|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
**Briefing by Secretary-General’s Spokesman
Before I start, after my part of the briefing, Pragati Pascale, the General Assembly Spokeswoman, will be here, to introduce to you her successor, the Spokeswoman for the next General Assembly President.
The Secretary-General was in Egypt today, where he met in Alexandria with President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Following those meetings, he held a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister, in which he said he was leaving the region quite satisfied with the discussions he’s had. He said he was convinced that the countries in the region would work for the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 and added, “The ceasefire is fragile, but I believe we are taking steps to consolidate it”.
With regards to the abducted Israeli soldiers and the Lebanese prisoners, the Secretary-General said he has accepted appointing a facilitator who will work with the two parties to find a solution to this problem. Speaking to the press yesterday in Saudi Arabia yesterday, the Secretary-General said he would designate someone “discreetly and quietly” to work to find a solution.
Over the past three days, the Secretary-General met with the leaders of Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
And he is -- in fact, I think he just landed in Ankara a few minutes ago for discussions with Turkish authorities.
Following his meeting on Sunday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Secretary-General said the President had reaffirmed his country's support for the implementation of resolution 1701.
“He has indicated that Tehran will work with us in a collective effort to reconstruct Lebanon,” said the Secretary-General.
And we have the transcripts of, I think, three or four press encounters the Secretary-General had over the weekend. And those are all available to you upstairs.
Meanwhile on the ground in Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) withdrew yesterday from several areas in southern Lebanon. The Ghanaian Battalion from the UN Force established seven new checkpoints and carried out intensive patrolling in the area, confirming that the IDF were no longer present there.
The Lebanese Army is to deploy to the areas that were vacated by the Israelis today. Earlier today, the Lebanese Army moved into the southern town of Bint Jubayl for the first time in three decades, a day after UN peacekeepers went into the town after the Israeli withdrew their positions.
Over the past 24 hours, a total of eight Israeli air violations were reported by UNIFIL.
And also yesterday, there was another in a series of tripartite meetings between the Israeli forces and the Lebanese forces. And those meetings have been chaired by the UN Force Commander, Alan Pellegrini.
A UN de-mining team from the Chinese also contingent disposed of over 1,200 items of unexploded ordnance in the past week.
And on Saturday and Sunday, meanwhile, the first large contingent of some 880 Italian troops arrived in Lebanon and have now joined UNIFIL. It is expected that on 10 September, an additional company of 120 Italian officers and soldiers will also arrive. The total number of UNIFIL troops is currently estimated at some 3,100.
** Lebanon – Humanitarian
Also on Lebanon, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that it is working with the Lebanese authorities to try to rehabilitate the water system that used to serve up to 750,000 people in the south. UNICEF is also fixing labels to the water bottles that it is distributing, to better inform families and children about the threat of unexploded ordnance.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has helped a Lebanese NGO to set up a summer camp in the town of Jezzine, to help children who were emotionally affected by the war.
And we do have more details upstairs.
**Secretary-General on Sudan
Also speaking in Alexandria during his press encounter, the Secretary-General was asked about Darfur, which he said was at a “very critical stage” and again reiterated his position regarding the need for the consent and cooperation of the Sudanese Government for the UN operation there.
He went on to say that the international community has been feeding and helping about three million people in camps and elsewhere in Darfur, and if it were forced to leave because of lack of security or lack of access to the people, then what happens?
“The Government,” he said, “will have to assume responsibility for doing this and, if it doesn't succeed, it will have lots of questions to answer to the rest of the world.”
He again said that the international forces -– the UN Forces -- were going to help the Sudanese people, to help the Government protect and assist them. “We are not going there to invade. We have no other intentions,” said the Secretary-General.
And again, that is part of the encounter that’s available to you upstairs.
Meanwhile from the ground, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that the security situation in Darfur remains volatile particularly in North Darfur with reports of clashes between the signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement.
In North Darfur, near El Fasher, a nurse working for the International Rescue Committee was killed last Friday, and the health centre where he worked was looted, along with a pharmacy and a guesthouse.
The UN Mission has condemned this latest death of another humanitarian worker.
Also in North Darfur, a team from the African Union Mission in Sudan was escorting women who were collecting firewood, and they were held up by a group of armed men.
The armed men took away weapons and ammunition and one vehicle belonging to the African Union.
The Security Council, meanwhile back here, held consultations this morning on the programme of work for the month of September and other matters.
