|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
And the spokeswoman 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 Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
Good afternoon. Christopher Burnham, the outgoing -- at least in a few hours -- Under-Secretary-General for Management, will joining us as our guest and he will be here about 12:30, after Gail does her of the Department of Management at the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General today addressed the Climate Change Conference in Nairobi and spoke about the need for leadership and urgent action to deal with the problems posed by climate change, which he called “an all-encompassing threat”. He said that, although some sceptics continue to deny that global warming is taking place, they should be seen as “out of step, out of arguments and out of time”.
In his speech, the Secretary-General announced the “Nairobi Framework” to help developing countries, especially in Africa, participate in the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. That mechanism permits industrialized countries, that have emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol, to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Secretary-General warned: “The question is not whether climate change is happening or not, but whether, in the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough.”
He then held a press conference, in which he was asked about United Nations assistance for Darfur. He said that the United Nations is looking at the possibility of putting UN observers, or some sort of international presence, on the border, but he added that it has not given up the idea of strengthening the force in Darfur.
Asked about Somalia, the Secretary-General appealed to the Somalis to set aside their differences and continue the peace talks that had begun in Khartoum. He also urged the Transitional National Government and the Union of Islamic Courts to avoid further confrontation and military action. And he added that neighbouring countries should not complicate the situation further by sending in troops or guns.
We’ll have a transcript of that press conference available to you rather shortly.
The Secretary-General is now in Addis Ababa, where he is scheduled tomorrow to deliver a speech on development and to co-host, with the African Union, a high-level meeting on Darfur.
And, from Sudan, the UN Mission in that country tells us that militia activities continue to be reported in South Darfur, with villages being burnt and their inhabitants being attacked by Arab nomads.
In West Darfur, the Mission notes that international NGO staffers had to be evacuated from two camps for internally displaced persons, due to insecurity in those localities.
Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, is in the Sudan, where he met today with senior Government representatives in Khartoum. Tomorrow, he is scheduled to head to El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, to meet with local leaders, NGOs. He will also go on to El Fasher in North Darfur later this week.
** Middle East
Alvaro de Soto, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today attended a working-level meeting of the Middle East Quartet in Cairo. The Quartet, you’ll recall, brings together the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States.
The Quartet envoys discussed the talks that are under way on the formation of a unity government among the Palestinians and the recent security situation on the ground.
Afterwards, de Soto said, it had been a good meeting and reiterated the stance expressed in the Quartet statement of 20 September, welcoming the efforts by the Palestinians to form a Government of National Unity, in that hopes that the platform of such a Government would reflect Quartet principles and allow for early engagement. He also hoped that such a government could make a contribution to reducing the sort of Palestinian rocket attacks, which today tragically claimed one Israeli life in the town of Sderot.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, de Soto also intends to meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and with Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, is today attending a working lunch in Brussels to discuss future engagement in supporting the newly-elected democratic institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The other participants at the meeting were Javier Solana, the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief; Louis Michel, the European Union Development Commissioner; and Paul Wolfowitz, President of the World Bank.
The discussions focused on ways in which the international community can best support the Government in meeting key challenges, such as ensuring good governance and implementing effective security sector reform programmes.
In a statement issued afterwards, the participants reiterated that the Independent Election Commission is the only body authorized to release election results. They also called on both candidates, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Joseph Kabila, and their supporters to avoid provocation, which might cast doubt on the election results.
** Somalia Floods
Turning now to Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that unusually severe floods have hit the southern part of the country, creating a humanitarian crisis that could affect up to one million people. With main roads rendered impassable, flights from Kenya have become, in many cases, the only means of transporting relief supplies.
Noting that the Kenyan Government recently decided to suspend all flights into Somalia, Eric Laroche, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, says he is optimistic that Kenya will lift the ban on humanitarian flights.
For its part, UNICEF is trying to move basic supplies from Mogadishu to hard-hit areas by road, and has readied stocks in Nairobi for delivery once flights resume.
The UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President Bill Clinton, will chair his final Global Consortium for Tsunami Recovery meeting, this afternoon at 3:30 in the UNICEF House across the street.
The meeting will review progress to date, identify key development objectives for the coming months and years, and garner renewed commitments to longer-term recovery and reconstruction priorities, including those relating to disaster-risk reduction. President Clinton will also identify key lessons from the tsunami recovery experience.
Also at the meeting, UNICEF head, Anne Veneman, will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, recognizing the approaching end of President Clinton’s tenure as Special Envoy and thanking him for his hard work. And, we have more information upstairs, as well as more details on the work accomplished by the Tsunami Recovery office.
**Human Rights Council
From Geneva, the Human Rights Council today held a special session to consider action on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the town of Beit Hanoun.
The Council adopted a resolution, condemning Israel for killing Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun. It also decided to send a high-level fact-finding mission to that town.
