|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 Russian Federation
The Secretary-General was in St Petersburg, Russia, today, to attend the Group of Eight (G-8) summit, and there he met, on the sidelines of that summit, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Following that meeting earlier today, the two held a joint press encounter, in which the Secretary-General expressed his concerns about the situation in Lebanon and in Gaza, and said: “I think we need to get the parties to agree, as soon as practicable, to a cessation of hostilities.” To that end, he added, the parties need to give diplomacy the space and time to work. He also reminded the parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law to spare civilian lives and civilian infrastructure. We do have that transcript available upstairs.
The Secretary-General also took part in the working meeting of the G-8 leaders, invited leaders and heads of international organizations, during which the participants discussed energy security, the Middle East, the World Trade Organization, globalization and Africa. The Secretary-General also took part in a working luncheon hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the Middle East and trade were again discussed. He has now left Russia and is in Brussels, where, tomorrow, he will co-chair a pledging conference to raise funds and resources for the African Union Mission in Sudan.
** Middle East
The high-level UN delegation to the Middle East, headed by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Vijay Nambiar, today met, for the second time in two days, with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and with the Speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri. Following those meetings, Nambiar told the press that his delegation had a productive round of meetings with the Lebanese Government and had presented concrete ideas to the Government. He added that his team will leave shortly for Israel -- which they have already now done -- where it will convey its ideas for further discussion, along with the Lebanese comments. As developments warrant, he added, it may become necessary for him and his team to return to Lebanon to explore further ideas.
The team also attended a meeting held by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday, during which they carried an urgent message from the Secretary-General on the need to defuse the present crisis and the obvious need for restraint from all parties.
Meanwhile, on the ground, there have been reports in the Lebanese media about the UN Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, denying support to civilians. I would like to categorically deny that.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon continues to do everything possible to help civilians threatened by the current hostilities within its area of operations. Its capacity to do so is regrettably limited, since, in its present circumstances, it cannot even re-supply its own personnel. Its general advice to civilians is to remain in their villages, unless specifically advised to leave, and in the latter case, to move northward in small groups. Experience has shown that large concentrations of people are more likely to be attacked, no matter what flag they may be carrying.
The Security Council, as you know, just discussed the situation in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza in closed consultations, and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, as well as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jane Holl Lute, briefed the Council. Mr. Gambari told the Council that the situation in Lebanon has deteriorated sharply over the weekend, and the risk of further escalation is now great. He also noted the precarious humanitarian situation in Gaza. I think Mr. Gambari spoke to you outside just a short while ago.
Over the weekend, on Saturday, the Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution that condemned the multiple launches earlier this month of ballistic missiles by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The resolution requires all Member States to prevent missiles and missile-related items and materials from being transferred to the DPRK’s missile or weapons of mass destruction programmes. It also demanded that the DPRK suspend all activities relating to its ballistic missile programme.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General has also sent a letter to the Security Council President, informing the Council of his intention to appoint Jean Arnault of France as his new Special Representative in Georgia and Head of the UN Mission there. Arnault, as you will recall, previously served as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan. And he is replacing Heidi Tagliavini in Georgia.
From Liberia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Alan Doss, has committed $1 million towards the creation of employment opportunities for Liberia’s youth, as part of the UN’s contribution to the Liberia Emergency Employment Programme. The Programme was officially launched yesterday in the capital Monrovia by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. And we do have a press release available on that upstairs.
We are now turning to Ecuador. The UN agencies are offering humanitarian assistance in support of the Government of Ecuador’s response to the eruption of the Tungurahua Volcano, which began last Friday. National authorities say that more than 3,600 people have now been evacuated from high-risk areas near the volcano.
And lastly, in the context of the humanitarian segment of its ongoing substantive session in Geneva, the UN Economic and Social Council this morning held a panel discussion on the topic of gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies. Experts reflected on this growing problem and identified legal, judicial, medical and psychological solutions to it. And we do have a press release on that upstairs.
And that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In a conversation President Bush had with Tony Blair that was captured on the microphone, he says: “Maybe Annan can get on the phone with President Assad of Syria.” Has he? Has he in the past few days, or will he?
Spokesman: I think we would not want to comment directly on conversations that were meant to be kept private, although technology may have rendered those conversations public. I think you know full well of the Secretary-General’s activities over the past five or six days. He has been on the phone constantly with leaders from around the world and especially leaders in the region. He has been on the phone with President [Bashar] Assad, just to name one. He has spoken on a number of times to Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora, to Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice, to Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and a number of others. And, while at the G-8, he has obviously had a chance to speak to other leaders, who are gathered there, including, specifically, Prime Minister Blair. So, the Secretary-General is fully engaged in trying to get a cessation of hostilities and to create space for diplomatic activities to take place.
Question: But President Bush’s remarks seem to indicate that he thought Kofi Annan was looking for a ceasefire, which he thought the sequencing was wrong.
Spokesman: As I said, and, as I think, as the Secretary-General said earlier today in St. Petersburg, what the Secretary-General is looking for is a cessation of hostilities and for the continuing protection of civilians and to stop this increased number of civilians we have seen being killed on all sides over the weekend.
Question: I wonder, there is a word here in the Secretary-General’s statement in St. Petersburg, “not exhortations”. What did he mean by the word “exhortations”?
Spokesman: Where do you see that?
