|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Our guest at noon today will be Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and she’ll be joining us today to talk about her recent visit to Sudan.
Sudan and Iraq are on the Security Council agenda today. The Security Council started the day with a meeting of troop-contributing countries to the UN Mission in Sudan. That meeting was followed by a briefing on the latest developments in Sudan by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk.
A draft resolution was circulated to Council members on the extension of the UN Mission in Sudan. Jan Pronk will be here to brief you in room 226 immediately following the consultations.
Then at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, will brief the Council in an open meeting. That meeting will be followed by closed consultations on Iraq, after which Mr. Qazi will be available to take your questions at the Security Council stakeout microphone area.
Also on Sudan, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan Mendez, is presently in Sudan and will be visiting Darfur this week. His goal is to review the situation in Darfur and to see first-hand the developments that have taken place since the joint visit he undertook with the High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2004.
The purpose of his mandate is preventive and designed to offer recommendations to avoid massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law which, if not addressed, could lead to genocide. Upon completion of his visit, he intends to make recommendations to the Secretary-General and, through him, to the Security Council.
The Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty starts today here at UN Headquarters. The Treaty bans all nuclear-weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions underground, underwater and in the atmosphere.
The Conference will examine ways and means to accelerate the Treaty’s entry into force. The Secretary-General is scheduled to make remarks this afternoon. The Conference ends this Friday, and it’s expected that a Final Declaration will be adopted.
**International Day of Peace
Today is the International Day of Peace. In a ceremony to mark the occasion here at United Nations Headquarters this morning, the Secretary-General rang the traditional Peace Bell, reaffirming the United Nations’ commitment to world peace.
At his side were the UN Messengers of Peace Anna Cataldi, Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall and Elie Wiesel. In his remarks at the ceremony, the Secretary-General also called for the honouring of those who’ve suffered from violence and armed conflict. We have copies of his full remarks available upstairs, as well as more information about other events and observances being held today around the world.
The World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that a 56 per cent funding shortfall is hurting its emergency operation in Iraq, which aims to support more than 3 million people, over half of whom are children.
The agency’s $66 million operation, which runs until the end of this year, has received only $29 million to date. According to a WFP food security survey published last year, over 27 per cent of all Iraqi children under the age of five are chronically malnourished.
**Sport for Peace
Adolf Ogi, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, and Roger Federer, the world’s top-ranked tennis player to date and Spokesperson for the International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005, today gave a joint press conference at the UN Office in Geneva. Saying that sports could help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, Ogi noted that many countries had set up national committees for the Year; the UN was helping to run athletic projects in a number of developing countries; and the sports world had reached out to tsunami survivors through fund-raising and high-profile visits.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Ambassador Philippe Djangoné-Bi of Côte d’Ivoire will brief you on recent developments in that country. That’s it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have a couple of questions. First, late last week the President of Iran gave a press conference and, with Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor looking on, ignored a question asked by an Israeli journalist. What are we to infer from the Under-Secretary-General’s silence? Was there any complaint made or concern presented to the Iranians for their ignoring an Israeli journalist’s question?
Spokesman: I don’t know. One of your colleagues mentioned this to me in passing a bit earlier, but we will look into it and get back to you.
Question: Also, on the blown fuse, what’s the United Nations doing about that? Are you concerned that a blown fuse shut down power and disrupted operations for 12 hours? What does this say about your ability to prepare for a major crisis?
Spokesman: I think the thing to stress is that the fuse obviously was blown and fuses sometimes do blow. During the evacuation, our security services took all precautions and no one was injured at all during the afternoon as people left the Building. Also, we were able to maintain services to the General Assembly and so the work of the General Assembly continued unhindered. Staff that were needed to cover those meetings stayed. It was sort of bad luck with the fuse that it did not completely cut the power to some of the phone and computer services. Those services shut down because they were still getting some power; the back-up generators did not kick in to feed power to the computers and to the telephone service. We’re obviously reviewing those procedures and the back-up generators, when they kick into motion to give out more electricity. But we did manage to keep the essential services of the Building going.
Question: I also got an e-mail that Mark Malloch Brown sent to staff where he said with David Veness that he’s leading an urgent review to find out precisely what went wrong. One thing, just as a point of housekeeping, it would be nice if we got these, too, since we spend just as much time in the Building as United Nations staff. How long is this urgent review going to go for and what does he expect to uncover, other than the fact that the United Nations can’t really handle a blown fuse?
Spokesman: A 4,000-amp fuse blows and we were able to put the electricity back on line later that evening. This happens. The main problem was one of communications with the public announcement system we have over the Building. So the review is going to focus obviously on what led the fuse to blow and also how to enhance communications to staff and all the others, the other people who actually work in this Building through the public announcement system or through e-mail. And we expect Mr. Malloch Brown to get back to the staff and we will get back to you as users of this Building, I think at some point next week.
Question: Given the situation in Iraq, which has been reported, there’s been a shortage of cash and then as it is for other emergency operations, Iraq is short of money, but the United Nations is using all kinds of money for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Why doesn’t the Secretary-General recommend the winding up of UNMOVIC and that money could be used for Iraq’s hungry? And there’s also a report on $1 billion missing. Do you have a comment on that?