The resolution was adopted by 32 votes in favour to 8 against, with 6 abstentions and 1 absence.
**World Health Organization
Lastly, according to the World Health Organization, up to 50 per cent of medicines sold through rogue websites are fake. Today, the WHO is launching a comprehensive package of measures to help national authorities safeguard their populations from the dangers of counterfeit medicines.
This programme will issue a warning against buying medicines from websites, as well as cautioning Governments that existing laws against medical counterfeiters are inadequate. We have upstairs a press release with more information on that.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Wednesday, President Lahoud sent a letter to Secretary-General. Did you receive it?
Spokesman: We have received from Lebanon what we call a note verbale, which transmits to us a 29-page document, which is in Arabic, and is being translated. We just received it today. My understanding is that this document is not specifically a letter to the Secretary-General, but rather observations made by President Lahoud on the proposed tribunal of an international character.
Question: Yesterday, our colleague asked you a question about Somalians being present in Lebanon helping Hizbollah. And, there is a report in the New York Times also, which says that it’s a UN report, which the Somalis deny. What did you find out? Yesterday you were saying that you were going to look at it?
Spokesman: The report is one drafted by the Somalia Experts Group for the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee. It has gone to all 15 members of the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee and I understand it is scheduled to be discussed on Friday in that Committee. But, it is not yet out as an official document.
Question: There’s another report on Somalia, which says that Somalians are being helped by seven Governments, including some Arab Governments, and others funding them.
Spokesman: I have not seen the report, and obviously we would want the Security Council to comment on it first, but the Secretary-General this morning in Nairobi was very clear when he, not only urged all neighbouring countries to avoid interfering in Somalia, but he said the situation did not need to be further complicated by neighbouring countries rushing in with troops or guns to support one side or another. So, he fairly clearly urged all neighbouring countries and anyone who may be supplying soldiers or guns to Somalia to cease and let the Somalis enter into political dialogue.
Question: Are they taking into account the fact that Somalis are denying this?
Spokesman: Again, the report is to the Security Council Sanctions Committee and we’ll let them speak to it.
Question: Just as a request, this report is incredibly dramatic in its allegations. Basically you have an allegation about Iran, Hizbollah and Syria joining forces with the Islamic Union in Somalia in a deal to get uranium, supplying sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, and lest us not forget that Somalis, whenever it was five years ago, almost shot down an airliner flying over Kenya when at the time they had also blown up a hotel in Mombasa. This is extraordinarily serious stuff. Also, rather bizarrely here, we have the Saudis involved and the Egyptians involved and the Libyans involved; for some reason this report did not mention US involvement, although previous reports have; Kenyan involvement, Ugandan involvement, Djibouti involvement. So it strikes me that, given the tenor of the report that the most serious possible things are happening in Somalia that we’re concerned about today. I mean, there are no more serious things than getting hold of uranium from rogue States and anti-aircraft missiles and all the rest. And it would be helpful if we could have a briefing from the Secretariat or anybody that you could get involved on this to give us a sense if these allegations are credible, realistic, and, if so, what are the policy implications? Are we seeing a spiralling of the Middle East conflict into Africa? I mean, it couldn’t be more dramatic, this report, and just brushing it off as something that the Security Council…it needs serious engagement, these allegations.
Spokesman: In no way, am I brushing it off. The Secretary-General spoke to the situation in Somalia out of Nairobi. You’ll get that transcript shortly. It was fairly strong comments. As for the report, it is a report done for the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee. We will ask the monitoring group if they would make someone available to brief you on it.
Question: That would be great. But also the UN mission itself, [inaudible] and so forth, has all of this gone by completely unnoticed by them? Or, do they have some input to give into this situation?
Spokesman: This report is done by independent experts for the Security Council.
Question: Has UNIFIL noticed any presence of Somalis or other foreigners since the war or during the war?
Spokesman: I am not aware of any reports from UNIFIL to that effect. UNIFIL is continuing to operate along its mandate. It has, on a number of occasions in the last two or three weeks, helped the Lebanese army seize weapons, which were not supposed to be there and it is working on its mandate.
Question: Part of the mandate of 1559 and 1701 is to prevent the involvement of foreigners in the politics of Lebanon. I would assume that the presence of Somali fighters within Hizbollah.
Spokesman: UNIFIL is going about its mandate. It regularly reports back to the Security Council and when we have those reports we will share. Thank you for your statement.
Question: Seven hundred Somalis to disappear in villages in South Lebanon is almost impossible. There should be evidence. These independent investigators in Somalia; how reliable are they? To send 700 into south Lebanon, it’s a tiny area, they cannot disappear just like that.
Spokesman: This report [cross-talk] maybe you and Benny can have a dialogue here. But this report is basically, these are experts chosen by the Secretary-General to write these reports on behalf of the Security Council. They are experts in their field and we’ll see if we can get a briefing by them here. They work for the United Nations and they are fully impartial.
