|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General
Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be joining us today to provide an update on humanitarian assistance to Pakistan on the one-month anniversary of the earthquake. He should be here in about 10 minutes.
**Secretary-General - Liberia
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Liberian run-off presidential election:
“The Secretary-General is pleased to note that the Liberian National Elections Commission, with support from the United Nations Mission and other partners, has put in place all the necessary arrangements for the second round of presidential elections to take place on schedule, tomorrow, 8 November. The Secretary-General also commends the two presidential candidates, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Oppong Weah, for their personal commitment to a peaceful campaign.
“The Secretary-General calls on all Liberians registered to vote to do so in a peaceful and orderly manner, just as they did during the first round on 11 October. The Secretary-General wishes to emphasize that the run-off election offers the people of Liberia an opportunity to elect a president to lead the country into a new era of peace, democracy and prosperity. He, therefore, urges all registered voters not to miss this unique opportunity.
“The Secretary-General wishes, once again, to assure the Liberian people that the United Nations Mission, working closely with Liberia’s security agencies, will maintain a safe and secure environment, to enable them to cast their votes without fear of intimidation or violence. Thousands of international and Liberian electoral observers will also be deployed throughout the country to monitor the polling process. The Secretary-General calls on all Liberians to accept the results of the presidential elections so that the country can continue to build a future based on a solid democratic foundation.”
Turning to Somalia, the UN Political Office for Somalia has condemned the assassination attempt made yesterday against that country’s Prime Minister in the capital, Mogadishu.
François Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, called Prime Minister Gedi immediately after learning of the attack to express his relief that the Prime Minister had escaped unharmed from an assault on his convoy.
Mr. Lonseny Fall, who is in New York to brief the Security Council this Wednesday on Somalia, also expressed his condolences to the families of those killed or injured in the attack. And we have a press release upstairs with more detail.
Turning to Sudan, an aid worker with an international non-governmental organization was killed in an ambush by elements suspected to be from the Lord’s Resistance Army over the weekend.
According to a preliminary report by the UN Mission in Sudan, the victim was driving in a vehicle that was ambushed close to the border with Uganda, in Southern Sudan.
The UN Mission condemns the attack and the killing of the aid worker. It reiterates its calls on the Sudanese Government and the Government of Southern Sudan to expedite their joint efforts to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian workers.
**Secretary-General - Travels
The Secretary-General today met in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac. They had a wide-ranging discussion and exchange of views, in which they talked about Syria and Lebanon, Côte d'Ivoire, Iraq, UN reform and development issues.
Immediately following his meeting with the President, the Secretary-General took off for Cairo, where he is now and where he will begin a two-day official visit on Tuesday morning. Tomorrow morning, he will deliver a lecture in honour of the late Nadia Younes, who was killed in the attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and who, he will say, was “almost a prototype of the modern Egyptian woman”.
The Secretary-General arrived in Paris on Sunday morning, the start of two-week trip that will also take him to, as I said, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Pakistan. We put out a full itinerary in a note to correspondents on Friday.
**International Court of Justice
The Security Council and the General Assembly here at UN Headquarters this morning are working, independently of each other, to elect five members of the International Court of Justice. Those candidates who obtain an absolute majority in each body shall be elected to the Court.
Both the Assembly and the Council will remain in session while the counting of ballots is taking place. Candidates who receive an absolute majority in the votes by each body will be declared as elected members of the International Court of Justice, for a term that expires on 5 February 2015.
**Security Council Trip
The leader of the Security Council delegation to the Great Lakes region of Africa, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière, called Saturday on Congolese authorities to speed up the political transition to meet the June 30 deadline to hold elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Lots has been done, but there is still a lot to do for elections to take place by June 30 next year”, he said, adding that the Security Council will be very vigilant for any obstacles that might block the process. These comments were made on arrival in Kinshasa at the start of the Council delegation’s five-nation visit.
