As he prepares to leave office, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon granted Anadolu Agency a sit-down interview to discuss topics ranging from Syrian refugees to Cyprus reunification talks.
He began by saying Turkey should receive more help for the assistance it is providing to refugees fleeing the Syrian war.
“Turkey and the other countries hosting Syrian refugees … have borne a huge amount of the responsibility … and deserve more help from the international community,” according to Ban.
“At this time, we have at least 130 million people who need daily humanitarian assistance, including 60 million refugees and displaced people.
Turkey has been most generous in accommodating more than 3 million Syrian refugees,” he said. “Currently hosting more than 3 million refugees from neighbouring countries, Turkey has the experience, knowledge and tradition to respond to humanitarian crisis.
The Secretary-General urged greater solidarity in order to find new ways for admitting more Syrian refugees and focused on contributions displaced persons could provide for a host country.
“When managed properly, accepting refugees is a win for everyone. Refugees are famously devoted to education and self-reliance. They bring new skills and dynamism into ageing workforces,” he said.
“Attempts to demonise them are not only offensive; they are factually incorrect. I have been calling on leaders to counter xenophobia and fear mongering with reassurance,” he added.
The European Union and Turkey struck a deal in March that stipulated all refugees who reach Europe would be returned to Turkey. Ankara would then benefit from additional funds to help deal with the crisis and the opening of one policy area on accession to EU membership.
“I hope this agreement will be faithfully implemented. Most importantly, there should be a political solution through dialogue,” he said.
The refugee crisis is fueled by the five-year-old war that erupted during the Arab Spring. More than a quarter of a million victims have been killed and 10 million others have been displaced in Syria.
Ban condemned the violence and human rights violations in Syria and although a solution to the conflict has been elusive, he remains optimistic that a diplomatic answer can be found through U.N.-lead talks.
“I call on the warring sides in Syria to immediately renew their commitment to the cessation of hostilities,” he said. “Instead of bombing civilian areas, all Syrian parties must renew their focus on a political process.”
After world powers failed earlier this week to agree on a date to restart stalled talks on Syria, Ban stressed that the U.N. has been encouraging all sides that there is no military solution to the conflict, and a “negotiated solution” needs to be found.
Since becoming head of the world body, Ban has been trying to put an end to a seemingly endless number of conflicts around the globe.
Perhaps the most intractable is that of Israeli-Palestine, in Syria’s neighbourhood.
In speaking to Anadolu Agency, Ban questioned Israel government’s commitment to peace between the two sides with its continued “illegal” encroachment on land intended for a future Palestinian state, that he said not only runs afoul of international law but subverts a two-state solution.
“Demolitions and settlement building raises questions about whether Israel’s ultimate goal is, in fact, to drive Palestinians out of certain parts of the West Bank, thereby undermining any prospect of transition to a viable Palestinian state,” he said.
He urged both parties to return to stalled negotiations.
Turning to Cyprus, the Secretary-General said he is encouraged by ongoing negotiations there as the parties have expressed a commitment to intensifying efforts with the aim of reaching a comprehensive settlement agreement in 2016.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was founded in 1983, after Cyprus was divided into northern Turkish and southern Greek territories, when a Greek-Cypriot coup in 1974 to join the island to Greece was answered by a Turkish peace mission.
Reunification talks between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots resumed last May.
“I am confident that a peaceful reunification of Cyprus will reap real political and economic benefits,” Ban said. “As someone who comes from Korea, itself a divided nation, Cyprus offers me hope for the future.”
Global hot spots that remain as the U.N. chief sets to leave his post are a source of disappointment for Ban. He said he would have wanted all of the organisation’s peace efforts to have succeeded while he held the top office but for all the problem areas — from Syria to South Sudan to the eastern Congo — peace can be achieved with the right amount of international unity.
A different kind of hot spot is brewing right within the body Ban leads. Some U.N. member states have demanded reform of the Security Council.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again made a call for changes last month, citing an imbalance of power and no permanent member that is from a Muslim nation.
On the issue, the 71-year-old statesman would go only as far as to say that he would “encourage measures that can enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Security Council” and leave any possible changes up to member states as laid out in the organisation’s charter.
As for his legacy, Ban is proud that the organisation has been able to achieve “new sustainable development goals and forged a strong deal on climate change. Those are accomplishments that can help future generations deal with the challenges of the 21st century,” he said.
But he prefers to leave the question to the writers of history to decide.
He concluded, however, by saying that he hopes the reforms that were made at the U.N. and the international system during his tenure will endure.
An Almanac and booklet of the Istanbul Photo Awards were presented to Ban from Anadolu Agency New York bureau, led by U.S. News Chief Editor Ertugrul Cingil.