03/02/2006
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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  I hope you all appreciate my punctuality today.  And I think we all can make an effort in that direction.  I think it’s a great initiative so we’re all going to be on time now.


**Sinking of Egyptian Ferry


I will start off with a statement on the tragedy that took place in the Red Sea earlier today.


“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the sinking of the Egyptian ferry, Al Salam Boccaccio 98, in the Red Sea last night.  The ship, which was en route from Dubah, in Saudi Arabia, to Safaga, in Egypt, was reportedly carrying approximately 1,400 passengers.


“The Secretary-General sincerely regrets the loss of life due to this tragedy and extends his condolences to the victims and their families.  He urges all who are able, to extend their assistance to the Egyptian Government in the search for survivors.”


And that statement is available upstairs.


** Lebanon


The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports today that there was an exchange of fire along the Blue Line this afternoon, in the Shebaa Farms area, which it says started from the Lebanese side.  The exchange of fire lasted for about an hour and a half.


The UN peacekeepers were in close contact with both parties, and succeeded in brokering a halt to the firing, which is currently holding.  The UNIFIL troops are patrolling the area.


This incident took place on a day in which the UN Interim Force in Lebanon completed its own investigation into the shooting death of a young Lebanese national by the Israeli Defence Force on Wednesday.  The Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, met today with the Lebanese Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, calling the killing “a serious violation of the Blue Line by Israel”.


He said that the United Nations calls on all parties to exercise full restraint and to fully respect the Blue Line.  The UN reminds all concerned that one violation cannot justify another.


**Security Council


Earlier today, the Security Council met in closed consultations on the programme of work for February, as well as on Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire.  Regarding the programme of work, the Secretary-General’s Chief of Staff, Mark Malloch Brown, took part in consultations about the Secretariat’s daily briefing requested by the Security Council presidency.


Following the consultations, the Security Council President, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, read out a presidential statement requesting the Secretary-General to initiate contingency planning without delay, jointly with the African Union, on a range of options for a possible transition from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to a United Nations operation in Darfur.


And at 4 p.m., Security Council consultations on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, have now been scheduled.  That’s at 4 p.m. in closed consultations.


**Secretary-General’s Trips


I have a couple of trips involving the Secretary-General to announce.  The Secretary-General will be travelling to Washington on 13 February.  While in the U.S. capital, he will be meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest.  He will also have a separate working lunch with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And we do expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York on the 14th.


And, going backwards, the Secretary-General will leave for Dubai this weekend where he will attend a ceremony to receive the 2005 Zayed International Prize for Global Leadership for the Environment.  The Zayed Prize International Jury announced the prize in December last year.


Previous Global Leadership winners have been former United States President Jimmy Carter, as well as the British Broadcasting Corporation.  And those prizes have been given for their global media commitment to environment and sustainable development issues.


While in Dubai, the Secretary-General is also expected to hold a bilateral meeting with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktoum before coming back to New York [early next week].


**Secretary-General Appointment


And I also have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General has appointed Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Prime Minister of Norway, as his new Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, in response to the recurrent drought and food insecurity devastating the region.


Mr. Bondevik will work with the United Nations system, the Governments of the affected countries, the donor community, non-governmental organization partners and other civil society organizations to ensure effective humanitarian action.  He will help the affected Governments strengthen comprehensive Country Food Security Programmes, with a focus on tackling the root causes of chronic food insecurity.


Mr. Bondevik succeeds, as you know, Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland, who is now the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo.  And we have a full text of the statement regarding the appointment available upstairs, as well as a biography of Mr. Bondevik.


**Deputy Secretary-General on Latin America


Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, today delivered opening remarks at a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) high-level event entitled, “Crisis of Governance:  The International Stake in Sustaining Democracy in Latin America”.


In her statement, she says, “Our challenge is to consolidate the best of what is happening in Latin America, and sustain the vigour with which change is being pursued, while at the same time addressing the backlog of need.”  And her statement is available upstairs.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s letter to the Security Council asking for permission to temporarily redeploy up to one mechanized infantry battalion and a police unit from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) for at least three months.  The Secretary-General said he made the decision to seek the transfer because of the current situation in Côte d’Ivoire.


** Iran


And we were informed a short while ago by our colleagues at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that the Board of Governors of the Agency will continue its consideration of the issue of Iran tomorrow morning in Vienna.  And that meeting is expected to start at 10 a.m. local time in Vienna, which, I think, makes it 4 a.m. for us here.


**Press Conferences


And one press conference to remind you of, at 1:15 p.m., Ambassador Don Mackay, the Chair of the Committee on the drafting of the first-ever convention of disability rights, and Mr. Lex Grandia, the Secretary-General of the World Federation of the Deafblind, will be in this room to brief you on the outcome of the three-week seventh session of the Committee, which concludes today.


And as you know, Haiti will be holding elections next Tuesday.  And in advance of that, we have asked and been told that the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi, will be our guest at the noon briefing on Monday to answer any questions you may have on Haiti.


**Week Ahead


And today is, thankfully, Friday.  So we do have the “Week Ahead” for you.


That’s it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Please elaborate as to why the Secretary-General is visiting Washington.  Did he ask for the meeting?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General regularly meets with senior United States officials.  We felt this was a good time for the meeting, which was mutually agreed upon.


Question:  So there’s no agenda?


Spokesman:  The agenda is the whole host of issues that are of mutual interest to both the United States Government and the United Nations.  The Secretary-General travels regularly and meets Heads of States, including the P-5, at least a number of times a year.


Question:  Can you tell us what was discussed yesterday in the meeting between the Secretary-General and the members of the Non-Aligned Movement Committee on Palestine?


Spokesman:  It was issues regarding the situation in the Palestinian territories, including the issue of assistance to the Palestinian people.


Question:  I have two questions about this study that was done by Deloitte.  And then it did a study of its one study, which was pointed out by one of the G-77 Ambassadors recently.  It has been said that, in fact, that a firm following up a study of its own study is against procurement rules.  That has what has been pointed out.  Do you have any reaction?


Spokesman:  I’m not sure I completely agree with you that Deloitte did a study of its own study.  I’m happy to check with Mr. Burnham’s office to see if that is in fact the case.  There have been a number of studies by Deloitte and there’s an ongoing forensic audit which is being conducted by that company of the procurement department.


Question:  Can you clarify whether there was a study by Deloitte and also how much was it paid for both the studies?


Spokesman:  I think Mr. Burnham may have given you a figure.  But, otherwise, I can check on those figures for you.


Question:  I think it was almost half a million, but there must be (inaudible).


Spokesman:  I won’t even speculate on what the figure was, but I will check.


Question:  Did the IAEA give a reason as to why the meeting today did not reach a conclusion, was not going to reach a conclusion?  And is it unusual for it to do that?


Spokesman:  This is obviously a deliberative process between all the members of the Board of Governors.  They felt that the meeting needed to go on another 24 hours.  It’s not the first time the end of a meeting has been delayed.


Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record