|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. I apologize for the delay. We had quite a number of statements to put out today.
**SG Statement on Hurricane Katrina
I’ll start with the one on Hurricane Katrina, which the Secretary-General issued last night.
“It’s now clear that Hurricane Katrina has caused a huge disaster. The damage is far worse than any of us imagined at first. The American people -- who have always been the most generous in responding to disasters in other parts of the world -- have now themselves suffered a grievous blow. I know that I speak for the whole world in offering them my heartfelt sympathy, and any assistance that the United Nations can give.
“Of course the United States is also the country in the world best prepared to cope with such a disaster. But the sheer size of this emergency makes it possible that we can supplement the American response with supplies from other countries, or with experience we have gained in other relief operations. I know we will not be alone. We will be happy to work with other parts of the international community to support the efforts of President Bush and his administration, the American Red Cross, and other U.S. relief organizations who have been our partners in the past.”
This morning, a short while ago, the Secretary-General spoke with President Bush and expressed his heartfelt sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and reiterated his offer of UN assistance.
In terms of follow-up to that offer, the United Nations has set up an inter-agency task force, chaired by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), here in New York. It is meeting this morning to determine the UN resources are available at the moment to aid the relief effort, in anticipation of a possible request from the United States Government. The task force is composed of representatives from OCHA and the Office of the Secretary-General, as well as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Human Settlements Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Thus far, it has been determined that the agencies are ready to provide water storage tanks, water purification tablets, high-energy biscuits, generators, planes, tents, and other emergency supplies, as well as experienced staff members. OCHA has also sent out a general alert to the UN Disaster, Assessment and Coordination teams, which are trained to evaluate needs and coordinate aid during natural disasters.
**SG Statement on Aceh, Indonesia
The second statement we have today is on Aceh.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the positive initial steps taken by both the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in implementing the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding which they signed on 15 August 2005. He also welcomes the arrival in the province of some of the members of the Aceh Monitoring Mission appointed by the EU and ASEAN.
“The Secretary-General is encouraged by the Government of Indonesia’s withdrawal of approximately 1,300 soldiers from the province, and its release of several hundred GAM members and sympathisers from jail. He also commends the GAM for encouraging at least 60 of its members to emerge from their jungle hideouts in Southern Aceh.
“The Secretary-General urges both parties to remain resolute in implementing the MoU, to ensure the new and bright future which it promises for the people of Aceh.”
**SG Statement on Alliance of Civilizations
The third statement I have today is on the Alliance of Civilizations.
“The Secretary-General is pleased to announce the composition of the High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations. The members have been identified through extensive consultations with specialists in the field of inter-civilizational and intercultural relations. A few more members may be included later.
“The Group is expected to hold its first meeting in late November 2005. It will be serviced by the Alliance secretariat, which is currently in the process of being established.”
The terms of reference, and the list of the members of the Group, are available upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.
**Secretary-General in London
The Secretary-General will be in London next Monday and Tuesday to chair the First Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for 2006-2007.
On Monday, he will meet with the Fund’s Executive Director, Richard Feachem, as well as with UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and other officials attending the conference.
Then, on Tuesday, the Secretary-General will speak at the opening session of the Conference and will attend the pledging session that follows. He will hold also bilateral meetings on the margins of those sessions, and he is expected to return to New York later that day.
A rough schedule of his trip will be made available. In response to a question I received yesterday, the Secretary-General is currently in Europe and will be spending a few days there before starting his mission in London for the AIDS Conference.
Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council held consultations this morning on its programme of work for September, in its first session of the month.
The new President, Ambassador Lauro Baja of the Philippines, will talk to you about the Council’s work during September at a press briefing here shortly, just after this briefing.
**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
A report of a UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigation, requested by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, has shown significant financial misconduct by Ukrainian military personnel, including by the commanding officer. The findings have been shared with the Ukrainian Government, which has confirmed its readiness to take prompt action to investigate these allegations.
Both the United Nations and the Government of Ukraine are taking this matter very seriously. The United Nations has initiated action to replace the Ukrainian unit in UNIFIL and is taking necessary measures to prevent recurrence.
