21 June 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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

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


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  We are expecting, as the guest here shortly, Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, President-designate of the 2006 small arms Review Conference, which will be taking place here at United Nations Headquarters from 26 June until 7 July.


**Secretary-General in Geneva


In Geneva today, the Secretary-General addressed a meeting of the Conference on Disarmament, warning the delegates that the world was “sleepwalking” down a path in which a growing number of countries are acquiring nuclear weapons and non-State actors are capable of nuclear terrorism.  If ever there was a time to break the prolonged impasse that has stymied the Disarmament Conference’s work, he said, it is now.


He said that two specific situations must be resolved.  The situation on the Korean Peninsula is “especially disappointing” given last September’s agreement on the six-party talks.  He said he hopes the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will listen to what the world is telling them, and take great care not to make the situation on the peninsula even more complicated.


On Iran, the Secretary-General said the country needs to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency to assure the world that its nuclear activities are exclusively peaceful in nature.  We have his speech upstairs.


Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Richard Feachem, and also addressed the Fund’s staff.


Afterwards, he addressed the staff of the World Health Organization.  It was the first time he had met with them since the sudden death of Director-General Lee Jong-wook.  He told the staff that Dr. Lee would want them to continue their dedicated work towards the betterment of international public health.


** Middle East Statement


Earlier today, we issued a statement in Geneva, attributable to the Spokesman, on the Middle East.  In it the Secretary-General deeply deplored the killing of three children and the injury of other bystanders in an attempted Israeli targeted killing of alleged militants in Gaza on 20 June, yesterday.  The Secretary-General calls on Israel to respect international law and to ensure that its actions are proportionate and do not put civilians at grave risk.  The Secretary-General sends his condolences to the families of the dead and injured.


The Secretary-General is fully cognizant of Israel’s legitimate security concerns in light of continuing rocket fire, which endangers Israeli civilians, and calls on the Palestinian Authority to do all in its power to halt such actions.


**Security Council – Middle East


Here at United Nations Headquarters, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, in an open meeting this morning, told the Security Council that the past month has seen heightened tension and increasing violence among Palestinians and in the conflict between them and Israel.


He said that all acts of violence, especially those that endanger or target civilians, must cease, and negotiations towards a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must not be further delayed.


Gambari said that the Secretary-General was pleased that the Quartet endorsed a temporary international mechanism developed by the European Union to facilitate needs-based assistance directly to the Palestinian people.  For his part, the Secretary-General looks to donors, other international organizations and Israel –- bearing in mind its responsibilities -– to support the mechanism, so that it can become operational quickly and effectively.


We have copies of Gambari’s briefing upstairs.  The Security Council continued its discussions on the Middle East in closed consultations, which ended just a short while ago.


**Security Council – Montenegro


The Security Council this morning, also in a formal meeting, considered an application by the Republic of Montenegro, submitted by the Secretary-General, for membership in the United Nations.


The Council decided that its Committee on the Admission of New Members would take up the request. The Committee, which includes the 15 members of the Security Council, will hold a closed meeting at 3 this afternoon to discuss this matter.


** Iraq


Turning to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned the abduction and killing of a defence lawyer in the Iraqi Higher Tribunal.  The attack follows the assassination of two trial defence lawyers and the wounding of another last year.


Qazi expressed his concern that such killings and harassment would undermine Iraqi efforts at rebuilding the rule of law and democracy in the country.  He urged the Iraqi authorities to adopt effective measures to address the level and extent of violence which threatens the stability of the country.


That statement is upstairs.


** Sudan


In response to questions regarding Sudan -– I’m turning to Sudan now -– we received yesterday… we have just been informed that the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jan Pronk, together with the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, that’s Commissioner Djinnit, were to meet with the Sudanese President at 6:30 p.m. local time in Khartoum.


In other news regarding Sudan, the mission there has sent a team to The Hague to attend a meeting of a Core Coordinating Group on Early Recovery and Development followed by a one-day workshop to launch a Darfur joint assessment mission.


This follows a request made to the international community by the parties to the Darfur Peace Agreement to provide early recovery and development support to back the peace efforts there.


There’s a press release with more information from our mission.


