10/11/2005
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.


Briefing by Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General


** Jordan Bombings


The Security Council here in New York adopted a Presidential Statement condemning, in the strongest terms, the terrorist bombings that took place yesterday in Amman, Jordan.


The Security Council underlined the need to bring the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these intolerable acts to justice, and urged all States to provide support and assistance, as appropriate, to the Jordanian Government.


In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, also condemning the bombing, the Secretary-General sent his condolences to the families of the bereaved and to the people and Government of Jordan.


During his current tour of the Middle East, the Secretary-General has taken every opportunity to underscore the need for collective action against terrorism, the statement added.  The people of this region have particularly suffered.  In his recent meetings with Saudi and Egyptian authorities, the Secretary-General stressed the need for Member States to adopt a comprehensive convention against terrorism, as soon as possible.  And we have copies of the Secretary-General’s statement, which was issued in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last night.


** Baghdad Bombing


We have a statement today on the Baghdad bombing.


“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the latest suicide bombing that took place today in the centre of Baghdad, in which more than 30 people were killed and many more wounded.  The Secretary-General is appalled by the continued indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, which no cause can justify.  He sends his condolences to the families of the victims.”


** Middle East


Turning to the activities of Ibrahim Gambari, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, he would like us to announce that he will next week make his first trip to the Middle East, since assuming the helm of the Department of Political Affairs.  He is visiting Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories between 13-21 November.


Gambari intends to see firsthand the various UN operations carrying out political mandates in the region, while also taking the pulse of political developments at a critical juncture for Lebanon and the Middle East peace process.


In addition to his contacts with the UN family in each country, Gambari is also looking forward to meeting and exchanging viewpoints with a broad range of interlocutors including senior government officials, leaders of political parties, religious authorities, and members of the international community. 


** Lebanon


Also on the Middle East, Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, in a statement, deplored the Israeli air violations of the Blue Line that took place yesterday.  Five Israeli overflights were recorded over southern Lebanon.


He reiterated that it is of great importance that all parties continue to exercise the utmost restraint, and he reminded them that one violation cannot justify another.


** Liberia Elections


Turning to Liberia, the UN Mission there reports that there have been no significant disruptions or incidents of violence reported since the election took place, and UN peacekeepers remain on full alert throughout the country.


The UN Mission is aware of the allegations made by the CDC party, and today, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia, Alan Doss, met George Weah, the CDC candidate, to discuss these allegations.  Mr. Doss urged him to file any complaints with the Liberian National Election Commission, which has the legal responsibility to investigate such allegations and assured him that the UN would follow the matter closely. 


**Security Council Mission to Great Lakes


And, the Security Council mission to the Great Lakes region of Africa wound up its five nation visit today in Dar es Salaam, where this morning the delegation met with Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa. 


Meetings today included a working breakfast with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Ibrahima Fall, and a working lunch with the Tanzanian Foreign Minister.  The delegation met with heads of UN agencies working in Tanzania and also a group of experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and with academics.


In a press conference wrapping up the visit, team leader Jean-Marc de la Sablière of France, expressed appreciation to the Government of Tanzania for hosting thousands of refugees resulting from conflicts in the region, and for its contribution to the peace efforts in the region.


** Sudan


And in the Sudan, the UN Mission there says that it has received unconfirmed reports that on Sunday and Monday some 1,500 armed tribesmen, riding camels and horses, attacked and burned six villages in southern Darfur.  According to the reports, there were a number of casualties.  The African Union has been notified of these reports and will investigate them.


The Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Sudan, Jan Pronk, also reports that he sent a demarche to the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on an incident on Saturday, in which he said two members of a UN panel of experts had been roughed up.


Pronk said he met with the ministry today, and had been promised that the panel’s work would not be further hindered.  The panel is monitoring an arms embargo.


**South Asia ’Quake


And, turning to the South Asia ’quake, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that, given increasing health concerns, there is an urgent need for female medical staff in hard-hit areas.


Also, bearing in mind the lack of funding in the flash appeal, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners have decided to target up to 200,000 people living in the higher valleys above the snowline, who may become inaccessible within the next four weeks, as well as an estimated 150,000 people who may choose to move down to the lower valleys. 


** Niger


On Niger, we also have a press release from OCHA reporting that food security in that country is improving, with favourable rains meaning the harvests will probably be good next season. (See Press Release AFR/1283-IHA/1115)


**UNEP/Iraq


And from the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), it reports that today it launched a project aimed at cleaning up a highly polluted industrial site south of Baghdad, in Iraq.


The metal-plating facility has been found to contain numerous hazardous wastes, including several tons of health hazardous cyanide compounds.  And there’s a press release on that upstairs.


**Global Fund


The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has lifted the suspensions of all five grants to Uganda, following the signing today of an agreement restructuring the management of the grants.  And there’s a press release from the fund with more details.


