|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.
** Secretary-General in Vienna
The Secretary-General this morning delivered the keynote address at the opening session of the fourth European Union-Latin American and Caribbean Heads of State Summit, which took place in Vienna. He focused on the challenges of rising youth unemployment, confronting both regions, which he described as “a grave and growing problem”, and he recommended some necessary approaches to productive employment for young people.
He said: “Being unemployed early in life takes a heavy and enduring toll on the individual. It can damage prospects for employment later in life.” He added that youth is our most valuable asset and must be nurtured.
The Secretary-General also participated in a joint press conference with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Mexican President Vicente Fox, the Co-Presidents of the Summit.
Asked about the dispute concerning Iran, he said: “I have asked all sides to lower the rhetoric and intensify diplomatic efforts to find a solution.” He added that he has made it clear in his contacts that it is important that “the United States comes to the table and that it should join the European countries and Iran to find a solution”. And we have more information on the rest of the Secretary-General’s day, including the list of bilaterals that he had with Summit participants.
I have a statement from the Spokesman on the situation in Somalia:
“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at recent reports of increasing violence in Mogadishu, which has caused the deaths of over a hundred people and the displacement of thousands of non-combatants.
“The Secretary-General calls on the warring factions to cease fire immediately. He also urges all parties to support the Transitional Federal Institutions in their effort to implement the Transitional Charter.”
The Security Council this morning held consultations to discuss the text of a draft resolution following up on Resolution 1559, which, as you’ll recall, concerns Lebanon. Council members received the latest text of that draft.
The Council then held a formal meeting to adopt a resolution that extended the current mandate of the UN Office in Timor-Leste by one month, until 20 June of this year.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
And we also have an update, just received from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that a group of around 250 members of a Mayi-Mayi militia group have come forward to enter the country’s disarmament and reintegration process, in the province of Katanga in the country’s south-east.
The group was armed with about 100 rifles, 2 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and a number of machine guns.
The group’s leader has indicated that he intends to help the UN Mission to get his partisans to take part in the disarmament process. We hope to have more information on this a little later from the Mission.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, three months after the launch of the 2006 Action Plan for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, only $90 million of the requested $682 million has been received.
And the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea today says that, during the last week, a total of 11 locally recruited staff members have been arrested in Asmara by the Eritrean authorities.
None have been released so far -- and there’s no response from the Eritrean authorities, despite the Mission having sent two protest letters. The Mission also says that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and Adjacent Areas is tense, and routine troop movements have been noticed on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean sides. And we have upstairs a transcript from the Mission’s press conference.
** Darfur and Eastern Chad
Turning to the situation in Darfur and in Eastern Chad, UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, says that, despite delays caused by recalcitrant donkeys, it managed yesterday to move nearly 500 Chadian refugees from unsafe areas along the Chad-Sudan border to a new refugee camp further inland in Sudan's West Darfur region.
Fifteen trucks and one bus carried the refugees and their belongings and animals from Habila, on the border, to Um Shalaya, in West Darfur -- while African Union troops provided a military escort.
And, in case you’re wondering, as I was, why the donkeys were recalcitrant, they apparently couldn’t be persuaded to board the trucks in an orderly manner, which meant that the convoy was somehow delayed.
UNHCR says it plans to move about 1,500 refugees per week to the camp in three separate convoys of 500 each.
Turning to the situation in Tanzania, the World Food Programme (WFP) today urgently appealed for more than $16 million to feed over a half a million people in Tanzania, who are facing severe hunger caused by drought.
With cereal prices around 85 per cent higher than average, and huge numbers of livestock either dead or in severe conditions, many families are eating only one meal per day. And we do have a press release from WFP upstairs.
Also, from Angola, the UN Children’s Fund today reports that it is distributing emergency supplies in Angola, where a cholera outbreak has sickened tens of thousands of people -- more than a third of them children -- with more than 500 new cases being reported every day.
UNICEF said it has distributed millions of water purification tablets, and hundreds of thousands of oral rehydration treatments. And we have more details available on that upstairs.
