8 November 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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


** Middle East – Statement


I’ll start out with a statement on the Middle East.


“The Secretary-General was shocked to learn about the Israeli military operation carried out early today in a residential area in Beit Hanoun, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 18 Palestinians, including eight children and seven women.  He extends his condolences to the bereaved families of the victims.


“Only last Friday, the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern about the rising death toll caused by Israeli operations in northern Gaza, given that such operations inevitably cause civilian casualties.  The Secretary-General reminds both sides of their obligations under international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


“The Secretary-General reiterates his call to the Israeli Government to cease its military operations in Gaza without delay and calls on the Palestinian side to also halt attacks against Israeli targets.  He further takes note of the reported announcement by the Israeli Government of a full investigation into this latest incident and looks forward to its early results.”


** Middle East


Also, on a related note, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Karen AbuZayd, expressed her shock and dismay at the killing of yet more Palestine refugees in Beit Hanoun.  “This morning's tragedy”, she said, “is yet more evidence, if any were needed, of the necessity to end this futile and provocative cycle of violence.”  We do have a statement also issued by Alvaro de Soto, the UN Special Coordinator, and that statement was issued much earlier in the day in Jerusalem.


** Nepal Statement


And on Nepal, I also have a statement.


“The Secretary-General heartily welcomes the agreement reached yesterday between the Seven-Party Alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).  This agreement offers the people of Nepal a historic opportunity to end the armed conflict in their country and to build sustainable peace within an inclusive and democratic State.


“The United Nations has been asked to help in key areas of the peace process.  The Secretary-General intends to respond promptly, while emphasizing that both sides must maintain the momentum of the peace process by fully carrying out the commitments they have made.”


That statement is upstairs.


** Sudan


The Officer-in-Charge in the Sudan, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Tayé Zerihoun, met today with the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, said Djinnit.  They discussed cooperation between the UN and the African Union on Darfur and the UN support package of the African Union Mission in Darfur.


Zerihoun will also travel to Addis Ababa on Monday to a meeting of the (UN) Security Council, the Government of the Sudan and the African Union to discuss the transition to a UN force in Darfur.


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reiterates its concerns about the deployment of additional Government troops in Darfur.  The UN Mission in the Sudan says reports were received on a deployment of at least 30 military vehicles full of Government soldiers in North Darfur.  And in West Darfur, the Mission reports a new build up of armed militia was also reported by several sources in the Jebel Moon area.


**Security Council


Meanwhile back here, the Security Council this morning began an open meeting on Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which it heard a briefing from the High Representative for the implementation of the peace accord in that country, Christian Schwarz-Schilling.  Adnan Terzic, who chairs Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, also addressed the meeting.


Then, immediately following the end of the Bosnia meeting, the Council members are to begin closed consultations on the Middle East.


Council members will also have their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General today.  And the traditional stake-out which is set up after the lunch will be back here on the second floor in front of the Security Council.  And in addition to the Ambassadors, the Secretary-General may also stop and take a few questions after the lunch.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that the electoral teams of President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, the two contenders in the run-off presidential election, released a joint statement, in which they reaffirmed their commitment not to extrapolate the results of the vote.  The two sides also acknowledged the Independent Electoral Commission as the sole authority empowered to announce the results.


The Mission says that the Congolese High Authority on Media will impose sanctions on local media outlets which might deliberately misrepresent or otherwise disrupt the proper announcement of the election results.  Meanwhile, the Mission says that 85 per cent of all valid ballots have now been delivered to Kinshasa for final certification.


And also, in a press release today, the Mission confirmed that voter turnout in South Kivu has set a new record for the Democratic Republic of the Congo as 90 per cent of the 1.6 million registered voters effectively cast their ballots on 29 October.


**International Criminal Court


The International Criminal Court (ICC) says that a public hearing to confirm charges against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congelese warlord accused of recruiting child soldiers, will begin tomorrow in The Hague and last until 28 November.