We have copies upstairs of the full press statement, which was, I believe, issued earlier today by the Ukrainian Government.
** Sri Lanka
On the request of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General has asked his Special Adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, to visit Sri Lanka.
Mr. Brahimi is arriving in the country for a four-day visit, during which he will meet with Government officials and members of the UN country team. He will assess the situation in the country and report back to the Secretary-General on his return.
This is in response to a question we had yesterday about a possible visit by Ibrahim Gambari.
A visit by Ibrahim Gambari was proposed for the week of August 29, largely to further discussions about a visit by the Secretary-General.
There has been no formal response; however, the Foreign Minister did convey that, given President Mugabe’s plans to attend the Summit in just two weeks time in New York, it would make more sense for him and the Secretary-General to meet directly on the margins of the Summit.
We see this as basically an issue of timing and practicality. Given the circumstances, the Government felt the visit was not timely. Consultations continue about a possible visit at a later date by Mr. Gambari, with the same objectives of discussing the situation in Zimbabwe, as well as the timing and agenda of a visit by the Secretary-General.
**High Commissioner on Human Rights Wraps up China Visit
At the end of her visit to China today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour saluted progress in the realization of economic and social rights in China, her spokesman told us a short while ago.
She was guardedly optimistic about prospects for progress in human rights in China in view of the Government’s declarations of its commitment and the rapid changes taking place. She said, though, that she had raised a number of concerns with Chinese officials, citing the need for judicial review of all decisions regarding deprivation of liberty. She also called for the immediate overhaul of the system of administrative detention, known as re-education through labour.
There is a complete press release upstairs for you if you need more information on that.
**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
A couple of other press releases: one of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). They report that justice officials from 40 countries from Africa will meet in Abuja, Nigeria, next week to discuss corruption problems in Africa.
Discussions of the core negotiating group and thematic subgroups are continuing on the draft outcome document on UN reform for the Summit. Assembly President Jean Ping will brief the press on the status of those negotiations at 1:30 this afternoon, here in Room 226. The briefing will be moderated by Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information.
[It was later announced that that briefing was cancelled.]
We also have a statement issued on the death of Joseph Rotblat.
Monday, Headquarters will be closed because of Labour Day.
On Tuesday, Shashi Tharoor will join us at the noon briefing to unveil the New York City advertising campaign on the 2005 World Summit. We also have the Week Ahead for your planning purposes.
That is all I have for you. The Security Council President should be coming shortly. Do you have any questions for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Another UN official has been arrested by American authorities for what looks like money-laundering. How wide-spread is this problem? Can you share with us what is going on regarding possible other UN officials who are tied to this?
Deputy Spokesman: All I can tell you is that we can confirm that Mr. Vladimir Kuznetzov, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), was arrested last night. We can confirm to you that the Secretary-General did waive his diplomatic immunity in response to a request, and that we have been cooperating with the U.S. authorities on this inquiry, which comes out of an investigation that had been initiated by OIOS against [former procurement officer Alexander] Yakovlev, which you are all familiar with. Those are the basic facts I can tell you about this case.
We don’t know more in terms of how widespread it is. We don’t know, at this point, if more will be uncovered. As I mentioned, it was OIOS who had instigated the investigation against Mr. Yakovlev and then turned it over to U.S. federal authorities.
Question: Was it also OIOS, or was it the U.S. authorities who found out about Mr. Kuznetsov?
Deputy Spokesman: OIOS was not investigating Mr. Kuznetsov.
Question: Can you tell us how this man can possibly be a UN official, since the ACABQ are diplomats, elected by Governments, financial experts, and not Secretariat. There is someone with a very similar name, who is a Secretariat official, who is a different person. I would like you to put that on the record, so I can understand that.
Deputy Spokesman: On your latter question: there seems to be some misunderstanding. There is another gentleman who works in this building. His name is Vadim Kouznetzov. His last name sounds the same but is spelled differently. His first name is Vadim. He has nothing to do with this case. I think his bosses were concerned that his name was being implicated. The name of this gentleman is Vladimir Kuznetsov, Chairman of the ACABQ. His bio is available on the public General Assembly website.
