|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Statement on Lebanon
Good afternoon. I will start off with a statement on Lebanon.
“The Secretary-General was shocked and dismayed to learn of the assassination of Gibran Tueni, a tireless advocate of a sovereign Lebanon and free press. This tragic assassination is today the latest in a vicious campaign against Lebanese citizens, journalists, political leaders and their right to freedom of expression. The Secretary-General strongly condemns this cold-blooded murder and extends his deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and injured. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. The perpetrators and instigators of today’s attacks must be brought to justice to ensure an end to impunity.”
**Statement on Myanmar and ASEAN
I also have a statement on Myanmar.
“The Secretary-General commends the call by the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), made during its eleventh Summit in Kuala Lumpur, for Myanmar to ‘expedite’ both its political reform efforts and its release of political detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Secretary-General welcomes ASEAN’s announcement that it will send Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar as an ASEAN envoy to Myanmar to ‘to learn first-hand whether Myanmar is making steps towards democracy’. He commends Myanmar for its decision to accept the envoy.
“The Secretary-General also takes this opportunity to congratulate the ASEAN leaders for signing the ‘Kuala Lumpur Declaration’ this morning, which paves the way for the formation of an ASEAN Charter and will provide the bloc with both a legal and institutional basis.”
Copies of both those statements are upstairs.
**Security Council on Lebanon
The Security Council will hold consultations at 4:00 this afternoon with a view to a formal meeting afterward. The Council has just received the second report issued by Detlev Mehlis, who leads the International Independent Investigation Commission. The report was transmitted to the Council by the Secretary-General after Mehlis handed it to him yesterday afternoon.
In his transmittal letter, the Secretary-General says that the report details progress made in the investigation of 14 February bombings that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. He notes that efforts to gain the cooperation of the Syrian authorities have only recently begun to bear fruit, after delays which had an impact on the Commission’s work. The Secretary-General says that Mehlis has informed him that he would not be available to head the Commission of the Council chooses to extend its mandate. Mehlis himself recommends that the mandate should be extended by a period of six months to enable the investigation to continue. The Secretary-General says he has been working to ensure that a successor is chosen as soon as possible and has worked out a satisfactory arrangement with Mr. Mehlis to ensure continuity of the Commission’s work until that successor begins work.
The Council, as you know, will receive a briefing by Mr. Mehlis in an open meeting tomorrow afternoon, and that will be followed by closed consultations in which they will continue their discussion with Mehlis. We expect Mr. Mehlis to come here to this room in 226 to brief you after the Council consultations tomorrow afternoon.
Turning to Iraq, today the people of Iraq began to go to the polls to elect a four-year parliament, with voting taking place in hospitals, detention centres and centres designated for security forces. Tomorrow is when out-of-country voting begins, and the majority of Iraqis will vote on 15 December. In a statement today, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, marks the start of voting by saying, “All Iraqis are desperate to be free of their extended nightmare, and these elections will hopefully provide them with a golden opportunity to begin the process of healing the wounds and coming together to build a new Iraq in which there will be no victims”. He said that the United Nations will be privileged to assist the valiant Iraqi people in every step of their journey. And we have a full statement from Mr. Qazi available upstairs.
** Kuwait and Iraq
We also have on the racks the Secretary-General’s most recent report concerning Iraq and missing Kuwaiti and third-country persons and property. It comments on the constructive stance taken by the new Iraqi authorities on this humanitarian matter. At the same time, the Secretary-General remains troubled by the absence of any information regarding Kuwaiti archives, and he calls on all parties to shed light on that issue.
**Security Council on Darfur
Also on Security Council, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, is scheduled to brief the Security Council tomorrow morning on the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the situation in Darfur. Embargoed copies of his briefing will be made available tomorrow morning, and the open briefing will be followed by a private meeting tomorrow. And Mr. Ocampo is planning to speak to you at the stakeout following his Council appearance tomorrow morning.
Turning to Ethiopia-Eritrea, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno and the UN Military Advisor Lt. Gen. Radhir Kumar Mehta, have arrived in Asmara, Eritrea. The Secretary-General decided to send them to Eritrea and Ethiopia to review and assess the situation on the ground, and what steps can be taken to improve the situation following Eritrea’s request for UN staff of certain nationalities to leave the country. The top UN peacekeeping officials arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday and conducted a series of meetings and briefings. And this morning they will meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Jean-Marie Guéhenno has been reporting on the difficult situation being faced by UN Mission in those countries and the need to resolve the current crisis, bearing in mind the UN's concern to keep the international character of the peacekeeping mission intact. And a transcript of his press briefing is available upstairs.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia, Alan Doss, has condemned today’s disturbances, at the headquarters of the opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change, known as the CDC. Doss said the responsibility for the disturbances must be assumed by the party’s leadership. He called upon George Weah and other leaders of the CDC to prevent further disturbances.
