|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all. Joining us today at the briefing will be the newly elected president of ECOSOC, Ambassador Dalius Cekuolis of Lithuania, who will outline the Economic and Social Council’s goals for 2007 a few minutes after the briefing.
As you know, the Secretary-General will be participating next week in the International Conference on Support for reconstruction and development of Lebanon, a conference that will be hosted in Paris by President Jacques Chirac.
It is expected that the Government of Lebanon will present at the conference a new economic reform programme, which would include post-conflict reconstruction as well as economic recovery and reforms, to address Lebanon’s debt sustainability problem and restore the foundations for sustained growth.
Mr. Ban’s first stop, before the Paris Conference will be Brussels, where he will meet officials of the European Community and the head of the European parliament, as well as the King and the Prime Minister of Belgium.
From Europe, as the Secretary-General himself announced to you at his press conference, he plans to travel to Africa. His first stop is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the UN's largest peacekeeping operation is based. The Secretary-General said he will meet with peacekeepers and express his personal gratitude for the contributions they are making under difficult and often dangerous conditions in a country that is key to so much of the future stability of the region.
He will then attend the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where he has told you that Darfur and Somalia will be at the top of his agenda.
His last stop in Africa is Nairobi, where he will meet with staff at the UN's headquarters on the continent.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, was in Mogadishu earlier today for wide-ranging consultations on challenges to peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia. Fall met with President Abdullahi Yusuf and later with representatives of civil society. He said the situation now presents a rare opportunity for the Transitional Federal Government to exert its authority and enhance its credibility with the Somali people.
He urged the Government to establish an effective administration at the district and regional levels and to avoid reinstating the warlords. Fall also noted that Ethiopia was willing to withdraw its troops and that the regional bloc, IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development], had signalled the readiness of several African countries to deploy peacekeeping troops to Somalia. We have upstairs a press release on that from Fall’s office.
Meanwhile, UN agencies are continuing to distribute food and supplies to internally displaced Somalis at the Kenya-Somalia border.
On Chad, the World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday carried out its first emergency airlift from its new logistics hub in Accra, Ghana, sending urgently needed relief supplies to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.
Those supplies – consisting of 26 tons of high-energy biscuits and three mobile storage tents – will be taken overland tonight to Abeche, in eastern Chad, where WFP is providing support to over 220,000 refugees from Darfur and some 57,000 displaced Chadians. We have more on that in my office.
Also, I know that a number of you were very interested yesterday in having more information about the technical assessment mission that will go to Chad and the Central African Republic, starting this coming weekend.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about that mission, a senior UN official will be available to brief you, on background, this afternoon at 4:30. I can give you more details afterwards.
Today’s update from the UN Mission in Sudan contains a report on recent tribal fighting in South Darfur that resulted in casualties, as well as civilian displacements in West Darfur.
The Mission reports that a joint team consisting of the UN, NGOs and the Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Commission representatives carried out an assessment mission this week to a site of recent fighting over the past several weeks in South Darfur. The team reported that the violence led to more than 150 deaths and the burning of 12 villages, displacing an undisclosed number of people fleeing to nearby villages and towns.
Meanwhile, the Mission reports more than 700 families fleeing violence and harassment in West Darfur. Details are in today’s bulletin from Darfur.
The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council, in a letter, of his intention to appoint Major General Claudio Graziano of Italy as the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Graziano would replace Major General Alain Pellegrini of France, whose term expires on 17 February.
The Secretary-General also informed the Council that he intends to appoint Major General Wolfgang Jilke of Austria as the Force Commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights. Jilke would replace Major General Bala Nanda Sharma of India, whose term expires this month.
The Security Council is considering its replies to those two letters. We expect to have the relevant bios upstairs.
Then, a book launch: The first comprehensive examination of the issues and politics surrounding the topic of NGO accountability will be taken on by a new UN book, out tomorrow. As part of the book launch, a panel discussion will be held on the theme ‘The NGO Accountability Debate’ at 10:00 am on Friday, tomorrow, in Conference Room 4.
The book, entitled Debating NGO Accountability, and published by the United Nations Non-governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), examines initiatives that could improve the accountability of all institutions to the people whose lives they shape. Copies of the book and a press release will be distributed to the UN press corps.
This is all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: A couple of peacekeeping questions. Is the Secretary-General disappointed that no nation, aside from Bangladesh, pledged to contribute anything to phase II –- the heavy support package -– of the Darfur mission plan? And, on Somalia, Mr. Fall…and I don’t know if this is accurate or not…but he was quoted in a report I saw that it was the UN not just the AU [African Union] that would be soon coming to Somalia. Does this reflect policy on the 38th floor?
Spokesperson: On Somalia, we don’t yet have a decision on that…
Question: I was just wondering what Mr. Fall’s comment then might have related to?
Spokesperson: He was probably referring to the logistical support that has been granted. But I have to say on that count that one of the objectives of the Secretary-General’s participation in the AU Summit is to really garner support. That is one of the reasons why he will be holding so may bilateral meetings in Addis Ababa.
Question: And on the lack of any country’s offering to contribute to phase II of the Darfur mission apart from Bangladesh?
