|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. As I mentioned yesterday, our guest today will be Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, who will be joining us to brief you on his recent trip to Myanmar.
**Secretary-General in Asia
The Secretary-General, as you know, is now in Viet Nam. He started today with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where he and Mrs. Annan took part in a wreath-laying ceremony. He then held a series of meetings with Viet Nam’s leaders; these included the President, the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister, as well as the Secretary-General of the Communist Party. In between those meetings he met with women leaders; achieving gender equality is a national goal in Viet Nam. He also met with the National Avian Influenza Steering Committee, as well as with the UN country team and the UN staff in Viet Nam.
Speaking to the press at the end of the day, the Secretary-General praised Viet Nam’s progress in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, describing its dramatic decline in recorded poverty over the past as a historic achievement.
The Secretary-General then took a number of questions about his impressions of Viet Nam, the ongoing Iran nuclear issue and questions about the next Secretary-General. And we’ll have very shortly the transcript of those comments available for you.
Closer to home, the Security Council is holding closed consultations this morning on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq and other matters. It is planning to meet formally on Cote d’Ivoire this morning to adopt a Presidential Statement, while a second Presidential Statement on Iraq is expected this afternoon. Concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, William Swing, is briefing on the latest developments in that country, in particular on the electoral process. And he is planning to speak to you at the stakeout afterwards. Then, in the afternoon, the Council will hold a meeting, followed by consultations, on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. And the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Mr. Gambari will brief the Council in an open meeting on that.
From Khartoum, just an update now on the activities of Mr. Brahimi and
Mr. Annabi. They’re scheduled to meet President Omar Bashir and other senior officials of the Government of National Unity tomorrow. Over the last two days, Mr. Brahimi and Mr. Annabi have met a number of people, including the Foreign and Interior Ministers, presidential advisers, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, as well as the Head of the African Union Mission in Sudan. And we’re told that Brahimi plans to hold a press conference tomorrow at about 6:00 p.m. local time in Khartoum time, which is 11:00 a.m. here, and we do hope to have the transcript, if not then highlights, of that briefing available for you.
From Timor-Leste, the UN Office in that country reports that over the last few hours, the situation is quiet and the streets reported to be deserted, given the time of day in the capital Dili. The UN Mission is supporting the Timorese Government’s proposed initiative to convene a meeting with representatives of the dissident soldiers groups in order to engage in a dialogue and find an outcome to the current crisis. The Mission also reports that it has set up a camp near the UN headquarters for some 1,000 persons seeking refuge from the violence. It is providing tents and supplies for these people and Thursday will be seeking additional tents from UN agencies in case they are needed.
And from Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, today called on all concerned to stop spreading misinformation on the security situation in Kosovo, particularly with respect to the Kosovo Serb community. According to the UN Mission, there has actually been a marked decline in potentially ethnically motivated crimes during the first quarter of this year. And we have a press release available on that upstairs.
Meanwhile, delegations from both Pristina and Belgrade yesterday held, in Vienna, a round of direct negotiations on the protection of religious and cultural heritage in Kosovo under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The parties agreed to establish an expert group, which would discuss setting up protective zones around religious sites. And the next round of direct talks, which will focus on economic matters, are scheduled for Vienna on 31 May.
Earlier this week, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Heads of State and Government of the “Group of Eight” as they prepare for their meeting this July in St. Petersburg as he has regularly done in the past. In the letter, the Secretary-General focuses on two topics, trade and energy security. On global trade, he says that the lack of significant progress is conspicuous, even perilous. He therefore urges the G-8 to adopt bold liberalization measures that will lead to a successful conclusion of the Doha round. He also proposes specific steps that would allow poor people in the least developed countries to lift themselves out of poverty.
On energy security, he says that the lack of access to modern energy services is a great barrier to poverty reduction. At the same time, he says that energy security cannot be reached if the environmental consequences of energy consumption are not addressed. And the letter is available to you in all six official languages upstairs.
As you know, the UN’s Controller Warren Sach briefed the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning on the status of payment of assessed contributions by Member States. He told the members of the Fifth in what is a regular briefing, that in 2005, 72 countries had paid in full their assessment for the regular budget by 30 April. This year, 85 countries have paid their assessment in full for the regular budget by the same date. However, the level of payments was down by over $300 million and unpaid assessments were over $200 million higher than they were last year. The text of his statement with all the details along with an accompanying chart have been made available to you upstairs.
And a heads-up that the United Nations and the Institute for International Sport will be launching a partnership here at UN Headquarters today aimed at using sport as a means to promote peace and conflict resolution around the world. The ceremony runs from 4 to 6 pm in the ECOSOC Chamber and will feature performances by scholar athletes and artists from around the world. The launch begins the one month countdown to the 2006 World Scholar Athlete Games, which are organized by the Institute and are scheduled to take place in June.
And in response to a request for an update on the indigenous peoples meetings, we can report that the meeting is scheduled to discuss the Second International Decade on Indigenous People this afternoon. And we are trying to get a briefing for you to be held here.
Tomorrow, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Cote d’Ivoire and Humanitarian Coordinator for that country, will be joining us at noon.
And as a reminder lastly, at 2 p.m. this afternoon, there’ll be a background briefing here in this room on the General Assembly’s high level meeting on AIDS, which takes place from 31 May to 2 June.
And that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Zimbabwe, you’ve seen the comments by President Thabo Mbeki in the Financial Times in London suggesting that Kofi Annan is now the key for solving Zimbabwe’s political and economic crises. Does the UN share that view? Also, Mbeki says a visit is in the works with Annan.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has been concerned for some time about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. He has been exploring through emissaries and others whether there is a possibility of movement on the political and economic front in Zimbabwe ahead of a possible visit, but I think it would be premature to characterize it at this stage as an initiative or even as a package. I think, as you’ll recall, Mr. Gambari was tasked by the Secretary-General to meet with the Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe and have discussions with him, and he has been doing that on a number of times in the past year.