** Sri Lanka
I also have a statement on Sri Lanka:
“The Secretary-General is disturbed by the news of major sea and aerial attacks in Sri Lanka, including an attack on a vessel that had unarmed international monitors on board. These attacks have caused the deaths of 18 Sri Lankan navy personnel and a number of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) members.
“The Secretary-General has taken note of the statement by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission demanding that the LTTE immediately cease all operations at sea, and describing these as a serious violation of the Ceasefire Agreement. He adds that it is unacceptable to attack vessels that are carrying monitors from the SLM Mission.
“The Secretary-General appeals to both the Government and the LTTE to change course and bring the country back to a path to peace. He repeats his call on all the parties to summon the political will to resume their dialogue under the facilitation of the Norwegian Government”
**Commission on Sustainable Development
And on matters closer to home, the Commission on Sustainable Development is wrapping up its two-week session today. According to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), during the session, Member States emphasized that more needs to be done to provide modern energy to the 1.6 billion people who live without electricity; that energy and climate change policies must be included in national planning; and that increases in energy efficiency are vital for expanding development and for reducing pollutants and climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Next year, the Commission will decide on specific initiatives and policy recommendations, according to DESA.
And, following up on questions that were raised over the last few days, we had a question the last day or so about an investigation into the Moscow offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). UNDP tells me that such an investigation is in fact ongoing, as first reported last August. They are working with the Russian Federation investigation, in that regard. And any further questions should be directed to the United Nations Development Programme.
I was also asked yesterday about the appropriateness for current existing staff members to conduct campaigns to become the next Secretary-General. My answer is that the issue of selection of the next Secretary-General is in the hands of the Member States and I will not comment further on that issue from this podium.
Today is Friday. We do have the Week Ahead for you. And, one thing to flag for you on Monday, actress and Oscar nominee Naomi Watts will be my guest at the noon briefing. As a new UNAIDS Special Representative, Naomi Watts will use her profile to raise AIDS awareness worldwide. She’ll be joined by UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Deborah Landey. And we have a media advisory with much more information on that upstairs.
And that is finally it for me. Any questions?
Questions and Answers
Question: On Iran, the Secretary-General of course has now, for the first time, asked even the United States to lower the rhetoric, because he’s been asking Iran in the past to (inaudible). Will, at any point in time, the Secretary-General cut short his visit, his two-week, if, at all, the situation demands, as far as Iran is concerned?
Spokesman: The visit is going on as planned. I think, as he said to you a couple of days ago, he has no specific plans to become directly involved in this, but his good offices are always available. And he’s following the situation closely.
Question: Why is he so reluctant to get himself involved in Iran?
Spokesman: There’s a process clearly under way with the European Union and Iran and the Security Council and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. And he is following the situation, and would make himself available if needed. But, at this point, he is encouraging all those who have a stake in this process to sit down around a table.
Question: What is the latest on the communications, if any, between the Secretary-General and the Government of Sudan concerning the UN assessment team that would like to go in and begin planning for a role in Darfur?
Spokesman: As the Secretary-General said, he has written to President Bashir asking for his support for the assessment team. He does expect to speak to the President soon. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is deploying a number of people to work with the African Union [AU], in order to establish a joint operation centre in al-Fashir. We’re making communications and aviation management specialists available to them, in order to help beef up the AU mission, while the planning goes on. And the expectation continues that we will have a joint planning team with the AU on the ground in Darfur, as soon as possible.
Question: The people in al-Fashir these are UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] people who have come over from UNMIS?
Spokesman: My understanding is that, yes, these people are from UNMIS.
Question: So, the next step is, unless the Government of Sudan just says OK, you can send in the assessment team you want, is a phone conversation?
Spokesman: The next step is for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to dispatch the planning team, along with the AU, and that process will get under way extremely soon.
Question: But wait, they have to get permission first?
Spokesman: We would expect the Government of Sudan to cooperate fully and let this team do its work.
Question: You say he’s written a letter. The next step is a phone call, if there’s no…?