This morning, Council members met with President Joseph Kabila, before departing to the Congolese towns of Mbuji-Mayi and Kamina. In the next 10 days the delegation is expected to travel to Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
And we just received the transcript of Ambassador de la Sablière’s press conference this morning. It’s in French only.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations, Kenzo Oshima, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, arrived in Addis Ababa last night on the start of a two-day tour of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
This morning he met for almost three hours with the leadership of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). He was given a political overview by the Special Representative to the Secretary-General and the Force Commander of UNMEE, who provided a detailed briefing on the situation on the ground and, in particular, the current situation faced by the Mission since the banning of its helicopters on 5 October.
While in Addis, he met with the Foreign Minister with whom he said he had “a very fruitful exchange” and later in the afternoon had an hour-and-a-half exchange with representatives of the troop-contributing countries and interested countries, as well as members of the UN Country Team.
At a press encounter, he said the Security Council will continue to urge Eritrea to lift the helicopter ban and to urge both countries to exercise maximum restraint in the current circumstances.
He told journalists that the Ethiopian Foreign Minister had explained the country’s deployment of troops on the border and has underscored that they had no intention of taking action first. He said the resolution of the situation called for “delicacy, skills and good judgement”.
Mr. Oshima leaves for Asmara tomorrow.
And, here in UN Headquarters, downstairs in Conference Room 2 right now, specialists from all over the world are discussing ways to expand microcredit.
The event was opened by Paul Wolfowitz, the President of the World Bank. Former President Bill Clinton will participate in closing ceremonies on Wednesday. Among the panellists for the three-day meeting are experts from public and private sectors, NGO leaders, and successful microentrepreneurs from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Liberia and other developing countries.
At a function tomorrow, entrepreneurs will receive awards from celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Walter Cronkite and Chelsea Clinton. And we have a schedule of that upstairs.
Starting today, more than 400 animal and human health experts, senior policymakers, economists and industry representatives are gathering in Geneva for three days, to work towards a global consensus to control the bird flu virus in domestic animals and prepare for a potential human influenza pandemic.
The meeting has been organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health and the World Bank.
We have a press release on that upstairs.
And, to flag to you, a new photo exhibit on landmines is opening tonight at 5 in the Visitors Lobby. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno will be there to open that. And there’s more information upstairs.
**WHO Tobacco Convention
And a milestone was reached last Friday when Brazil became the 100th country to ratify the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
This is the first treaty concluded under the auspices of the World Health Organization and it’s quickly become one of the most rapidly embraced UN treaties.
And then on cholera, the United Nations today launched a $3.2 million flash appeal to prevent the spread of that disease in West Africa. And we have a press release on that as well.
**WFP - NY Marathon
And, last but not least, we have a World Food Programme press release with a warm congratulations to Paul Tergat, who yesterday won the New York City Marathon. Paul is an Ambassador against Hunger for the UN World Food Programme.
As a child growing up in Kenya’s impoverished Rift Valley, where drought, disease and hunger were a daily reality, Paul benefited from WFP school meals, and credits his successful athletic career to the food he received. We have a press release on that with more details from the World Food Programme.
That’s what I have for you. Jan Egeland has now joined us. And, we’ll have the General Assembly spokesperson.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wondered, with regards to the findings of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board on Iraq, do you think, because the UN has been very quiet and hasn’t wanted to speak about it very much since this information, findings were released, could we have a briefing by the UN comptroller on the amount of money, and explain why the decision was taken that the Halliburton subsidiary should take that money to the Development Fund for Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know the International Advisory and Monitoring Board is an audit oversight board for the development for Iraq and the IAMB works closely with the interim Government of Iraq, and its members are composed of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations. And the United Nations is, as you can see, one part of the Board, so we really do need to refer you to the Board. We can see if there’s anybody from the Board that could brief you.
Question: The UN is part of the Board?
Deputy Spokesman: We are part of the board but we are a quarter part of the Board that oversees. We’ll see if we can ask the Board if that would be possible.
Question: Could you ask the UN comptroller to come speak with us?
Deputy Spokesman: I can certainly ask.
