|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.
My guest today will be Dennis McNamara, the Special Adviser to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Director of the Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division, and he will be joining us to talk to you about breaking the cycle of conflict and displacement.
**Secretary-General on Iraq
I’ll start off with a statement on Iraq:
“The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) of the final certified results of the 15 December national election. He again pays tribute to the courageous commitment of the Iraqi people to the democratic process as demonstrated by the participation of millions of voters of all communities, as well as hundreds of thousands of observers, agents and poll workers.
“The Secretary-General is encouraged that the new Parliament will be broadly representative of Iraq’s diverse communities and will include a substantial percentage of women. At this historic moment, the Secretary-General calls on Iraq’s political leaders to work with resolve towards the early formation of a fully inclusive Government, which will strive to build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and united Iraq.
“The Secretary-General also congratulates the Independent Electoral Commission for successfully conducting this election under very challenging circumstances. The United Nations is pleased to have provided support to the process and remains fully committed to assisting the Iraqi people in the forthcoming electoral programme in 2006.”
The UN Mission in Haiti reports today that the counting of votes in the presidential and legislative elections continues. Preliminary results were released yesterday, but they were from only five departments. More results are expected later today.
The Mission today reports that, according to its statistics, the number of violent incidents decreased markedly in the week up to, and including, Election Day. The situation remains peaceful, the Mission said, but it is maintaining its peacekeeping patrols.
Turning to the Security Council. This morning Council members began their work with consultations, in which they received briefings from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi, on developments in Haiti and in Côte d’Ivoire.
Then, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told the Security Council members, in an open briefing today, that the London Conference on Afghanistan made numerous achievements for that country. He said the Afghanistan Compact launched at that conference set out an ambitious agenda, which committed the participants to a sustained and prolonged engagement in Afghanistan’s future.
At the same time, Guéhenno warned that recent weeks have seen a rising level of insurgent attacks in the south-east and south-west, and an escalation of factional tensions in the north-west of the country. At least six Afghan soldiers were killed today in two attacks by suspected Islamic rebels in the eastern province of Nuristan.
And the Council followed the open briefing on Afghanistan with a private meeting on the same matter.
** Middle East
Today the Secretary-General today addressed the opening of… let’s try this again. The Secretary-General today addressed the opening of this year’s session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and he called the outcome of the recent elections “a watershed in Palestinian political history”.
He said he believes that the clear majority of the Palestinian people do not want to pursue violence or terrorism against Israeli civilians, and that they want the agreements and obligations that their elected representatives have already entered into -- including the Road Map -- to be carried forward and implemented, not abandoned. The international community, he said, will be watching very carefully to see how a new Government rises to these challenges.
And we have the full text of his comments available upstairs.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Several UN agencies today report a worsening situation in that country. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says tens of thousands of people were being forced to flee their homes in the southern and eastern parts, because of continuing violence.
UNICEF, meanwhile, says that, yesterday, a four–truck UNICEF convoy had managed to get into a small village near Bunia in the east that had been cut off and completely surrounded by both army and rebel combatants. Some 6,000 persons there were supplied with enough food to last a month.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said some 1,200 people die daily from the armed conflict, malnutrition and disease in the DRC. In other words, OCHA says, every six months, as many victims die there, as died as a result of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will co-host with the European Union, a ministerial–level meeting on the Congo, on Monday in Brussels. And for those of you that are interested, we have details available upstairs.
Søren Jessen-Petersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, congratulated Fatmir Sejdiu on his election as President of Kosovo, and on the strong support he received from the Assembly today.
Jessen-Petersen promised the new President his support, and that of the UN Mission, and said that: “President Sejdiu takes Office at a decisive time for Kosovo, when it is crucial to maintain unity and stability in order to advance the process that will determine Kosovo’s status.”
We have that statement available upstairs.
**Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
And from the FAO, [Food and Agriculture Organization]today called upon Nigeria to shut poultry markets in the states where bird flu has been confirmed, as well as in all neighbouring states.
The FAO said that the virus often spreads through movement of the affected birds and, therefore, people in the affected and neighbouring areas should not import or export poultry. The agency welcomed the emergency measures already applied by the Nigerian authorities, and their quick investigation of the matter.
**Week Ahead at the United Nations
Today being Friday, we have the week ahead, and since its Friday we’ll allow ourselves a little sports item here. We last checked about 10 minutes ago, and at halftime, the score in the African Cup Final between Côte d’Ivoire and Egypt was zero-zero, for those of you who are interested. So we’ll get over this briefing and we can go back to watching the second half of the game.