At the hearing, ICC judges will consider and then rule whether or not to confirm the charges brought by the Prosecutor against Lubanga and whether or not to commit him to trial.  We have more upstairs in a press release from the ICC.


** Lebanon


The UN Environment Programme has wrapped up its post-conflict environmental assessment in Lebanon.  It found no evidence of depleted uranium or other radioactive material being used during the recent conflict.  But it did confirm that the Israeli Defence Forces had used artillery and mortar ammunition containing white phosphorous.


And we also have upstairs a breakdown of all the troop contributors to UNIFIL and the troop strength of UNIFIL is now up close to 10,000.


**UNDP


And, tomorrow in Cape Town, South Africa, the UN Development Programme will launch its 2006 Human Development Report, in which the agency is expected to call for a Global Action Plan to meet the world’s clean water and sanitation needs.  UNDP is expected to propose models of cooperation to resolve cross-border tensions in water management.


UNDP says that the report will also debunk the myth that the global water crisis is the result of scarcity and argue that poverty, power and inequality are the root causes of the problem.


**UNEP


And from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a new initiative, called the Plant for the Planet:  Billion Tree Campaign, was launched today at the UN Climate Change Convention Conference taking place in Nairobi.  Coordinated by the UN Environment Programme, the campaign aims to plant a minimum of one billion trees in 2007 throughout the world.  The campaign’s co-patrons are Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai and Prince Albert of Monaco, the co-patrons of this campaign.  And we have a press release on that upstairs.


**WHO


And, last to mention, Dr. Margaret Chan of China was nominated today for the post of Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Executive Board of WHO.  The nomination will now be submitted to the World Health Assembly, which will meet tomorrow to make the formal appointment.  The procedures for the current nomination and election process were decided following the sudden death last May of the former Director-General, Dr. Lee Jong-wook.


**Background Briefings


And finally, a couple of things to flag for you.  Today, at 12:45, a background briefing on the final report of the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations and the report will officially be launched in Istanbul early next week.


And at 3, there will be another background briefing by a senior official, this time on the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence, which will be presented to the Secretary-General and General Assembly on Thursday, that will be tomorrow.  The report, which will be distributed to you this afternoon, will be embargoed until Thursday at 11.  And I understand that the report will be available to you around 2.


And again, those two are background briefings; there will not be UNTV coverage.


**Press Conferences


At 12:30 tomorrow, the Co-Chairs of that Panel, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, will be here to brief you officially on the Panel.


At 2:00, the Canadian Mission will be sponsoring a press conference by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization on women’s groups’ response to the recommendations on gender equality in the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence.


That’s it for me.  I will now take some of your questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I want to follow up on the statement by Mr. Annan on the situation in Gaza.  I’m wondering what’s his position on the Palestinian and Arab request of holding a special session of the Security Council about this.


Spokesman:  It is not up to the Secretary-General to express himself on whether or not the Security Council will meet.  That’s up to the Ambassadors to decide.


Question:  On the UNIFIL, Jean-Marie Guéhenno will be replaced at the end of the year?


Spokesman:  I think on who will serve or lead DPKO or any other departments after Kofi Annan leaves is a question that should be asked of the Secretary-General-designate.  As we’ve said here, the vast majority of USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] have their contracts ending in February, but the staffing will be up to the incoming administration.


Question:  One question on people leaving, I heard this, I don’t know if it’s right or not.  The Chief of Staff had written to the ASGs [Assistant Secretaries-General] and USGs, saying they were to resign when the incoming Secretary-General comes in.  Is that correct or not?


Spokesman:  I don’t know.  It should be fairly easy to check.


Question:  I had a question about Serge Brammertz.  Is he still in New York?


Spokesman:  As you know, we don’t comment on his travels.


Question:  Do you know if this afternoon we will have available the report of the Alliance of Civilizations?


Spokesman:  I’m sorry?


Question:  The report of the Alliance, will it be available this afternoon?


Spokesman:  I don’t believe so, but it will become clear at 12:45 when the briefing comes.


Question:  First, to just add to Mr. Abbadi’s question, I just wanted to complain because if we’re going to have a background briefing, it’s very hard to ask questions if we haven’t read the report, and there are a number of my colleagues who are interested in it.  I just wanted to say that on the record; that’s the first thing.  The second thing is, you mentioned a meeting with the AU and UN representatives on the Sudan.  Was anything fleshed out in that meeting?


Spokesman:  No, it will happen.


Question:  Oh, the meeting hasn’t happened?


Spokesman:  There’s a meeting in Addis Ababa which will focus on the package we are providing to AMIS.


Question:  And this is UN, AU, but also Security Council?


Spokesman:  There will be Security Council representation at that meeting which will happen in Addis Ababa.


Question:  You said on Monday?


Spokesman:  Mr. Zerihoun will travel on Monday, I believe the meeting is on Monday but I’ll double check for you.


Question:  Just on that same thing, is Kofi Annan going to Addis Ababa shortly after?


Spokesman:  We don’t have anything to announce yet officially on the Secretary-General’s travel.


Question:  On Addis Ababa, is that a day long thing, or a couple days long?


Spokesman:  I will have to check for you.


Question:  And on the Alliance, since this is going to be a background briefing, how much money was spent on the Alliance program as far as you understand it and, also, what is the fate of Iqbal Riza, the one dollar a year recipient, is there plans to  keep him on board?  Where is he heading?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any information on Mr. Riza.  We can try to get you some answers on the finances, but it’s a question you can also ask the briefer.  But I’ll try and get you an answer.


Question:  The Government of Serbia has called for Martti Ahtisaari to resign saying that he was engaged in secret negotiations with Albania about the future of Kosovo.  So, one, if the UN has responded in any way to that, and two, what is the status of his plan.  First one, and then the other.


Spokesman:  Mr. Ahtisaari is in charge of the process, he works for the Secretary-General.  It’s up to him, to the Secretary-General, to decide on his fate.  But it’s clear that the Secretary-General expects Mr. Ahtisaari to continue to lead this process until its conclusion.  We had said, and the Secretary-General said recently, that he did not exclude the possibility that these talks would not slip beyond the end of this year, but the discussions are continuing.


Question:  And on this WFP process, the Swiss papers reported overnight that US President George Bush called Jacques Diouf on Thursday, 2 November, pushing the nomination of Josette Sheeran.  First, did any similar call go to the Secretary-General?  Did Mr. Diouf say this to the Secretary-General?  Are you aware of that?  And is that appropriate?  Would you view that, in terms of a UN system nomination, is that type of communication appropriate?


Spokesman:  We don’t know if that phone call happened.  You’d have to ask the White House or FAO if it happened.  I’m not going to speculate on the phone call.


Question:  No, but if they…


Spokesman:  I’m not going to speculate on something that may or may not have happened.


Question:  Would you ask the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  He has not had a conversation with the White House in the last two to three weeks.


Question:  You said that at 2, a report on System-Wide Coherence will be released?


Spokesman:  It will be given to you in advance of the background briefing, and it will be embargoed until tomorrow at 11.


Question:  I want to ask, did the Secretary-General, after this attack in Beit Hanoun by the Israeli Defence Forces that took these 22 lives, on which the statement was issued, has the Secretary-General spoken with the Prime Minister of Israel?


Spokesman:  He has not spoken directly to either the Palestinian Prime Minister, to Mr. Abbas, or to the Israeli Prime Minister.  But his concern expressed to Mr. Olmert in that phone call to do his utmost to protect civilians stands.  There are obviously contacts taking place on the ground with our team there.


Question:  A note about System-Wide Coherence, given that the Secretary-General will be giving a stake-out at 2:30, it seems a little odd that you’re releasing the report at 2 o’clock.