Turning to the doings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Ante Gotovina, the former Croatian General, was transferred yesterday to the Detention Unit of the Tribunal in The Hague. Today, the Tribunal read out its indictment against Mr. Gotovina, to which he pleaded not guilty. He was transferred after being arrested by the Spanish authorities on 7 December in the Canary Islands. Gotovina, as you may recall, is charged with persecution, murder, plunder of property, wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, deportation and forced displacement and inhumane acts. And we have a press release available upstairs with more details.
** Pakistan Quake
Turning to the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Lee Jong-wook, is wrapping up a two-day visit to the quake-hit areas of Pakistan, where he has noted the combination of severe cold and cramped living conditions is leading to an increased risk of hypothermia and respiratory infections. WHO has helped the Pakistani Government to establish field hospitals. It’s also worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to vaccinate 300,000 children and fund the ongoing construction of 100 prefabricated basic health care units. And we have a press release available upstairs with more details on that.
The UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan now has a new Chief Military Observer, and that is Major General Dragutin Repinc of Croatia. He is replacing Major General Guido Dante Palmieri of Italy. And out on the racks is the exchange of letters between the Security Council and the Secretary-General on this appointment.
Out on the racks is also a press release announcing the appointment of Maher Nasser as the Director of the UN Information Centre (UNIC) in Cairo. Mr. Nasser, as most of you know, is currently Chief of the New York Liaison Office for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He has extensive experience in communications, public outreach, media and donor relations, and we wish Maher the best of luck as he takes up his new post.
This afternoon, Tajikistan will present its national development strategy for the Millennium Development Goals. Representatives of the Tajik President’s Office will outline the plan starting at 1:30 p.m. in Conference Room 2. Also participating in the panel discussions will be Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the UN Millennium Project; George Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute; and Queen Noor of Jordan. And that event is open to all of you. And that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Are there any new developments with regard to the Iraqi archives?
Spokesman: No, there’s nothing new. Those discussions are not yet completed. As soon as they are, I hope to be the first to tell you.
Question: Is there a timeline on the Volcker investigation?
Spokesman: The investigative part of the Volcker Commission has concluded its work. Its mandate ends on 31 December. We may be in a position to announce later this week some structure that would continue for the next months, which will enable national judicial authorities to continue to have access to the papers. But I have nothing more on that.
Question: Do you know when the ASEAN envoy will go to Myanmar?
Spokesman: I don’t know yet. We’ll ask.
Question: Do you have the text of the ASEAN agreement?
Spokesman: We’ll see if we have it upstairs or we’ll help you get it.
Question: Is there a successor to Mr. Mehlis?
Spokesman: No, we’re working hard to find a successor should the Council extend the life of the investigation.
Question: No shortlist?
Spokesman: The list we’ll announce will be the one person who’s accepted the job.
Question: It was said that Mr. Mehlis will meet with his successor here at the UN.
Spokesman: First, the successor would have to be found, which is not yet the case. But we’re working as quickly as we can to find someone to take Mr. Mehlis’ place.
Question: Did the Secretary-General meet with Mr. Bolton on the contentious issue of the Human Rights High Commissioner, Ms. Arbour? If yes, when did the meeting take place and if no, when would it take place? On Iraq, there’s a report out again on abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Has the Secretary-General taken note and what does the High Commissioner intend?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General and Mr. Bolton did meet earlier today. They discussed many matters but one they did discuss in particular that we want to stress is the issue of reform and the ongoing reform discussions, and they agreed that everyone needs to work constructively on all sides to try and find a solution and an outcome to the ongoing reform discussions.
Question: What about Arbour?
Spokesman: They discussed a whole range of issues and matters, and I will leave it at that. The details I’ve given you are the details that I have. You had four other questions, I think.
Question: I asked (inaudible).
Spokesman: We’ve obviously taken note of the reports. This is an issue that his representative, Mr. Qazi, has taken up a number of times. Excuse me. Thank you. This is an issue that Mr. Qazi, his special envoy, has taken up numerous times with the Iraqi authorities, the Ministers of the Interior and of the Defence as well as the Prime Minister. So this is something that’s foremost in our minds in our discussions with the Iraqi authorities. As for what the High Commissioner of Human Rights has done on this issue, I think you’ll have to call her Office here.