On your question about Mr. Kuznetsov: under a General Assembly resolution, the Assembly approved the granting of privileges and immunities under Articles 5 and 7 to the Chairman of the ACABQ. We waived his immunity, because he was covered under Article 5 as a UN official.
Question: Because he is Chairman. But he is appointed by the Russians to this job. He is a Russian diplomat, a financial expert, as everyone in the ACABQ. Has this always happened?
Deputy Spokesman: My understanding is that the Chair of the ACABQ has this status, but not the rest of the 15 members. Yes, and he was elected as Chair by the Committee.
Question: Am I to understand that there aren’t any other UN officials who are being looked at now?
Deputy Spokesman: You would have to ask the U.S. authorities. I think they are about to unseal the indictment on Mr. Kuznetsov’s case and we don’t have anything further on that right now.
Question: In terms, of the OIOS and their investigation, are there any other UN officials who are being looked at?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further on the OIOS investigation.
Question: Can we be given an update by OIOS on where things stand on the investigation?
Deputy Spokesman: I can ask, but as of now, on this case, we referred the matter over to U.S. authorities. As you know, Mr. Yakovlev was arrested last month.
Question: Which person did you refer to the U.S. authorities?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Yakovlev.
Question: Could we get a photo of Mr. Kuznetsov?
Deputy Spokesman: We can try to help you, but you may want to try the Russian Mission. We will try to find one for you, if you are looking.
Question: Has there been communication between the United Nations and the Russian Mission or the Consul-General? Also, would they also have to waive diplomatic immunity?
Deputy Spokesman: His status as whether he is an active member of the Russian Government... I don’t know what his status is. As I mentioned, we waived immunity from our side, because of his status being covered under Article 5. Has there been communication? Yes, I believe the Secretary-General has spoken to Mr. Sergey Lavrov [Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation].
Question: When did the request come from the Americans to the Secretary-General to waive immunity?
Deputy Spokesman: The request, I believe, came yesterday.
Question: Are there any other requests at this point?
Deputy Spokesman: Not that I have heard of, no.
Question: I could not find his bio on the ACABQ website.
Deputy Spokesman: Copies are available in our office.
Question: Regarding the Ukrainian/Lebanon issue. Are there any more details at all, like how much money was involved or other details?
Deputy Spokesman: According to what we have gotten from OIOS and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) on this, because there is a national investigation ongoing, there are no other details being provided. Allegations are of a financial misconduct, but further questions on the contents of the report should be referred to Ukraine.
Question: Regarding Ms. Arbour’s visit to China: as far as I know, the Special Reporter on Torture and Arbitrary Detention has been trying to visit China. Is there any progress after this visit?
Deputy Spokesman: I have not any report on that, but I can certainly look into that for you. It was not part of the read-out and the press release that was issued today, but we can ask her office.
Question: The situation in Côte d’Ivoire seems to be very serious as the opposition is now saying that they would not participate in the October elections, that they want a transition without a President and that they don’t trust the South African mediation. How concerned is the Secretary-General about possible renewal of violence? Also, who is representing the three NGO groups in the summit?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have an answer for you on the latter question.
[The correspondent was later informed that it was thought Mr. Schwabb was to be replaced, but the list she had indicated the following:
In the separate meeting on Financing for Development, Wednesday, 14 September, the representative of civil society is Leonor Briones ( Philippines), Director, Social Watch. The representative of the private sector was supposed to be Prof. Klaus Schwabb (German), Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, but that is to be checked again.
For participation in the High-level Plenary Meeting, on Friday afternoon, 16 September, the representative of an NGO in consultative status with ECOSOC is Guy Ryder ( United Kingdom), General Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The representative of civil society is Virginia Vargas ( Peru), Founding Director and Executive Board Member of the Centre for Peruvian Women “Floria Tristan”. The representative of the private sector is Dr. Bamanga Tukur ( Nigeria), Group Chairman of BHI Holdings Limited.]