Spokesman: On the billion dollar missing, no. I saw the press reports as you did and the issue of UNMOVIC is for the Security Council to decide.
Question: The thing is the Secretary-General can recommend to the Security Council that UNMOVIC is no longer required. That is one thing that he can do.
Spokesman: UNMOVIC reports to the Security Council and it’s for them to decide at this point.
[The Spokesman later announced that the Security Council had in June of this year approved the Secretary General’s recommendation that $200 million be transferred from UNMOVIC’s account to the Development Fund for Iraq.]
Question: As you know, there are 37 prisoners in Moroccan-run prisons who are on hunger strike right now. They have been for the past month and include one woman. According to press reports, 24 have gone into a coma. Is the Secretary-General going to issue a statement on this like he did when the POLISARIO released 404 Moroccan prisoners? Secondly, Von Walstrom, the new Special Envoy, is slated to go there in October. Due to the urgency of this matter, is he going to go anytime before? And thirdly, since Mendez is in Sudan, is he also going to the Western Sahara to look at these prisons?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of Mr. Mendez’s travel schedule. As far as that situation in Western Sahara, the United Nations is concerned about the situation in Western Sahara, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is looking into the matter. A number of special procedures of the Commission have now taken the issue and are looking into the situation. As for the United Nations Mission, it does not have the mandate, so the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in consultations with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations which oversees the Mission, is exploring other possibilities to address this problem. I have nothing else to add on this.
Question: Speaking about recent developments in Côte d’Ivoire, yesterday President Laurent Gbagbo said that he would not negotiate with the rebels or the opposition. And the opposition is saying that they will not go to the elections in October and the mediation in South Africa is now waiting for the African Union to do something. Is the Secretary-General concerned about a possible resumption of violence in Côte d’Ivoire?
Spokesman: On this issue of mediation, we’ve received a letter from President Gbagbo. We’re taking a look at the letter. In terms of our position on it, there’s really been no change since the meeting of the Secretary-General on September 15th when he met with the President of Nigeria and the President of South Africa in which they all agreed to intensify the efforts of the AU, THE Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations in support of the implementation of the peace agreements in Côte d’Ivoire.
Question: Is it possible to get a read-out of Kofi Annan’s scheduled meeting with Mugabe on Sunday and try and give a sense of what happens now? Reports continue of houses being destroyed. Can the United Nations confirm that and what are the next steps following the publication of the report?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General did meet with President Mugabe on the sidelines of the Summit during the weekend. They obviously discussed issues of importance to the United Nations and to Zimbabwe. The meeting was requested by the President as a follow-up to exchanges he had with the Secretary-General regarding the humanitarian situation in the country. They reviewed the humanitarian requirements relating particularly to the situation resulting from demolitions, as well as the food requirement shortfall. They both agreed that it would be appropriate to have a near future high-level visit by an official from OCHA to Zimbabwe. They will be preparing that visit in the weeks ahead.
Question: Is there going to be an OCHA appeal? That’s being issued right?
Spokesman: No, the OCHA appeal has not been issued.
Question: I understood it might be imminent. And does the decision to send a high-level humanitarian official reflect the United Nations stepping back from its earlier hope to send a political affairs official?
Spokesman: The visit by Mr. Gambariwas really folded into -- because of the timing, it was decided that these issues would be better discussed at Headquarters. So it’s not a replacement; it’s just a focus on the humanitarian situation.
Question: Does the Secretary-General still want to go or what’s the issue with him possibly going?
Spokesman: I think any visit by the Secretary-General would have to be carefully prepared with an agenda, as well, for the visit. Carefully elaborated.
Question: But does he want to go?
Spokesman: I think it would have to be carefully prepared.
Question: That doesn’t answer my question.
Spokesman: That’s where we’ll leave it.
Question: Pragati, is there any chance OF this format for the GA being changed? After the first few days or so, the ministers are talking to a totally empty hall, or first secretaries were falling asleep after they travelled all around the world to prepare a speech. And the rest of the United Nations couldn’t be ruder, as witnessed by this daily schedule that Stéphane reads out with everyone scheduling event, willy nilly, regardless of the GA. Not one, but two briefings on Sudan today, and so it goes. UNDP report a couple of days before. I don’t have to tell you the whole agenda. I’m just wondering if this is going to continue every year because this year, it was particularly bad, people thinking the press is here, there’s a Summit and so let’s get our issue in there, and these foreign ministers talking to an empty hall. I’m wondering why they should even come.
Spokesperson for General Assembly President: I think that they still find it useful to make their statements on the record, and the press are watching, obviously.
Question: No, they’re not.
Spokesperson for General Assembly President: Press are asking for copies of the statements. I think many of the statements are being watched. I’m not sure what can be changed in the format of the Assembly, but I’ll take your comments to the President.
Question: Has the Secretary-General any comments on the threats of Iran if they’re taken to the Security Council?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General continues to believe that the best way to move this process forward right now is through the EU3-Iran dialogue and the IAEA.
