22 January 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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.


**UN System-wide Review


The Secretary-General met this morning with the representatives of UN funds and programmes to follow up on his announcement last Friday to call for an extensive review of their operations.


As Chairman of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), he has decided to propose that the first review should focus on operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


The Board of Auditors will be requested, through the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), to undertake an overall risk assessment and audit of operations of the United Nations and its Funds and Programmes in countries where issues of hard currency transactions, independence of staff hiring and access to reviewing local projects, are pertinent. Should the CEB and the Board of Auditors accept this proposal, action would be undertaken in stages with the first report, which would focus on the operations in the Democratic Republic of Korea, to be completed by the Board of Auditors within a three-month time-frame. The report should be submitted to the second resumed 61st session of the General Assembly.


As the issues concern not only the United Nations, its Funds and Programmes, but also the specialized agencies, the Secretary-General intends, as Chairman of the CEB, to also seek the cooperation of the Panel of External Auditors, to provide their inputs to the CEB on system-wide aspects of the same set of issues to be reviewed by the Board of Auditors. It is anticipated that the resulting report from the Panel of Auditors would be available to the General Assembly at its sixty-second session.


We have copies of the full statement with more details, upstairs, including on the terms of reference for the system-wide inquiry and the framework.


**Staff Mobility


The Secretary-General, as you know, met today with Heads of Funds and Programmes to discuss the need to ensure staff mobility between the Funds and Programmes and the Secretariat, as a way to give real meaning to the concept of a truly mobile, multi-functional staff, serving one UN family, system-wide.


The Secretary-General told the Executive Heads he has decided to open a number of positions in his own Office to expressions of interest from staff in all Funds and Programmes, in addition to Secretariat staff. He hoped the Funds and Programmes would respond with reciprocity to this initiative.

The Executive Heads welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative, and promised to respond in a reciprocal manner by examining ways to open positions in Funds and Programmes to Secretariat staff. We have more on this also upstairs.


** Guinea


“The Secretary-General is gravely concerned at the excessive use of force resulting in the loss of life in clashes in Guinea. He expresses his condolences to the aggrieved families and to the people of Guinea as a whole. He strongly urges the Government to carry out investigations into the killings with a view to bringing those responsible to justice, including members of the security forces, and to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of all citizens throughout the country.


“The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Guinea to exercise maximum restraint on its security forces, and urges the parties to engage in dialogue in order to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute.


“The Secretary-General hopes that the planned Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders’ visit to Guinea will take place as a matter of urgency.”


As you know, we also issued a statement last Saturday.


** Sudan


The UN Mission in Sudan reports that it is investigating an incident that occurred last Friday, during which local Sudanese police and security officials raided an international non-governmental organization’s compound in South Darfur. Twenty people, including five UN staff members, were arrested.


The UN Mission expressed deep concern at the treatment of the detained staff, noting that they and others were subjected to physical assault and verbal abuse by the police. The staff members have been released, but the UN will officially protest the assault to the Government of Sudan.


**Security Council


The Security Council has scheduled consultations at 4:00 this afternoon on Nepal. Council members will discuss the text of a draft resolution on Nepal, which they have been working on since receiving the Secretary-General’s report earlier this month, which recommends that a UN Mission in Nepal should be established for a 12-month period.


** Liberia


[A 15-member advance team of the Indian Female Formed Police Unit has arrived in Monrovia. That advance team is not comprised entirely of women, although it is led by the woman who will command the Indian police unit in Liberia.


Eventually there will be a one-hundred-and-twenty-five-member Formed Police Unit.


The full contingent, which has just completed an extensive training programme, is expected to arrive early next month. These women will make up the first all-female unit ever deployed with a United Nations peacekeeping operation.]

At the end of 2006, there were some eight thousand and forty UN police serving worldwide, but only about 450 were women, or roughly four per cent.


**Conference on Disarmament


The Conference on Disarmament is starting its 2007 session in Geneva today.