Spokesperson: We are hoping that will change. And this is another reason for those bilaterals.
Question: I wanted to ask you, what is the procedure if a complaint is lodged against a UN agency such as the World Food Programme (WFP)? The reason I’m asking is that that were a number of reports earlier this week that the Red Crescents operating in Western Sahara had accused the WFP of withholding funds that they had received from the Spanish Government to send over badly needed food aid. So I just wanted to know, not only for this case but for the future, what’s the procedure? Is there an inquiry process?
Spokesperson: I will inquire for you what the process is.
Question: Congratulations on your appointment. Regarding Major General Claudio Graziano, he will be the head of UNIFIL starting 17 February. What is the length of his mandate?
Spokesperson: I don’t know how long it will be. It was not specified, but I can ask.
[She later added that Force Commander’s terms were for three years.]
Question: Do you know how many soldiers are on the ground there?
Spokesperson: I’m sure we have that information and I will get it to you.
[She later added that UNIFIL currently had more than 11,500 troops.]
Question: There are indications that in the framework of restructuring that the Secretary-General is proposing that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations be divided into two separate parts –- planning and operational. Can you confirm or deny that?
Spokesperson: Well, I can only say that there is a restructuring project being discussed right now, and, as I’ve said before in this room, there are consultations underway among Member States on the issue of the structure of certain departments. Bilateral contacts are being made with Member States to get their input on this.
Question: When the Secretary-General says that some of the proposals recommended by former US Ambassador John Bolton were good suggestions that should be taken into consideration, what does he mean? What suggestion is he talking about?
Spokesperson: I will ask him.
Question: Can you update us on the letter the Russians are preparing for the Security Council on Mr. [Serge] Brammertz, because we have heard that technical consultations have started on it? And is there any intention to present in to the Security Council…
Spokesperson: Yes, I assume so, but I don’t have any recent details on it. I will try to get an update.
[She later added that there was no change. Security Council members continued to discuss the matter.]
Question: Just a follow-up on the restructuring question. Is it correct that the Secretary-General has essentially abandoned the idea, under pressure form the “G-77’, of merging the Department of Political Affairs and the Department for Disarmament Affairs?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he has abandoned anything right now. As I said, consultations are taking place, and aside from the “Group of 77” he is meeting with a number of other groups on the subject.
Question: And also the Chief of Staff is meeting the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) this morning, right? Is he briefing them on these restructuring ideas? Is it possible to get a readout on what that briefing is?
Spokesperson: I will try to get if for you. I think it is just an internal discussion. As you know, the Secretary-General has on his plate a number of issues that he is examining with policy officers in the United Nations, and they are examining those issues.
Question: A follow-up on that: Is the Chief of Staff serving as a liaison between the G-77 and the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General himself is also having direct talks with some Member countries, so this is an effort on the part of his team.
Question: I believe you were in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Did you hear any talk about appointments at the United Nations?
Spokesperson: No. That was not discussed.
Question: Does the fact that the discussions are ongoing on the restructuring of departments at the United Nations mean that appointments to various posts will be put on hold? Should we not expect any more appointments until all that is sorted out?
Spokesperson: You cannot expect any appointments until that is sorted out, yes. That’s the answer.
Question: The Secretary-General has said that he is pushing for a meeting of the Quartet and yesterday there were reports that it would be held at the beginning of next month. Do you have any information on that?
Spokesperson: Well, we expect it to be held at the beginning of February.
Question: In Washington?
Spokesperson: Probably in Washington, yes. As soon as we have confirmation from everyone you’ll be the first ones to know.
Question: Is February 2nd the date?
Spokesperson: It probably will be, but I think there was one confirmation still outstanding.
Question: On the question of restructuring. Has the Secretary-General said why he thinks it would be a good idea to merge Disarmament and Political Affairs? Is he going to make that case, or is he just going to see whether Member States are going to support the idea?
Spokesperson: I think he is going to make that case and try to convince…
Question: Can you say what methods he will use to convince..?
Spokesperson: Well, I was not personally part of the consultation process, so I don’t know what was discussed or what has changed. You will know more about it pretty soon because there will be a decision taken on that.
Question: Ok. One more question. Representative [Joaquim Alberto] Chissano is in Northern Uganda and there are reports now that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is…well, its own forces are saying that it is back at war. Has Mr. Chissano had anything to say about this? Has he received this letter from the LRA asking to move the negotiations out of Sudan to South Africa or elsewhere?
Spokesperson: We will check with Mr. Chissano.
Question: Going back to the White House meeting, did the subject of global warming come up? I know it came up at the CSIS [Center for Strategic and International Studies], but at the White House, did it come up?
Spokesperson: Yes. It was evoked by the Secretary-General.
Question: Was there any possibility for further…
Spokesperson: Nothing concrete. The Secretary-General was just expressing his concerns, and one of those concerns is climate change.
Question: But nothing in terms of moving towards a summit?
Spokesperson: No. That was not discussed.
Question: What about Iran or possible US intentions militarily towards Iran? Did that come up?
Spokesperson: No. Not that I know of. Not in terms of specific intentions.