That is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just a first question. I’m a little confused how the Secretary-General can say that a clear majority of Palestinians do not want to pursue violence, when they elected an organization that is defined as a terrorist group and whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel. How does he… how do that statement and that fact…
Spokesman: I think he gave a fairly extensive answer on that yesterday, basically highlighting that his thoughts were that the Palestinians wanted a Government that they believed could, maybe, deliver better services and provide them with what they needed. And that was, I think, the thrust of his answer to that question yesterday. But I would refer you to the transcript of his comments yesterday.
Question: I’ve got two questions. One on the Palestinian forum. I believe that some of the people there said that, if the GA -- as the Secretary-General recommended -- cuts down on mandates, that their mandate shouldn’t be touched. And that’s precisely the area -- the Middle East resolutions -- that I think anybody who wants to cut down on mandates had in mind. Any reaction to that? And the second one is on… Well, I’ll come back to it.
Spokesman: On the mandate review, as called for in the Outcome Document, the Secretary-General will present, to the General Assembly, a list of current mandates, and it will be up to the General Assembly and the membership to review them and decide what they want to do with each of those mandates. So it’ll be a GA-led effort.
Question: Well, even in one of his speeches he mentioned the Middle East ones and the overlapping ones, but alright, that doesn’t pinpoint the question I asked. Secondly, on Ivory Coast, I see in your headlines today, that a paper in Abidjan said that the Secretary-General sent a bill of 3.5 million to the Ivorian President for damage to UN property…
Spokesman: The Secretary-General did write to President Gbagbo, expressing his dismay at the fact that the Ivorian authorities had not protected, as they should have, UN premises during the disturbances in January, as it is their responsibility to do. And he did present the Government with the expenses incurred by the UN, as a result of the loss of property and equipment.
Question: Was that for this amount or what? 3.5 million?
Spokesman: Yes, it was close to that amount.
Question: Was it that amount or not?
Spokesman: I’ll double-check when we’re done, but it’s very close to that amount.
Question: Can you update us on Serge Brammertz, please. Is he still in New York? Did he meet with the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: Yes, he is in New York. He is meeting with the Secretary-General. He is here, as I said earlier, to consult with Secretariat staff. He is also meeting a number of ambassadors, including the representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council. It’s an opportunity for him to confer with the Secretary-General and his staff on administrative and organizational matters, now that he’s had a couple of weeks in Beirut, and as Mr. Brammertz is putting his team together and putting his budget together.
Question: How many people are on the team?
Spokesman: Well, these are issues that are being discussed right now, in terms of seeing what his needs are to best go forward on the mandate given to him by the Security Council.
Question: Did he meet with Nicolas Michel?
Spokesman: Yes. He’s meeting with Mr. Michel, people in the Legal Office, Political Affairs, the Secretary-General. He’s having wide-ranging consultations within the Secretariat.
Question: But nothing new on the investigation into the assassination?
Question: The Acting Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Olmert, has said it now, and other prime ministers have said that they, themselves, will unilaterally draw the borders in Palestine. If that happens, will that be in contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions 338 and 242?
Spokesman: What I would only say to that is that I would refer you to the repeated Quartet statements, which basically remind the parties of their obligations under the Road Map to avoid any unilateral action, which would prejudge final status issues.
Question: Also on Lebanon. We’re approaching the first anniversary of the killing of Hariri. Does the SG have any comments on what has been accomplished in the investigation in the past year, and what he would like to see Mr. Brammertz and the legal team accomplish in the coming year?
Spokesman: I think in the last year, we’ve seen that the UN has been consistently providing assistance to the people of Lebanon, as they continue to deal with the changes over the last 12 months. I think since Mr. Hariri’s death, you’ve seen a number of UN missions on the ground. First Mr. Fitzgerald, who went to help collect evidence, and then you’ve seen subsequent establishment of work done by the Independent Commission led by Detlev Mehlis, and then Serge Brammertz. The Secretary-General is very much doing all he can to support the work of that Commission, to ensure that there is no impunity for the crime that killed Mr. Hariri and some 22 others.
Question: With all due respect to your previous answer, I did read the Secretary-General’s remarks yesterday on Hamas, and I’m wondering if I could push this a little bit more. Is he possibly reconsidering his involvement in such events that are conducted to show support for an entity whose Government now calls for the destruction of a UN Member State?
Spokesman: Which event?
Question: Today’s event.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General’s commitment to supporting the Palestinian people continues. There is currently a caretaker Government in the Palestinian Authority, and the Secretary-General, as well as the Quartet, has repeatedly said that they would like to see when the new Government takes over a Government that accepts all its obligations under the Road Map, including, specifically, the two-State solution, and, obviously the recognition of Israel.
