5/8/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon


Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and our Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be joining us shortly to present to you the United Nations Flash Appeal for Niger and to discuss the ongoing humanitarian activities in that country.


** Sudan


Turning to Sudan, on the eve of the funeral services for the former First Vice-President John Garang, the United Nations Mission in that country reports that while Khartoum remains calm, an overnight curfew is still in effect.  In southern Sudan, the situation is also reported to be calm, but tensions do persist.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk, will be in the southern city of Juba for the funeral ceremony tomorrow, and he plans to be back in Khartoum on Sunday.  While in Juba, Jan Pronk plans to have meetings with the leadership of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) to discuss the next steps towards implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in which Garang had played such a crucial role.


**United Nations Mission in Iraq


The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council, says that the United Nations Mission in Iraq has grown in size and expanded its activities, despite severe operational and security constraints.  At present, he says there are some 260 United Nations civilian and military personnel based in Iraq, and that number is expected to rise further this year with the operational use of the new facilities in Erbil and Basra.  The Secretary-General recommends that the Security Council extend the United Nations Mission’s mandate, which is currently scheduled to expire on August 12, for a further period of 12 months.


The Security Council plans to discuss Iraq during its next scheduled meeting in closed consultations, which is set for Tuesday, August 9, and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tuliameni Kalomoh, will brief the Council.


**Iraqi Constitution


Yesterday, I got a question on the issue of the new Iraqi Constitution, and I just wanted to add some further details on the United Nations’ role in that process.  The United Nations is actively working with the Constitutional Drafting Committee of the Transitional National Assembly of Iraq and continues to advise the Committee to adhere to the international best practices.  This is especially true in the area of human rights and women’s rights.


Representatives from over 60 women’s groups have met with the United Nations Special Representative, Ashraf Qazi, in Baghdad last week, raising their concerns that women’s rights might be rolled back from what they currently enjoy.  The United Nations Mission has also met with parliamentarians and constitutional Committee members representing a wide range of views in this area.


The Special Representative, Ashraf Qazi, as well as the United Nations Office of Constitutional Support in Iraq, have accordingly provided the Drafting Committee with advice on Iraq’s commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, known as CEDAW -- which Iraq has ratified -- in addition to examples of how other States in the Arab and Islamic world have adhered to the CEDAW regulations.  Mr. Qazi will remain appraised of this matter and continues to support the maintenance and advancement of the rights of women in Iraq.  We understand that there has been recently a significant improvement in the draft text of the Constitution as a result of submissions to the Constitutional Committee.  These amendments have removed clauses, which had been the subject of criticism.


And that’s the update on the Constitution.


** Iran


Turning to Iran, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will meet next Tuesday, at 10:30 a.m. in Vienna, to discuss the situation in Iran.  The meeting was requested by the Permanent Missions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in a letter, on August 4, to the Chair of the Board of the IAEA.  Those countries want to discuss the implementation of the IAEA safeguards in Iran and related Board resolutions.


More information is available upstairs from the IAEA.


And I have, I believe, a statement here.


**Statement Attributable to Spokesman for the Secretary-General


“The Secretary-General is saddened by the news of the deaths of four innocent civilians, including two girls not yet twenty, who lost their lives yesterday in a bus in the Arab town of Shfar’am in northern Israel at the hands of an Israeli in Israeli Defence Forces uniform, who had gone AWOL from his unit.  He sends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.  The Secretary-General condemns this terrorist act.


“Although the incident is under investigation, it appears that the killer was lynched by the surrounding people.  This incident is, thus, not only a painful tragedy but also a cautionary tale, vividly illustrating the dangers of fanaticism run amok in an atmosphere of tension at a crucial time.”


This statement is obviously available upstairs for you.


** Lebanon


From Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for southern Lebanon, expressed his concern over Israel’s air violations of the Blue Line today.  Five Israeli overflights were recorded in southern Lebanon.


Geir Pedersen reiterated the United Nations’ call on Israel to cease its air violation and reminded all parties that one violation cannot justify another.


**Appointment


We have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Mr. Francesco Bastagli of Italy as the Head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, known to you as MINURSO.  He replaces Alvaro de Soto, who, as you know, is the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Middle East.  We expect the Security Council to respond shortly to the Secretary-General’s letter.