At 1 p.m. here in room 226, the Council President for the month of September, Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece will be briefing you on his programme of work.
Turning now to Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, attended the second round of talks between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the Union of Islamic Courts.
Speaking at the talks in Khartoum, Fall urged both delegations to enter into a meaningful and constructive dialogue, which would begin to address the key issues that have divided the two parties.
And we have more upstairs from that meeting.
Also on the humanitarian front -- good news -- the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that a ship that it had chartered docked over the weekend in Mogadishu. It was the Agency’s first delivery in the Somali capital’s port in more than a decade.
The ship was carrying more than 3,000 tons of food, which will now be trucked to drought-stricken regions in the southern part of the country.
And we have a press release on that upstairs.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Meanwhile, the head of the UN’s humanitarian department, Jan Egeland, arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today, on the first leg of an eight-day, three-nation tour of Africa.
Addressing journalists on his arrival in Kinshasa, Egeland said he has a key message, which he will deliver to the national authorities -– and that is that “the culture of impunity has to end”.
During the course of the day, Egeland held meetings with the UN officials and donors, as well as staff from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Egeland is expected to travel to the southernmost province of Katanga tomorrow, where he will visit camps for internally displaced persons as well as some of the towns that have been seriously affected by fighting throughout the past decade.
Other stops on Egeland’s mission are expected to include Uganda and Juba, Sudan.
And we have more on that upstairs.
Also over the weekend, the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that opium cultivation in Afghanistan rose 59 percent in 2006, largely due to a dramatic increase in the southern provinces.
The UNODC Executive-Director, Antonio Maria Costa, said in Kabul, “ Afghanistan is increasingly hooked on its own drug”.
And we have a press release on that upstairs.
From Liberia, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the final convoy of the Agency’s voluntary repatriation programme -– for Liberian refugees in the southern province of Guinea –- was completed last week.
The stage has now been set for the closure later this month of UNHCR’s field office in the region after 18 years.
And the programme has helped repatriate over 38,000 Liberians. And we have that upstairs.
** Alliance of Civilizations
As you know, the High-level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations is holding a working meeting today and tomorrow, to review the draft report that is scheduled to be presented to the Secretary-General in November.
This is a closed meeting, but a press stakeout has been set up outside Conference Room 8 and will up running until 6:30 this evening.
And tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. in this room, the co-chairs of the Group, Federico Mayor of Spain and Mehmet Aydin of Turkey, will brief you on the Alliance’s work.
And, before you ask, I’m told that most of the members of the Alliance will be present in the room, except for former Iranian President Khatami, who told us he will not be at the press briefing.
Question: Why not?
Spokesman: Ask him. Don’t ask me.
And also tomorrow at 11:15, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will hold a press conference in this room to launch their report, “State of World Population 2006”.
And also, Ibrahim Gambari and David Hamburg, the Chair of the Advisory Group on Genocide Prevention, will be joining us at noon tomorrow. They will brief on the Secretary-General’s report on conflict prevention.
And finally, two last items –- this is something we don’t usually do, but we will do today. I have two announcements to make on behalf of UNCA. One, a press briefing at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon in the UNCA room, to provide a preview of the 59th annual DPI-NGO Conference, which starts tomorrow.
And also, UNCA has asked me to flag that they have a press release upstairs announcing that former US President Bill Clinton, the UN’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, has been selected by members of the UN Correspondent’s Association -- that would be you – as a recipient of the 2006 UNCA Citizen of the World award. He will receive it at the annual UNCA journalism award ceremony on 8 December, and the Secretary-General is expected to be there as well.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The latest report from Somalia indicates that the two parties, the Transition Government and the Islamic Court, have actually reached an agreement to form a unity government. Does the press release you have upstairs mention that?
Spokesman: It does not, but I understand our colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs are working on a statement on this very development, that should be issued sooner rather than later.
Question: The hostage negotiator for the Middle East, can you tell us any more about it? When is he going to start? And where will he be based? And is it Mr. Picco?
Spokesman: No, no and no. No, I do not know who it is. The Secretary-General has said he would not release the name of this mediator. And I really have nothing to add further than the comments the Secretary-General made in Alexandria today. But he did certify that he had the accord of both parties to proceed with a facilitator. Laura?
Question: I just wanted to ask you, since Annan had met with a number of high-ranking Middle Eastern officials, does he have anything else to add about the possibility of a high-level meeting in the Security Council on the Middle East conflict?
