6 April 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  I’d like to welcome our visiting guests from the Middle East, who are here on a trip sponsored by the US State Department.  So welcome to the United Nations.


My guest today at the briefing, after we hear from Pragati Pascale from the Office of the President of the General Assembly, will be the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. Ould Abdallah, who, as you know, participated in this week’s Economic and Social Council dialogue on full employment and decent work.  Mr. Ould Abdallah’s Office recently published a report linking youth unemployment and regional insecurity in West Africa.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General arrived in Madrid this morning, and he is scheduled to begin a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero just about now.  He and the Prime Minister will then hold a joint press encounter, and we hope we will make a transcript of that encounter available to you as soon as we can, a bit later on this afternoon.


Then in the evening, the Secretary-General and his wife Nane will be hosted for dinner by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General held meetings with UN officials in preparation for the start of tomorrow's meeting of the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations, which, as you know, brings together heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes.  The Secretary-General also met this afternoon with Enrique Iglesias, the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for the Ibero-American Summits.


**System-Wide Coherence Panel


And today is the last day of the meeting of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment.  At 2:30 this afternoon, the Panel’s co-chairs will brief you on their work so far, and we also have a press release on the work of the Panel that has just been made available to you upstairs in our Office.


The co-chairs, as you know, are Prime Ministers Luisa Dias Diogo of Mozambique, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, and Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan.  Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown will be moderating that press conference, which again, is here in 226 at 2:30 this afternoon.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


From Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, Pierre Schori, this evening will meet with the Chairman of the African Union (AU), President Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, who is in Abidjan for talks aimed at moving along the peace process in Côte d’Ivoire.  Schori and the AU Chairman will discuss ways to carry out the road map for peace.


**Bird Flu


The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said today that, despite the fact that bird flu has been confirmed in at least 45 countries, efforts to combat it are proving successful on many fronts.  The agency said that early detection, vaccination, and compensation programmes in Asia, particularly in Thailand, Viet Nam and China, appear to have reduced the transmission of the disease from poultry to humans.  And we have a press release from our colleagues at FAO available upstairs.


** Philippines


And the World Food Programme today announced that it will be providing food aid to the Philippines’ autonomous region of Mindanao, to support the Government’s effort to end the long-standing conflict in that province.  Plans are under way to start a $27 million food aid operation to help more than 2 million people from poor and conflict-torn communities, especially families displaced by violence, former combatants, poor women, and children.


**Budget


And the arrival of checks from Belgium and Cuba yesterday brought to 73 the number of Member States that have paid in full for the regular UN budget for 2006.  Belgium gave us in $18 million and change, and Cuba gave us $815,971.


**Press Releases


A couple of in-house announcements:  The Department of Public Information wants you to know that they have launched a new website to make it easier for you find UN press releases and meeting coverage summaries, both in French and English.  And you can access that from the UN News Centre web page.


**Press Conferences


Tomorrow at noon, my guest will be Juan E. Méndez, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  He will be here to mark the twelfth anniversary of genocide in Rwanda.  Mr. Méndez will talk about the need for international organizations to translate the commitment to prevent and punish genocide into action.


And a 1 p.m. tomorrow, Kevin M. Kennedy, the Director for Coordination and Response of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will be here to brief you on the Horn of Africa humanitarian appeal.


And that is it for me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On humanitarian affairs.  Does the Secretary-General -- and I guess this will be for Pragati, as well -- does the President have any response to the fact that the US decided not to run for a seat on the Human Rights Council?


Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve seen a number of press reports, and we expect to see an official announcement shortly.  The Secretary-General is, obviously, disappointed that the US has decided not to participate in the elections for the new Human Rights Council this year.  However, we very much hope that the US will continue to be an active player in the defence of universal human rights and support the work of the new Human Rights Council as it goes ahead.  And we also very much hope they will participate in the elections next year.


Question:  Does that mean that you also hope that they will not withdraw financing?


Spokesman:  We hope they will continue to support the work of the Council, even if they don’t run for a seat.


Question:  Do you have any further response -- or any response -- to the letter you received two days ago from the Hamas [inaudible]?


Spokesman:  No, nothing to add.  We continue to study the letter that we did receive.


Question:  Is there a response from either the Secretary-General or UN people on the ground to the arrest of the Hamas Minister by the Israeli police?  And what is the legal position regarding that -- both on the measure taken by the Israelis and whether the Palestinian Minister should have been where he was when he was arrested?


Spokesman:  My understanding is that the gentleman was released, which is good news, but I do not have a legal opinion I can share with you at this point.


Question:  Can you tell us a little bit as to what is on the Secretary-General’s agenda when he goes to the Netherlands?  Will there be any discussion of Charles Taylor or Darfur?  Any discussions regarding -- at the International Criminal Court?  What are the priorities?


Spokesman:  Obviously, he is there for the anniversary of the International Court of Justice.  He will also take an opportunity to visit the ICC, but the issue of Charles Taylor is currently being worked out, and I believe a draft resolution will be circulated in the Council shortly.  And he will also have wide-ranging discussions with the Dutch authorities on a number of bilateral matters.


Question:  I just wondered if there was any feedback on this eminent panel’s high-level person on system-wide ... something or other ... on development and humanitarian aid -- is there anyone to tell us what’s happening with this meeting?


