27 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 GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


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 Spokesman for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  I’d like to welcome our guests, representative visiting journalists from South Asia.  Welcome to the United Nations.


** Nepal


I will start off with a statement on the situation in Nepal.


“The Secretary- General is heartened by the recent positive developments in Nepal.  He considers the royal proclamation of 24 April reinstating Parliament as a positive step that opens the door for a political process to end the decade-old conflict and address its underlying causes on the basis of the wishes of the Nepali people.


“The Secretary-General also welcomes the announcement by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) of a three-month ceasefire as a step that will further ease the suffering of ordinary Nepalese and foster confidence between the soon-to-be-formed Government and the Maoists.  He trusts that the ceasefire will be reciprocated and that both sides will continue to exercise restraint and wisdom in managing what will be a complex democratic transition through patient dialogue.”


And that statement is available upstairs.


The UN Human Rights Office in Nepal today also welcomed the announcement by the Maoists of the ceasefire.


And Ian Martin, the head of the UN Human Rights Office, called for the Maoists to release, immediately, all the civilians it has abducted and to ensure that its cadres do not intimidate civilians from different political parties, and also called on them to end actions against the families of Nepal’s security personnel.  We have more details in the press release upstairs.  And the Human Rights Office also put out another release, which we have available upstairs, deploring the latest killing of seven unarmed civilians by the Royal Nepalese Army.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council heard from the Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, Charles Konan Banny, who discussed recent developments in his country in an open meeting of the Security Council.  The Secretary-General subsequently attended a closed meeting, also with the Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire.


A third formal meeting will then take place to consider a presidential statement on the situation in that country.  In it, Council members will take note of the progress achieved and reiterate its full support for the Prime Minister, but expressed its grave concern at the serious delay in implementing the disarmament and identification operations.


At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Prime Minister is also scheduled to meet with the Secretary-General.  And I believe he intends to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout immediately following that meeting.  So, that should be at around 3:20 p.m., 3:30 p.m. outside the Security Council.  The Prime Minister, that is, intends to speak with you.


The Security Council is also meeting at 3 p.m. to hear from the Chairman of the Council’s committee dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia.  The Council also may hold a formal meeting to vote on a resolution extending the mandate of that Committee, which is know as the 1540 Committee.


**Secretary-General/Investment Launch


The Secretary-General was at Wall Street this morning to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange as part of the launch of the “Principles for Responsible Investment”.


The Principles are an initiative of the UN Environment Programme and the UN Global Compact, and they provide institutional investors with a common framework for integrating environmental and social issues into investment decision-making.


The Secretary-General was joined by the heads of a group of international funds who later signed these Principles; and in his remarks to them, he said the UN objectives go hand in hand with prosperity and growing markets, and the United Nations and business are natural partners, he said.


He added that the Principles will provide a set of common guidelines for investors to assess risks and opportunities fully.  And we have those remarks upstairs.


**Security Council Wednesday


Also yesterday afternoon, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for resolution 1559, briefed the Security Council in its closed consultations on the most recent developments concerning that resolution, including progress of the national dialogue in Lebanon.


Speaking to reporters following the consultations, Roed-Larsen noted the progress that Lebanon has made since the year Syrian forces withdrew from the country.  He encouraged Syria to take up Lebanon’s offer to engage in discussions to delineate their common border and have diplomatic relations.


** Sudan


Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan reports that it is starting on Saturday a comprehensive training programme in Al-Fasher in northern Darfur, aimed at enhancing the capacities on the African Union forces in Darfur.


And UNICEF reports that malnutrition in that area in Darfur is creeping back towards the levels of 2003, due to lack of security and lack of access by aid groups.


** Afghanistan


And from Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul today that he has seen a growing commitment among neighbouring countries to stability in the region.  He is especially encouraged by the initiatives of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Governments to cooperate on intelligence sharing and security efforts.