**Charles Taylor


Turning to The Hague, the transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor from the Freetown headquarters of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to The Hague was successfully completed yesterday under United Nations supervision.  Charles Taylor is now being held at the International Criminal Court Detention Facility in The Hague pending his next court appearance.


Earlier today in The Hague, the Special Court Registrar and the Acting Prosecutor held a press conference, at which they updated journalists on logistical and other arrangements for the pending trial of Charles Taylor.


We expect more information on this from the Special Court.


**Timor-Leste


On Timor-Leste, the United Nations and its partners will start assessing the outer districts of Timor-Leste this Monday, in order to better understand the needs of internally displaced persons there.


To date, the World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered food to nearly 70,000 beneficiaries in the country’s capital and selected districts not covered by the Government’s rice distribution.


There’s an update on this upstairs, and there is some concern over possible food shortages outside the capital.


**Bird Flu


Turning to the subject of bird flu, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF and several countries, as well as Indonesian officials, are gathering in Jakarta today, for a three-day meeting.


According to WHO, the bird flu virus is firmly entrenched in poultry throughout much of Indonesia, and that widespread presence has led to more than 33 human cases with 27 deaths this year alone.  Unless the situation is urgently addressed, sporadic human cases are likely and human-to-human transmission is possible, according to WHO.


There’s more information on that as well.


** Afghanistan


Finally, on Afghanistan, while the struggle to win the World Cup goes on in Germany, football fever is spreading among Afghanistan’s children, thanks to a donation of hundreds of footballs from the staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).


The footballs, made especially for the Mission by disabled Afghans and paid for from staff donations, will be delivered to schools, orphanages and prisons across Afghanistan.


The Mission’s staff football team was also on hand at a high school in Kabul today to coach a new generation of aspiring football players.


There’s a press release on this subject upstairs.


**General Assembly


I have a note for you from the General Assembly spokeswoman, who asks me to tell you that tomorrow there will be informal interactive hearings with NGOs, civil society and the private sector on the subject of forging partnerships for poverty reduction in the least developed countries.  This is in preparation, she says, for the General Assembly’s high-level review of implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, to take place in September.


There will be a note upstairs with more information on this, or you can ask the General Assembly Spokesperson.


We have the ambassador from Sri Lanka here already to be our guest regarding the Small Arms Conference, and this is to flag for you that tomorrow our briefing will feature the president of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.


Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask –- these talks in Khartoum, I’m not sure when next week, between the transitional federal government and the Islamic courts of Somalia.  Is the United Nations in any way involved in these talks?


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me look into that for you.  I don’t have ... I just announced, Mark, while you were not in here maybe, that we did have an update from Khartoum today regarding a meeting taking place with the President of Sudan and Guéhenno and the African Union Commissioner, so that was an update from yesterday in response to questions.


[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that the United Nations was not involved in the talks, and that it did not have a representative present at the meeting.]


Question:  This is on the Lords Resistance Army and the International Criminal Court indictments.  The Vice-President of South Sudan has again said that negotiations should take place even at the highest level without a rest, and now the United States Assistant Secretary of State Frazer, after meeting with President Museveni, had said the negotiation should take place without enforcing the indictment.  So I’m wondering if the Secretary is following this and has any position on impunity and enforcing these indictments?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have no update on that for you right now, but I will look into that for you immediately after the briefing and get back to you.  [She later noted that the Secretary-General has said, regarding all cases of indictment, that justice must be done.]


Question:  Vis-à-vis the North Korean situation, when is it that the United Nations is going to get involved in this process?  Because now this negotiation between Japan and South Korea, and everybody, it’s getting rather murky.  Is there any point in time that the United Nations plans to get involved in it?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General, as I mentioned to you yesterday, and again I would like to refer you to his remarks in Geneva earlier today, in which he cites the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran as two specific situations that have to be resolved.  He again says the situation is disappointing.  I mentioned to you yesterday that he personally was there just last month, and his repeated appeals for the resumption of the six-party talks is his line, and what he has been promoting on this one.


Question:  This is the same thing that you said yesterday, but do you believe that at this point in time, the situation is not that ominous for the United Nations to get involved?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General usually considers all options that are available to him, and if and when he feels that his role or the United Nations’ role can make a difference, he will step in.


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