|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
Good afternoon. Here with us already is our guest, Heidi Tagliavini, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia. She, as you know, briefed the Security Council yesterday.
**Secretary-General in Italy
The Secretary-General is in Rome and he met with the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, and he told reporters afterward that they both felt extremely concerned about what is happening in the Middle East.
He condemned without reservation the attack that took place in [the region around] Southern Lebanon, and demanded that the captured Israeli troops be released immediately. He added that leaders in the region should do whatever they can to press all parties to exercise restraint. The Secretary-General warned that the region was a very dangerous part of the world, where we would not want to see an escalation. He stressed that all concerned should exercise maximum restraint, adding that every effort must be taken not to harm civilians.
The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister also discussed other issues, including Darfur, Afghanistan, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In the afternoon, he went on to meet with the Foreign Relations Committees of the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies. This evening, he will be the guest at a dinner hosted by the Foreign Minister of Italy.
In Lebanon today, Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative there, condemned today’s Hizbollah attack in the strongest possible terms. He said he was deeply disturbed by this violent breach of the Blue Line, which contradicts the stated intent of the Lebanese side to maintain calm and stability along the Line.
Pedersen called on Hizbollah to release the soldiers and urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any further escalation. That statement was issued earlier today and we have that upstairs.
Turning to the Security Council here at UN Headquarters, this morning, it heard a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, about the recent developments at the African Union Summit in Banjul, Gambia, concerning Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire in particular.
Speaking in the Council’s closed consultations, Guéhenno informed the Council members of the Secretary-General’s meetings with Sudanese President and with the Ivorian President, as well as with other leaders. He also discussed the mini-summit in Côte d’Ivoire that followed the meetings in Banjul.
We expect Mr. Guéhenno will speak to you at the Council stakeout once he’s done with the consultations. And we will announce that close to the time he comes out.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it has opened an inquiry into yesterday’s police reaction to a demonstration in the capital Kinshasa, which was violently dispersed, allegedly because the event’s organizers lacked proper authorization.
MONUC notes that Congolese laws provide for the right to hold public demonstrations, and yesterday’s demonstration, having been duly announced, should not have been prohibited and repressed. We have a press release from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on this.
And then, responding to an initiative of the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations and the World Bank are helping the Liberian Government with its implementation of the wide range of treaty obligations, resulting from the record number of treaty actions undertaken by Liberia in September 2005.
Along with other UN officials, UN Legal Officers are currently in Monrovia enhancing awareness of the international rule of law through training seminars and workshops in treaty law and practice. And there’s more on that upstairs.
And here again at UN Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary-General, this morning, addressed the General Assembly’s informal interactive hearings on migration. The aim of the hearings is to provide an opportunity for civil society to interact with Member States and offer input for the September high-level dialogue on international migration and development.
In his remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General flagged the Secretary-General’s recent report on migration, which highlights the benefits of international migration and will be the basis for that dialogue. And referring to the dialogue, the Deputy Secretary-General said it had three goals: to raise awareness; examine the relationship between migration and development; and to see how migration could best work to promote development. We hope to have the final text of the remarks, as delivered, shortly.
**World Food Programme
And the World Food Programme (WFP) has issued a press release today warning that it will have to halt its Chechnya operation entirely in three months, unless fresh pledges are made soon. So far, WFP has only managed to get 28 per cent of the $22 million it needs to feed 250,000 Chechens this year. And they’ve issued a press release on that.
And to flag to you for tomorrow, the Ambassadors of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey will be holding a joint press conference in this room at 11 a.m. on the inauguration of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline. And that’s tomorrow, here, at 11 a.m.
And I can’t leave today without giving you some good news. In fact, three sets of good news. The BBC babies have arrived. On Saturday, Susie Price had her baby girl and no name as of yet. And not so long before her, Laura Trevelya also gave birth to a boy. And congratulations to the new moms.
And also congratulations to our Washington Post correspondent, Colum Lynch, –- he’s a proud father of his second child.
So that’s what I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: You said at the top that the Secretary-General expressed extreme concern about the situation in the Middle East, and he said before that what is happening in Gaza could escalate to the rest of the region. Now it has. He calls on people in the region to do something about this.