Asked about the security situation in southern Afghanistan, Koenigs said that, although three quarters of the country is “on a good path”, the security situation still has to improve in the southern quarter.  He said that the UN Mission will try to increase its presence in the south during the course of this year.  And we have his full transcript upstairs.


**Tsunami Recovery


And heads up for tomorrow, that the UN’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President Bill Clinton, will be across the street at the UNICEF House tomorrow afternoon for a meeting of the Global Consortium on Tsunami Recovery.


Among the gathering’s participants will be government representatives of countries that were hit by the 2004 tsunami, as well as delegates from donor countries, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.


The event is closed to the press, but there will be a short photo-op at the start of the meeting.  And if you want more information, you can talk to Brenden in my Office.


That is it for me.  Any questions?


** Questions and Answers


Jonathan?


Question:  Benny had an article today in The Sun that talks about the OIOS investigation of Mr. Qazi.  I just had a couple of questions about that.  Has OIOS actually finalized its investigation into Mr. Qazi?  And if so, to whom did that report go to?  And then just a couple of follow-ups.


Spokesman:  Whether or not they finalized, I don’t know.  You’d have to ask them.  But the Secretary-General’s office has not yet received a finalized report from them.


Question:  Would it be possible for us journalists to speak with someone perhaps in OIOS about that report?  Perhaps, with Ms. Dixon or someone else?


Spokesman:  We’ve put that request to them.  At this point, they are not yet ready to brief, but you are, of course, free to call them directly.


Question:  OK, and once the report is finalized, how soon will it then be in the hands of Member States for their review?


Spokesman:  It’s at their request.


Question:  Another question, on Al-Qaida, I understand that you spoke at some length about Al-Qaida’s threats to the UN operation in Darfur.  And there were a couple of outstanding questions that I don’t think were answered like how many United Nations personnel are currently in Sudan?  And also, has there been a task force perhaps put together?  Is there talk about putting a task force together to draw out some sort of plan for protection of the force from Al-Qaida threats?


Spokesman:  Obviously, on security matters, we don’t discuss these in public.  But the security of our staff in places that are sensitive and possibly dangerous is assessed regularly and changes in protection is made accordingly.  As for the number of staff, the answer was given.  I don’t have it off the top of my head, but we can get that to you after the briefing.


Now to the left. Benny?  


Question:  A bunch of them.  Is that what you just said now about training the African Union forces, is that a tacit admission that there won’t be a “re-hatting”?


Spokesman:  No, not at all.  I think it’s clear that the eventual “re-hatting” will take place in a number of months, whether it’s four, three…


Question:  Yesterday, we were told it would take longer because of the Sudanese Government (inaudible).


Spokesman:  The eventual “re-hatting” will not take place tomorrow.  Nobody ever said that it would.  The point is we’re working on multiple tracks.  One is the planning, which was explained to you at length, I think, by Mr. Annabi yesterday.  In the meantime, there is an urgent need to strengthen the African Union forces.  We are doing what we can with the people we have in Sudan.  But, obviously, the international community as a whole has a duty to help the African Union forces as they still are in Darfur.


Question:  I think that the Security Council said, basically, that the presidential statement of the Security Council said, is that there needs to be either strengthening of the mandate of the African Union forces or “re-hatting”.  And yesterday we were told by Annabi that it would take much longer to do the “re-hatting” or longer to do the “re-hatting” because of the refusal of the Sudanese Government to (inaudible).


Spokesman:  There are a number of things that have to happen before the “re-hatting” takes place.  Our planning needs to be complete, and that is obviously contingent on the cooperation of the Government of Sudan.  The Security Council is going to have to make a number of decisions -- the African Union, the Government of Sudan.  But meanwhile, the African Union forces that are on the ground need help.


Question:  Is that influenced by the fact that it will take longer now to “re-hat”?


