|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.
**SG’s Statement on Korean Peninsula
Good afternoon. I’ll start off with a statement on the Korean Peninsula:
“The Secretary-General is pleased that the fourth round of the six-party talks on achieving denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula took place in Beijing in the spirit of mutual respect, and is encouraged that the participants were able to increase understanding and broaden the areas of consensus. The Secretary-General would like to pay special tribute to China as host of the talks, for its dedication and tireless efforts to facilitate progress.
“The Secretary-General urges the Governments concerned to use the time before the round is resumed in three weeks to identify ways to reconcile their needs and concerns.”
**WFP – DPRK
The World Food Programme (WFP) today said donations were urgently needed for its severely underfunded emergency operation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
At present, WFP is unable to provide cereal rations to nearly 1 million North Koreans, mainly elderly people and poor urban residents. Without fresh pledges, that number will rise to more than 3 million by November.
**Security Council – Iraq
The Security Council today is discussing Iraq in its closed consultations. Council members are being briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tuliameni Kalomoh about the work of the UN Mission in Iraq.
The Secretary-General in a recent letter recommended that the Council extend the mandate of that Mission by another 12 months, and that mandate expires this Friday. A draft resolution on the extension of the Mission’s mandate was circulated in the Council today.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ashraf Qazi, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja’afari, to discuss the Constitution and the UN support for elections, as well as the current political situation.
In a statement we issued late yesterday, the Secretary-General said he had spoken to Iran’s new President [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad]; about the Iranian nuclear programme and the negotiations with the three European Union nations.
The Secretary-General urged restraint and encouraged the continuation of the ongoing process. He hopes both sides will remain engaged in the search for an acceptable solution. This afternoon in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors began a meeting to discuss the situation in Iran. The IAEA’s Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, told reporters today that he hopes that the latest developments in Iran are “simply a hiccup in the process and not a permanent rupture”. He called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, desist from taking any unilateral actions and continue the negotiation process.
The UN Mission in Haiti reports that its peacekeepers have freed another kidnap victim in Port-au-Prince. This is the sixth time in recent weeks that UN troops have freed a kidnap victim. The latest rescue came in a large operation which secured an area previously controlled by gangs. The Mission reports that no shots were fired during the operation.
** Niger Appeal
Of the $81 million that the UN requested for Niger, only $26 million has been received. And, within the Appeal, funding for health and nutrition programmes stands at just 4 per cent. Nevertheless, UN agencies are still working to surmount the food crisis in the country. The World Food Programme, for example, yesterday handed out food in a village near the capital, Niamey, marking the start of large-scale distributions.
And the World Health Organization, which is concerned that malnutrition contributes to disease outbreaks, is planning to ship eight cholera kits to Niger, which will be able to handle up to 800 severe cases of the disease. For its part, the UN Children’s Fund is supporting the creation of cereal banks and helping train health workers. And we have more information on Niger upstairs.
Turning now to Ethiopia, a sharp increase in the number of reported malaria cases has prompted the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to warn that the country may be inadequately equipped to confront an epidemic in 2005.
The World Health Organization (WHO), for its part, together with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health, is currently assessing areas at risk. Meanwhile, UNICEF is planning to help WHO and the Ethiopian Government to distribute the malaria treatments that are currently in the country.
**Indigenous People’s Day
Lastly, today being International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, you are invited to celebrate at an event which will include music, dance and storytelling, taking place at 12:30 in the Public Lobby.
In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that our focus must be on action to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and improve their situation with respect to lands, languages, livelihoods and cultures.
And we also have a message from Juan Somavia, the Director General of the International Labour Organization.
And I think that is it for me. Any questions? Yes, Nick.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Do you have any update on … Mark Malloch Brown touched on a little bit yesterday about looking into procurement, but with Alexander Yakovlev and the investigation looking into actions… and him pleading guilty to actions that fell outside “oil-for-food”, what further steps is the UN taking to investigate other possibilities of corruption within procurement specifically?
Spokesman: My understanding is that the OIOS is continuing to look at that issue and, meanwhile, as Mark I think said to you yesterday, the US National Institute of Government Purchasing has given us some 47 additional technical recommendations on strengthening the procurement process. In addition, OIOS will also be making recommendations regarding the strengthening of oversight of procurement officers.
Question: So, is that an issue of pretty serious concern that needs to be addressed urgently? I mean, how would you describe the …
Spokesman: It is clearly an issue of concern. We’re talking about large sums of money and anything we can do to strengthen the oversight and the way that Division works would be done.
Question: On Iran, has the UN been, in any way, in talks with the US regarding its now public threats to possibly not give the President a visa?
Spokesman: We’re not aware, at least I’m not aware, of any issue regarding a visa for the Iranian President coming here.