**AIDS/El Salvador


And finally, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, are signing an agreement today with the Salvadorian Ministry of Defence that will help educate El Salvador’s military about sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention.  And there’s a press release on that as well.


**UNTV


And I am to announce that the World Chronicle Programme hosted by Tony Jenkins will be shown at 3:30 p.m. today on in-house television channels 3 or 31.  And the guest is José Antonio Ocampo, the UN Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


That’s what I have for you. Any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to know about this OCHA appeal for specifically female medical staff.  Is there any particular reason that they are asking for that?  And do they have enough medical staff other than female medical staff?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think we reported a few days ago that the number of staff in the region has been increasing but the battle to reach those who are inaccessible continues.  In any humanitarian emergency situation, we do need female trained staff and I guess in this case, this is what they’re calling for.  I will try to find out if there is any particular reason in this case.


Question:  Is there any reason which has to do with atmosphere or religious reasons?


Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there’s always a need to get female workers.


Question:  Maybe female survivors don’t like to be tended by male medical staff.


Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll look into that for you. OK?

[The reporter was later informed that female medical staff were requested out of sensitivity to the local women’s preferences.  In addition, the overall number of medical staff was sufficient.]


Question:  It seems that about 80% of the ballots have been counted in Liberia and indications are that Johnson-Sirleaf will be the winner.  The opposition is not only crying fraud but threatening the resumption of violence.  I know that you said the Mission is closely following the situation.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this possibility of the resumption of violence?


Deputy Spokesman:  As I just mentioned to you, the Mission is reporting that the situation on the ground is generally calm.  They’re reporting that there have been no significant instances of disturbances and the Secretary-General, as you know, has issued a statement and we have been giving you updates on really how peaceful these elections have been.  And we are now awaiting the official results.


Question:  Three quick questions.  First of all, any reaction to the Syrian President’s speech in which he promised qualified cooperation with Mehlis?


Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s message on this is clear.  He made it himself repeatedly throughout this visit and that is that he expects Syria to cooperate and that he expects it to cooperate fully.


Question:  There was a letter that Annan wrote to the Secretary of State and the British Foreign Minister about air support for Iraq.  They want the UN to expand its offices in Basra.  Why does he need qualified, not qualified, dedicated air support?  What’s that all about?


Deputy Spokesman:  You’re right. The Secretary-General did write last week on the 3rd of November, to the US Secretary of State Rice and to the British Foreign Minister Straw, to say that the United Nations could not proceed with plans to deploy to Basra and to Erbil without dedicated air support, and as you know the only practical source of air support is the coalition, and while we are looking for other options it appears that no others are currently practical.


Question:  Is this for protection or is it for transporting?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have no further details.

[The Deputy Spokesman later added that the air support was needed for transport purposes and to move staff around.]


Question:  When do you expect the UN to be in Basra and Erbil if there is a dedicated air support?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously it would depend on the level of security and protection.


Question:  Well, he said that he did have a plan that was on hold until the air support is put… so what is the plan?  How many people are we talking about?  Are we talking about two people in Basra or are we talking 200?


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me get you the details if they’re available.  But, I can confirm that the letters did go out and we have not received responses yet.

[The Deputy Spokesman later added that the UN currently had small liaison detachments in Basra & Erbil, and the plan was to open UN facilities by the end of the year, which would increase the number of security, support & substantive staff.]


Question:  The third question has to do with what Nick asked yesterday about the seeming contradiction between what you said originally, that the Volcker report is not prosecutorial but that it’s just a guideline for prosecution, and the action that was already taken against Stephanides.  Where are we at?  You said yesterday that you would come back with… I don’t understand if, as you said, it is not prosecution, but just an opening for the UN to continue to investigate, why was it that someone was punished right away?


Deputy Spokesman:  Actually, I did not say that I was going to come back to him on this one.  But the remarks that we read earlier on the week did say exactly that, that the Volcker Commission is a fact-finding body and could not make any binding judicial determination or fact of law, but as for the individuals that were mentioned and which adverse findings were cited, the UN did follow up and in the case of Mr. Stephanides, there were staff rules that were relied upon for the action.  That’s all I have to say on that.


Question:  To be clear to follow up, this was the only case where you actually acted?


Deputy Spokesman:  I believe so –- Yes.


Question:  Is it the United Nations understanding, that when the Volcker Commission winds up its work, will it transfer all documents to the United Nations, or some will not be transferred?  What is the understanding at this point?  Some will be gleaned away?  What is the situation?


Deputy Spokesman:  The discussion about the handover of documents is something that is currently ongoing so I have nothing further to add on that.


Question:  I’m being told that all the documents will not be handed over, that they will go to whatever parties [inaudible.]


Deputy Spokesman:  The discussions are currently ongoing between our legal department and the Volcker Commission about the handover of the documentation so I really can’t go any further on that one.