Spokesman:  We’re not going to get into timelines.  The point is, on one hand, you plan for an eventual “re-hatting”.  On the other hand, we, with the resources we have in Sudan, are helping in strengthening the African Union in whatever way we can.  And the international community, those with the capabilities, whether it’s financial or others, needs to do its part, as well.  But I think you should note that we see no direct link between us announcing this AU support today and what happened in the Council yesterday.  The decision, as far as I know, to send and support the AU force was not made as a result of what was happening in the Council.  It’s been an ongoing effort on our part to help the AU.


Question:  And just one more question.  Do you still maintain that Qazi is being exonerated by the OIOS?


Spokesman:  We fully expect Mr. Qazi to be exonerated.  And the Secretary-General continues to have full confidence in him and the way he’s been doing his job in very difficult circumstances.


Yes, ma’am? Back to the right.


Question:  Thank you.  On OIOS, if the Secretary-General fully expects Mr. Qazi to be exonerated, how in-depth a report is this?


Spokesman:  I think we will have to wait.  We are, obviously, in the hands of OIOS and we eagerly await their report.


Question:  And on OIOS, is there anybody there who is designated to talk to us or just to deflect?


Spokesman:  I can help you place the phone calls, but it’s their call whether they brief or not.


Question:  In the interest of transparency, does the Secretary-General think that OIOS should be a bit more responsive to reporters’ inquiries?


Spokesman:  They need to be responsive in as much as they can be responsive as any body that is charged with audits and investigations can be responsive before the end of an investigation is done.


Question:  Wait, wait, wait.  I got to call you on that.  You announced here that OIOS is about to exonerate, but that is not waiting for the investigation to be done.


Spokesman:  I said that is up to them.  I speak for the Secretary-General’s office.  Obviously, OIOS will speak to you when they feel they can speak to you, but that’s their call.


Yes, ma’am?


Question:  Could you briefly explain the logistics for tomorrow for the IAEA report from Vienna?  Does it go to the Secretariat and then from the Secretariat to the Security Council? 


Spokesman:  Yes, it does.  But I don’t have an exact time frame yet.  I’m trying to pin that down today.


Question:  Will you know before the end of the day?


Spokesman:  We hope.


Question:  What’s going on in the Fifth Committee today?


Spokesman:  Please don’t ask me to interpret what is going on in the Fifth.  I’m sure Pragati will be here to talk to you about that.  As far as the Secretary-General is concerned, he is following the developments extremely closely, and he’s obviously making himself available to the Member States to help them find consensus on this issue.  But, Pragati, I’m sure, will have more.


Question:  Do you expect a vote today?


Spokesman:  What we do know is that the session has been suspended, I think, until 3 o’clock.


Yes, ma’am?


Question:  Is there a possibility if they do come to a conclusion that we will have a briefing by someone tomorrow on that?


Spokesman:  We’ll work with the GA Spokesman’s Office to make sure you’re fully briefed.


Question:  I’m sure you’ve seen these two GAO  reports that came out today to Congress.  They both outline pretty broad systemic problems, one in OIOS and the other one in peacekeeping procurement.  Any response to those?


Spokesman:  I think that the reports echo a lot of the findings that our own review -- whether it’s internal reviews or external reviews -- have already spotted.  In terms of procurement, you know there was the Deloitte study that was done in the fall of last year.  It made it clear that there were weak internal controls which led to the possibility of waste and maybe even fraud.  Those things are being addressed by the Department of Management with external consultants to see how they can strengthen the procurement service.  And meanwhile, there is a procurement task force within OIOS which is looking at and following up on all the allegations of fraud.  In terms of OIOS, the Secretary-General had put forward, as a result, honesty as one of the lessons learned of the Volcker inquiry, to increase the strength of OIOS.  He put forward some requests for increased funding, which went through the General Assembly.  Also, putting together a committee that would follow up on the audits from not only OIOS, but the Joint Inspection Unit and other auditing bodies.  And there is currently going on an external review, as mandated by the General Assembly, it’s the outcome document, an external review of the OIOS which will look at a lot of the issues that were raised in the GAO report.


