|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michčle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
The Secretary-General told you yesterday that he will make a courtesy visit to Washington, D.C., next week and meet with the President of the host country, George W. Bush. I can confirm that the visit will take place next Tuesday, the 16th of January. In addition to meeting with the President, the Secretary-General will also meet with leaders of the US Congress.
** Somalia -- Humanitarian
On Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that humanitarian access in Somalia remains limited, particularly in the south-central part of the country. OCHA warns that medical specialists are urgently needed in that area to perform diagnostic tests and surgeries.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) and one of its partners on the ground today started distributing food rations for one month to 6,000 people, who took refuge near the Somalia-Kenya border after fighting forced them from their homes. WFP is currently preparing on both sides of the border for an influx of Somalis into Kenya once the border is reopened.
For its part, the UN Refugee Agency is airlifting relief supplies into Somalia and has dispatched two emergency teams -- to Somalia and Ethiopia -- to verify reports of new displacement in northeast Somalia and to check reports of a possible influx of Somali refugees into eastern Ethiopia.
In related news, UNICEF today expressed concern over reports that some children in Somalia have been randomly shot in the streets, while others risk being recruited by re-emerging warlords. We have more information in my Office.
** Somalia -- Political
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, yesterday welcomed the positive outcome of this week’s talks between Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and his predecessors Abdikassim Salad Hassan and Ali Mahdi. After their meeting, President Yusuf said he and Abdikassim were in agreement that international and African peacekeepers should deploy immediately to replace Ethiopian troops now backing the Transitional Federal Government. Reiterating the UN’s support for the transitional authorities, Special Representative Fall said that the continuation of such meetings would send the message to the Somali people that reconciliation is indeed possible in their country and that differences can be resolved peacefully. And there are copies of Mr. Fall’s statement upstairs.
On Darfur, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is traveling to Darfur today. He is expected to meet with non-signatories and signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement, as well as with parties outside of the country.
After meeting with the Sudanese President yesterday, he spoke to reporters in Khartoum and described his meetings as fruitful and substantive, saying that they were held in a “positive spirit”. The Special Envoy said that the main task of his mission was to explore the road towards the political process. However, in terms of peacekeeping, he said, his central point is that there must be a peace to keep.
He will try to encourage the political process and this would depend upon the political will of all the parties -– the Government of the Sudan, the signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement, the non-signatories and ultimately the people of the Sudan. He indicated that he will be working closely with his African Union counterpart, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim.
He emphasized that there is no military solution for either side in the Darfur conflict.
The Security Council will hold consultations on Myanmar at 3:30 this afternoon. The United States had circulated a revised draft resolution on Myanmar to other Council members last night, putting it in “blue” in advance of any vote. Council members will discuss that draft resolution during consultations.
The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major General Alain Pellegrini, said in a statement today that there had been no violation of the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, contrary to some media reports that had claimed there had been an Israeli incursion over the Blue Line.
Pellegrini said that members of the Israel Defence Forces were carrying out regular maintenance work on the technical fence near the village of Ayta Chaab. Throughout their maintenance work, he said, they remained south of the Blue Line.
**Safety and Security
The Seventh Summit on the Safety and Security of UN Staff and Associated Personnel will take place this Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. The Summit will address the continuing attacks against UN staff members and humanitarian workers worldwide. We have more information on that upstairs.
**UNICEF -- AIDS
On Tuesday, UNICEF will be releasing a report on children and AIDS. Among the report’s findings is that increasing numbers of children living with HIV are now receiving treatment, although the numbers are far too few. In connection with that report, UNICEF will hold a teleconference on Tuesday at 11 a.m. we have a media advisory on that in my Office.
And, as you know, the “week ahead” at the United Nations is upstairs and you can have access to it anytime in our press room.
This is all for today. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michčle, first of all, I want to thank you and the Secretary-General, again, for coming to our well-crowded party yesterday. It was a pleasure to meet you both.
My question is: what was the criteria yesterday at the press conference, when you picked and chose those journalists to ask the questions to the Secretary-General? And did you have in mind geographic distribution and participation of journalists from all continents?
Question: And what will be the criteria for the future?
Spokesperson: Well, for the future, I would say for future press conferences, the people who did not get a chance to get their questions in, will be able to do so next time. We did try –- for the first press conference –- to have geographical criteria in mind, yes.
Question: Nothing more than that?
Spokesperson: Nothing more than that, no. Not saying that one media is more important than others –- that was not at all the intention. The intention was to be inclusive.