Question: It was in a lot of newspapers today and it was at a briefing yesterday at the State Department.
Spokesman: I’m not aware…
Question: You’re not aware of this?
Spokesman: What I’m saying is I’m not aware of the Iranian authorities either coming to us raising concerns about their Head of State not getting a visa or the US informing us that they would not give him one. So, this may still be a bilateral issue. If I find out anything, I will let you know.
Question: Okay, and is there any thinking at the UN level whether in terms of sort of scenario, designs or, I don’t know, just looking at options as to what might happen with regards to Iran coming to the Security Council? Or is this something that the UN isn’t doing any planning for?
Spokesman: At this stage, the Secretary-General very much hopes that this issue will be resolved within the context of the negotiations between the EU-3 and the Iranians.
Question: So, then, is there any planning or any sort of strategizing as to what might happen, given that the threats are getting louder to bring it to the UN Security Council?
Spokesman: I think whatever public statements are made, our focus right now remains on the EU-3 and the Iranians …
Question: But is there any planning taking place or not?
Spokesman: Whatever planning, whatever issue comes up to the Council, it will be up to the Council members themselves.
Question: But is there any …
Spokesman: I have nothing else to add on this.
Question: Just a little more on Iran. I think one of the Iranian news services was reporting their President as saying he discussed with Kofi Annan some new ideas, or he might have new ideas… Can you give us any information about that?
Spokesman: I saw the press reports, but I’ve got nothing to add on the conversation between the President and the Secretary-General than what we said in the statement.
Question: How do you describe Annan’s role? What is his role in this, given that the EU-3 have been the lead on the negotiations?
Spokesman: They very much remain the lead. He is supporting the process in whatever way he can.
Question: I have a question on Guantánamo Bay. Apparently, according to some press reports, the US is transforming the detention site in Guantánamo Bay, maybe to be more detainee-friendly, I don’t know. I just wanted to know if there’s been any update on the UN request to visit the site and if the UN was consulted on these changes that they are planning to do.
Spokesman: Not on this end, but you might want to check with the Human Rights Office, especially on any developments concerning the visit by the independent human rights experts.
Question: Yesterday Mark Malloch Brown mentioned that an internal study on procurement policy had been performed. What can you tell us about that study and will you make it public?
Spokesman: The study, I think, had to do with what he was referring to, which was what I was talking about earlier about the National Institute of Government Purchasing and their recommendations, as well as OIOS. I’ll double-check if there’s a formal study, and whether it would be made public. But I’ll get back to you on that.
Question: On Haiti… in Rwanda, the peacekeepers couldn’t even get permission to raid weapons caches that they knew about, but now they’re rescuing kidnap victims. What’s the change there?
Spokesman: I think it’s part of the robust UN effort on the ground to help bring security to the residents of Port-au-Prince.
Question: Also, on Benon Sevan. Maybe you mentioned this earlier, if so, I apologize. But what’s the status on his pension and all his other UN benefits that he has accrued after his resignation? Does he still have the right to use those? What’s the situation?
Spokesman: Any staff member’s pension remains his own, and I think there’ve been a number of cases recently by the UN Tribunal which clearly state that the Organization cannot withhold the pension of a staff member.
Question: Is the SG in talks with countries about finding a way out of the impasse over Security Council enlargement at the moment, following the request by the Uniting for Consensus ambassadors and broader request for the SG to perhaps try and help out here?
Spokesman: He still very much hopes that there will be a deal found in time for the Summit and he’s been available to Member States to assist them in the negotiations, which they themselves are leading on the Security Council reform.
Question: But in any way could we say that he is helping in brokering a compromise?
Spokesman: He is not a broker. The GA President is leading the efforts and the SG is assisting in whatever way he can.
Question: In the event there’s no consensus on the resolution on the reform of the Security Council, would the Secretary-General be happy if the other reforms are adopted and implemented, without Council reforms?
Spokesman: I think we still have ways to go before the September Summit, so let’s not try to predict what we would say or do.
Question: Regards procurement, obviously there’s going to be questions now… Yakovlev seems to have done some sort of deal, which implies there may be more information coming out. Is there sort of continuing active investigations into the financial affairs of other procurement officers to see if there’s more wrongdoing? Does the UN believe that the corruption in the procurement department has now been identified and dealt with, or is there a suspicion there may be more cases to come?
Spokesman: I will get an update from OIOS to give you a more detailed answer on that.
[The Spokesman later announced that OIOS does not consider Mr. Yakovlev’s case closed, and continues to look into other activities in the Procurement Division.]
Question: How confident is the Secretary-General that those reforms of the Council will be adopted during the Summit?
Spokesman: He very much looks forward to the Summit and hopes that they will reach an agreement on the reforms by then. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record