Question:  The UN has responded to these previously known problems (inaudible). 


Spokesman:  I think the GAO reports echo a lot of the findings that we’ve had in the past.


Question:  Let me, just one last question.  When do you expect the outcome of these -- I’ve lost count -- three or four different panels? 


Spokesman:  It’s an ongoing process on procurement.  I will check when the Department of Management expects to have its external review done.  And on OIOS, I believe it’s in the coming months.


Question:  Just back to Benny’s article in The Sun.  It just raises this issue of preferential treatment that some of the leadership at the UN would get if they’re under investigation compared with some of the underlings and (inaudible).


Spokesman:  We expect all allegations to be investigated and investigated thoroughly.  I’ve been answering these questions about Mr. Qazi quite a bit in the last few weeks.  I’ve given all the answers I can possibly give.


Yes, Mark?


Question:  Just one question, I’m sorry if you’ve answered it already.  But just to get some clarity.  The UN stands on the brink of its biggest budget crisis in 20 years.  The Fifth Committee is trying to get the Secretary-General involved in staving off what really could be a major, major crisis for this Organization.  What is Kofi Annan saying at this stage to the players?


Spokesman:  Well, I’ll repeat what I just said.  He’s obviously following the developments closely and he’s made himself available to work with the Member States to try to help them find consensus.


Question:  What I’m looking for is a little bit more, if it can be given, in terms of how concerned is Kofi Annan that this Organization is on the brink of a train wreck?


Spokesman:  There’s a lot of rhetoric, I think, coming from all sides in this debate.  At this point, especially in the middle of the Fifth Committee deliberations, all that we can say is that the SG is working with the Member States to help them find consensus.


Question:  And does the SG mind that the President of the General Assembly is in Sweden at the biggest crisis point the UN has faced in 20 years?


Spokesman:  No doubt the President of the General Assembly is fully in touch with what is going on, and the Secretary-General has no specific comment on that.


Thank you very much.  On that note, Pragati.


Briefing by Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.  Just to give you an update on what most of you already know.  The Fifth Committee met in “informal informals” yesterday until almost 11 p.m. to try to reach consensus on the draft resolution on management reform, entitled “Investing in the United Nations”.


This morning, at an open meeting of the Committee, the Ambassador of South Africa, speaking for the Group of 77, presented several oral amendments to the draft resolution.  A number of countries, including Austria (for the EU), New Zealand (for CANZ), the United States and Japan stated that it was clear that there was still no consensus on the text.  The Chair, Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, suspended the meeting for 20 minutes.  When the meeting resumed shortly before noon, Ambassador Ashe stated that he felt that the Committee would benefit from more time and suspended the meeting until 3 p.m. He said that he would hold further consultations, and that he would ask the Secretary-General to assist with those consultations.


Yes, Nick?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  As a follow up to Mark’s question to Steph, is the President of the GA considering coming back to try to help out on this issue?  There are 40 Member States that had asked for Mr. Eliasson’s intervention.


Spokesperson:  Yes, the President’s Office received this open letter this morning.  If you were in the Committee, you may have also heard the response of the Group of 77 that the matter is still in the Fifth Committee and remained in the Fifth Committee.  So the membership has been quite adamant about the fact that the matter is to be negotiated in the Fifth Committee.  And the President’s Office is working actively in the consultations that are going on now at lunch time, working behind the scenes. But the President has no mandate to discuss, to hold negotiations himself.  So until that procedure changes, his Office is playing a role behind the scenes. 


Question:  There are several countries that have specifically said that he should bring his multifarious talents to bear on this rather thorny issue even though his mandate doesn’t specifically prescribe his involvement in this matter.  But he could be operating on the sidelines or just speaking with them informally.  Is he on the phone, maybe on some conference call or is he thinking of somehow joining this if it is postponed after today? 


Spokesperson:  I guess we all will deal with that situation as it arises.


Any other questions? Thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record