|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. We have our guest here already. His name is Nureldin Satti. He is the Secretary-General’s Principal Deputy Special Representative for Burundi, and he is joining us to brief us on the latest developments in that country, and he just briefed the Security Council in closed consultations.
**SG Returns to NY
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the Secretary General:
“The Secretary-General will be returning to New York today, Tuesday, 30 August. He has decided to interrupt his vacation to take stock of progress towards the 2005 World Summit, and to support the President of the General Assembly in his efforts to ensure a successful Summit.”
With regard to the latest developments in the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri investigation, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, is now scheduled to brief the Security Council this afternoon in closed session. This is according to the Department of Political Affairs.
What we can confirm at this point, based on information received from the Commissioner Detlev Mehlis, who heads the Independent Investigative Commission, is that in the course of the ongoing investigation, the Commission identified three former heads of Lebanese intelligence and security agencies, as well as a former member of Parliament, as suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and 20 others.
This morning, on the orders of Commissioner Mehlis and with the full cooperation of the Lebanese police forces, the homes and premises of the suspects were searched for evidence. The suspects, with the exception of Nasser Kandil, who is the member of Parliament and in Syria, are being interviewed. General Mustafa Hamdan, who was previously declared a suspect, was summoned for a second interview.
Just to let you know, we do not have anything more to add from Headquarters on this matter beyond what I just read to you.
On the Security Council, as I just mentioned, they held consultations on Burundi and are currently being briefed on Sudan.
Regarding Sudan, the Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi, is briefing on the Abuja talks, the peace talks between the Sudanese Government and rebel groups from the Darfur region.
The consultations will be followed by a formal meeting on Burundi, and press statements are expected afterwards.
In Sudan itself today, the Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, Taye Zerihoun, met with Salim Ahmed Salim, the African Union Mediator for the inter-Sudanese talks on Darfur. Discussions there focused on the ongoing preparations for the sixth round of Abuja talks, scheduled to take place on the 15th of September, which will tackle the issue of power-sharing, wealth-sharing and security arrangements. And we’ll have more in the update from Sudan upstairs for you.
Turning to Malawi, the United Nations today launched a flash appeal for nearly $88 million for Malawi, where at least 4.2 million people -- a third of the population -- are threatened by acute food insecurity. In the short term, the requested funds will be used to provide emergency humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable. In the longer term, the appeal strengthens a national plan to provide much-needed maize seed and fertilizer.
Jan Egeland, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, says the appeal is an investment in prevention, which will prove more cost-effective than providing emergency assistance year after year.
And we have a press release with more details available upstairs.
**Tsunami Deputy Envoy to Assess Recovery
Eric Schwartz, the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, will travel to Sri Lanka and Indonesia starting tomorrow for a 10-day assessment mission.
The purpose of his visit is to see first-hand the impact the tsunami has had on people’s lives and to gauge the current status of the recovery effort.
Schwartz will consult with a wide range of partners, including government officials and representatives of UN agencies, civil society and the business community. And he will focus on the launch of the online financial tracking system, shelter, livelihoods and sustainable timber sourcing.
On a related note, the Secretary-General’s report on the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is out on the racks today. Among other things, the Secretary-General encourages governments to maintain their support for the development of a tsunami early warning system.
On Kosovo, the UN Mission there (UNMIK) has tightened security in Kosovo, putting extra police patrols on the streets of Serb enclaves, following last weekend’s shooting incident, in which two Kosovo Serbs were killed.
Kai Vittrup, UNMIK’s Police Commissioner, said in a press conference yesterday that he considers the incident an isolated one that should not be seen as a first step in future terror attacks against minorities. At this stage of the investigation, the ethnicity of the suspects was unknown, he added.
And turning to General Assembly matters here in New York, the General Assembly’s so-called “Core Group” on the draft outcome document on UN reform for next month’s Summit will continue to meet throughout the week. Following a schedule set out by General Assembly President Ping, the group will tackle seven priority issues identified by Mr. Ping: development; UN Secretariat reform; the establishment of a Human Rights Council; the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission; disarmament and non-proliferation; terrorism; and the responsibility to protect.