Question: Following up on the Bolton meeting, in the context of UN reform, could you please define “working constructively”?
Spokesman: “Working constructively” is, it’s clear there are a number of proposals of inputs that are on the table in front of Member States relating to the outcome document, notably the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, to name just two. We would wish and hope that Member States now move to an output and make a decision on what is in the discussions before them. As for working constructively, that would imply them discussing all these issues in a positive atmosphere and trying to find common ground.
Question: Back on Arbour, last week it was clear the Secretary-General was upset by what Mr. Bolton said. Now you won’t even confirm that came up. Did they agree we won’t tell anybody we discussed that?
Spokesman: They discussed many issues and many matters. On completion of the meeting, they wanted to stress their discussions on reform.
Question: One way to look at what the United States is doing here is to end “pork”, in what some see as the UN being set up at the very beginning to manage the unruly third world regions by letting them control the budget on public works projects and such, which can be seen as “pork”. And Bolton wants to give the Secretary-General the power that in the President would be the line-item veto to control the budget. The Secretary-General seems to agree that he wants this kind of control and end what has been the system at the UN for decades.
Spokesman: I won’t go into these comments on “pork”. But one thing is clear in terms of what the Secretary-General has asked for in terms of management reform, is for greater responsibility over how to spend and allocate resources, and with that responsibility, obviously, would come increased oversight from the General Assembly.
Question: Did the question of the budget come up in this discussion as the Americans want the short term budget (inaudible), and is there any compromise on the horizon, because we are getting nearer to January 31st?
Spokesman: Whether or not there’s a compromise on the horizon, I think you’d have to ask the Member States who are actively engaged, notably the Members of the Fifth Committee, who are actively engaged in this discussion. But the Member States have to agree on the budget. As far as the Secretariat, the Secretary-General had made his position clear on that. In terms of what was discussed in the meeting, I’ve told you all I have.
Question: The second question is, should we read anything into the fact that this Mehlis report was distributed to the Member States in PDF form as opposed to Word?
Spokesman: Prudent. But I think I know where your question is going, and I would hasten to add that no, the Secretary-General did not change or ask Mr. Mehlis to change any part of his report.
Question: On the budget again, what does the Secretary-General think about the budget Bolton has suggested now?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has made his position clear, and we’ve had Mr. Sach here to explain to you what the implications are of having only a three month budget, or even a slightly longer budget, to the Organization. The membership is actively engaged, and we won’t comment on every new proposal that comes up. They have to agree among themselves.
Question: What is the Secretariat’s role in trying to sort out some of the fights in the budget committee? Obviously a budget decision is the GA’s purview but it’s the Secretariat that has the responsibility to defend the Secretariat policies.
Spokesman: Our responsibility, the way we’ve been going about it, is making sure the Membership is fully aware of the financial situation and of the implications of having a short-term budget. The Secretary-General, in a number of his discussions with the regional groups over the last two weeks, has brought down the Controller to brief Member States directly, much in the way he’s briefed you.
Question: Did the Secretary-General talk with the American representative prior to today’s meeting?
Spokesman: No, there were no discussions that I’m aware of prior to today’s meeting.
Question: Will there be any follow-up?
Spokesman: If I had anything else, I’d tell you. But as I said, they discussed a number of matters but they wanted to stress the issue of reform.
Question: How is the UN helping in the Iraqi elections?
Spokesman: We have about a 25-member electoral team on the ground, led by Craig Jenness, who is a top-flight electoral expert. We are advising and helping the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission in their work. It’s an Iraqi-led process and we are assisting them in every way we can, and we encourage you to read the Secretary-General’s latest report on Iraq, which came out on the racks, I think on Friday, which has a lot more details.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a comment on the Mehlis report?
Spokesman: His comment is in the cover letter that was issued and which I mentioned at the top of the briefing.
Question: Is the Secretary-General retreating from his position that a mandate of the Human Rights High Commissioner gives her the right to speak out against any nation on human rights abuse?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is not retreating from anything I said on his behalf last week.
Question: And he indicated that to Mr. Bolton?
Spokesman: I was given a readout of the meeting with Mr. Bolton, which leads with, “they discussed numerous issues and matters”.
Question: It leaves the impression he has downgraded the importance of the matter.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has not downgraded his defence of Ms. Arbour.
Question: But it sounds like the Secretary-General capitulated to the American Ambassador because the American Ambassador said that Arbour’s words were jeopardizing his efforts at reform. This is what you’re skirting now, when you talk about “working productively”.
Spokesman: It should not be seen in that way, and if it’s given that impression, you should not have that impression from what I said.
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For information media • not an official record