Spokesman: We would expect the visas to be granted, permission to be granted, even before the Secretary-General and the President have a chance to speak by phone.
Question: Would you describe this recalcitrant donkey situation as a real pain in the ass?
Spokesman: I think there are some language issues, which need to be watched in this room.
Question: I do have a serious question. On the Iran issue, is the Secretary-General calling directly for one-on-one talks with the US and Iran? He’s saying the US should come to the table, but does he want to see direct one-on-one engagement between Washington and Tehran?
Spokesman: I think you should take a look at what he’s been saying over the past couple of days, and what he said this morning. In fact, this morning he said it is very important that every stakeholder should be at the table.
Question: But that leaves ambiguity. That could be seven-way talks. Would he like to see, going beyond that statement, one-on-one, face-to-face, bilateral discussions between the two nations?
Spokesman: I’ll refer again to what he said. He said, I believe, that, as long as the Iranians have a sense that they are negotiating with the European Union ad referendum, and what they discuss will have to be checked with the Americans, and then they come back to them, I’m not sure they’ll put everything on the table.
Question: Just to sort of continue on that theme. Would it be possible to get an analysis, then, of what exactly the Secretary-General thinks would be achieved by the US coming back to the table that isn’t happening now? What is the political analysis that lies behind this statement?
Spokesman: I think if you go back and look at the transcript of what he said today, the answer to your question is in there.
Question: Would it be possible to explain it?
Spokesman: I would look at exactly what he said and I think your question would be answered.
Question: Do you have an indication of who is going to be the Chair for the CSD15? They have to come up with this day.
Spokesman: No sir, but I would encourage you to speak to my colleague Dan Shepard in the Department of Public Information, who should be able to help you.
Question: Stéphane, in his message today to the Ministerial Council of the International Organization of the Francophonie, the Secretary-General praised this organization, and says it is has innovated in many areas, including in the promotion of democracy? Did he have in mind places like Haiti, the DRC and Comoros?
Spokesman: The Francophonie has been much more active in the field of democracy, but I will try to get you some specific examples that he was referring to in the speech.
Question: On the speech that he gave on youth employment, how closely was that tied to the contentious issue of youth employment in France right now? Voting down this law that would have resulted in sweeping changes. It’s interesting that he goes to an EU event and gives a speech on youth employment when it’s been such a big issue in France.
Spokesman: One should not see any specific tie to the situation in France. The issue of youth unemployment is one of great concern in a number of parts, throughout the world, notably in the developing world. I think you had here, a few weeks ago, his Representative for West Africa, who gave you some pretty horrific numbers of youth unemployment in West Africa. I think it’s a worldwide problem, but I would not see any specific link to his presence in Vienna and the situation in France.
Question: I have a question on the Under-Secretary-General Gambari’s trip to Burma. Do you have some details on when he’s going, and who he’s going to meet, and what they’re going to discuss?
Spokesman: I think, as you heard from Ambassador Bolton earlier today, a visit to Myanmar is being planned for the near future. However, details are still being finalized. The UN remains committed to encouraging a return to democracy and respect for human rights in Myanmar, and a visit by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Gambari would seek to further those objectives.
Question: I just wanted to shift gears and find out about the Capital Master Plan. How is it proceeding, and where is it now? From the indications that I get from upstairs, it is on schedule, and there will be a groundbreaking in October.
Spokesman: The tranche of money was approved by the Fifth Committee, as you recall, last week. And ,with the unfortunate departure of Mr. Reuter at the end of this month, if I’m not mistaken, we are actively looking for a replacement, but the plan continues.
Question: Stéphane, ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, this morning said precisely what the Secretary-General said, in regards to Iran, that the rhetoric should be lowered and that the US should begin to discuss the matter and issues with Iran. Was there prior consultation between the Secretary-General and ElBaradei, or were these two statements independently made?
Spokesman: Mr. ElBaradei and the Secretary-General often talk on the phone. I do not know if their two public statements were linked, but they’re obviously men who have the same goal in mind.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record