The Group took up terrorism and the Peacebuilding Commission yesterday, and appointed a smaller group for each of the two subjects to conduct negotiations and hammer out details on those sections. A similar approach will be followed for the other priority items as well. And this is according to the General Assembly President’s Office.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
At 11 a.m. tomorrow, this is just to flag the press conferences tomorrow, the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein will be sponsoring a press conference by Amnesty International, Oxfam and the World Federalist Movement on the UN reform negotiations.
Following Security Council consultations tomorrow, at approximately 12:45, Pierre Schori, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, will be here to update you on the situation in that country. My understanding is that it is a private meeting of the Security Council on Côte d’Ivoire tomorrow.
And also, as a guest, we will be having Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), who will join us to launch the third edition of the series “Progress of the World’s Women”.
And just to confirm, the press briefing that was requested by you on the Summit logistical and security arrangements is at 12:30 on Thursday, 1 September. Inspector Phyllis Moore of Headquarters Security and Safety Service, together with Gary Fowlie, Chief of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, will be in this room to brief you on logistical and security arrangements during the World Summit, which runs from 14 to 16 September, and the general debate, which begins on the 17th and ends on the 27th.
**Questions and Answers
Deputy Spokesman: This is tomorrow, guest at the noon briefing.
Question: And we have briefings or four things tomorrow? Can you...?
Deputy Spokesman: It appears ... right now, there’s an 11:15 briefing sponsored by the Mission of Liechtenstein, and then we have Noeleen Heyzer. And I believe it’s after the private meeting, so I think it’ll be after 1 o’clock, Pierre Schori on Côte d’Ivoire.
Question: Would the Secretary-General urge Member States to resist calls by the US to take out references to the Millennium Development Goals in the outcome document?
Deputy Spokesman: As I just mentioned to you, the Core Group is discussing development as one of the priority areas. The Secretary-General and the United Nations stand fully behind the Millennium Development Goals, which are internationally accepted and which have the broad support of Member States and civil society. Any effort to eliminate the MDGs from the Summit outcome would be a setback to the global fight against poverty and for the billions living in poverty. That’s what I have to say on that subject.
Question: The International Federation of Journalists has sent a letter to the Secretary-General asking for an investigation of all of the deaths of journalists in Iraq and the targeting. I was wondering whether you could confirm that the letter had been received and whether the Secretary-General plans to take any action.
Deputy Spokesman: On the letter, yes, I can confirm that we have received the letter from the Federation. It was received, I believe, yesterday. We are studying it, but on the subject of protection and the right to work of journalists, I just wanted to point out that the Secretary-General has repeatedly urged all actors in conflict situations around the world –- governments, local authorities and armed forces –- to protect the right of all citizens to reliable information and the right of journalists to provide it without fearing for their security and their freedom or their lives.
He has spoken out strongly against the fact that when belligerents see freedom of expression as an enemy to their cause and media as a tool for propaganda, journalists who attempt to report in a non-partisan way face pressure, manipulation, intimidation or even elimination. He has called for an end to that practice and for freedom for journalists to practice their profession.
Question: On the international investigation, did Mr. Mehlis receive any cooperation from Syria until now?
Deputy Spokesman: On the investigation, as I mentioned to you after I read you today’s briefing from the Department of Political Affairs, this is really all I have for you. As I mentioned, Mr. Gambari will be briefing the Council again this afternoon, and you can pose the question to him if he would want to speak at the stakeout. But this is all I have for you.
Question: But you said Mr. Kandil is in Syria and he’s being interrogated in Syria. Who is interrogating him?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing beyond what I read to you on this subject. [She later announced that Mr. Kandil returned to Lebanon and was interviewed.]
Question: Stephen Lewis, the UN’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, made a statement yesterday blaming the US relief organization PEPBAR for not issuing enough condoms. Does the Secretary-General have anything further to add to Lewis’ statement?
Deputy Spokesman: I do not have anything directly from the Secretary-General and as for Mr. Lewis, as you know, he is a very passionate advocate and policymaker in terms of dealing with AIDS and the fight against AIDS in Africa. We are in touch with his office. He did speak to some NGOs and the press yesterday, and I’d like to refer you to his office for further elaboration on what he said because I don’t have a full text of what he mentioned.