Question: But President Mbeki seems to be suggesting that Annan is the key. Is that how the UN sees it, that the UN is now in the front of the efforts to solve Zimbabwe’s crisis.
Spokesman: As I said, I think it would be premature to describe the contacts the UN has been having as being a key initiative at this point.
Question: There have been press reports and other reports this week that Kofi Annan and his emissaries have been somehow involved in a deal whereby Robert Mugabe would step down in return for immunity. Has Kofi Annan ever, any of his emissaries or anyone at the Secretariat been involved in discussions over an “exit package” for him to go?
Spokesman: As I said, it would be premature to describe any of the contacts, the exploration the Secretary-General’s been doing, as a package. I’ve used all the words I have on this.
Question: On Iran, the story in the Washington Post this morning says that Kofi Annan had been approached by Iranian representatives asking that he convey to the US that he wants direct talks between Iran and the US. Can you comment on that?
Spokesman: That’s not something I’m able to confirm. The Secretary-General has been very clear on his views on the desirability of direct negotiations between the US and Iran. He restated that again very clearly today.
Question: You can’t confirm. You won’t confirm? Or are you suggesting it didn’t happen?
Spokesman: I’m saying that I’m not confirming it.
Question: Did the Secretary-General talk to Iranian officials in the last week?
Spokesman: He’s been in touch with Iranian personalities and other Iranian officials since the beginning of this standoff and he’ll continue to follow these events closely. However, he is not a party to the negotiations.
Question: What is an Iranian personality?
Spokesman: I think the former President Khatami, whom the Secretary-General met on the sidelines of his meetings in Qatar having to do with the Alliance of Civilizations, would fall under the category of Iranian personality.
Question: And as a follow-up, what are “explorations” the Secretary-General’s having on Zimbabwe?
Spokesman: I will repeat for your benefit what I’ve said. The Secretary-general has been exploring through emissaries and others whether there is a possibility of movement on the political and economic front in Zimbabwe ahead of a possible visit, but it would be premature to characterize it at this stage as an initiative or a package.
Question: Right, but what is he exploring?
Spokesman: The possibility of movement on the political or economic front in Zimbabwe, towards resolving or improving the situation.
Spokesman: I won’t go further. I think you’re well aware of the situation in Zimbabwe.
Question: I have an article here that says the SRSG in Sudan has obstructed the work of the OIOS and, as a result, the mission to Darfur has been aborted effective 31 May. Have any statement on that and why the mission was aborted?
Spokesman: I don’t know what document you’re quoting from but I will state again that the Secretary-General expects senior officials and the missions to cooperate with OIOS auditors.
Question: In this case, that is clearly not the case.
Spokesman: This is a situation that we would want to see resolved but I’ll see if I can get you more afterwards.
Question: The Democratic Republic of the Congo. There’s a report that
20-some foreigners, who’ve been called mercenaries, but military contractors, have been arrested and accused of beginning a coup. I want to know, one, whether you or MONUC have any reaction, and two, any position on the involvement of foreign military contractors given MONUC and the upcoming election.
Spokesman: We would not look kindly upon the activities of foreign military contractors trying to overthrow the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As for any details about what MONUC may have, you may want to catch Mr. Swing, who will be at the stake out closer to one o’clock and ask him if he has any information.
Question: There’s a claim that at the World Soccer Cup, UNEP is excluding Muslims who are supposed to wash in water by putting up chemical toilets at the World Cup.
Spokesman: I’m not going there today. I’m sure that the UN Environmental Programme’s efforts to find environmentally friendly facilities will be culturally sensitive to every religion, race and culture that will be participating in the World Soccer Cup.
Question: About the human rights situation in Iraq mentioned yesterday, about the report that came out and contractors because apparently there’s a thing with Amnesty International and it turns out the multinational force is not the same as these contractors. However, there was a statement in the report that the multinational force had said there were some civilians who died and not because of them. Then it turned out there was an NGO film that filmed the multinational force killing civilians and the multinational force was going to look into it. What are the next steps? Does the UN go back and ask the multinational force to be briefed on this investigation?
Spokesman: Part of the mandate of the UN Mission in Baghdad is dealing with human rights. They’re in regular contact with both Iraqi authorities to improve
human rights in terms of detention centres and activities of the police, and they’re also in contact with the multinational force. It’s an ongoing dialogue.
Question: The financial report from the Controller, how much of that is due to the fact that the United States is just on a different schedule in terms of paying its dues? These reports come out frequently and it seems this is due to an unmatched payment schedule.
Spokesman: The payment schedule is well known to us but this year if you look closely at the report, it identifies also a number of other countries that have not paid that may have paid in the past.
Question: Like Japan, for example?
Spokesman: Yes, and I would encourage you to look at the report which lists all the countries and details.
Question: On the Darfur Mission, is there a strong likelihood that Pronk could actually be asked to leave or be fired?
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of. Again, we would want to see this issue resolved in a manner that would allow OIOS auditors to do their job as they need to do it throughout the UN system.
Question: On Timor-Leste, analysts seem to be saying that maybe the UN left too early. Does the UN have a statement on getting involved again or any reflection on it?
Spokesman: As I said, we’re working closely with the Timorese government, encouraging them to hold this dialogue with the dismissed soldiers. We’ve also been in touch with a number of Member States that have been willing to answer the call by the Timor-Leste Government to send in police units and support. And we’re keeping a close eye on the situation.
Question: Involvement beyond the four countries?
Spokesman: We’re keeping an eye on this on a day to day basis. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record