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The United Nations speaks

By Spiros Tzelepis, Greece

An interview with Kofi Annan's chief spokesman Fred Eckhard

Conflicts between various countries in the last two months have sparked discussions about what role the United Nations plays and should play in world affairs. Some have started doubting the United Nation's role, while others believe that this organization is the last hope for mankind. They feel that the UN can work towards the cooperation and mutual understanding among countries provided that everyone respects its decisions and recognizes its role in international relations.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan was invited to this interview, but because he has been travelling a great deal recently (last week he was in Russia and the United Kingdom and next week he leaves for Europe and Africa) he was unable to personally answer the questions. Therefore, he asked his chief Spokesman, Mr. Fred Eckhard, to respond on his behalf.

Spiros Tzelepis: What is the role of United Nations in solving the problems of the international relations nowadays? Do you believe that this role is fulfilled when there is so much tension in the world?

Fred Eckhard: The United Nations has the key role to play in solving international problems, especially because these problems do not respect national boundaries and therefore require an international approach. For example, if there is a large environmental disaster in one country, the impact will not stop at the border - it will affect neighbouring countries as well. The same is true of drug traffickers, who work around the world with no respect for the law anywhere. Diseases, too, spread across the world and require a global response. In all of these cases and many more, countries must ban together to solve these global problems - to fight environmental pollution, to combat drug trafficking, to stop the spread of disease, and much more. The United Nations is the best place to do this, because at the United Nations, countries can and do get together to formulate solutions. For example, we help to draft treaties on environmental pollution, which countries then sign and make law, requiring them to cooperate in preventing disasters and mitigating them after they occur. The same is true in the area of drug control: through the United Nations, countries around the world are tightening their grip on drug traffickers and making it harder and harder for them to sell their dangerous, illegal goods. Thanks to the United Nations, countries of the world are getting together to stop the spread of AIDS and work for a vaccine and, eventually, a cure for this deadly disease. Again, these are just a few of the examples of how the United Nations has a critically important role to play, and how this role is being fulfilled.

S.T.: How do you feel when you face situations and problems which are not solved in a peaceful way?

F.E.: The Secretary-General has, on a number of occasions, participated in efforts to secure peace which did not achieve their objectives, and a resort to violence occurred instead. Unfortunately, this is just part of his job. While he may at times feel frustrated by these developments - and certainly he is saddened any time that efforts to achieve peace fail- giving in to such sentiments is not a luxury that he can afford. Rather, he must remain optimistic and keep trying, for even if he does not succeed in every situation, if he is able to save even one life through diplomacy, then all of his work will be well worth the effort.

S.T.: Do you believe children can play a role in forming international relations? Could it be feasible for the UN to support an international youth movement towards this direction?

F.E.: The Secretary-General has already seen evidence of the power of youth to shape the international scene. For example, a number of youth non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were involved in the international campaign to ban landmines, which ultimately resulted in a binding, legal treaty that seeks to eradicate those destructive and deadly weapons from the planet. He is always heartened by the enthusiasm and wisdom of youth, and has great expectations for their future contributions to the UN's work for peace.

Conclusion by the author

Having in mind all the problems the world has nowadays, what comes as conclusion from above is that the mankind more than ever needs a place where people should leave the guns outside the doors, sit around a table and discuss their problems, hear what others have to say, share their concern and try to find the difficult way towards collaboration and understanding. If the world leaves this opportunity, we all should be afraid of what our future will be. We must not forget that when the "society of nations" failed in its role, people experienced one more war

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Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

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