|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.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
“The Secretary-General welcomes reports of active preparations for the next round of the six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He is encouraged in particular by the recent positive discussions in Berlin between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and United States negotiators. As consultations continue with other countries participating in the six-party talks, the Secretary-General calls on all involved to redouble their efforts toward implementation of the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005.”
**United Nations Funds and Programme
And another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:
“Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met today with Under-Secretary-General Ad Melkert, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Associate Administrator, on the issue of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“The Secretary-General will call for an urgent, system-wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the UN funds and programmes.”
**UN Staff Mobility
On the question of mobility, in a letter to the staff, to be published shortly on I-seek -- our internal Web portal -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be circulating a number of positions in his own Office to promote mobility in the UN system. Twelve positions are being circulated, from the P-2 to the D-2 level, and UN staff members can, during a ten-day period, express their interest for any of these positions.
In his letter to the staff, the Secretary-General writes, “As I undertake these efforts to lead by example, I look to all senior managers to follow suit and promote mobility among their staff, beyond the requirements of managed mobility.”
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Francois Lonsény Fall, is today taking part in a meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa.
The Council is expected to consider the situation in Somalia and discuss the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1725, which authorizes the creation of a protection force and training mission to help protect Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions.
The new force is to be set up by the African Union and the East African regional bloc IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development].
** C ôte d’Ivoire
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, is today in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to take part in a one-day summit on the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.
The summit was called by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to study ways to move forward the peace process in Cote d’Ivoire and the implementation of Security Council resolutions concerning that country. And, we will have an update from Ould-Abdallah’s office.
The UN Integrated Office in Burundi today welcomed the recent Supreme Court ruling acquitting former president Domitien Ndayizeye and four other high-ranking officials of an attempted coup d’état. The Court ruling also requested the immediate release from prison of the five accused, some of whom have been held since August 2006. And we have more on this upstairs.
The UN Mission in Liberia has requested the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to conduct an immediate investigation, following the Mission’s receipt of information suggesting that some of its personnel have been involved in sexual exploitation and abuse.
The UN is deeply concerned by this development and wishes to reiterate its determination to take action against any of its personnel who are found to have committed any act of sexual exploitation or abuse.
The Security Council has agreed on which members will serve as the chairmen and vice- chairmen of its subsidiary bodies, including its sanctions committees, for 2007. The full list of the heads of Council subsidiary bodies is out on the racks today, as a note by the President of the Security Council.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. This is her second visit to the country, and she is there to show support for the peace process. She affirmed that her office will continue to work with all the people of Nepal to ensure that the protection and promotion of human rights remain at the centre of that process.
Arbour will make two trips outside Kathmandu before 25 January, at which point she will head to Japan. We have more on that upstairs also.
UN agencies are helping the Government of Bangladesh to respond to a recent cold wave that has hit that country. For its part, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a cash grant of $50,000, to provide warm clothes in the affected areas.
UNHCR, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, reports that several thousand Sri Lankans in Vaharai, a pocket of rebel-held land on Sri Lanka’s east coast, have started to move south towards government-controlled areas. They are reportedly fleeing intensified fighting as government forces advance on rebel positions.
UNHCR has expressed concerned about the safety of any civilians remaining in Vaharai, as well as those in other conflict-ridden areas. The agency calls on both sides to respect international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and their freedom of movement.
In related news, UNHCR is opening two more field offices in Colombia, to help cope with the humanitarian crisis facing some three million people displaced by violence there. We have more on those items upstairs.
**World Food Programme
The World Food Programme (WFP) will begin distributing emergency aid this week to around 100,000 people in food-insecure and drought-hit parts of southern Madagascar, following a donation from the United States Government.
In Cambodia, however, WFP is warning that, beginning next month, more than 700,000 hungry Cambodians – mostly young children and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients – will not receive essential food aid. And the situation is likely to worsen unless new donations are received soon. We have press releases on both those items in my Office.
Measles deaths have fallen by 60 per cent worldwide since 1999 – a major public health success. This exceeds the UN’s goal of cutting measles-related deaths by half between 1999 and 2005, and is largely due to an unprecedented decline in measles deaths in Africa. The progress was announced today by partners in the Measles Initiative, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Foundation. We have a press release on that in my Office.
I have one correction to make. I said yesterday that the outgoing Force Commander for the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF), Major General Bala Nanda Sharma, came from India. He is from Nepal. I apologize for the error.
I also have a note from UNCA. All UNCA members re reminded to change their press passes to the new digitalized version. The deadline is 31 January.
This is all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Could you clarify the statement that the Secretary-General made after meeting Mr. Melkert? I think you said that he called for an urgent audit by UN funds and programmes. Is that an external audit or an internal audit?
Spokesperson: He called for an external audit.
Question: Does that apply just to UNDP or does it apply, for instance to UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNHCR or the World Food Programme (WFP)..?
Spokesperson: It will apply to all.
Question: All the agencies?
Spokesperson: Yes. It will not be carried out overnight, but it does apply to all of them.
Question: A follow-up to that. This arose at the press conference earlier. Currently, while the Secretariat makes copies of its internal audits available to Member States if they ask for it, but at UNDP -- as the article that came out today shows – when Member States asks for a copy of an audit, they don’t get it. So, I’m wondering if Ban Ki-moon has a position on whether the UN system as a whole should have a consistent policy concerning the disclosure of audits?
Spokesperson: Well, you have the UNDP position on what they are doing. And, as I said, the Secretary-General is initiating…asking for an audit and it will be done. But I don’t think he has a precise opinion of differences in operating procedures, which are determined by the agencies themselves.
Question: On the termination letters, has [UNDP Administrator] Kemal Dervis turned in a termination letter?
Spokesperson: I don’t know.
[She later added that Dervis is not one of the officials whose resignation has been requested, since his mandate is governed not just by the Secretary-General, but by the General Assembly as well.]
Question: Another question on the statement: Does it concern only UN activities in North Korea?
Spokesperson: No, worldwide. So, as I said, this is not going to take place overnight. It will be a huge…
Question: But why is he reluctant to just focus on North Korea. Isn’t that the immediate concern? Wouldn’t that expedite things to just look at DPRK?
Spokesperson: Well, he is going to first start with the issue at hand, of course.
Question: Do you have a readout of the meeting between the Israeli Ambassador and the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t. But I can try to find out more about it for you.
Question: Well, there are press reports saying they discussed Iran’s nuclear programme and I was wondering if they went beyond that and discussed the denuclearization of the Middle East?
Spokesperson: I do not know. I’ll try to find out for you.
Question: Is the text of the Secretary-General’s letter on staff mobility available?
Spokesperson: The text will be on I-seek, our internal Web portal, and it will certainly be available to all of you.
Question: Also, was the letter prepared independently or in consultation with staff leaders?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has discretion regarding his staff -- and this project is starting with his own staff. But, of course, the process will be carried through with the help of the United Nations Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM).
Question: The Secretary-General has expressed support for the Lebanese Government regarding the upcoming Paris conference. Is he doing anything regarding Lebanese reconciliation, especially since some 50 per cent of the population is not represented by what is considered by some at least, to be an illegal Government?
Spokesperson: Well, he will certainly be discussing issues around the whole reconstruction process, as well as the political situation with the people who will be in Paris. And he has, as you know, a representative, Mr. [Geir] Pedersen, who is leading consultations with different people. Also, Mr. Pedersen will be at the Paris meeting.
Question: But I was wondering if he was having discussions with the Government, because of the controversy surrounding its illegality and unconstitutionality? Did he raise anything of that sort with [Prime Minister Faud] Sinora, for example, that before [ Lebanon] gets aid from the international community, it must see more transparency and democracy in Lebanon?
Spokesperson: The conference is next week. We’ll know then.
Question: But is he raising it with Mr. Sinora..?
Spokesperson: We’ll know then when he sees Mr. Sinora, and I’ll let you know.
Question: I mean Mr. Pedersen. Is he raising that issue?
Spokesperson: We’ll ask him. He will be there, along with a number of your colleagues who will accompany the Secretary-General on this trip.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the Chinese arms test?
Spokesperson: Yes. He has taken note of the news reports on this development. But although the United Nations supported the 1967 Outer Space Treaty -– officially known as the Treaty On Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, that’s the full title –- and although the UN was the forum for the discussions leading to its adoption, the Secretary-General is not the depositary of that Treaty. This matter should be taken up by the depositaries, which in this case are the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Question: But has he condemned the test?
Spokesperson: He hasn’t taken any position on it, and I think the relevant people should be contacted first.
Question: Michèle, can you tell us something about Ban Ki-moon meeting with the Australian Foreign Minister?
Spokesperson: We don’t have a readout on that yet, but…
Question: I’m not asking for a readout. I just looked at his daily programme and it’s not listed there. Is this a secret event?
Spokesperson: There’s no secret. If it’s not there, then…
Question: I’m just looking at his daily programme of meetings and it’s not there…
Spokesperson: Which one?