Question: Michčle, in considering who the Secretary-General is going to appoint as the head of political affairs, is he taking into consideration choosing someone who will not create an impression of implementing their own nation’s policy, rather than the United Nations policy? And in case you don’t know what nation I am talking about, is he going to bring this up with President Bush on Tuesday?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know whether they will be discussing appointments at that meeting. I think the Secretary-General is very aware of the impact of any choices he would make.
Question: No, I know that every UN official pledges to not listen to their own Governments, but we also know that that’s routinely -– at least, that’s the perception -– that it’s routinely ignored. UNSCOM weapons inspectors were found to be spying for the United States; the KGB was long suspected of running the Library here. So there is a growing perception here that whoever runs political affairs -– even if he never talks to the State Department -– will not be neutral. And the United Nations neutrality is, of course, essential to its work, and if the United States is not perceived as neutral in certain regions, like the Middle East, for example -- and it could hurt. Isn’t there concern that the perceptions are problematic –- is this something he is considering?
Spokesperson: He is definitely considering the perception, but as you know, we are not yet on the agenda of having someone named in the Department of Political Affairs, because at this time, they are talking about the restructuring, which the Secretary-General mentioned yesterday.
Question: But he has interviewed an American.
Spokesperson: He has interviewed a lot of people for the job. Or talked to a lot of people, or about a lot of people.
Question: With regards to restructuring, can we have somebody explain to us what the thinking is on this at the moment, because obviously, there is a lot of talk about this and the Secretary-General has sent a letter to the regional groups and has been briefing various people –- everyone, except the press, really. It seems that, to a large degree, when we talk about consultations and information, the Secretary-General considers Member States to be the only valid people to talk to, but the press does not get any discussion of this. So if we could reverse that and maybe have some debate here about what the thinking is about the restructuring, and why and what the ideas are -- before an announcement is made -- not just presented with fait accomplis –- that would be very helpful.
Spokesperson: I think, what you are going to have -– you are going to have the consultations first, for one simple reason that the plan is not set in stone yet and it is still being discussed. So, I think, the press will know about it, as soon as it is…
Question: So are you saying this is going to be a pattern whereby the press just get told about fait accomplis and there is no public discussion of all this and the only people deemed valid to discuss these things are ambassadors and officials, and the general public is actually not involved in this?
Spokesperson: Well, this is an Organization made up of 192 Member States. I think they have to be consulted first on any project. I’ve said there is no specific decision taken yet -– this is a project and, as you know, the framework will depend essentially on the bodies within the General Assembly that can approve -– for budgetary reasons or other reasons -– that will approve such a plan. The Secretary-General cannot himself decide on a plan without discussing it with Members of the General Assembly, who will be approving that plan or rejecting it.
Question: Could you tell us when we might get to put our eyes on the new Deputy Secretary-General? Is she going to be in New York in the next few days?
Spokesperson: She will be in New York by Monday, but at this time, she is Deputy Secretary-General-designate, and she will probably have to go back and come again, so she will have to travel in-between. So she probably will become formally the Deputy Secretary-General on the first week of February.
Question: At the top of the briefing you said that the WFP will be sending food as soon as the border is opened in Somalia –- is the UN working to reopen the border? And have there been any indications from the authorities as to when the border will be reopened?
Spokesperson: Well, concern was expressed to the Governments. When it will reopen, we don’t know yet.
Question: So the UN is not involved in it?
Spokesperson: Yes, involved in a way of trying to convince Kenya to allow the refugees in.
Question: On Pellegrini’s statement –- he mentioned that there was no incursion into Lebanon yesterday or the day before. But why didn’t he mention the overflights, which have not stopped since last July? And also, why didn’t he mention why Shebaa Farms is still denied the Lebanese –- civilians? Why didn’t he mention that Ghajar is still occupied since last August? And why did he ignore all these things? Is there any follow-up on that, because we were promised some time ago that Ghajar will be resolved very soon. Also, we are not talking here about Shebaa Farms, but the situation remains precarious for the inhabitants of South Lebanon. They cannot go in certain areas near the border, especially near Ghajar, and they are denied access to their water.
Spokesperson: As you heard, you know, Commander Pellegrini is saying that there was no violation of the Blue Line. So what we’ll do, we’ll try to get some additional information for you on the specifics you mentioned and as soon as we get it from the field, we’ll let you know. [She later said that UNIFIL was monitoring Israel’s overflights and protested each one to the Israeli authorities.]
