During a visit to Europe's capital, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced plans to send election experts to Iraq and push forward Cyprus reunification talks. He criticized Europe for mixed signals on immigration.
Annan, right and EU Commission President Romano Prodi.
Despite the latest suicide attacks on a hotel in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this week he was still planning to send UN negotiators to Iraq.
Following talks with the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesay, Annan said he would, as previously announced, send a team to explore the possibility of organizing elections. Both the American occupiers and the Iraqi Governing Council requested that Annan take those steps in order to reduce tensions with the country’s Shiite population. The Shiites are demanding that elections be held even before the transfer of sovereignty from the occupying powers to the governing council in June.
However, the secretary-general said a full resumption of UN aid measures in Iraq had not yet been decided upon.
"That is a team that is going in to give advice and coming out – it’s not a full return of the U.N." said Annan. "The security situation is a concern. We are reviewing it daily, and even for the team going in I have requested appropriate security measures before they go in."
Vieira de Mello
A bomb attack on the U.N.’s headquarters in Iraq on August 19 resulted in the deaths of 22 people including UN mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello (photo, center). After the attack, Annan ordered the remaining UN workers in Iraq to relocate to neighboring Jordan. Since then, debate has simmered over what the future role of the United Nations should be in the reconstruction of Iraq. The United States was unprepared to handover greater responsibility to the world body. Slowly, however, that role appears to be growing.
On Wednesday, Günter Pleuger, Germany’s ambassador to the UN in New York, greeted the body’s decision to send an exploratory team. The UN could play a helpful role during the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, he said.
Fast-tracking Cyprus negotiations
Annan, left, shakes hands with European Parliament President Pat Cox after receiving the Sakharov prize.
Annan on Thursday received Europe’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, on behalf of the UN staff, Vieira de Mello and the others killed in August’s deadly attack.
During his diplomatic tour of the European capital, he is also addressing other pressing issues including his efforts to push forward a deal to reunite Cyprus and dealing with touchy European immigration issues.
Last year, Annan presented a proposal for the reunion of the divided Mediterranean island that has, thus far, been blocked by the Turkish-controlled northern half of Cyprus.
European Commission Romano Prodi told Annan he had made clear during his recent meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that there can be no alternative to Annan’s plan. The European Union is sticking to its plan to integrate a fully reunited Cyprus as one of the 10 new members of the EU on May 1.
"I insisted the Union was to see an agreement before May 1 so that a united Cyprus can join the European Union," Prodi said. "We are convinced that a window of opportunity still exists to reach an agreement before accession on the basis of the plan presented by the secretary general. It is well known that there is a need for more political will on the part of all parties involved.
Turkish Cypriots flash V-victory signs as they wave EU flags with a map of Cyprus during a demonstration in the Turkish part of Nicosia, Cyprus, on Jan. 14.
Annan also appealed to the Turkish and Cypriots to bring resolution to the problem. Over the weekend, Turkey, which is seeking to become an EU candidate country, officially resumed Cyprus negotiations 10 months after it brought talks to an abrupt halt. But the clock is ticking fast to the May 1 deadline.
"We don’t have much time. The plan on the table does envisage that the parties may have the possibility of negotiating changes of the plan. It also indicated that where they were not able to agree, they may give me the authority to fill in the gaps ... Ideally we should have an agreement between the parties by the end of March. To be able to have the simultaneous referenda in April to meet the May 1 deadline," he said.
Under Annan’s plan, Cyprus would include two areas – one for the island’s Greeks and another for its Turks. The state would function similarly to Switzerland, where different cantons have their own governments and their own constitutions but also an overarching common national parliament and constitution. Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops occupied the northern part of the island in 1974.
Opening Europe’s doors
Closing Europe's borders
Reminding Europe that its population is graying, Annan also sought to tackle the issue of immigrants on the continent. He told the European Parliament on Thursday that Europe was sending a mixed message of "help wanted" and "keep out" to potential newcomers. Even as some countries are inviting workers from abroad who are desperately needed in some sectors, calls for closing Europe’s borders to foreigners have become serious election issues in countries like Austria, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Accepting his award on Thursday, Annan said: "Europe needs migrants. A closed Europe would be a meaner, poorer, weaker, older Europe ... Migrants are a part of the solution, not part of the problem. They should not be made the scapegoats for a vast array of social ills."
The European public, Annan said, "has been fed images of a flood of unwelcome entrants, and of threats to their societies and identities. In the process, immigrants have sometimes been stigmatized, vilified, even dehumanized."
Closed borders, he said, enables human traffickers and abusive employers to prosper, a situation he described as a "silent human rights crisis which shames our world." "We cannot simply close our doors or shut our eyes to this human tragedy."The UN is concerned that strict new immigration regulations being drafted by the EU could violate the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention.