8/11/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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


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


Good afternoon, I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesman on Iraq.


**Secretary-General - Iraq


“The Secretary-General condemns the brutal attacks against three defence counsels to the Special Iraqi Criminal Tribunal since the opening of the Trial on 19 October, including the cold-blooded murders of Mr. Adel al-Zubeidi today and Mr. Sadoun al-Janabi last month.  These actions undermine efforts to uphold the cause of justice and the rule of law in Iraq.  In this regard, it is vitally important that the security of all involved with the Tribunal should be equally assured to ensure a trial free from intimidation and coercion.  The Secretary-General hopes that the Tribunal will uphold the international standards of justice necessary to ensure its legitimacy, fairness and independence.”


**Secretary-General in Cairo


The Secretary-General began his official programme in Egypt this morning with meetings in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.


Prior to meeting with their delegations, the Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General met tête-à-tête for about 20 minutes.  In the larger meeting, they discussed, among other issues, Lebanon and Syria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.


Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Secretary-General said he and the Foreign Minister were hopeful that States will be able to agree to a comprehensive convention on terrorism by the end of this year.  Asked about Syrian cooperation with Detlev Mehlis’s investigation, he said that he had spoken to President Bashar al-Assad, who had confirmed to him that Syria will cooperate fully.


The Secretary-General, in response to another question, said he was “extremely encouraged” by the Arab League initiative to bring Iraq’s parties to Egypt for a reconciliation conference, adding, “The need for reconciliation in Iraq is real”.


He then went on to the seat of the Arab League for a meeting with Amr Moussa.  Following that meeting, he again spoke to reporters, and in response to further questions about the Mehlis investigation, he said that if Syria cooperates fully and we get to the truth, that should suffice.  He added that, “we have no problem” with Syria setting up its own commission to investigate while it cooperates with Mehlis and the Lebanese.


Afterwards, the Secretary-General left Cairo to visit the “ Smart Village”, a technology centre built by the Egyptian Government outside the capital.  There he visited a number of high-tech projects, accompanied by the Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister had met earlier to discuss development issues in Africa.


The Secretary-General then went to the American University in Cairo to deliver the first Nadia Younes memorial lecture.  He paid tribute to Nadia Younes as “almost a prototype of the modern Egyptian woman”.  He said we must resolve to make the Middle East a region where “all nations, including Israelis and Palestinians, can live side by side in peace and justice”.


In a separate programme, Nane Annan visited the National Council of Women together with Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt, who presides over the Council.  Nane Annan also visited a slum upgrading project designed to promote peace through poverty reduction, community participation and youth engagement, and she met with a group of prominent Egyptian women active in development issues.


**Security Council


The Security Council held a formal meeting in which it voted unanimously to approve a resolution to extend the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq by one year, until the end of 2006.  The Council earlier held consultations on the Central African Republic, on which it received a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Representative, General Lamine Cissé.


In other Council-related business, the Secretary-General, in a letter out on the racks today, informs the Council that he has appointed four people to serve on the Monitoring Group dealing with Somalia sanctions.


**Security Council Mission in Burundi


The Security Council delegation visiting the Great Lakes Region arrived in Burundi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo late yesterday afternoon.  Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière, delegation leader, told the press on arrival in Bujumbura that while a lot of work remains to be done, the transition process has been remarkably successful.  He stated that Burundi is an example for the region and beyond.


Today the delegation met with President Pierre Nkurunziza, members of Government, and leaders of political parties.


**Ethiopia/Eritrea


The Chairman of the UN Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, today visited Asmara and operational sectors affected by Eritrea’s ban on helicopter flights, and he was briefed on the situation on the ground by UN military observers.  All the observers stressed the debilitating effects of the ban on freedom of movement and the challenge this posed for their monitoring capability.


In Asmara, Ambassador Oshima also met the Acting Chief Representative for Coordination with the UN Peacekeeping Mission, as well as the Director in the Office of the President of Eritrea.  Oshima also had a very open exchange this evening with Ambassadors based in Eritrea.


Asked whether there was any progress on the issue of humanitarian flights, he said that the issue was raised with the Director of the Office of the President, but no concrete answer was given.


Oshima also held a brief press encounter and we should have those remarks available in the Spokesman’s Office in a little while.


** Liberia


The second round of the Liberian presidential election is presently under way.  Voting started early this morning under peaceful and orderly conditions at all polling places across the country.  Security for voters and polling places is being provided by the Liberian National Police with the support of United Nation’s civilian police and peacekeeping troops.


**South Asia Quake


Turning now to the South Asia earthquake, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN and the International Organization for Migration now have 300 staff in the disaster area.  In addition, the UN refugee agency and the World Health Organization have helped the Pakistani Government to establish 18 organized camps, which together house around 10,000 people.


On the health front, OCHA notes that -- with 300,000 children vaccinated against measles so far -- a big achievement has been the prevention of epidemic outbreaks of major communicable diseases.  We have a full note on the humanitarian efforts under way for the quake in today’s briefing notes from Geneva.


**UNHCR


And we also have a note from the High Commissioner for Refugees talking about the Head of the organization, who is in Brazil on a two-day mission.