On Côte d’Ivoire, the last time the Secretary-General spoke out on the issue, he was actually in Africa. I think he had some pretty sharp words to say to the parties in the peace process there. His special Representative was here earlier, and I would like to refer you to his press briefing in which he raised a number of concerns here in this room.
Question: The UN has offered assistance regarding Hurricane Katrina. Has the U.S. asked for help?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know if you missed the initial blurb I had. The task force was set up with all the operational agencies with experience in dealing with these kinds of disasters, in the anticipation that there may be a request coming. As I mentioned, the offer was first mentioned by Mr. Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, to Mr. Bolton. The Secretary-General then made it public and reiterated it to Mr. Bush. We are simply trying to get our side in order and coordinated so that we can make precise offers of what the UN family as a whole can do for these victims.
Question: In terms of international donations, is the UN getting involved in donations from other countries? Is there a system being set up?
Deputy Spokesman: You would have to ask the U.S. that question.
Question: Are the UN agencies saying they would coordinate the foreign aid offers that are coming in for Katrina?
Deputy Spokesman: Because there has been no specific request for assistance, I think what the task force is doing now is just trying to list the kind of assistance the UN can provide. The UN system has vast experience in dealing with disasters. They have coordination assistance and expertise of people who can mobilize things like food, shelter, health, all the needs, and establish priorities, based, not only dealing with the tsunami, but also in dealing with refugee emergencies and other crises. There is a wealth of expertise and technicians who can help. We have made that offer. The Secretary-General wants to help in whatever way he can.
Question: Secretary of State Rice said yesterday that the U.S. was willing to accept foreign aid for Katrina. Did that include any request for the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Right now, our offer has been made. We are now meeting and coordinating and identifying what we can provide in anticipation of a more direct assistance request. We hope that the cooperation will move along speedily.
Question: The Secretary-General said last night that the U.S. was the country best prepared to deal with a disaster like Katrina. However, it was clear that the country was totally unprepared.
Deputy Spokesman: I think what he was referring to was that in past emergencies, the United States has been very instrumental, when they provided assistance, in coping with disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. They have played a major role, and I think that was what he was referring to.
Question: Is it possible to get a list of the various deals Mr. Yakovlev has secured? Because there is obvious reasons to be concerned about who he was associated with in trying to get to the bottom of what corruption there is out there.
Deputy Spokesman: The OIOS was looking into Mr. Yakovlev. When his case went over to U.S. authorities, OIOS was cooperating closely with U.S. authorities. For now, Mr. Yakovlev has been arrested and the next word will have to come from the U.S. authorities on this one.
Question: Is it possible for us to get this information, so that we can do some of the leg work? Could the media corps have a list of Mr. Yakovlev’s dealings?
Deputy Spokesman: You would have to ask the U.S. authorities, who are now looking into this case. The OIOS turned over the investigation to the U.S. authorities and they are now in the lead on this one and the OIOS continues to cooperate.
Question: My question is, can we as journalists review his dealings?
Deputy Spokesman: If the OIOS investigation is still ongoing, so I am not sure that at this point they want to release that information, but I will certainly pass it on to them.
Question: Is the Secretary-General concerned, as a result of this latest indictment, about the validity of the UN budget oversight process, and whether Member States are getting the kind of oversight of the budget that is required, particularly at a time when UN reform is such a big issue?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have the Secretary-General’s immediate reaction on this, but I will look into that for you.
Question: Do you have any response to U.S. criticism on how you are phrasing the Millennium Development Goals?
Deputy Spokesman: We stand by our statement that we made earlier this week on the Millennium Development Goals. The Secretary-General made his position on development clear when he spoke to the core negotiating group and when he spoke to you at the stakeout afterwards.
Question: Yesterday, it was said that the new President of the Security Council was going to brief the press here, about 10 minutes ago? Is that still on, and when will that be?
Deputy spokesman: If I weren’t sitting here, I am sure he would be here, but I am sure he will be here right after I leave.
Have a good weekend!
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For information media • not an official record