Question: There was a Post story today saying that Alexandre Kramar, who was the Russian oil overseer for over a year, was setting the price practically by himself and he left America and moved with his bank account. Is the UN doing anything to investigate that at all?
Deputy Spokesman: I saw the news reports that you are referring to. I don’t have anything on this right now, so if there’s anything more, I’ll let you know.
Question: I’d like to know if a UN official is interested in doing something about that.
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll look into it.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the tear gas fired at the Kashmir border especially as that could hinder the relief efforts after the Pakistani earthquake.
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not sure the Secretary-General heard about that incident. I know he may have seen earlier press reports about the opening of the border to the aid, but because he was flying today from Paris to Cairo, I’m not sure he heard about it, so I don’t have an immediate reaction. But we do have Jan Egeland here who may have something to say about the quake aid border opening.
Question: Are you saying anything about reports from Syria that Mehlis is looking for six Syrians to be investigated and could you tell us who those six people are?
Deputy Spokesman: I think all we can do is confirm that Mr. Mehlis did send a letter on Saturday to Syrian authorities requesting interviews with a number of individuals but that’s as far as we can say.
Question: Can we see the letter?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think so. This is all I can tell you, to confirm that there was a letter.
Question: About the Mercedes saga in the Volcker report. I asked on Friday where the Mercedes is now. Do you have any information as to where it is? And I have one other question on it.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think we have anything further to talk about this car.
Question: In the report, it says that the reason the car was imported into Ghana without paying equal taxes was because the list of record was to Janneh, who’s been a friend of the Annan’s, at the behest of Kojo Annan certified that it was for the Secretary-General’s personal use, which was apparently incorrect. So, I’m wondering what follow-up action has been taken to Mr. Janneh for making that claim of tax discount in transferring the car into Ghana when its wasn’t something that he was allowed to do on behalf of the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further on any part of the Volcker investigation. As you know, the investigation after five reports, thousands of pages, I have nothing further to add.
Question: The question wasn’t about that. The question was: What follow-up action is the UN taking on this episode in the Volcker report that appears to show that Mr. Jannehmade a false application for a tax discount for a car bought by the Secretary-General’s son? Or, was it true? We don’t really know that actually.
Deputy Spokesman: As I said, anything that’s in the Volcker report we’re not going to go over, but if there’s anything for me to add on or to clarify that on, I’ll get back to you. I have nothing further right now.
Question: Marie, there are some indications that tensions are building between Peru and Chile over issues of maritime boundaries and delimitations. Has the Office of the Secretary-General invoked any measures of preventive diplomacy?
Deputy Spokesman: Not that I know of, but let me look into that for you.
Question: I have one follow-up on the question of the car. Has OIOS or any UN body followed up the question of where the car is right now? Who owns it?
Deputy Spokesman: As I said, if there is anything more on this car that will help, and if I can get that information, I’ll let you know but I have nothing further for you today.
Question: On the Volcker report, has the Indian Government made any representation to the Secretary-General about Natwar Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, being named as a beneficiary in the oil-for-food programme?
Deputy Spokesman: On that issue, as of now, I cannot confirm that a letter has been received on the 38th floor, but I do have a statement regarding, more generically, the oil-for-food programme that may help you:
“The five reports of the Independent Inquiry into the oil-for-food programme chaired by Paul Volcker are the culmination of an 18-month investigation into all aspects of the programme. The five public reports have been issued by the IIC and represent the findings and conclusions of that independent inquiry, which is a fact-finding body and cannot make any binding judicial determination of fact or law. This information enables the United Nations and national authorities to further investigate and, if appropriate, take action against individuals or corporations under their jurisdiction. A number of national authorities have already commenced or announced their intention to undertake follow-up inquiries concerning individuals and companies based on information contained in the final report. The IIC and the United Nations are willing to cooperate as appropriate.”
That statement is available for you upstairs now.
Question: The Indian Ambassador to the UN has been quoted in press releases as saying he has taken up the matter with the Secretary-General of the UN, and since then Mr. Natwar Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, has even been removed from the post. Has any representation been made to the Secretary-General?