Question: Was the decision to send a high-level OCHA official to Zimbabwe largely due to the fact that there’s been no agreement on the ground yet here to humanitarian access so therefore is that visit to secure that deal?
Spokesman: The high-level visit by OCHA was obviously agreed by both the President and the Secretary-General. It would be a good way for us to get a clear idea of what is going on on the ground in terms of humanitarian access.
Question: Do you envisage a deal before the visit?
Spokesman: I would rather not speculate into what we may or may not expect.
Question: Now that the Secretary-General has completed his briefings also about (unintelligible) at the Headquarters, what might be the next steps? Aren’t there any (unintelligible)? There’s a long-standing invitation for the Secretary-General to visit also.
Spokesman: As for the Secretary-General’s travel, I have nothing on a visit to Strasbourg. On Cyprus, as the Secretary-General told the Cypriot President, his good offices obviously remain available and he would stay in touch with the parties. And on any consideration to holding a new round of talks, the timing would be appropriate and that new effort would have to be well prepared.
Question: To follow up on Zimbabwe, a very major part of the report were areas where the United Nations could be helping and should be helping and basically where the Zimbabwean Government should be making changes in politics, changing of laws, dialogue with the MDC and all of this. Has the United Nations effectively abandoned all that part of it?
Spokesman: No it hasn’t.
Question: Or if it hasn’t, what is actively happening with that?
Spokesman: I think there’s been no abandonment of that. The focus at this point remains on the humanitarian situation. The United Nations agencies on the ground are assisting where they can and I’d be happy to try and get you an update for that, but that’s where the focus is. But the political aspect has not been abandoned.
Question: I don’t understand all of the language that’s being used on Zimbabwe. Mugabe turned down an appeal to help with the humanitarian situation so is he getting aid that’s needed for very poor people without the appeal? Is it going through another back door? Or did the Secretary-General talk to him about the silliness of vocabulary that’s being used by both here and his Government?
Spokesman: The appeal has not been launched but the United Nations system on the ground varies. A number of agencies, including UNICEF and WFP, are assisting where they can in food distribution and especially in the construction of shelter.
Question: So why won’t you appeal?
Spokesman: No appeal has been launched at this point.
Question: No appeal has been launched because Mugabe said he doesn’t want an appeal. Jan Egeland said that clearly at his own news conference. So are they short of money as a result or are they getting it through other means?
Spokesman: There is a food shortage among other shortages and that’s something that’s being addressed by WFP.
Question: In light of the responsibility to protect, in the outcome document, why is the Secretary-General not willing to address the question which he did address after the Tibaijuka report, which said that he would go, about whether he’s going to go or not? Why won’t he address the issue?
Spokesman: If he goes, the visit would have to be well prepared.
Question: But that doesn’t answer the question and why is he not willing to answer the question?
Spokesman: I’m saying if he does go, and it is likely the visit will be prepared, but one would not want to set a set time for the visit without having it (interrupted by reporter). Listen to my answer. A visit would have to be prepared on the political objectives and what the visit would have to aim at. And our discussions with the Zimbabweans are continuing.
Question: But does he want to go?
Spokesman: He would want to go if there are clear and defined aims to the visit.
Question: Getting back to Iran, are there any consultations or meetings scheduled? I heard of one with the Secretary-General and the E3of Europe this afternoon.
Spokesman: No, the meeting this afternoon is with the Troika, but it is not the so called E3.
Question: On Zimbabwe, on the political side, which United Nations officials are responsible for pushing the conclusion, the political side to the report?
Spokesman: Political issues are dealt with by the Department of Political Affairs.
Question: But which ones in particular?
Spokesman: The head of the Department of Political Affairs would have to look at these political issues.
Question: Did the Secretary-General misspeak that day a few weeks or months ago when he said he was willing to go to Zimbabwe? Because it seemed obvious that he’s not willing to go to Zimbabwe.
Spokesman: He is willing to go to Zimbabwe if a visit is properly set up with clear aims and a clear agenda. A clear political and humanitarian agenda. We’re just not there yet.
Question: Can the United Nations confirm whether or not the houses continue to be destroyed? Because I’ve heard people give reports, both from the U.S. Government and also from United Nations sources that there are many reports of that happening. The United Nations is the only independent office in that country right now. Could the United Nations actually say whether or not houses continue to be destroyed?
Spokesman: We will check with our team on the ground and I will get back to you on that.
Question: So Gambari is the point guard completely with Mugabe? He is responsible?
Spokesman: On political issues, it would be Mr. Gambari. On humanitarian issues, it would be Mr. Egeland.
Question: Can we put in a request for him to come and brief us?
Question: Back to Côte d’Ivoire, does the Secretary-General at this stage exclude the possibility of having the elections held in October?
Spokesman: Yes, and he has said so on the record a number of times.
Question: On management reforms, Mr. Christopher Brenner was supposed to come and brief us about the management changes. When will he come?
Spokesman: We’re trying to fix a date for that.
* *** *For information media • not an official record