Spokesman:  No, the report will be given to you at two o’clock.  The briefing will take place at three.  Obviously the Secretary-General speaking will…


Question:  On the eight people who received housing subsidies written in the letter to the Americans, you said that’s a misunderstanding.  Can you just clarify, how many people received subsidies, how many are in New York, how many received them from Governments, and how many received them from other sources?


Spokesman:  We are in the process of replying to the US.  I think the statement I made on 12 September, I have nothing to add to, which we know of only one case of a senior official who has received, who declared receiving a subsidy, but we’re in the process of…


Question:  What about the discrepancy in the letter to the Americans?


Spokesman:  There is no discrepancy.  We did further checking.  Mr. Bolton has written to us, as you well know, and we will provide the answer to him. 


Question:  Has the Secretary-General spoken with the Syrian (inaudible) or the Lebanese Government after his meeting with Serge Brammertz yesterday?


Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any phone calls between the Secretary-General and the Lebanese Prime Minister, or the Syrians with the Secretary-General.  Mr. Brammertz’s meeting with the Secretary-General was a routine meeting.


Question:  Just to clarify, in terms of the proposal for the tribunal, it’s basically the Secretariat waiting until all five permanent members of the Security Council say they don’t oppose it, or is there a time you might put the proposal forward and let the Council discuss it?


Spokesman:  The discussions, the work on the tribunal is continuing to be led by Nicolas Michel.  We are continuing to brief the members of the Security Council, whether it is the P-5 or the elected members who wish to be briefed on it, and when the proposal is ready, it will go to the Lebanese Government.


Question:  Just to understand, what does “ready” mean in this context?


Spokesman:  When the Secretary-General feels that it is ready, and feels that it is a good, solid proposal, in which everyone can go forward with it, the Lebanese Government and the Security Council.


Question:  Does “ready” mean agreement from the P-5?


Spokesman:  “Ready” means when the Secretary-General feels that it is ready to go, with the best chances of support from all parties involved.


Question:  I wanted to follow up on James’ question about these housing subsidies.  The letter, I understand that the letter said eight and now, since then you said one, but this person who sent this letter to the US Mission, also said that “employees were expected to disclose it if they were receiving a housing subsidy, and in most cases then there would be a payroll deduction, unless an exception is granted by the Secretary-General.”  Are you rethinking this paragraph, too, just because it…


Spokesman:  I have nothing more to add on the housing subsidies from what I previously said.  There’s ongoing correspondence between the US Mission and the Secretariat, and we will respond to them, and we are drafting a response.


Question:  And will you announce it?  Will you say from here what the policy is when it’s all…?  Because it seems to be unclear.


Spokesman:  When we are ready, we will have a further announcement.


Question:  The problem is that you are saying you’ll respond to the US Mission, but there are legitimate questions here about seemingly receiving thousands of dollars in payment in funds from sources unknown, and we’re not asking either the number or…


Spokesman:  It is clear that  no senior UN officials receiving housing subsidies from non-governmental sources.  Any senior UN official is required to declare any subsidy on their financial disclosure form, and we continue to expect all staff members to abide by Article 100 of the Charter.


Question:  It’s now been reported in the financial press that the Under-Secretary-General for Management is going to Deutsche Bank.  Reuters has reported it.  So given that, here’s a question for you, in the idea of post-employment restrictions, number one, at that level, what would that mean for business between Deutsche Bank and the UN?  And secondarily, maybe you’ll answer this one, the Secretary-General recently did a report on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, and it’s widely reported that Deutsche Bank is the private banker for the leader of Turkmenistan, Turkmenbashi, the father of all Turkmen, the report is very damning.  So I wonder if you could say, I understand that people go to work at another place afterward, but I wonder if you see any positive human rights repercussions coming from having such a senior United Nations official going to a private company like that, whether we use the position to raise human rights issues, and whether Deutsche Bank will be able to do business with the UN going forward.


Spokesman:  There is currently no policy on post-employment restrictions at the UN.  One is being elaborated on.  I cannot speak to where Mr. Burns is going.  I can only confirm that he is leaving, as we have from here.