Question: A follow-up on Somalia. Do you have any numbers on those people who are stranded near the border with Kenya?
Spokesperson: I can check on the numbers for you, but I think it is going to be difficult, but we will try our best. [She later said that there were at least 4,700 displaced Somalis at the Kenyan border.]
Question: How about the injuries and the casualties of the war?
Spokesperson: We will try to find that out, also. Which is not easy -- I shouldn’t lie -– to find out exact numbers.
Question: I have a question -– if you could maybe give me the same answer in English and French -– because I need it in both languages. There is a rumour in Canada this afternoon that the UN is going to nominate Jean Pierre Kingsley, who is an election official, very respected in Canada, to run all UN election programmes –- can you tell me if it’s true or false?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm it, because none of those appointments have been revealed yet. So… Je ne peux pas confirmer cette information.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any response to the US attack on the Iranian Consulate in Erbil?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have any comment on that.
Question: I just want to follow-up as the second-ranking UNCA officer present, on the question about the criteria for calling correspondents at press conferences. Do I assume, therefore, that you will keep an ongoing record of those whom you have not been able to call at the immediately preceding press conference and they will be given some preference at the next one?
Spokesperson: Yes, I have such a record with me.
Question: And on the question of Somalia borders –- I take it you were referring specifically to the border with Kenya. Are you implying that the borders with Ethiopia and, I believe, Djibouti are also shut and cannot be used for any humanitarian convoys?
Spokesperson: OK, I will check on the borders, as you mentioned, and I will let you know. We should get an update on the humanitarian aspects of this pretty soon. You already had one today, but on that one part of the assistance to the displaced and the refugees. [She later said that only the Kenya-Somalia border was closed, while Somalia’s borders with its neighbours remain open.]
Question: In response to some criticism yesterday, in regard to the choice of the top-level officials, the Secretary-General said that their performance will be scrutinized very carefully at the end of the year. If he is not satisfied with their performance, what will happen?
Spokesperson: Well, I think, we’ll leave this for the Secretary-General to decide.
Question: What do you think about it? Would he fire them?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. We can ask him. I think he has a ways to go: they have to be nominated first, come, perform the functions and then there will be an appraisal and evaluation. How this will be done, we don’t have the specifics on that yet.
Question: Yesterday, the Human Rights Watch issued a report, about 515 pages detailing human rights violations around the world. They contend in that report that the United States is no longer fit to be called a mentor on human rights, because of long-term detentions and torture. They also contend that the European Union has failed to take up this mantle and they are calling on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take up this mantle of the human rights fight around the world. In your opinion, do you think the Secretary-General is willing to champion human rights and do away with political expediency and confront countries that abuse human rights?
Spokesperson: Don’t forget that we have a High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Question: But they are looking up to the Secretary-General to lead the way.
Spokesperson: Yes, I will let him know, which, I am sure, he is aware of.
Question: Recently, there have been some reports about the possibility of North Korea planning another nuclear test. I was just wondering, will the North Korean nuclear issue be on the agenda of the upcoming trip of the Secretary-General to Washington, D.C.? And also, could you elaborate on what leaders of United States Congress the Secretary-General will be meeting?
Spokesperson: We don’t have the complete plans –- they are not yet set in stone. And we’ll give you specific details on who he is going to meet by Monday. As for the nuclear issue, you heard the Secretary-General talk about it yesterday. I don’t have anything to add on this.
Question: Back to the question of categories of questions allowed yesterday. Geography is a very good thing and it really has to be honoured, but you ended up having five similar questions on Somalia, four similar questions on Iraq, four similar questions on Darfur. Now, would it be possible to think also from what you know of people in this room -- of their particular interest in subjects and diversify it in such a way that different kind of topics are brought forward in the amount of time at your disposal? Because otherwise, all that you are getting is just exactly the same questions from five different parts of the world, because this is, indeed, the question that ends up on the front page, but many other things of what the Secretary-General said yesterday that would have ended up on the front page also were not asked and were simply shoved under the rug. Among them was the question that the Secretary-General mentioned yesterday and did not get any coverage. And this morning, I already looked through the papers of the world. It was not because the thing was not said -– it was because the thing was not discussed.
Spokesperson: I want to point out that I never -– and I will never -– control what the journalists have to ask the Secretary-General. This is not part of my job. The journalists are free to ask questions on whatever topics they think are important. So about diversifying issues, I am sure we will get a chance… This is just the first press conference. I am hoping that we can diversify issues. I am all for it and I am sure the Secretary-General is for it, also. You did note that he talked about climate change, which, I know, is your particular interest. He talked about it in his opening statement. If it was not picked up during the question-answer period, it is not under my purview.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a stance on the deployment of more troops to Iraq?
Spokesperson: No, there has been no stance taken on that yet.
Question: But was there any discussion at the Secretary-General’s level of this issue, or is it something that he is leaving for the United States to discuss?
Spokesperson: Well, I think, he is waiting for this to come to him. I am sure it will be one of the issues that will be discussed in Washington.
Question: Yesterday, two journalists were allowed to ask two questions at the beginning. But that was not my issue here. I am asking again about Mr. Pellegrini’s report. Is he taking record of the Israeli overflights over Lebanon?
Spokesperson: I can assure you they take record of everything.
Question: But now they stopped reporting. There was a time when they were going to fire at the Israeli jets and there was total tension between the French and the Israelis, and then all of a sudden, this matter has been hushed totally, although we have records from the Lebanese army taking records almost every day, there are overflights, but it is totally ignored by the United Nations. Why is that?
Spokesperson: Well, you have asked me the same question twice. I think, as I told you -– and I repeat what I said earlier -– that we will ask more detailed information for you, if you want to, to get specific information. But I am sure what Mr. Pellegrini said is what he has in terms of information.
Question: I had a question last week about Walid Jumblatt and whether [Geir] Rederson is still talking to him after his threats to Bashar and calling for his assassination.
Spokesperson: Well, you did ask me that question –- I don’t have an answer for you yet.
Question: What is the Secretary-General’s position in general on preemptive war? Does he have a position on that? And specifically, is he concerned about the veiled threats that President Bush has made against Syria and Iran? Does he have a view on preemptive war in general and specifically, on the heating up of the situation with Iran?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he will comment on the situation right now. He is waiting to have more information on it and on how it is playing out -- more information also from the Iraqi Government and how they react to what is being proposed and suggested.
Question: The previous Secretary-General did speak against preemptive war, I believe. The Charter is pretty clear: you could take action when it is imminent -- you are about to be invaded, the troops are on the border, but not something that could happen in the future. Does he have a view on that?
Spokesperson: He has not expressed any yet.
Question: Just to follow up –- the Secretary-General yesterday echoed the words of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. However, I am asking whether the Secretary-General did state –- maybe I missed that –- that he is going to, as the Human Rights report requests him, to protect the autonomy of the High Commissioner, since this is of crucial importance.
Spokesperson: I am sure he will respect the High Commissioner’s autonomy.
Question: Since the Secretary-General has declined to send an investigative team to Beit Hanoun, as required by the General Assembly emergency session, can the Secretary-General elaborate, on the record, on his reasons not to comply with the resolution? Or could you ask him? I would have asked him myself, but I was one of those who raised their hands and didn’t get a chance. For documentation. I believe, a letter has been sent out by the Secretary-General that he will not be reporting to the General Assembly on the implementation of sending the fact-finding team. So, whatever documentation there is, can that be made available?
Spokesperson: I will enquire for you. [She later noted that Secretary-General Kofi Annan had written to the President of the General Assembly on 21 December to say he was not able to send a team to Beit Hanoun.]
Question: The Secretary-General met with the Syrian Ambassador today. Can you tell us who requested the meeting and whether they discussed the investigation and the work of investigator [Serge] Brammertz?
Spokesperson: The Ambassador requested the meeting today. It was a courtesy call.
Question: The United Nations launched a $60 million appeal to help the displaced Iraqis. Could you tell us please who is in charge of this appeal and what is the outcome of it, so far?
Spokesperson: We will find out more about it for you.
Question: Could I put on the record a request? If the new Deputy Secretary-General-designate is going to be here on Monday, could we get a chance to talk to her?
Spokesperson: Not yet. I think, she wants first to be aware of her job, be aware of what it entails and… get acquainted with the Secretariat. I think she would prefer to wait until she is actually formally appointed as Deputy Secretary-General, which will happen, as I said, the first week in February.
Thank you, all.
Question: Just to follow up on that. So that’s to say that she is not aware of what her job is now.
Spokesperson: Well, she is aware of what her job is now, but she does not have all the background information on every single thing that pertains to her responsibilities. She has her job description -– don’t worry.
* *** *For information media • not an official record