Question: That he is apparently meeting with the Australian Foreign Minister, who has scheduled a news conference later today on that meeting.
Spokesperson: Ok. I will find out for you why it’s not there and if it is taking place, I will check.
[She later said this was a private luncheon organized by the Australian Mission to the UN.]
Question: On Kosovo, with the Serbian elections coming up there’s some (inaudible) about where and when Martti Ahtisaari will release his final status proposals. There’s supposed to be a Contact Group meeting…there’s some controversy about whether it will take place on the 26th in Vienna. Do you know when he’s going to release his much-expected status proposals?
Spokesperson: It will certainly be after the 23rd. And, as you know, Mr. Ahtisaari is meeting the Secretary-General in Paris.
Question: Two questions. Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei has said he feels strongly that Iran should be encouraged to negotiate, and that he needs people to reach out. The Secretary-General spoke about the sanctions on Iran and the enrichment programme. Well, I guess I have a question…there is a dispute about whether enrichment itself is against the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran says it isn’t. The Security Council says it is. And the Secretary-General seemed to take a position or to say that it is. Is there a…
Spokesperson: As far as I know the Secretary-General has not taken a position on that. He has confirmed his previous position and, in his different statements, he has said that he thinks there should be consultations and discussion around the issue.
Question: Well, ElBaradei says that the sanctions are not a way to help the discussions, so I’m just wondering if the Secretary-General has a position on it to encourage this. The second question I have is on the film Vision of a Secretary-General shown last night at Dag Hammarskjold? I heard that the Secretary-General did see the film. Could you confirm if that’s true and whether he has any comments if he did see it?
Spokesperson: Yes he did see it. He wanted very much to be part of the event. As you know, he was there incognito – I can say it now – he just went down to see the film. It was important to him and that’s really all I can say. I didn’t talk to him after.
Question: Can you ask him and let me know?
Spokesperson: What he thought of the film? Of course.
Question: It’s been nearly a week now since the abduction of the five Iranian diplomats by American forces in Iraq. Has the United Nations done anything or inquired at all about them or consult with the American Government about their release?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Nothing at all?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of. I will ask. I don’t know.
[She later added that the UN’s involvement had not been requested.]
Question: The Secretary-General will soon be visiting the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo], will he be carrying any specific proposals or will he be making any specific suggestions to President [Joseph] Kabila?
Spokesperson: Well, he will essentially be visiting a country, where, after 40 years, we have successful elections, and a country where the UN is involved more that anywhere else. As you know, we have thousands of troops in the DRC. We still have pockets of problems within the country, but a political solution has been brought about with the elections. So he is going to visit the troops there, the UN personnel. There has been a huge effort on the part of UN personnel in the DRC and I think he wants first to meet them. And he will also meet President Kabila, but I don’t know if he has a specific message for him yet.
Question: There’s a story out by our colleague Edie Lederer that it’s been decided that the Department of Disarmament will not be merged into DPA [Department of Political Affairs], but maybe downgraded from a USG (Under-Secretary-General) to an ASG (Assistant Secretary-General] position. Can you confirm that? Do you have any comment on the article?
Spokesperson: The restructuring project has not been abandoned. Edie said it, and it’s true, that there were consultations with the Non-Aligned Movement. Those consultations took place several times during the last few days. Restructuring is still pretty much part of the agenda. It is still being discussed and no decisions have been taken yet.
Question: On the Iran nuclear issue. You have seen that the Iranian Government has protested the remarks the Secretary-General made in Washington about Iran’s nuclear programme. Do you want to clarify his position?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot clarify it. The Secretary-General’s position is clear; it’s there, he said it. You can look at the record. About the protest from the Iranian authorities, I haven’t seen that yet. It hasn’t been officially transmitted so I don’t know whether it was just a press statement or whether it was a formal letter.
Question: It was from a briefing in Tehran.
Spokesperson: A briefing? Not from a letter to the Secretary-General?
Question: Oh, I don’t know.
Spokesperson: Ok. Well, we’ll have to check on that.
Question: On the appointment process. Now that 60 or so UN officials have presumably turned in their resignations, as the Secretary-General had requested, is it generally understood or assumed that he is going to make announcements concerning new appointments in one big wave?
Spokesperson: Yes, probably.
Question: What is the timeline for that?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the issues concerning the restructuring of some departments have to be settled first before you get all the names. And it won’t be done until he returns from his trip to Africa and the Quartet meeting, which is going to be the 2nd of February.
Question: So sometime in February is what you’re looking at right now?
Spokesperson: Yes, it should be sometime in February, but I cannot give you a deadline right now.
Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record