Spokesman:  Well, I think, unfortunately, you came a little late, but the System-Wide Panel on Coherence, which is the “something or other” you were referring to, will hold a press briefing here at 2:30 p.m. with the Prime Ministers of Norway, Pakistan and Mozambique.


Question:  Do you have any detailed statement from the US Government as to their reasons for not participating in the Human Rights Council?


Spokesman:  I think that’s a question you should ask the US authorities.


Thank you very much.  Did you have a question, Sir?


Question:  Am I allowed to ask, please?


Spokesman:  Yes.


Question:  [inaudible] Abbas Mahmoud himself said “I didn’t send any letter to the United Nations, I didn’t give them a proposal to accept two States”, and you said, “We are still studying the letter.”


Spokesman:  Yes, you know, we are studying a letter we received from the Palestinian Permanent Observer Mission.  That is the official letter we received.  We are studying that, and when we have something more to add, we will let you know.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesman:  I understand.  We have seen the press reports.  What I can tell you is that we have received an official letter from the Palestinian Observer Mission, and we are taking a look at that letter.


Question:  One more question on Sudan.  Did the Secretary-General speak to the President of Sudan yet?  Has there been any development in terms of UN’s ability to send an assessment team to the ground?


Spokesman:  Let me put it this way.  No, the Secretary-General has not spoken to the President of Sudan.  The message has been left.  The Sudanese authorities are aware that the Secretary-General would like to speak to the President, and there is nothing else beyond what I said yesterday about the planning mission regarding ... just saying that we do expect a planning team to go to Addis Ababa to work with the African Union and to see when it would be best for us to send the team actually on the ground.


Question:  Were visas asked and denied?


Spokesman:  Visas have not yet been requested, but you know, I think, the important thing is to work to create the right environment, so that we can go ahead with this planning mission with the full cooperation of the Government of Sudan, which we need.  And I think, as we’ve seen in the last couple of days, visas are just a piece of paper.  Some people have had visas and were not able to go to the destination they wished.


Question:  Two things.  First, has Mr. Egeland decided whether to accept the belated invitation of the Sudanese Government?  And is the Secretary-General at all concerned that he has not been able to talk to the President of Sudan?


Spokesman:  No doubt, that call will go through.  As for Mr. Egeland, he has not received any ... I mean, we’ve seen the press reports, he has seen them -- we have not seen anything official from the Sudanese to either us or Mr. Egeland, saying he can come back.  Once we do get the word from the Sudanese, obviously, Mr. Egeland will review that offer and make a decision.


Question:  On 30 April, there is going to be a big march in Washington to try and get more action on Darfur.  Would any UN officials be attending or taking part in that rally?


Spokesman:  UN officials, as a rule, don’t take part in political rallies.


Question:  Just as follow-up to all these questions:  is there any particular reason why the Secretary-General still hasn’t called the President of Sudan?


Spokesman:  He did call him.


Question:  So he talked to him?


Spokesman:  No, I’m saying he ... we are trying to call.  The call has not been answered is what I am saying.


OK.  Thank you.  Pragati, you’re up, and then I have Mr. Abdallah.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


This afternoon there will be an informal meeting of the plenary, where Member States will hold a dialogue with the members of the High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment.  General Assembly President Jan Eliasson will be making opening remarks at that meeting.


Tomorrow morning, the Assembly will hold informal consultations of the plenary to begin its consideration of the review of mandates.  Assistant Secretary-General Bob Orr is expected to introduce the report of the Secretary-General in the consultations, which will be co-chaired by Ambassador Rock of Canada and Ambassador Akram of Pakistan.


Earlier this week, the President sent a letter to all Member States announcing that he would convene a meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform on 20 April.  The President has invited Member States to comment on developments since the debate on this subject in the Assembly last November, and wrote that he hoped for a constructive and creative exchange of views towards reaching general agreement on this essential element of the reform agenda.  He will also seek endorsement of the Vice-Chairpersons he has proposed for this Working Group:  Ambassador Paulette Bethel of the Bahamas and Ambassador Frank Majoor of the Netherlands.


A number of additional Member States have submitted to the Secretariat their candidacy for the Human Rights Council, bringing the number to 35.  The website for the elections is being updated on a daily basis; you can check there for the latest list, and also for the pledges and commitments that some Member States have submitted in support of their candidacy.  That website, just to remind you, is www.un.org/ga/60/elect/hrc/.  The elections are scheduled to take place on 9 May.


On Monday afternoon, President Eliasson will be travelling to The Hague to participate in the ceremonies on 12 April observing the sixtieth anniversary of the International Court of Justice.  He will return to New York on the afternoon of 13 April.


Questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  When work on the Security Council reform is conducted in April, will the work of the Open-Ended Working Group cease or continue?


Spokesperson:  I think, it’s open-ended, as the title of the Group says.  So they have scheduled meetings for the 20th, it may continue into the 21st -- I am not sure.  And then they can convene meetings as they decide.


Question:  Does the President have anything to say about the fact that the US has apparently decided not to seek a seat on his baby?


Spokesperson:  I think the President wants to reserve comment until he sees an actual text of what the US says.  I understand there is going to be a briefing at the State Department.  So we will get you a comment then.


Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record