had conversations this morning, it is very important that these investigations are completed and an orderly process for its evolution takes place. With regard to the specifics of the budget, what should be reduced, what should be deferred we are in the middle of negotiations. My point to you is that the United States cannot support a budget number that is, you know, this 25% increase in the budget. It’s just, it’s not realistic. So we understand the need for increases because as we said there are new demands that have been put on the system but we don’t have the overall number. That is part of the overall issue because we have seen part of it and with regards to that part there has been some significant reductions that I am sure you are aware of but we want to also as we move forward get an overall sense of what is it that we are talking and reach some understanding. Absent a submission you can’t be entirely specific with regard to different categories at this time about things that have not yet been submitted but we want to at least reach an understanding of what it is we will be talking about overall. And of course we want, as I said, offsets identified as we go forward and prioritization and I think that’s in everyone’s interest, that we do that. Thank you very much.

Does this mean that being delayed for another few months?

Well, I don’t expect that, the overall budget will take a few months because we have to get numbers but the question is how to deal with what we have in the context of a sense of what it will be – it’s likely to be –the overall number will be. So it’s a tricky balancing act. It’s not the way things ought to be done. And one of the things we want to get out of it, lessons learned how not to do this next time. But this is important and a lot of people are working hard and we’re going to remain engaged for as long as it takes. Thank you.

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Released on December 21, 2007

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