Deputy Spokesman: I answered that at the beginning. As of now, I cannot confirm that a letter was received on the 38th floor but I can check with you after the briefing. It may be a matter of the traffic getting there.
Question: There are reports from New Delhi, at this point in time, that Mr. Natwar Singhsaid that Mr. Shashi Tharoorassured him that there is nothing much in the report. And, that Mr. Tharoor is in New Delhi now in order to clarify that.
Deputy Spokesman: I am not Mr. Tharoor’s spokesman. So, you’re going to have to talk with Mr. Tharoor directly. I think he is in New Delhi. I think he is there. I actually don’t know in what capacity he is there. I don’t know what he’s talked to the press about.
Question: Who is his spokesman since he’s the head of the Department of Public Information?
Deputy Spokesman: He’s his own spokesman.
Question: So, we have to ask him, are you saying?
Deputy Spokesman: What was the question again? To clarify his quote, is that it?
Question: My question is that Mr. Natwar Singh was quoted in the New Delhi press and television that he was assured by Mr. Tharoor that there is nothing in this Volcker report, it is to be disregarded and that it is nothing much. And this is what, as I understand it, what Mr. Tharoor has rushed to New Delhi to clarify his position.
Deputy Spokesman: I think his trip to India had been planned. I can try to find out for you what the exact purpose of his visit is. As for his quotes, I wasn’t there but I can certainly clarify for you whether he said that or not. Evelyn.
Question: On Mark’s thing about the IAMB. A UN official is the Chairman. [inaudible] [The journalist reiterated a request for a briefing on the IAMB.]
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll take that up.
Question: Two questions. Now that the Volcker Commission has ended, is there any kind of international sense of what is, and collating of who is doing what follow-up or is it now purely in the hands of each country to determine on their own?
Deputy Spokesman: The Commission has not disbanded yet. It is functional as a commission until the end of this month, so it is still continuing with the follow-up and, as I just mentioned, it is cooperating with the appropriate national authorities.
Question: Does the UN have any sense, that basically, as the guardian of this programme, some, now, oversight and also as the body that commissioned this report, that you have some oversight, monitoring, follow-up, implementation, all the words that are endlessly trotted out by the UN, over the follow-up to this report? Or is it just now left to float in the wind?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I just mentioned, I just read you a statement saying the ICC and the UN are willing to cooperate. The Commission is as of now, still operational for the month. And the arrangements for the continuation of that are being discussed right now. I don’t have anything to announce for you in terms of what form that will take.
Question: You say there will be some kind of monitoring, oversight, follow-up kind of?
Deputy Spokesman: Absolutely.
Question: Does the UN consider it appropriate that Shashi represents himself as an independent author on his own website?
Deputy Spokesman: I think, as long as any UN official gets approval from the proper channels…
Question: Who is he getting approval from in this case?
Deputy Spokesman: I’d have to look into that for you.
Question: Were Shashi Tharoor’s comments approved by anybody in the Secretariat?
Deputy Spokesman: I can’t even confirm that he said that so let’s not go that..
Question: You say that the IOSC report enabled the UN and other authorities to further investigate. Why is it that every time we ask anything about the Volcker report, the answer is, “It’s in the Volcker Report”? We’re asking about further investigation, which now you confirm the UN is authorized to do. Why is that we always get the same stock answer, “Volcker dealt with it. It’s over and done with”? There are question marks still lingering after the Volcker report.
Deputy Spokesman: Because the basis was laid by the Volcker report. The Volcker report put out the facts and it is now up to the national authorities and it is up to the United Nations to follow-up on what is there.
Question: The questions we are asking about are about question marks that remain after the Volcker report, including where the car is, what ever happened to the car, what happened to the letter, things that are exactly in the realm of further investigation.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know what letter you’re talking about. As for the car --
Question: The letter that was written or not written or was asked as a favour to be written and never showed up. Was it shredded? What ever happened to it? Nobody knows. The only one who could know is the UN. And we’ve been asking, whatever happened to that letter and the stock answer was always, “It’s in the Volcker report”. But, we’re asking for further investigation which you’re saying now is [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesman: The “further investigation”, though, is based on what is presented in the Volcker report., Based on the evidence provided, we’re saying that it’s up to national authorities and the UN to take action as appropriate.