Question: The second time, when it says Secretary-General on page one of the St. Petersburg press release. The fourth line, the middle of the page… “A package of actions, not exhortations…”.
Spokesman: I think what he is looking for are practical measures that could lead to a cessation of hostilities. As Mr. Gambari has said, Mr. Nambiar and his team were in Lebanon. They had a number of meetings with Prime Minister Siniora, as well as Nabih Berri, the Speaker of Parliament. They are now on their way to Israel. Obviously, we would not want to reveal more of these discussions, while they are taking place.
Question: Yes, but the problem is not what he needs, but the problem is what he says that he does not want to happen. So, the interesting thing to me is not the package of actions -- I know what those are. But, I do not know what “not exhortations” means. He is trying to say something here that he does not want to see happen. What exactly is that?
Spokesman: What the Secretary-General wants to see happen is for all concerned to spare civilian lives, to spare civilian infrastructure, to work towards the cessation of hostilities and, obviously, to limit comments that could inflame the situation further.
Question: I may have missed this, but, do you have a breakdown of with whom the Secretary-General spoke with at the bilaterals of the G-8 Summit?
Spokesman: He had a formal bilateral with Prime Minister Blair and, obviously, during the working lunch, he had a chance to exchange words with most of the participants. He also spoke with President [Thabo] Mbeki, he spoke to the [Mexican President], and, as I said, he participated in a working lunch with all the participants of the G-8.
Question: The stabilization force -- I mean, how much is that the Secretary-General’s idea? How much of it is G-8 that he heard? And, is that, as Ambassador Bolton said, an extra force that is going to be put there, while UNIFIL is already there?
Spokesman: I think the details of what the force would look like is obviously something that the Security Council would have to work out, but this would be something that would also create space not only for diplomacy to continue, but also for the humanitarians to go in and help with the needed relief in southern Lebanon. But again, I think these details need to be worked out, and those discussions will go on in the Council.
Question: A question on the Ivory Coast and then on Uganda. While the Secretary-General has been away, the deadline for beginning identifying people for the election passed and it did not begin. And now, President [Laurent] Gbagbo -- it’s on BBC today -- said that the UN is biased against the Young Patriots on his side. Does the Secretary-General have any comment or guidance for what should happen now?
Spokesman: Well, we do hope the identification will go on as quickly as possible. As for the UN being biased, the UN is there to help all the Ivorian people reclaim their country, which would lead to a more peaceful future for the Ivory Coast, for Côte d’Ivoire. When the Secretary-General was in Yamoussoukro recently, he had around him the leaders of five Ivorian parties, who all pledged to move forward actively on a number of points leading towards the elections, and we very much hope that will take place. And President Gbagbo was present at that meeting.
Question: And on eastern Uganda. In the Wall Street Journal today, there is a letter by Under-Secretary[-General] for Disarmament Affairs Nobuaki Tanaka, in which… it’s about the Small Arms Conference… but, he says that UNDP in no way ever endorsed the Ugandan Army’s possible disarmament programmes. Since that’s not what Inner City Press found when looking into it, I wonder if your Office can help either set up an interview with Nobuaki Tanaka, or have him come to the briefing, or something like that.
Spokesman: Sure, we’ll see what we can do.
Question: I am sorry if I am insistent, but I have a feeling that something says here that the Secretary-General wants to pinpoint that now is different than in the past, so he uses this word “exhortations” here, without really explaining what will be really different from the past. I think that this is the key word in his statement. Now, what did he actually want to say?
Spokesman: You know, I think I am not going to go and deconstruct the statement. I think I have repeated the message that the Secretary-General wanted to put forward.
Question: Well, I meant to say welcome back, and this is kind of open-ended, since you have been travelling with the Secretary-General during all this time. I spoke Saturday to Mr. Guéhenno. He seemed to indicate that he thinks the crisis in North Korea, Iran and, obviously, the Middle East is leading to some other hotspots in the world not getting the attention they deserve, with Côte d’Ivoire being one example, but some other ones. He called it “political overstretching”, so I am wondering, while you were travelling with the Secretary-General, what would you say was the balance in his work between these three crises and the other things going on? How much did he act on things like Côte d’Ivoire? Was he aware of them? Did he make calls?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General tries to keep as much balance on all these issues, whether it’s Darfur, or the Middle East, or Cote d’Ivoire. He is often in one place and working on one issue, and also being on the phone working on another. He obviously has to split his time, but I think the fact that, in the middle of this Middle East crisis in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Lebanon, he is also going to Brussels, I think, shows you that we would not want to allow these crises outside of the Middle East to become forgotten. While the Middle East is undergoing what it is undergoing, the needs in Darfur remain the same. They have not changed. There continues to be a need to prop up the African Union mission. So it is a balancing act, which he walks.
Question: On this point, the fact is that the first question that is being asked is about Africa, but he doesn’t answer Africa -- he goes to Lebanon. Only afterwards, he comes back to Africa.
Spokesman: I think you are reading a bit too much into it. It’s clear to me that he meant to make a point in his opening statement, which he did not -- he used the occasion to have the mike again to make that point, and, then, he went on to Africa. As I said, even in St. Petersburg, he met with President Mbeki. I think it would be unfair to accuse the Secretary-General of focusing too much on the Middle East and forgetting about the other crises.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record