Question:  That’s interesting, because I didn’t know about this.  There is a policy being elaborated about post-employment restrictions from the UN.  Will this policy be adopted before this current crop of UN officials leave, or will it be adopted after they leave?  Is there an idea if the policy is going to apply to people who are about to leave?


Spokesman:  The policy is being currently elaborated, I can try and give you a closer time frame on when that policy might be…


Question:  Will it be retroactive?


Spokesman:  It is still being elaborated.


Question:  Will it cover the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is not a staff member, and the Secretary-General, I think I’ve said very clearly, intends to take a long period of rest and focus on issues of development, agriculture development, and girls’ education.


Question:  If I may, he has said he’s elaborating this proposal, he’s elaborating for other people, not himself.  He has previously -- voluntarily in the case of the financial disclosure form, but reluctantly -- agreed to go along with it.  Will he commit himself to abide by the post-employment restrictions that he promulgates?  And, because it is relevant, he has a foundation, and presumably he will be soliciting donations from people for his foundation, and it wouldn’t look very good if people who had done business with the UN started giving him lots of money after he left.


Spokesman:  No foundation has yet been set up and the Secretary-General will continue to abide by the high standards that he’s practiced over the last ten years.


Question:  In the Volcker Report, it’s found that he’s been, he hasn’t lived up to the standards of the UN…


Spokesman:  I think the Volcker Report found that he had absolutely, he disclosed all of his financial records to the Volcker Report, and they found him to be living exactly according to his means, and not to have anything that might be interpreted as untoward in terms of his financial behaviour.


Question:  If I could change the topic, there’s a document out on the rack from Syria this morning, concerning Terje Roed-Larsen’s statement the other day that he’d been informed by the Lebanese Government of arms smuggling across the border form Syria into Lebanon, in which the Syrian Ambassador quotes the Lebanese Prime Minister, Lebanese Foreign Minister, and Lebanese Defence Minister, all saying that Roed Larsen’s statement was in error and they had never informed him of any arms smuggling.  And I’m wondering if there’s been any revisiting of that statement by Mr. Roed-Larsen.


Spokesman:  Roed Larsen’s report on 1559 stands, it speaks for itself, and he continues to operate with the full and utmost confidence of the Secretary-General.


Question:  I don’t recall if that statement was in the report or made to us at the stake-out by him.  There’s been no going back to Mr. Roed-Larsen to see if…


Spokesman:  His report stands.


Question:  I wanted to find out about this oil slick clean up and the investigation into these small bomblets, how far is that investigation going?


Spokesman:  UNEP just released its post-conflict report on the use of munitions which I mentioned and on the cluster bombs, I think we have something on that yesterday and I can check for you, and on the oil slick I don’t have anything.


Question:  Jan Pronk, when is he going to name a replacement for Jan Pronk?


Spokesman:  Mr. Pronk will serve until the end of the year.  He will return to Khartoum at some point at the end of the month for a more formal handover, but he will continue to serve as Special Representative until 31 December, at which point it will be up to the Secretary-General-designate to name a new special envoy.


Question:  Just to follow up on that, does the process begin now or does the process only begin after 31 December?


Spokesman:  I’m not able to speak on that at this point.


Question:  A little about the transition from Kofi to Ban Ki-moon, how is that going to work?  When is the phasing in and out happening?


Spokesman:  The transition process has already begun.  There’s a joint team working between the current UN officials and the incoming Secretary-General-designate.  Kofi Annan will continue to serve as Secretary-General until 31 December, at which point Ban Ki-moon will take over.  A date for his swearing in, which will happen at some point closer to the second half of December, will hopefully be announced fairly soon, but that swearing in will be effective 1 January.


Question:  And Ban Ki-moon will be here physically?


Spokesman:  I think you will have to check.  He will probably be here in the next couple of weeks.


Question:  Any plans for the Secretary-General to dispatch his special envoy to Lebanon very soon?


Spokesman:  None that I know of.


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