Spokesman: This has obviously been the focus of a lot of his discussions in the region as the resolution points out itself the need to find a -– to revitalize a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East. Part of that is obviously the Arab League proposal. This was discussed today between him and Amre Moussa. But, this has been one of the consistent themes of the Secretary-General’s discussion through the region.
Question: Two things. First, in one of the initial comments about the Secretary-General’s naming of this person, it was described as a mediator and then it was changed to a facilitator. I think the Israelis objected to the idea of a mediator. Is it now certain that it’s a facilitator?
Spokesman: Yes, we do not anticipate any further name change as to that.
Question: From the reaction –- initial reaction -– in Jerusalem, also from people I’ve spoken to, it sounded very much that the Israelis, to say the least, were surprised at the public announcement about this discreet mission. Also, they said, the Israeli media, that they never accepted or asked Annan to mediate or to facilitate.
Spokesman: I think we’ve seen the press reports. The Secretary-General has been in touch with all the parties, either directly or through his representatives. He obviously feels very confident that he has the backing of both sides to continue on this path and try to solve this situation.
Question: One more question, who is his interlocutor in Lebanon? Is it the Lebanese Government, Hizbollah or a combination thereof?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General and his representatives talk to the Lebanese Government and talk to Government ministers who are members of Hizbollah. Yes, Masood?
Question: On this issue of the prisoner exchange, Palestine has said the Israeli prisoner, the soldier, is going to be released. But will that be the same situation the [inaudible] mediator or facilitator, because it would be an exchange for some Palestinian prisoners? So is that the case?
Spokesman: The focus of the Secretary-General’s issue with this facilitator is on the Lebanese-Israeli process. We have seen the reports, as you have, on hopeful progress on the issue of Corporal Shalit. But I have nothing to say on that issue.
Question: There is another ongoing situation, the Palestinian legislators have been jailed -- have been arrested, including the Deputy Prime Minister. Wouldn’t there be any sort of agreement to get [inaudible] by the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: I’m not going to go into hypotheses about the work of the facilitator, but what I will say is that the Secretary-General has raised the issue of the Palestinian officials and legislators, both with Israeli officials and obviously in his discussions with President Abbas. And he has called on them to be released, and he’s expressed his concern at that situation. Yes, ma’am?
Question: Is there a troop contributors meeting on Lebanon today and at what level? And also on Lebanon, any news on the lifting of the sea blockade, because I think the Secretary-General has made a remark on …?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General said he was hopeful that he would see some progress on that in the next 48 hours. That is based on the numerous conversations he’s had with leaders in the region and Europe. So I think we just have to kind of sit and wait on that one.
As to a troop contributor’s meeting, I’m not aware of any official meeting, but there will be meetings over the next 10 days-two weeks, continuing meetings between the UN and potential troop contributors. But I can check the level of the official meeting that there may be today.
Question: To Betsy’s question, when she asked specifically about Picco, you said “no”. Is that definitively so?
Spokesman: No, what I’m saying is I do not have the name of the mediator.
Question: Can you confirm or dispel any reports that we’ve seen from Monte Carlo –-
Spokesman: All I can tell you is that I do not have the name of the mediator. The Secretary-General is pretty specific when he said he would do this discreetly, and did not announce it. And I assume those instructions count for me.
Question: Do I understand correctly that, if the Secretary-General’s intention that the person’s name, that the facilitator’s name will not be revealed at all until his or her mission is completed or has totally failed? And do I understand correctly –-
Spokesman: Your optimism is overwhelming.
Correspondent: Do I understand that his or her mission will be confined to the Lebanon hostages or is intended to be confined to the Lebanese hostages and just may possibly at some future point involve Corporal Shalit as well?
Spokesman: You know I think I would urge you to go and read exactly what the Secretary-General said this morning in Alexandria, because I have really nothing to further add to that part. As for the name, he has no intention at this point of revealing the name of that person. Yes, Matthew?
Question: A couple of questions about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The legislative elections results were supposed to be released Monday. And then they weren’t released, reportedly because election workers have been arrested. So, I guess it goes back, has MONUC said anything on that? Do you have anything on that? Do you have anything on the town in Ituri on Friday that came up where all the humanitarian workers have left? And also about Kazana, that town, the controversy where UN peacekeepers stood by while it was destroyed by the Congolese army. The Inner City Press received more information over the weekend, and would now like to interview the actual people who led the assault, [inaudible] -– very important.
Spokesman: Working my way backwards. On that specific request, I would urge you to address it directly to United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). No, I do not have anything more on the town in Ituri. On the elections, the Mission tells us that it understands the announcement of, that the provisional results were delayed, not only because of the arrests of the election workers but mainly because of the violence in Kinshasa that we saw around the 20th and 22nd of August. The Independent Electoral Commission was not able to do its work during those three days involved, and that obviously affected its calendar.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that the Independent Electoral Commission said that this delay will not affect its overall electoral calendar, which means the second run of the presidential elections remains set for 29 October.
Question: I just wanted to say that I’ve directed the request to you because Jean-Marie Guéhenno –- MONUC says it has finished its investigation and is unwilling to discuss events in Kazana. So Mr. Guéhenno, from right where you’re sitting, said that he’s still considering the report. So that’s why I’m directing to your office, or Department of Peacekeeping Operations or somebody higher up ... Has it been finished? That’s my question to you.
Spokesman: OK. I will follow up with you after the briefing. Mr. Roth?
Question: I apologize if this was asked earlier, but it was sort of a stir on Friday. Have the Israelis accepted Malaysia, Indonesia -– Muslim countries who were viewed as enemies, no diplomatic relations, despite what was said out of Asia on Friday? What is the absolute latest?
Spokesman: The absolute latest is that we’re working with the Indonesians to deploy them as soon as possible to the theatre. We’re also working with the Qataris. As you know, over the weekend, it was announced that they will be sending a contingent of troops to UNIFIL. We’re talking to other countries. And I think as we’ve said in the past, the force will be made up of Europeans, non-Europeans, Asians, Africans and so forth, and troops and countries of different faiths. We obviously want a force that is politically legitimate and militarily legitimate as well.
Question: So if Israel says no [talk over] –-
Spokesman: The Indonesians -– we’re making technical arrangements for the Indonesians to come, as well as with the Qataris.
Yes? Go ahead. And then we’ll do a round two.
Question: Two brief questions. Can you confirm that the Secretary-General has in fact decided on the person to facilitate, mediate, negotiate? And the second question is, Security Council, do you expect any discussions to resume on the question of the succession of the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: On that you will have to ask the next briefer –- or not the next briefer -- not Pragati. The briefer after that, which would be Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece, who will be able to answer that question better than I. Again, on the facilitator, I would just refer you to exactly what the Secretary-General said. We’ll give you a copy of that text.
We’ll start again. Betsy?
Question: Back to the facilitator with no name. Is it a decision not to name him for his safety or is there another reason why we dare not speak his name? And could it be a “her”?
Spokesman: Yes, I am gender neutral on the issue of the facilitator.
Correspondent: No, seriously.
Spokesman: No, it’s a legitimate question. Again, I will not, I really cannot go beyond what the Secretary-General has already said on this. Yes, Benny?
Question: The Secretary-General said that if other facilitators are in the area [inaudible] would pull out. Over the weekend, the German Chief of Intelligence came to Beirut. Nobody knows why. Does the Secretary-General believe that if the Germans, or somebody like that, want to facilitate as well, they are taboo?
Spokesman: Benny, as much as I’d like to have this discussion with you, I’m not going to go beyond what the Secretary-General said. It’s obviously, for him, it’s a delicate issue, and we’re not going to comment further.
Question: Let me just follow up just on that. The Secretary-General said that this [inaudible] should be discreet, and that’s why he doesn’t publicize the name. How discreet is it if his spokesman leaks it immediately to AP and he himself says it on the record to The New York Times and then in a press conference. How discreet? I mean we’re talking about it here all briefing, and probably will talk about it until you’re blue in the face. How discreet is it that it was so well published?
Spokesman: He wanted to announce his initiative, and it is his right to do so.
Question: [talk over] he the facilitator?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General. [Talk over] Benny, I will leave those interpretations to you.
Question: [Inaudible] with Benny. Actually, why did he talk about it if he did not want anybody to –-
Spokesman: The Secretary-General felt he needed to make the announcement of this initiative. This is something he had been discussing, if you look back to his stops in Israel and Lebanon, where he said his good offices were available. So it should come as no surprise. He chose to make this limited announcement and it is his right to do so. Yes, Edie?
Question: I would like to put on the record a request that when the Secretary-General comes back, since we’re going into the new General Assembly session as well, that he does a formal press conference with us.
Spokesman: In fact, we have scheduled one for next week, and I will give you the date. But it is something we’ve been discussing. Yes, Liz?
Question: Not to divert this wonderful track, but on Sudan. Is there any more understanding of what the Sudanese Government is trying to do? I know Annan had an initial comment about some sort of reaction. But is there any more understanding of what it is, what conditions they’re imposing, and what is the UN going to do at this point? Does Annan have a next step?
Spokesman: Well, I think you’d have to ask the Sudanese what they’re trying to do. I think the Secretary-General is very explicit in his description of the situation as tragic, and the fact that the Sudanese Government needs to understand that the UN is not going in as any sort of invading force. We’re there to help the Government, help the people of Sudan, and one needs to see movement on this fairly quickly. And we’ve seen there are Sudanese military assets in Darfur, and this is all extremely worrying to the Secretary-General and it should be, as well, to the Member States.
Question: My question is also about Sudan. According to the media, Mr. Bashir not only that he does not want the UN forces, he doesn’t want the African Union forces now either, which means he’s moving his forces. Is the UN just going to stand by when a new genocide is actually evolving?
Spokesman: I would refer you back to what the Secretary-General said earlier today about the need for Governments to step up to their responsibilities to protect their own people. We’re obviously trying to get clarification from the Sudanese Government as to exactly what their position is, but it is all extremely worrying.
Question: A follow-up. Does the UN not realize that the real problem is the Sudanese Government itself?
Spokesman: I think I would refer you to what I’ve been saying from this podium for quite a while, and I think that would answer your question. Yes?
Question: If you can’t get the consent of the Government of Sudan for a UN force, would there be any efforts then to persuade the African Union force to stay?
Spokesman: It is clear that we need a longer transition from the African Union force to the UN force. We’re working with them to try to support them in their work now and in the transition period. But efforts are going to have to be made with the Government of Sudan. Yes, Mark?
Question: Yes, on Myanmar now that there’s a push to get this thing into the Security Council. What are the UN’s plans? There was this visit, I think, in October, is that correct, scheduled by Mr. Ibrahim Gambari. What is the UN’s track here with regards to Myanmar, and how does that relate to any possible action in the Security Council – sorry I mean the Secretariat’s track?
Spokesman: No, I need to get some proper guidance on that. I don’t have anything for you right now. Yes, ma’am?
[The Spokesman later added that a possible return visit by Under-Secretary-General Gambari to Myanmar is under consideration. As was the case earlier this year, Mr. Gambari, if he goes, would be visiting as an emissary of the Secretary-General, who has a mandate from the General Assembly to use his good offices to help Myanmar carry out genuine national reconciliation and democratization. Obviously, the Secretariat would abide by the Security Council’s decisions.]
Question: Is the Secretary-General doing anything further as far as the blockade on Lebanon, lifting that blockade?
Spokesman: It’s been on the top of his agenda in almost every stop he’s made on this trip. And I think my answer to the question earlier, he’s been on the phone with officials in the region and in Europe. And he does very much hope to see progress on this in the next 48 hours. Yes, Jonathan?
Question: What is the Secretary-General’s impression of the Quartet? You know, there’ve been some countries’ leaders who said that the Road Map is dead. Is Kofi Annan’s latest tour an acknowledgement that the Quartet is finished, that it’s time for a new initiative?
Spokesman: Not at all, not at all. He is fulfilling his role as Secretary-General in light of resolution 1701 to try to build on the cessation of hostilities and trying to find ways to revive the peace process. But it should not be interpreted as any obituary for the Quartet. Yes, Mark?
Question: There’s some question surrounding the visit or not of Iranian President Ahmadinejad to the General Assembly and whether he would get a visa or not. I’m just wondering in terms of history, can you remind me, have there been times when the Host Government has ever refused entry to a Head of State of Government to come and address the General Assembly?
Spokesman: That is a very good question best left to the next briefer. I’m pretty bad with history, so we can obviously do some research.
Question: And further to that, the UN Secretariat appeals to the US [talk over] –-
Spokesman: Every country that is host to a UN Headquarter has certain responsibilities in terms of allowing officials to attend meetings here. They also have their own responsibility vis-à-vis their own laws. But we would expect Heads of State and others who come here to be granted visas. Yes, Masood?
Question: On the [inaudible] are the troop contributions complete or…
Spokesman: No. We are still working with other potential troop contributors. We expect the Spanish Parliament to make a decision by the end of the week. I think the Turkish Parliament may already have. And we are talking to other countries and we’re still fairly confident that we’ll reach the 5,000 level by the middle of this month.
Question: Of the 15,000 that were basically stipulated, how many have been promised already?
Spokesman: As I said, we have 3,100 on the ground now, and we expect 5,000 by the middle of the month. So our general expectation is to have the full load within the next 90 days or so.
Question: Last week, the Government of Burundi called for the expulsion of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country, Nureldin Satti. Does the UN have any…I don’t think he’s been called back, but has there been any formal response to that?
Spokesman: His representative continues in office.
Question: And also, over the weekend, Dennis McNamara, the representative for IDP’s went to Sri Lanka. Do you have a read-out or anything on that?
Spokesman: We could try to get something. Thank you very much.
Question: (inaudible) the UN investigation into the Israeli shelling of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) post?
Spokesman: The UN’s own Board of Inquiry is presently going about its work, and it is in discussions with Israeli authorities and will also obviously be talking to UNIFIL people on the ground. So it is going ahead.
Question: So there is progress there? I reckon you’ve got the three Board members.
Spokesman: Yes. That’s correct. And one last question for you, sir.
Question: Yes. It is connected. I think you mentioned eight violations of the ceasefire. Could you be more specific?
Spokesman: They were air violations. They are reported to the Security Council on a daily basis as part of UNIFIL’s role.
Question: And “air violation” means flying over the Blue Line?
Spokesman: Yes. Flying over the Blue Line. Mr. Abbadi, and then we’ll stop.
Question: In addition to China are there any other nations participating in the process of demining Lebanon?
Spokesman: Well, there are two aspects here. There is the civilian one, through the UN Mine Action Service, which has its own staff and a British NGO, I believe. And then there’s the main demining unit in UNIFIL, which is Chinese.
Thank you very much. Pragati.
**Briefing by General Assembly President Spokesperson
Spokesperson: Good afternoon, it’s good to see you all again.
The General Assembly President will be returning to Headquarters this afternoon for a week of intensive work to wrap up the sixtieth session. He issued a letter to Member States last week outlining three important areas of outstanding work and stated that he is convinced that with flexibility and a constructive spirit, substantial outcomes on each of these issues are within reach. Those areas are a counter-terrorism strategy, reform of the Economic and Social Council and revitalization of the General Assembly.
It is anticipated that the Assembly will meet in plenary this Friday to take action on some of those areas with the remainder to be taken up at the closing meeting of the sixtieth session on Monday 11 September.
President Eliasson will then give a wrap-up press briefing on 11 September, most likely at 1 p.m., time to be confirmed.
Today at 4 p.m. the Assembly will meet in plenary to take action on a draft resolution on the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. By this draft resolution, the Assembly would express concern at the wide-scale fires in that region and stress the necessity of urgently conducting an environmental operation to suppress the fires.
A vote has been requested by Armenia.
And today at 5 p.m. President Eliasson will be the guest of UNCA at a farewell reception in the UNCA Club.
And also I have the great pleasure of introducing the Spokesperson for the President of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, Ms. Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte. Gail has had along career with UN Radio and most recently was the Spokesperson for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
I’m sure she’ll be an excellent Spokesperson for the Assembly President and I wish her the best on the job. And also, Freh Bekele will be staying on as assistant to the President, at least through December, so I’m sure they’re going to have a great team.
Ms. Bindley-Taylor Sainte: Thank you very much, Pragati.
It’s indeed an honour and a pleasure to have been asked to serve as the Spokeswoman for the President of this year’s Assembly. I look forward to meeting all of you and working with you in the days and months ahead.
I’ve just been exactly three hours in this position and I’ve just had my very first briefing with the team that’s coming in. We had a three-hour briefing and I guess we will move from there. Thank you.
Spokesperson: Yes, Liz.
Question: Can you explain what this counter-terrorism agenda item is, what does that mean, what is the goal there?
Spokesperson: The discussion is based on a report prepared by the Secretary-General, introduced some time ago, which outlines a draft strategy for action on counter-terrorism and now they are working to get a consensus on the strategy that would be adopted by the Member States.
Question: [inaudible] with the definition of terrorism or that’s not part of this at all?
Spokesperson: I think the definition was more of an issue in the Legal Convention. Of course, legal conventions are pinned on more precise definitions, but some of the same issues are carrying over in terms of foreign occupation and State terrorism and the same configuration. Edie?