In a message to the Conference, the Secretary-General says that we must prevent any expansion of nuclear arsenals, and accelerate the reduction of existing weapons stockpiles.


He also notes that world military spending has now risen to over $1.2 trillion. He says that even if 1 per cent of that sum were redirected towards development, the world would be much closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We have the Secretary-General’s full message available in my office.


** Bolivia


The UN is helping the Government of Bolivia to respond to recent floods and landslides in that country. The World Food Programme (WFP) has already distributed food aid to survivors in parts of southern and central Bolivia.  According to UN agencies, some 8,000 families have been affected by the floods.


**World Health Organization


The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 120th Executive Board session starts today in Geneva and will last until 30 January.


In an address to the Board this morning, WHO head, Margaret Chan, said that, with respect to bird flu, we must not let down our guard. As long as the virus continues to circulate in birds, the threat of a pandemic will persist, she added. We have her full statement upstairs.


**United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


Following the press briefing by Associate Administrator of UNDP, Ad Melkert, on Friday, I know some of you had additional questions on the size of UNDP’s operations in DPRK, how funding was accounted for, and some other issues. David Morrison, the Director of Communications at UNDP, is sitting in the back of the room and will be available to answer your questions after the briefing.  There is also an information sheet detailing the program available on the table here and on the main page of UNDP’s Web site, which is www.UNDP.org.


This is all for today. Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question: One follow-up and one question. Regarding the inquiry, what other countries apart from the DPRK will be covered?


Spokesperson: It had not been decided yet. There is a whole set of criteria, which you can find in our statement upstairs.


Question: So it’s going to be all the agencies.


Spokesperson: Yes, but, as was underlined earlier, it will be countries where issues of hard currency transactions, independence of staff hiring, and access to reviewing local projects…that would be the questioning priority. 


Question: My other question is on Iran. First of all there’s been a series of statements over the weekend -– Iran rejecting the Security Council resolution and so forth –- and there was also a letter, I understand, to the Secretary-General on the issue of the diplomats in Iraq. Does the Secretary-General have a response to the statements coming from Iran on either of those issues?


Spokesperson: I can confirm that he has received the letter and that it has been circulated to the General Assembly.


Question:  Will he do anything about it or make any statements?


Spokesperson: He will await the reaction of the Member Countries on this.


Question: Since the Secretary-General said that he will await, along with the wider international community, the results of the Serbian elections to proceed with the process on final status talks on Kosovo, what are his reactions, if any, following the completion of elections in Serbia yesterday?


Spokesperson: Well, he is consulting with Mr. [Martti] Ahtisaari, and, as you know, he is to meet with Mr. Ahtisaari on Thursday, so they will discuss this further. Mr. Ahtisaari is proposing a plan of dialogue to the different parties in Serbia, so we should have more on this pretty soon.


Question: Has the Secretary-General been briefed or has he talked with you to exchange any thoughts on yesterday’s Serbian elections?


Spokesperson: No he hasn’t. But he has certainly been briefed about it.


Question: Two things: on Iran, has the IAEA been officially informed concerning Iran’s announced decision to bar, I believe, 38 inspectors? Do they have any response to that? And two, there were some reports of a violation of the ceasefire in Sudan that had been negotiated by the [ US] New Mexico Governor. Does the UN have any independent report of that alleged violation?


Spokesperson: We’ve got press reports on it. We don’t have any confirmation, on your last question. The first one, on Iran, here, the Secretary-General, as I said, has just sent the letter he received to the General Assembly.


Question: There have been some reports and television footage showing a tunnel being dug under the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This is an historical and sacred place for everybody and the dig is jeopardizing the structure itself. Is the Secretary-General or the United Nations doing anything to monitor this? The possible repercussions form ruining such a sacred place will lead to a lot of insecurity in the area, I believe. Is the United Nations following up on this?  


Spokesperson: Not that I know of, but I will inquire for you.


