United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to journalists at the UN headquarters in New York, Feb. 1, 2017. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said here Wednesday that the U.S. travel ban imposed on refugees and immigrants from seven countries "is not the way to best protect the U.S. or any other country," voicing his hope that "this measure should be removed sooner, rather than later." (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, fresh from his first trip to Africa since taking up his new post on Jan. 1, said on Wednesday that "enormous progress" had been reached for cooperation leading to a brighter future in sustainable development and peace and security on the continent.
But he feared the threat of genocide in South Sudan as he was speaking to reporters here on his Africa tour.
The former prime minister of Portugal and a former head of the UN Refugee Agency also addressed crises in the Middle East and problems facing refugees in general, including South Sudan and the U.S. travel ban, which he denounced. He also praised regional cooperation on the recent Gambia presidential crisis.
"I think we fully made our objectives" at the summit, he said. "We made an enormous progress in creating the conditions for a much more effective cooperation with the different African entities and the UN in addressing some of the more complex crises that we face," also mentioning problems discussed involving Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gambia, Mali and Syria.
During his first full encounter with members of the media at UN Headquarters in New York since becoming UN chief, Guterres voiced optimism and pessimism.
"Our narrative of Africa must not be based on the crises that exist in Africa," he said. "There are crises everywhere. There are crises in Europe; crises in the Middle East; crises in Asia. There are crises everywhere. What is important is to understand the enormous potential that Africa represents."
"Africa is a continent that has grown more economically in the last decade and has remarkable success stories, that we need also have to take profit of the momentum created by these facts in order to make sure that Africa is able to win the battle for sustainable development in the next few years knowing that this is the best way to prevent the conflicts that have created so much suffering," he said.
Meanwhile, Guterres also recalled he "lived the South Sudan crisis in my previous capacity" as head of the refugee agency for 10 years ending in 2015 and how difficult it was to see it again in internal conflict.
"You can see how tragic it is in South Sudan in a dramatic situation with a real perspective of things getting even worse," he said. "You have seen reports of the special representative on genocide and at the same time you have seen how difficult it has been to create the conditions to get the South Sudan situation to be put on track for a peaceful resolution."
He praised Kenya's support for dealing with the massive refugee flow.
The UN chief praised regional cooperation for pressuring long-time Gambia President Yahyah Jammeh to step down peacefully last month in face of military pressure after losing the December 2016 election to make way for Adama Barrow, who had been sworn into office in neighboring Senegal.
Guterres said he left Friday and returned Monday to UN headquarters in New York after an intense round of discussions in Addis Abba at the African Union (AU) summit which included talks with members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a Northeast Africa trade bloc encompassing the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes and Nile Valley.
While citing several statements in recent days in opposition to the ban on travel to the United States from seven Middle Eastern and north African, predominantly Muslim, nations, Guterres said it was no way to deal with the terrorist threat.
"It is obvious this is not the best way to protect the west and other countries from terrorism," he told reporters outside the UN Security Council chambers. "I don't think this is the way. I think these measures should be removed."
Guterres said he didn't think terrorists would try to come in legally from the banned countries. He thought they would come in using passports from other nations or even come up from sleeper cells already in the United States if they wanted to terrorize.
Addressing the recent Syria ceasefire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, he said it was necessary for the world organization to be involved in the talks sponsored by Iran, Turkey and Russia as a precursor to UN-led political talk in Geneva later this month.
The two-day talks in Astana were the first time that the Syrian opposition participated in the discussions alongside representatives of the Syrian government.
Guterres said transition of the government of Syria would be the "core" of the UN-led talks in Switzerland, which is expected to begin on Feb. 20.
He expressed hope he would be visiting the Middle East region in the next few weeks to months.
Asked about "safe-zones" in Syria for civilians he did not sound to keen on such action, pointing out there had been safe-zones in other conflicts that didn't work as planned and cited the 1995 Srebrenica massacre where thousands of Muslim men and boys were slain, while under inadequate UN protection.
Guterres was asked about reform demands from U.S. President Donald Trump who is threatening to defund the United Nations.
"Sometimes we talk too much about things that have not happened and when we talk too much about things that have not happened you trigger the happening of those things," he said. "So one thing you can be absolutely sure is that I will not be making comments on possibilities to enhance the possibilities to possibly be real."
"What I am doing is to do everything I can to prove the added-value of the UN," he said. "To recognize the UN needs reforms, to be totally committed to those reforms and to believe that those reforms will be the best way to get the support of all member states, including the United States of America and the new administration."