Question:  According to the New York Sun, Annan had already been informed by Jack Straw that no planes will be coming forth from Great Britain.  Could you find out more on this and what the next step would be?


Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.  I said I would follow up on Benny’s but we have received no replies to the letters.


Question:  There is an indication that Annan had already received a letter and that in that letter, Straw had said…


Deputy Spokesman:  I’m told that no letters had been received.


Question:  Annan said in this letter that Straw had informed him that this fight was personal [inaudible].


Deputy Spokesman:  It sounds like the two of you can have a conversation.


Question:  No.  That’s in the letter.  Anyway.  Just to follow up on this Stephanides issue, there was a three-person panel that looked into the issue and I understand that it has already handed its findings to the 38th floor.  When do you expect the 38th floor to make a decision?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing on that but I’ll look into that for you.  Any other questions for me?  If not…


Question:  Where is the Mercedes?


[Laughter.]


Pragati.


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


General Assembly President Jan Eliasson opened today’s plenary meeting by paying tribute to all those affected by the abhorrent terrorist attacks in Jordan.  He said that these attacks are a stark reminder of the importance and urgency of the Assembly’s work to adopt a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism.


Today the Assembly is meeting in plenary to hold a joint debate on the report of the Security Council, and the question of equitable representation and increase in the membership of the Council.  President Jan Eliasson introduced the debate by noting that, in the World Summit Outcome Document, Heads of State and Government had expressed support for early reform of the Council as an essential element in the overall reform of the United Nations, and had requested the Assembly to review progress on the matter by the end of 2005.


He said that this joint debate offers an opportunity to Member States to give input to that proposed review. 


Security Council President Andrey Denisov of the Russian Federation then presented the Report of the Council.  There are now 65 speakers scheduled, so we expect the debate to run through at least mid-day tomorrow, and we will circulate the revised list of speakers when we receive it.


To respond to a question yesterday on where the budget process stands, the Secretary-General introduced the proposed 2006-2007 programme budget in the Fifth Committee on 25 October.  Four formal meetings were held to hear the views of Member States.  This past Monday informal consultations began.  The Fifth Committee is waiting to receive revised estimates from the Secretariat, reflecting budgetary implications of the World Summit Outcome, which they will then consider alongside the existing budget submission, and those revised estimates are in translation and are expected next week. 


A question was also asked about the ACABQ elections.  Last week, on November 3rd, the Fifth Committee recommended to the Assembly, by acclamation, the appointment or reappointment of five members of the ACABQ.  They are:  Tommo Monthe of Cameroon, Igor V. Khalevinski of Russian Federation, Guillermo Kendall of Argentina, Susan M. McLurg of the United States of America and Ms. Christina Vasak of France, and they will serve for a three-year term of office beginning 1 January 2006.  The qualifications of all the candidates nominated are set out in a document, which we have available.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted to just ask you, just to refresh my memory, after these 65 missions have spoken, what is the next step?  And does President Eliasson have hope that this is going to be resolved by December? 


Spokesperson:  He was asked, I mean the Assembly was asked to submit a kind of progress report by the end of the year.  I think that the feedback he’s getting from Governments is that the press may go into next year; but there is hope of reaching a decision within a year, I think.


Question:  Is there going to be a vote on the General Assembly floor?  Is that how the procedure works or is there going to be further consultation after everybody gives their position?


Spokesperson:  There certainly won’t be a vote; I mean no vote is expected in the next two days during this debate.  It’s just an airing of statements.  There is no action expected; there’s no resolution tabled for consideration right now.


Question:  Regarding the discussions on the reforms of the Security Council, you indicated earlier that there may be some new ideas floating around.  So far, were there any of those ideas put forth?


Spokesperson:  I can’t make that assessment.  I’m not sure it’s our position to make an assessment, anyway.  You can listen to the statements and make the assessment yourself.


Question:  You yourself indicated there may be some new ideas yesterday or the day before.  You recall?


Spokesperson:  I was enticing you to watch the debate.


Thanks.


**Addendum- Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General


Before I say good afternoon, I just wanted to bring you up to date on something I was meaning to do.  I had a number of questions before the noon briefing about the Secretary-General’s travel plans, so just to update you, the Secretary-General as you know had postponed his trip to Jordan in the aftermath of the bombings in Amman, because he felt that his visit would be an added burden to Jordanian authorities, and when the Secretary-General called the King today to express his condolences, it was made clear that the Secretary-General’s visit would be appreciated by the King and by the people of Jordan, so the Secretary-General will be travelling to Jordan tomorrow to express his support, and to pay his respects and to meet with the UN staff there.  Thank you very much.


Question:  Wouldn’t it be more adequate to go there right in the aftermath, as planned, to show the world that we are not afraid of terrorists.


Deputy Spokesman:  I think what I just said spells out pretty clearly that the decision was made based on what I just read to you.  So, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon. 


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For information media • not an official record