Question: Considering the Secretary-General’s trip to Paris for the Lebanon meeting, does he have any comment on the internal debate going on in Lebanon, which might weaken the outcome of the conference itself?


Spokesperson: Well, at the time, he is receiving all the reports on the situation. At any rate, he will be there in Paris, and the conference will go on.


Question: Two questions. One, has an entity been chosen to conduct the outside investigation of UNDP?


Spokesperson: Well, you know that an External Board of Auditors that already exists…


Question: Will that be the only one, or will it be a firm like KPMG, or…


Spokesperson: In the case of UNDP, as you know, the lead auditor is South Africa. And the Board of Auditors at the UN is chaired by the French Supreme Audit Institution and includes the South African and the Philippines Auditors-General. They will be the ones taking care of this. The Panel of External Auditors is chaired by Canada, and it includes eight members, all of which are the Auditors-General or equivalent supreme audit institution of their respective countries: Canada, South Africa, Germany, France, India, Philippines, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 


Question: Now, on Lebanon, the Secretary-General currently has, I guess leftover from the last administration, at least three advisors that deal directly with Lebanon: [Geir] Pedersen in Beirut; [Terje] Roed-Larsen on 1707; and Alvaro de Soto on the Middle East. Are all three going to go with him to Paris or…


Spokesperson: Mr. Pedersen will be in Paris.


Question:  Only Mr. Pedersen?


Spokesperson: I don’t know whether the others will be there, but I’ll ask for you.


Question: If the external audit finds some type of irregularity or wrongdoing in the UN’s North Korean projects, do you think the Secretary-General will advise any agencies like UNDP to leave North Korea in the near future.


Spokesperson: Well, in this case, it would not be the Secretary-General that would be doing that. The Secretary-General has instigated and pushed the process. The process will go one and then we will have a reaction from the Government that could include asking that the UNDP leave. We don’t know what the reaction will be.


Question: I wanted to ask…I haven’t seen the letter and I don’t know when it was written…but does the Secretary-General have an reaction to Iran’s announcement that there’s going to be three days of ‘war games’? Plus, there were press reports coming from Tehran that a test missile had been launched? And my other question is that he is going to be in Brussels, are there going to be any talks specifically on Iran and non-proliferation? 


Spokesperson: On your second question, no, there is nothing planned on that count. Your first question was on the letter? The letter does not talk specifically about the diplomatic incidents or the diplomats who were detained…


Question: No, I’m talking about the missile launch – there’s press reports that there was a missile launch, I believe today – but Iran announced on Sunday that there was going to be three days of nuclear testing…


Spokesperson: We don’t have any advance notice of that. We don’t have any formal information about it.


Question: Recently the Secretary-General said that he was happy to see progress towards the six-party talks, and now with this audit, is there some way of still encouraging the continued participation and not letting this be seen as something to dissuade participation?


Spokesperson: We’re dealing here with two different issues and one does not impact on the other.


Question:  Which of the specialized agencies – like WFP of UNICEF, and so forth –- have indicated so far that they will have external audits conducted of their operations?


Spokesperson: Well, at this point, they had their first meeting this morning. And as you know, a number of those agencies have different procedures. There is an agreement in principle that they want the review to go on.  However, the procedures are different and there will be an agreement so the procedures could allow for such an inquiry.


Question: So the heads of all these agencies, I believe there are roughly 12 of them, have agreed in principle that they each will have an external audit conducted?


Spokesperson:  Well, they haven’t said they would each…They have each agreed that the process initiated by the Secretary-General will go on. But, I am saying that the procedures would vary according to the different agencies -- whether they are funds and programmes under the Secretariat or funds and programmes that are separate.


Question: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has met with the head of Hamas in Damascus, and there are indications that the Palestinians may put together a unity Government. Does the Secretary-General see these developments as encouraging steps?


Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the Secretary-General is supposed to go after his trip to Africa, straight to Washington, where he will have the Quartet meeting. I am sure this will be discussed at that point.