Question: What was discussed about Iran? Can you tell us?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot tell you what was discussed. I can tell you that the subject came up. Not in specific terms, but in general terms.
Question: Just about the nuclear enrichment programme or other matters.
Spokesperson: Mostly about…other matters.
Question: First of all, compliments to the Secretary-General. Once he brought about the subject of global warming the temperature dropped to twenty degrees…
Spokesperson: Works pretty fast doesn’t it?
Question: Secondly, in addition to the disarmament unit, there is also talk about abolishing the fairly new Peacebuilding Office, which has just barely started to function. Does Mr. Ban see that Office as a disappointment? It was touted as one of the major successes of Kofi Annan’s reform agenda.
Spokesperson: I don’t know how far the process will go or how many groups and departments would be affected by the restructuring. But as I said, you will be the first ones to know.
Question: But that Office was created only in 2006, and, I mean…
Spokesperson: I don’t think that Office will go away.
Question: You don’t think it will go away?
Question: But do you think it will continue to function as a separate unit?
Spokesperson: We will see how it will function. And I have some additional information for you I have just received regarding the Quartet. The [ US] State Department has announced [the meeting] for February 2nd in Washington, D.C. The Secretary-General says that he plans to be there. So we expect him to be in Washington at that time.
Question: Did anybody mention Kosovo during the meeting at the White House?
Spokesperson: Yes, Kosovo was evoked.
Question: In what terms?
Spokesperson: I cannot say.
Question: How long did they discuss Kosovo?
Spokesperson: Not very long. It was not an essential part of the discussion.
Question: Who brought up the issue?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General.
Question: And did President Bush respond with enthusiasm?
Spokesperson: No, I cannot say so. I cannot say how he responded. I can only tell you that it was discussed. That is as far as I will go.
Question: Did the Secretary-General mention anything in his talks with President Bush about direct talks between Iran and the United States?
Spokesperson: No, that was not discussed in specific terms, no.
Question: I wondered if when the Secretary-General was at the White House was there talk about the US sending more troops or increasing the number of troops [in Iraq]?
Spokesperson: Not directly, no. And I have to say that you are all asking me about the Secretary-General and Mr. Bush, but there were also meetings with a number of leaders of the new Congress, and I’m hearing absolutely no questions about that. And issues such as Kosovo, climate change and the Millennium Development Goals were evoked. So I think we should see the larger…see the trip to Washington as not just a visit with the President of the United States, but also with Congressional leaders – you know we have a new Congress in Washington – to discuss issues and concerns about the UN. And the meeting was to discuss UN-US relationships.
Question: Okay Michèle, in that light, was the Secretary-General encouraged or discouraged that the question of the Western Balkans, including Kosovo, will finally be solved, as planned, before next month?
Spokesperson: I said there were no discussions in specific terms.
Question: Was the issue of involving Iran in efforts to bring stability to Iraq discussed at all?
Spokesperson: No it was not evoked.
Question: Just a follow-up on climate change: so they didn’t raise the issue of holding a summit? Following the appeal by Yvo de Boer or and others, is there any work at any level in the Secretariat about holding a summit to work on a post 2012 framework?
Spokesperson: Well it has been discussed, but no decision has been taken yet.
Question: Who has it been discussed between?
Spokesperson: At this point, within the staff.
Question: Which staff?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General’s staff.
Question: On the 38th floor? Has he discussed this with Mr. [Achim] Steiner?
Spokesperson: Not yet. But we do know that he will meet with Mr. Steiner when he goes to Nairobi.
And by the way I wanted to add, on the DRC visit, in addition to visiting MONUC –- in the DRC, Kinshasa and Kisangani – the Secretary-General has also said he would like to have a dialogue with the President of the DRC to continue the democratization process and to realize political and social stability as soon as possible.
Question: When is the report of [Security Council resolution] 1701 coming out? It’s supposed to be due this month.
Spokesperson: I will check the date for you. I think we have a guest with us today, so if you have one last question?
Question: Based on what you just said on the DRC, I just wanted to ask…Jan Egeland, the outgoing head of the OCHA, had a lot of dialogues with the President of the DRC about eliminating rape as a weapon and bringing Government officials to justice for that. President [Joseph] Kabila said that he would be working on this if he was elected, and he was. So is that going to be part of the Secretary-General’s discussion when he goes to the DRC?
Spokesperson: I have no doubt that the subject will come up.
Question: But is it going to be in general terms, or..?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know. We are not yet there, and there isn’t a specific agenda yet for that meeting. But the meeting between the two will take place. And as you know, the Secretary-General is very aware of the need to stress a “zero tolerance” policy among the troops. Last one, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Apart from the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet, who have already been appointed, what new faces have appeared on the 38th floor as advisers to the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think there are any new faces, for the time being. There are people who have been previously involved in decision-making in the house still around and working with the Secretary-General. Don’t forget that when the Secretary-General was proposing changes and reform, he said he also wanted continuity.
Ok. That’s all I have for you today. I would invite now the newly elected President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Dalius Cekuolis of Lithuania, who will outline the Economic and Social Council’s goals for 2007.
* *** *For information media • not an official record