Question: “And the UN”. I heard “and the UN”.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. “And the UN”.
Question: The question about the car is the fact that the Volcker report says that a car was bought in the Secretary-General’s name and the question we are asking is, does the Secretary-General still own the car?
Deputy Spokesman: If there is any more information on this car, I’ll get back to you. I’ve been saying for the last 10 minutes, I have no information on this car.
Question: Similarly, the question about Janneh,is that apparently he applied for a tax exemption, which he wasn’t entitled to do, at the behest of the Secretary-General or his son. You’re not telling me UN officials are allowed to perform their official functions at the behest of …
Deputy Spokesman: I also told you that if there is anything further on this I’ll get back to you. I do not have any information on what you are saying and we have Jan Egeland here to talk about the first anniversary…
Question: We’ll have time for Jan Egeland. One other question is, in this room, a few days ago, it was announced that there was some kind of panel being set up to examine the Volcker report to see what follow-up action the UN should take. Has that panel been formed? Has it decided on any follow-up action? Who’s on that panel?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll ask Chris Burnham.
Question: There’s, at least, one lawsuit by at least one, by Sandi Oil, an oil company in South Africa, against the Commission, or is about to file in New York and against the UN. Two questions. Are you aware of this and any other lawsuits that might be coming out of the Volcker report? and can, in fact, the UN be sued and can the ommissioners be sued?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have an answer to your last question. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
[The reporter was later informed that the Volcker commission is covered by the same privileges and immunities as the UN; those would have to be waived before any lawsuit could take place in any jurisdiction.]
Questions: Are there any other lawsuits you are aware of?
Deputy Spokesman: No.
Can we turn over to the General Assembly Spokesman, so we can go on to Jan Egeland?
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
As Marie mentioned, today the General Assembly and the Security Council are holding elections for the five members of the International Court of Justice and I understand the Assembly is doing its second round of balloting right now.
Late on Thursday afternoon, the Assembly President sent to all Member States a letter outlining progress achieved thus far in follow-up to the 2005 World Summit, as well as the next steps he proposes to take, focusing on management reform and development. And we have circulated that letter to you this morning. Informal consultations of the plenary will be held this afternoon at 4 p.m. to hear reactions from Member States to the President’s proposal.
This afternoon the Assembly President is speaking by satellite in a special broadcast by Swedish Television 4, aimed at raising funds for relief efforts for the South Asia earthquake. The President has expressed his appreciation to Swedish Television 4 for their initiative, and hopes that broadcasters in other countries may undertake similar fund-raising projects.
Tomorrow morning the Assembly will meet in plenary to consider the agenda item on the "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba".
And, tomorrow afternoon the Assembly President will leave for Washington, D.C. He has been invited by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to meet with her on Wednesday, and he will use this opportunity to consult with various members of Congress and State Department officials. The main subject for discussion will be UN reform, specifically the Peacebuilding Commission, the Human Rights Council and management reform.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I asked, last week, whether the Volcker report had actually been distributed to members of the General Assembly.
Spokesperson: I understand that at the briefing that was held, which was not a formal General Assembly meeting, Under-Secretary General Chen said that the document would be distributed to all General Assembly members.
Question: That wasn’t my question. My question was: Has it been distributed to all General Assembly members?
Spokesperson: I’m not sure of that process.
Question: On the letter referred to, it makes mention of an options paper on the Human Rights Council that was circulated on the 3rd. Is that available to members of the press?
Spokesperson: We were told that Member States wanted to keep the options papers -- since they’re negotiating texts with brackets and language attributable to particular Governments – they wanted to keep those kind of informal, and not circulate them to the press.
* *** *For information media • not an official record