Question: We have heard today that there was another Israeli over-flight in Lebanon that this time lasted three hours. Is this a concern for UNIFIL or the United Nations? It’s been some time since we have had a note on this. It’s as if it’s something you have accepted.


Spokesperson: Well, this will be certainly discussed in Paris on Thursday.


Question:  But after all these months, [Security Council resolution] 1701 is supposed to prevent these things from happening. Does 1701 apply to Israeli aircraft? 


Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General is well aware of this and he has been following the different reports from UNIFL concerning this. He is following the situation closely.


Question: There seem to be various discussions on the future of a force between South and North Korea, and what role the UN might or might not play in that. Is the Secretary-General involved in those discussions? Is there anything being worked up at the moment on that? 

Spokesperson: Not that I know of.


Question: And if I could just follow up with one more regarding him and Iran. Does the Secretary-General feel that he has any role to play with regard to the increasing tensions surrounding Iran? Is he or any of his advisors talking to the Iranian President or any of his advisers or anybody else in the Iranian leadership? What is his role?


Spokesperson: The Security Council is dealing…


Question: I understand about the Council, but I wanted to know with regard to the Secretary-General…because Kofi Annan went hotter or colder depending on the phase as to whether he was involved in talking with the parties, whoever it was. But is the current Secretary-General in any way – or any of his advisers –- talking to any of the Iranian leadership at the moment?


Spokesperson: Not that I know of.


Question: Would it be possible to check?


Spokesperson:  Yes, I will check.


Question: A follow-up, please? According to a headline printed by your office this morning, President Bush has lost his patience with the Council on Iran, much as he did with Iraq. Can you update…


Spokesperson: Which statement are you talking about?


Question: I am just reading this…


Spokesperson: But that has nothing to do with us.


Question:  I know it has nothing to do with you, but I am just asking, basically, if the Secretary-General believes that he should had more dialogue at this stage..?


Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is being updated on this. And he is following the different situations. But we cannot comment on press reports.


Question: According to a newspaper report over the weekend, the Kashmir Government has welcomed a supposed statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterating the relevant UN-Kashmir resolutions and inviting the Secretary-General to Kashmir. Can you check when and where he made this statement? Do you have the text or the invitation?


Spokesperson: Well, I’ll check all that information for you. I am not aware of it.


Comment: It was on the Web site for the newspaper GreaterKashmir.com, on the 20th of January.


Question: Just a follow up on something I asked you last week. What are the “good” proposals on restructuring suggested by former US Ambassador John Bolton that the Secretary-General is going to consider?


Spokesperson: Well, I think his main emphasis right now -- he’s said it himself –- is going to be changing the culture, which means getting people to accept change. Mobility is one aspect of this that he has been stressing, and he has also been stressing the need to have a more mobile staff that can adapt to different situations. That is his emphasis right now on the subject.


Question:  Nothing more concrete than that, like on the way the various departments would be restructured?


Spokesperson: Well, there is a plan that is being discussed with Member States. No decisions on restructuring have been taken yet – that was the question you had asked me last time. I think the proposals have been made, there have been discussions. We talked about this last Friday. There have been no final decisions taken yet.


Question: I might have missed this, but on the system-wide audit, do you have any dollar figure in mind, because we have an idea of how expensive the Volker audit was, and I’m just wondering it this is at all within the realm of UN possibility or is this just a nice gesture? 


Spokesperson: Well, no. They are discussing where the funds will come from for such…


Question:  Do you have any idea how much it’s going to cost?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet how much money this will involve. No. I don’t have that figure yet.


Question: Michèle, on the question of mobility, what criteria will the Secretary-General follow in affecting this process? For example, will it be possible for staff from the Peacekeeping Department to work in political affairs? Can the people in science and technological research departments apply to vacancies in political affairs?


Spokesperson: Certainly.


Question: Are there any criteria?


Spokesperson: As I said, we have a statement upstairs that is more detailed than what I have here, and you can see that for the criteria and framework.