Question: I just had another question on yesterday’s remarks. The Secretary-General made some pretty pointed remarks about Sudan and what he envisions for a UN force there, specifically about the US and that he would raise this issue with President Bush. He did not mention a letter that he got two days ago, in which Ambassador Bolton said that the United States was prepared to offer a cell of military planners that could arrive no later than 13 February.
And his comments would seem to suggest that he was not satisfied that that offer would be sufficient. If he was satisfied with that, he would have discussed it, but instead he seems to be going to Washington and pushing for more…
Spokesman: I don’t think you should see the visit to Washington as a result of that specific letter. We obviously welcome any assistance we can get from the United States and any other Member States in planning for the mission. But the Secretary-General was very clear in what he wanted and what he feels that a UN force will need on the ground -- not just from the US, but from any other country that has the capacity to bring the equipment and troops necessary to provide a strong and mobile force for Darfur.
Question: I don’t mean to tie the visit with the letter, but is he satisfied with what the US offered in that letter?
Spokesman: On one hand, you’re talking about the offering of a planning cell, which we very much welcome and we’re very grateful for the support. But his remarks were more about the vision that he has for the UN force that will be in Darfur. Not just for the planning stage, but, his remarks dealt with the operational stage of that force.
Question: And that’s what he’ll seek from the United States?
Spokesman: I think he was very clear that he would raise this issue with the President.
Question: So he is not satisfied?
Spokesman: It’s not… they’re two separate issues. We welcome the help on the planning, but his remarks had to do with the operational aspects of the force, and how he wants to see that force come to life.
Question: So he wants more from the United States?
Spokesman: Not just the United States. He wants more from the countries that have the capacity to help.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the letter that the SG sent to Gbagbo. Is that the first time that the Secretary-General has sent a letter of that kind? Is he expecting a response or is he going to follow that up with a phone call?
Spokesman: Well, we will be following that up, and I’m told that already, in a number of places, we have, in fact, found the equipment that had been missing, which is something that is welcome, notably in the town of Guiglo. But it will be followed up. I don’t know if it will be at the Secretary-General’s level, but it will be followed up by the UN.
Question: And has this happened before?
Spokesman: I’ll have to check to see if it has happened before.
Question: Going back to the news conference yesterday on the cartoons. The Secretary-General, one, welcomed language that the OIC has suggested for the Human Rights [Council], even though it may absolutely complicate the already fractious negotiations. Secondly, he pointed to, and used as an example, how the issue was calming down in the joint statement he gave with the OIC and the EU, when 20 minutes later, the [OIC] issued, in this place, a much more radical statement that concentrated mainly on the Europeans and did not balance it with the violence. So, I’m just curious about why he thinks this is all going to be ok, and that it’s going to disappear out of the UN because of a joint statement.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General very much hopes that his joint statement with the OIC Secretary-General and the EU Foreign Policy Chief will help calm the situation, and he is continuing to work the phones and talking to leaders, both in Europe and in the Muslim world. His aim, at this point, is to really calm the situation and make sure nothing is done that will inflame an already very delicate situation.
Question: [inaudible] this whole thing taking centre stage at the Human Rights Council negotiations.
Question: I understand that President Bush was here last September for the World Summit. When was the last time the Secretary-General met him in Washington, D.C?
Spokesman: We have a list upstairs of the dates of all their meetings and I can get you that right afterwards.
Question: Do you have a schedule for the Secretary-General when he goes to Washington? Will that be available to us?
Spokesman: Sure. I mean the schedule is pretty simple. He’s meeting the Secretary of State for a private lunch around lunchtime, and following that, he will meet with the President, I think at about 1:15 or 1:30, at the White House. And then, he may have some meetings with leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who he was not able to see while they were here in New York last week.
Question: Do you have any reaction to the Staff Union meeting yesterday, at which they expressed apprehension about UN reforms, especially privatization and outsourcing? Also, they still continue to express concern about the Pension Fund.
Spokesman: Well, I think the Pension Fund is clear. There is no privatization of the Pension Fund. That’s been clearly said. Mr. Malloch Brown wrote to the Staff Union to explain that, I think Mr. Burnham was also there and delivered an oral message. We do expect to get a letter form Ms. Waters, President of the Staff Union, I know the Secretary-General looks forward to getting that letter and working with her in any way he can.
Thank you. Mr. McNamara, welcome.
* *** *For information media • not an official record