Mr. Bastagli has been with the United Nations since 1974 and is currently Deputy Special Representative for Civil Administration for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, known as UNMIK.


** Somalia


Turning to Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, this week presented an agenda for dialogue to Somalia’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker, as well as other Members of Parliament, in trips he made to Jowhar and Mogadishu on Monday and Wednesday.  Fall had extensive and frank exchanges with both groups on reconciliation, the relocation of the Government, as well as security issues and the deployment of peace support troops.


In spite of differences among the members of the Somali Federal Institutions, the Jowhar and Mogadishu groups responded positively to Fall’s initiative, and said they would continue discussions with him on the issues raised.  He intends to continue his shuttle consultations between the two groups to narrow the gap between them before organizing a meeting of the parties.


** Côte d’Ivoire


The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire has issued a strong condemnation of obstructions put in the way of the Mission.  A United Nations spokesman in Abidjan said local armed groups had repeatedly blocked Blue Helmets and civilian United Nations employees from carrying out their work.  The spokesman said the blockages were “inadmissible” and had hampered efforts to implement the peace agreement.


** Myanmar


From Myanmar, James Morris, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), has just wrapped up a four-day mission to that country and has concluded that the Asian nation must do more to help its hungry millions.  Morris also urged the international community to step up support for Myanmar’s people, noting that just 20 per cent of the $8 million required to feed former opium poppy growers had been secured.


In a press release on Morris’s trip, which we have upstairs, WFP says that 1 out of every 3 young children in Myanmar is chronically malnourished or physically stunted.


**UNHCR


The United Nations Refugee Agency today reports that it has completed its first visit to Montagnards who have recently returned to Vietnam from Cambodia. The team said that the small group of Montagnards it had visited in the Vietnamese central highlands seemed to be faring well.  They did not appear to be endangered or threatened, as had been reported in some quarters, according to the refugee agency.


And more details are available upstairs on that.


** Hiroshima


This weekend in Hiroshima, the Secretary-General will send a message to a Peace Memorial Ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Japan.  In his message, the Secretary-General is expected to note that, without concerted action, we may face a cascade of nuclear proliferation.  He will challenge world leaders, due to gather at next month’s 2005 World Summit in New York, to use that occasion to break the deadlock on the most pressing challenges in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.


Embargoed copies of the message are available upstairs.  That message is to be delivered by the Head of the Disarmament Affairs Department here in New York, Nobuyasu Abe.  And we also have a press release from the IAEA Director General on that occasion.


**General Assembly


Lastly, the newly revised draft outcome document for the September World Summit is being finalized as we speak, for submission to Member States this afternoon.  Ambassador Christopher Hackett of Barbados, who is one of General Assembly President Jean Ping’s facilitators, will give you a briefing at 3 o’clock right here.  He will be joined by Ambassador John Dauth of Australia, who is currently Acting President in the absence of the General Assembly President Jean Ping.  [That briefing was subsequently changed to 4 p.m.]


And we’ll have copies of that document, as soon as it is ready.


And we do have the week ahead available for you.


That’s it from me.  Before we turn to Ms. Wahlström, any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Could you please comment on whether the United Nations agreement with the host country allows the United States to bar any Head of State from coming to attend the Summit or the General Assembly session?


Spokesman:  In the Host Country Agreement, the local authorities -- in the case of the United Nations in New York, those are the United States authorities -- have an obligation not to impede the travel to United Nations Headquarters of officials from Member States, or United Nations staff travelling on official business.  And we do have the Host Country Agreement available for you upstairs, and we can give you the paragraphs that relate to the issuance of visas.


Question:  According to reports, Mr. Burnham is setting a 6- to 9-month period for the United Nations to leave this building for renovations.  Is it true?  Because I believe he is very serious about it.


Spokesman:  Oh, we are very serious about the need to renovate the building -- that’s clear.  And that’s what the Capital Master Plan is all about.  As you know, it is not yet finalized.  We are still waiting for the Fifth Committee to approve the loan offer from the host authority, so I think they are probably getting a bit ahead of themselves on that.


Question:  How much time is needed?


Spokesman:  I think we’ll have to see.  It depends on where we go and we do expect the new head of the Capital Master Plan to come here very early September, and we’ve made provisions for him to brief you along with Chris Burnham on this very issue.


Thank you very much.


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