Question: About the international tribunal, when do you expect the Security Council will convene or discuss the international tribunal?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General intends to send to the Security Council, in the next 24 hours or so, his report, and then it will be up to the Council to decide when they will discuss it. But we’re moving on with the process and the Secretary-General intends to submit his report to the Security Council within 24 hours.
Question: Will they take the whole letter into consideration?
Spokesman: That is up to the Security Council to decide.
Question: I have a question not related to Somalia. About the Mine Action Project report that came out yesterday, and, unfortunately, Jean-Marie Guehenno was not able to brief us. The report was compiled with the help of UNICEF and DPKO, yet I was wondering if that’s a comprehensive report of all the different mine action projects that are going on, because one of them that was not mentioned was the MINURSO mine clearance in the Western Sahara. I just wanted to know why it wasn’t in the report.
Spokesman: I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. We can ask.
Question: I’ve been investigating corruption outside of this building dealing with electronic contracts, which has led me into the building. My sources have led me to the fact that you have an employee in procurement, and I don’t know if it’s even good if you mention his name right now, but he’s supposed to be on a personal leave of absence. My understanding is that the FBI came in here and took his hard drive and all those documents relating to contracts, which not only have to do with Petrocelli. Petrocelli was not named in the indictment against a Queens Assemblyman and also who’s named Bill McLaughlin. But the unnamed co-conspirator in this thing is EJ electronics – who is building this whole security system here. Early on, there was a question about the cost overruns of the security fence. EJ gets a contract, they lose the inside contract with UNTV, but they’re given a contract in a field that they really don’t have expertise in. So, my question right now is, have documents been taken out of this building in relationship to that employee and those contracts? At what point will we know? Also, I’m told that there is a whistleblower in the building who’s giving the FBI information. Will that whistleblower be protected? Will we, at some point in time, get to know who that whistleblower is?
Spokesman: I cannot speak to the specifics of an investigation, which may or may not be going on. There are a number of investigations going on by the procurement task force. What has been made clear from the start is that we will cooperate and we always cooperate with the national law enforcement authorities in these investigations. But I cannot answer to the specifics of the case you’ve brought up. And there is a whistleblower protection policy in effect, which I know Mr. Burnham would be happy to talk to you in more detail about.
Question: Can I question him?
Spokesman: Yes, you may.
Question: A couple of things here. First, a couple of days ago I believe you mentioned a letter, which I believe was from Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon to the Secretary-General and I think you said, and if I am mistaken then I shall stand corrected, that the letter was available upstairs. Now, when I went upstairs, they did not have it yet, they did later in the afternoon, but they said that it was not yet for distribution.
Spokesman: The letter is not yet out as a document. No doubt, it may be part of the submission the Secretary-General gives to the Security Council in the next 24 hours.
Question: And that will be available?
Question: Also, this Lahoud letter, the 29-page Arabic letter, when it is translated, is that expected to be available, whenever that may be?
Spokesman: I don’t know what the status of that is. As far as I know, its observations made by President Lahoud sent to us, I don’t know what its official status is.
Question: And one last thing, is there any information, yet known as to who the successor to President Clinton, as Tsunami envoy will be?
Spokesman: The office will cease to exist at the end of the year and its functions will be distributed within the UN’s various development agencies.
Question: In Chad, President Deby had declared that the newspapers can’t publish without pre-clearance by the Government of what they publish. I’m wondering if anyone in the UN has said anything about that or has any position on that.
Spokesman: I have not seen that. I’ll see if I can get you an answer on that.
Question: Also, I’m wondering, there are some reports that the UNHCR has been funding Chadian government gendarmes to prevent the refugee camps. Seems like an honourable thing to do but I’m wondering, can you find out…
Spokesman: We can find out from UNHCR. UNHCR along with other UN agencies have been working to find out ways to better protect the camps for the internally displaced persons.
Question: Would they be authorized to provide funds to the Government of Chad for that purpose?
Spokesman: I’ll have to check on the details of the operation. If it’s taking place, and its financing.
Question: One last thing. President Gbagbo of Ivory Coast; Le Monde has published this letter that he wrote to Kofi Annan that the resolution that’s just passed, he not going to obey it – did Kofi Annan ever respond to that letter?
Spokesman: I can check for you.
Question: The letter of Mr. Lahoud clearly states that he is warning about Siniora’s legitimacy and asking for action. When do you expect this letter to be translated, so that it can be made available?
Spokesman: It is a note to the Secretary-General. I am not aware that it will become a public document.
Question: It’s already published in the newspapers.