Is he going to be sending anybody to take care of both of these situations, and is he going to meet with the Quartet? Is he going to call on Terje Roed-Larsen or other actors, who can go in there and negotiate?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, let me tell you, as I’ve been mentioning, throughout the time he’s been on the road, he has been in touch with leaders, not just in the region, but also those who can influence the actions on the ground. Today, he has already spoken with the Lebanese leader –- the Lebanese Prime Minister. He has spoken to the United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. He has calls that he will be making to the Israeli and Syrian leaders. So, he’s very much working the phones to try, as he mentioned earlier, appealing for the release of the soldiers and maximum restraint to be obeyed.
And he also, in terms of the Quartet, he is in constant contact with them, as you know. And I think the latest is that he is in direct contact with these leaders.
Question: Are there going to be any special envoys from the Secretariat to go out there?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, he does have envoys on the ground there. And he himself is very much involved in trying to bring the situation to… yes?
Question: But he hasn’t issued any major statements and that’s the reason why I was asking… if they’re waiting for something, or maybe waiting for him to say something, or waiting for him to send someone over. That’s the reason why I was asking that question.
Deputy Spokesman: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Who is not issuing a statement?
Question: No, but there hasn’t been any major coming out from the UN people in the region, and that’s the reason why I was asking the question.
Deputy Spokesman: There was a statement I just read out involving the latest incident this morning. The Secretary-General’s Representative there, Geir Pedersen, has issued a statement earlier today. The Secretary-General has just spoken to reporters quite strongly on the subject. We will get the full transcript shortly. He is working the phones, and he is in touch with all the parties in the region and with the other parties in the world, leaders who can bring some influence to bear on this situation. He takes it very seriously and is personally involved.
Question: This is a question about a UNHCR programme, where they invested money in a bank controlled by a member of the UN Investment Committee, Ivan Pictet. We raised it to them as a possible conflict of interest. I think others have raised it to them as well. They’ve copied you on the response and claimed that they didn’t know at the time of the conflict -- but that it complies somehow with Kofi Annan’s guidelines for cooperation between the United Nations and the business community.
So, I think, because now their response is saying that this complies -- the use of the UN logo by Société Générale, and this investment in Pictet and company in Switzerland -- complies with Kofi Annan’s guidelines. Is that the case? Does it comply? What standards are in place for them -- for members of the UN Investment Committee -- for the UN not to do business with them?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing beyond what UNHCR has responded to you on this matter.
Question: Given that it says it complies with guidelines, I guess what I’m saying is that their response has been –- “hey, you do the best to comply with Kofi Annan’s guidelines”. Who will speak to whether in fact it does comply with this guideline? I’d like to ask him, but…
Deputy Spokesman: The question you had was posed to UNHCR, and I think they’ve given you a very comprehensive answer. I have nothing beyond that.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the killing of this Palestinian family that the Palestinian envoy referred to a while ago?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, he is aware of that incident, and he is distressed by the reports that there’s been a killing of a family in the early hours of this morning in Gaza. Again, he deplores this action and he is, as I mentioned before -- he reminds Israel of its obligation under international law to protect civilians from the effects of the conflict. He calls on both sides to exercise greater restraint in this matter.
So, that’s what I have on that. Matthew again.
Question: In his briefing yesterday, Jan Egeland, speaking about humanitarian issues in Gaza, had mentioned about the bombed power plant. He said -- I don’t know if it was his position, or the UN’s position -- that Israel should repair it, since it’s a civilian asset and was intentionally targeted. So, I guess my first question is whether the Secretariat endorses that view?
The second one is, he also mentioned that there is an insurance policy on the power plant by an American insurance company, but that they may not be able to pay because of US sanctions against Hamas. It’s a factual question of, like, what’s up with the insurance, but does the UN agree -– does the Secretariat agree with Jan Egeland that Israel should be responsible for rebuilding the power plant?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, spoke in his capacity as the Emergency Relief Coordinator and as the UN top humanitarian official. And he represents the senior-most opinion on humanitarian issues in the house, so we could only stand by what he says.
In terms of the details of who’s paying for the insurance and all of that, I think that’s something you may want to follow-up with the agencies on the ground, or we could look into it for you.
Question: I asked OCHA and, even though they said it, they didn’t seem to know. It would be good to know.
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll address it to the agency on the ground.
Correspondent: Excellent. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: If there are no other questions, let’s turn over to the Special Representative for Georgia, Ms. Tagliavini.
* *** *For information media • not an official record