Question: Pragati, is that an issue that we could possibly expect action on either Friday or Monday, the counter-terrorism strategy whatever?
Spokesperson: I think the President is hoping that all three issues will be acted upon either Friday or Monday.
Question: And for your successor, do you have a cell phone?
Ms. Bindley-Taylor Sainte: Yes, I do. Yes, I do have a cell phone, my own cell phone, which is 203 829 6019. I’m told that I will have another one soon, so as soon as I have that number, that will be given to you as well.
Question: On this counter-terrorism thing, besides the sticking point being that they’ve still not been able to decide on the so-called definition of terrorism, there are other issues which [inaudible]. Can you define the other issues which are holding back the resolution?
Spokesperson: Well, as I mentioned, some of the same issues that were raised in the discussion on the Convention are resurfacing here in the counter-terrorism strategy having to do with foreign occupation, State terrorism and the whole configuration of who considers what to be terrorism.
But there are also issues… It has to do with the institutionalization of the office that would work on this and the financial implications of that and …
Question: Is the issue of State terrorism also holding back these negotiations?
Spokesperson: I understand that it’s part of that configuration. Yes, Betsy.
Question: Can you just refresh my memory, when are the Heads of State expected to arrive and begin?
Spokesperson: The opening of the general debate is Tuesday 19 September, but we do have two high-level meetings prior to that, actually in the sixty-first session –- the High-level Meeting on Migration and the High-level Meeting on Least Developed Countries. And there will be some Heads of State attending those, although many of the participants will be at the ministerial level.
We have the list of speakers for the general debate available upstairs and also the list of participants for the High-level Dialogues on Migration and Least Developed Countries. They’re all provisional.
Question: What are the dates for the High-level Dialogues on Migration and the LDCs?
Spokesperson: I believe migration is 14 and 15 September. Then we have the weekend and then the LDC Meeting is Monday the 18th, and then it concludes in the early morning, like 9 to 10 a.m. of the 19th. And then on the 19th it goes directly into the general debate with an important statement by the Secretary-General and then the Heads of State.
Question: How many Heads of State are coming?
Spokesperson: There’s a new list that has just been issued today so I think we should check the count now.
Question: How many women Presidents of the General Assembly [have there been] since the United Nations started 61 years ago?
Ms. Bindley-Taylor Sainte: The current President is the third.
Question: One was Mrs. Pandit Nehru.
Ms. Bindley-Taylor Sainte: The first one was from India and the second one, I have her name, it’s on the tip of my tongue -- but she was from Liberia. Mrs. Brooks, that’s right.
Question: The President outlined three priority areas -- counter-terrorism, reform of the Economic and Social Council and revitalization of the General Assembly -– but he did not single out reform of the Security Council. Is there a reason for that?
Spokesperson: I think that issue is planned to be carried over to the sixty-first session. Those three areas are just the ones that he is hoping, or thinks, on which some outcomes are achievable in the next week.
Question: Does that imply that he does not have any hope in the immediate future for reform of the Security Council?
Spokesperson: In the next week?
Question: For the remainder of the year?
Spokesperson: There are plans to carry it over into the next session.
Question: On this afternoon’s item on the General Assembly agenda, is Azerbaijan expressing a position. What’s going to take place this afternoon?
Spokesperson: Well, Azerbaijan has presented the draft resolution so I think that’s a statement of its position. We can make the text of that available upstairs.
But I’m not really sure; I’d have to check if there are speakers inscribed to speak.
Question: Did you say Armenia presented it or Azerbaijan?
Spokesperson: Azerbaijan presented the draft resolution, Armenia had requested a vote.
Question: I know you have your revised provisional list of speakers, but there was some mention in the earlier briefing with Mr. Dujarric that President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who I know is not scheduled to speak, but might be coming and there was a question about a visa. Do you know anything about this at all, or has he asked to speak? Your original list said the Foreign Minister would be speaking.
Spokesperson: I don’t know. We can try to check on it.
Question: Where can we find you, now that you’re passing the baton?
Spokesperson: I’m still in office for another week, but I’ll be staying in my office, where I have been the whole year actually, on the tenth floor and still at the same phone number.
Question: What good advice can Ambassador Eliasson give to the new President?
Spokesperson: I think it’s better if you ask him that personally. He’ll be giving a closing press briefing and I’m sure you can ask him that then.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record