Question: And has he spoken to the Secretary-General since he made that statement?
Deputy Spokesman: That I don’t know. But, as you know, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Lewis in this position because of his long-standing experience and his effectiveness in doing this job.
Question: A couple of things... I know what you were saying about the Lebanese situation but did I miss something? The member of Parliament is being interrogated in Syria? Did you say that?
Deputy Spokesman: Let me read to you just that part regarding ... the Commission has identified three former heads of Lebanese intelligence and security agencies, as well as former member of Parliament Nasser Kandil, as suspects in the assassination.
This morning, on the orders of Mr. Mehlis and with the full cooperation of the Lebanese police forces, the homes and premises of the suspects were searched for evidence. The suspects, with the exception of Mr. Kandil, who is in Syria, are being interviewed. And that’s what I have to say.
Question: ...there’s no indication that the former member of Parliament is being interviewed. What steps if any or communications are there by the UN in an attempt to get access to him or have him extradited or whatever, to deal with him?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further than this information. As I said, I just got this as I was walking down and I thought it would...
Question: What is the latest you have on the likely date of Mr. Mehlis’ report?
Deputy Spokesman: I do not have a date for Mr. Mehlis’ report. As you know, he had a mandate in which to complete his report. As far as I know, he has not asked for an extension of that. As Mr. Gambari mentioned after his last briefing, Mr. Mehlis is expected in New York, I believe next week. We’ll see if he has further developments on that.
Question: Is he expected to come back to New York with a report and present it to the Secretary-General at that time?
Deputy Spokesman: I did not say that. I said he is expected in New York next week.
Question: Is he expected to deliver a report to the Secretary-General at that time?
Deputy Spokesman: We have not heard as of now whether he wants an extension or he has asked for one. All we know is that this is in a very delicate stage of the investigation now and that’s why we have to let this brief go as it is as of now because we’re not going to get any further information at this point. [She later announce that Mr. Mehlis was due in New York for consultations and that no written report was expected at the time of his visit.]
Question: Also, one final thing about the Secretary-General. Is there anything particular about the way the negotiations have been going or the whole way things have been proceeding as far as the Core Group and so forth that really sort of inspired him to cut short his vacation and come back?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has already interrupted... this will be the third time he’s interrupting his vacation. He wants to come here to take stock of progress towards the Summit and to support the President during this very intensive week of negotiations. Obviously, he senses, you know, there’s a sense of urgency.
Question: Will he be attending the Core Group meeting?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further on his programme. We’ll have to find out when he arrives later today. We’ll see if we can get him to speak to you as well.
Question: He arrives in the building later today?
Deputy Spokesman: No, he’s arriving back in New York later today.
Question: Three housekeeping things... The Mehlis report as well as the Kosovo report may be due the week of the Summit. Can you find out? I don’t know how this whole place is going to operate and I doubt the Security Council will be considering these items, even if they... well, please not that week. The third thing is can we get a list of the programme for the Summit, of the speakers, not who’s coming but the order? We haven’t had one since May and I know that nothing gets finalized until the last minute. But there has to be a tentative list out, both for the Summit speakers and the GA that follows. I appreciate anything you can do. I’ve never seen anything so late in all the years I’ve been here. [An overview of events was provided after the briefing.]
Deputy Spokesman: Okay, I will do that.
Question: I think May 19th is the last one. If there’s one since then, I’d like to see it.
Question: Do you know if Mr. Gambari will be speaking after the meeting with the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: I just learned about three minutes before I was coming down here that he was actually even going to the Security Council, so let me follow up and ask for you immediately after the briefing. [It was announced later he would not be available to speak to the press following consultations.]
Question: What time will the Security Council be meeting?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s in the afternoon, so usually the Security Council consultations in the afternoon are after 3 o’clock. We’ll let you know that as well. [It was later announced that consultations were to begin at 3 p.m.]
Question: Can you let us know if he has a written statement or speaking notes to Council members, even if you’re not allowed to give it out? It will tip us off that we can ask others. Because it’s not possible like the last time...
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll do. [No written statement was provided, it was later announced.] If there are no other questions for me, I would like to turn the floor over to Principal Deputy Special Representative Satti.
* *** *For information media • not an official record