**Microcredit


The international meeting on microcredit continues today downstairs in Conference Room 2.  There are six major panels mainly zeroing in on the most effective ways to get credit to the poor.  Speakers include the governors of several central banks and the recipients of microcredit loans.


This evening there will be a gala in the fourth floor dining room, hosted by Tim Robbins.  There is more information in the press release upstairs.


**Follow-up to Questions from Yesterday


I was asked if the Secretary-General had received a letter from the Indian Government regarding the IIC, and to update, a letter was received yesterday evening on the 38th floor from the lawyers of the Congress Party.  The letter is being forwarded to the Volcker Committee.


Regarding the reported comments attributed to Shashi Tharoor, which I was asked about, I have been in touch with Shashi, who is on leave in India.  He denies dismissing the Volcker report and says he made the points that I made to you yesterday about the status of the IIC report.


And also I was asked about the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, which informs us today that it will publish the minutes of its October meeting on its website: www.iamb.info.  And we are still trying to get Mr. Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, who chairs the Board, to talk to you, which was requested to me yesterday.


And that’s all I have for you.  Before I turn to Pragati, let’s start with Sylviane today.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can you please elaborate more about the trip of the Secretary-General in Cairo, when he met with the Foreign Minister?  And also with Amr Moussa, he spoke about Lebanon.  Did he speak about Mehlis only, or about the Roed-Larsen report?  And also, is there anything on the extension of the Mehlis Commission?


Deputy Spokesman:  I did not see anything on the extension of the Mehlis Commission, but we just received the transcript of the press encounter, so I would encourage you to go and take a look at it upstairs.


Question:  This letter that was received by the Secretary-General today, by the Congress Party.  Do you have the contextual letter available for the press?


Deputy Spokesman:  No, we don’t.


Question:  And does this office intend to forward it to the Inquiry Commission?


Deputy Spokesman:  That’s what I reported.  I just wanted to follow up to say yes we have received the letter, and yes we will be forwarding it on to the Commission.


Question:  Now, given what is happening in India at this time, the big storm after the demotion of the Foreign Minister and everything else, and there are investigations going on and they’re now saying they will sue the IIC, I guess and basically they were saying the United Nations and now they retracted and said it’s going to be IIC.  In that view, will IIC remain in session when a lawsuit is filed?  Will it continue to function?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think you have to pose those questions to the ICC.  The Commission, as you know, is in existence until the end of this month.


Question:  You also said that the Secretary-General had talked about the Sudan.  Is there any more information about that issue?


Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Those are the topics that were covered in that meeting.  I have no further details.  Is there anything specifically that you were interested in?


Question:  On Iraq, as it is going bad, do you think the United Nations believes that elections would go on as scheduled, with things again going out of control?


Deputy Spokesman:  In that regard, I’d like to draw your attention to the remarks today made by Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq.  He expressed his appreciation for the creditable conduct of the Independent Electoral Commission in that country.


Despite numerous difficulties, Qazi said, the Commission “preserved the levels of transparency and accountability that are consistent with internationally accepted standards and practices for verifications of votes”.  We have more in a press release upstairs.


Question:  In the United Nations, if the Inquiry Commission wants to stay in session, if it is sued by the Indian Government, because it takes exception to the fact that it was named in the report, will the United Nations allow it to continue to function?  Can someone tell me the answer to that?


Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have an answer to that.  Right now I think you have to refer all questions about the Commission to the Commission itself.


No other questions?  I’d like to turn it over to Pragati Pascale.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Late yesterday, the General Assembly and the Security Council completed elections for five members of the International Court of Justice.  The following judges were elected for a nine-year term of office beginning on 6 February 2006:  Mohamed Bennouna ( Morocco), Thomas Buergenthal ( United States of America), Kenneth Keith ( New Zealand), Bernardo Sepúlveda Amor ( Mexico) and Leonid Skotnikov ( Russian Federation).


This morning the Assembly is meeting in plenary to consider the agenda item on the "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba".  A draft resolution has been tabled, and we are expecting a vote to be taken by the end of this morning’s meeting.


This afternoon, the Assembly plenary will consider the report of the International Criminal Court, which will be presented by its President, Philippe Kirsch.


Informal consultations on follow-up to the 2005 World Summit were held yesterday afternoon, to hear Member States’ views on the letter circulated by Assembly President Jan Eliasson on 3 November.  Afterwards, the Assembly President commented that he was gratified by the generous support he received from Member States for the continued reform process -- in this case, for the proposals he set out in his letter for the areas of development and ECOSOC reform, and management reform.  He said that he will now consider the comments Member States have made.  In the next few days he plans to appoint Co-Chairs in these two areas, who will in turn hold consultations.


Yesterday, Assembly President Eliasson, along with Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland, participated by satellite in a special broadcast by Swedish Television 4 aimed at raising funds for relief efforts for the South Asia earthquake.  As a result of this broadcast, 41 million Swedish kronor, equivalent to over $5 million, was raised -- three times more than expected.


The Assembly President is departing today for Washington, D.C. This evening, he will be speaking at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, at the opening of an exhibit on Dag Hammarskjöld.  Tomorrow morning he will give a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, on the subject of “Moving Forward with UN Reform”.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  When was this particular conference?


Spokesperson:  On Swedish Television.  It was a live broadcast.  It took place yesterday afternoon, our time, but yesterday evening in Sweden.


Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record