Spokesman: I’m glad that it has been, but we’ve just received it today. Its 29 pages are being translated and it obviously, of course, will be read, but we are moving ahead on the process based on the letter from the head of the Government in Lebanon, who has been the main…You obviously have your opinion on this issue. I am giving you what our position is if you would just let me finish my sentence. We are moving ahead based on the letter from the head of Government in Lebanon, Prime Minister Siniora, who has been the main interlocutor. You know, I think I’m done here.
Question: There’s a letter today about the situation of prisoners in Burma addressed to Kofi Annan [inaudible]?
Spokesman: I have not seen the letter, I’m not aware we’ve received it. Mr. Gambari will be back soon and has indicated his interest in coming here and briefing the press on his trip, so we will try to arrange that.
Question: Last week, you referred to this effort to create a new anti-revolving door policy, whereby senior UN officials can’t then leave the building and work for people that they’ve given contracts to. I was wondering where we were in the process of creating that thing, and again, as I asked last week, would it apply to current senior UN officials, or does it only begin to apply once the new crop come in?
Spokesman: Well, it will apply, the rules will apply once they are in effect. My understanding on this policy, it’s in the consultation stage. Staff unions were consulted. It is now with the administration and now in the process of being finalized. But, I’m sure Mr. Burnham will be able to answer more questions on that specific policy.
Question: Just a follow up on that with you; is the aim basically that the consultations last just long enough to allow the current crop of senior UN officials to leave the building?
Spokesman: The aim is to have a policy that is sound, that is strong and that works.
Question: The Syrians have again complained about Terje Roed-Larson and accused him of bias. Does the Secretary-General maintain his confidence in Mr. Larsen? Just as a general policy question, what happens to the Secretary-General’s special representatives, all of them, when his term ends?
Spokesman: I don’t have the details on what their contract, I do not believe the contracts of the SRSGs follow the same contracts as the USGs who, all of them, contracts end in February. As for Mr. Larsen, the Secretary-General absolutely stands by him. This was the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on resolution 1559. He stands by his report and he stands by his Special Envoy.
Question: Is there any discussion with the Americans regarding sending some 50,000 troops into Lebanon from Iraq? This has been reported in Lebanon today.
Spokesman: I am not aware of any such discussions. Thank you.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly
I don’t have very much, and I’m sure you’re more interested to hear from Mr. Burnham. Just to let you know, the annual Pledging Conference for Development Activities is taking place this morning in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. Tomorrow, the Assembly will meet to appoint members to the following [subsidiary] organs; the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions; the Committee on Contributions; the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, and the International Civil Service Commission. It will also confirm the appointment of members of the Investments Committee and will hold elections for seven members of the Committee for Programme and Coordination, 30 members of the UN Commission on International Trade Law and the International Law Commission among others.
Regarding work in the main Committees, on Tuesday the Second Committee agreed, during discussions on training and research, that the United Nations Institute for Training and Research [UNITAR] had achieved “commendable success” during the latest review period despite their modest budget. As a result, Committee members expressed the view that UNITAR deserved further financial and moral support from the United Nations community. UNITAR, which has a small staff of around 100 people and a budget of some $20 million dollars, is hoping to increase its funds by 15 per cent. The Committee will meet again on Friday to take action on a number of resolutions it is considering.
The Fifth Committee today is discussing financing of the Mission in Côte d’Ivoire and improving the financial situation of the United Nations.
Meanwhile the Sixth Committee is holding informal consultations on measures to eliminate international terrorism. That’s what’s happening in the GA.
**Question and Answers
Question: Is the North Korea – human rights [inaudible] coming up?
Spokeswoman: The Third Committee is still working through its resolutions. I don’t know when it will come up, but they’re still going through their resolutions at this point.
[The Spokeswoman can confirm that this matter will be taken up by the Third Committee tomorrow.]
Question: I heard, and I’m a bit vague, that Cuba and some other countries were pushing for some kind of uniting for consensus resolution addressing the Security Council’s workings and so forth. Do you know anything about that?
Spokeswoman: Not on that. I can check. Is this something you heard recently?
Question: I just got told about it yesterday, but in slightly vague terms. So I’d just quite like to work out what sort of discussions there are on a possible uniting for consensus resolution.
Question: There’s going to be tomorrow -- Friday, sorry -- a special emergency session. And there’s a resolution proposal that among other things calls on the Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding mission [inaudible], regarding events, by the Human Rights Council. Is there any rules about? Are they going to be overlapping?
Spokeswoman: I will have to find out if that is in fact so. I know that there is talk of having a resumed session. We are waiting now to see whether there is anything official, because so far we have not received an official request but if there is, the expectation is that it will probably happen on Friday. But I will check. I doubt very much that you would have two over-lapping fact-finding missions on the same issue. But beside this, any resolution, [emanating from a special session], as I understand it, if they have financial implications, will have to go before the budgetary committees to look at the financial implications. That’s why I said that. If there’s nothing else, Mr. Burnham.
* *** *For information media • not an official record