Question: Could you give us more detailed information on the United Nations activities in North Korea, such as how many agencies are there and what are the sizes of their budgets?


Spokesperson: Well, I’m sure UNDP’s David Morrison can give you more information after the briefing.


Question: I’m not very familiar with the term “mobility”. What does it mean?


Spokesperson: Mobility means that staff can move from a position in one department to a position in another department, for instance, so that staff won’t stay in the same position all the time.  According to the resolution approved by the General Assembly, that time would usually be four or five years, but it could occur sooner.

Question: Does this affect only Headquarters or..?


Spokesperson: It could be anywhere: Headquarters, agencies, funds and programmes, as well as operations in the field.


Question: If the chief of a section were asked to send one of his underlings to Venezuela or Kashmir, doe this mean he would have to go?


Spokesperson: No it does not mean that he should go.  He has to agree. He has to apply for it. Mobility is voluntary.


Question: So it’s not compulsory?


Spokesperson: It is not compulsory yet.


Question: As a follow-up to this, on mobility and the changing of culture: Is the Secretary-General open to professionals from outside the Organization applying for positions more than his predecessor?


Spokesperson: Well, for the time being we’re talking about inside the house, or, if you will, the larger UN system. But there are possibilities for outside people to apply. Within the UN system we have the “Galaxy System” set up for people from the outside to apply for different posts.


Question: Is the Secretary-General more sympathetic to professionalism, knowledge or know-how, or does he favour the type of “union thinking” that protects insiders?


Spokesperson: No, he is much more sensitive to the idea that people who are qualified should occupy the posts where they can perform the best.


Question: This talk about change of culture seems to include fewer in-depth briefings. I’d like to make another appeal for someone to come and talk to us about the restructuring proposals and where they are. Similarly, on mobility, could someone come and talk to us. Those questions hinge on family, visas, support packages, duty stations – it’s really quite complicated. If someone would come down and talk to us, it would be great because it’s now been several weeks without anyone coming to talk to us about any of that. We’d like to know about where we are on the latest on restructuring DPKO, disarmament and the Secretary-General’s Office. 


Spokesperson: Well, on the mobility count, I can have someone come down and talk to you very soon. On the other subject, as I’ve said, I don’t think people are ready to come and discuss what the plan is because Member States are still giving their inputs on this.


Question: Could I get some clarification?  I’m a little lost here. Your statement last week said that the Secretary-General was going to call for an urgent, systemwide audit on all UN activities around the globe. But the statement we just got only talks about UNDP, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and…


Spokesperson: This is just the first step.


Question: But eventually there’s going to be an outside audit of every UN activity and programme?


Spokesperson: Eventually, yes. And I would add that such an audit already exists. On a biennial basis the Board of External Auditors reports on the activities of the UN system. These reports come in on a biennial basis. 


Question: Is that every two years…or every other year, I’m sorry?


Spokesperson: Every two years.


[She later clarified that the Board of Auditors reports to the General Assembly every two years for funds and programmes on the regular budget, and every year for peacekeeping operations.]


Question: Could you tell us something about the meetings between the Ban Ki-moon and the Italian Ambassador this morning, and this afternoon, between Ban Ki-moon and General Graziano of UNIFIL?


Spokesperson: We will try to get a readout for you as soon as those meetings are over.


[She later added that the meeting with the Italian ambassador was a tête-á-tête.  The meeting with the incoming Force Commander of UNIFIL was a routine introductory meeting.]


Question: Again. You don’t mean that right now there is an external audit of every UN fund and programme every six months, do you?


Spokesperson: No. It’s just the regular audit that is done. The External Auditors then choose from these what they want to look into further. This is done on a regular basis. But I will have someone come down and speak to you in more detailed terms about how this is going to be carried out. 


Question: How much is this audit going to cost the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  That was Evelyn’s question. I could not answer it because we don’t have figures yet. However, we will have figures and there are suggestions that the costs be shared by the agencies and the UN.


Question: I asked you a question last week about talks between President Bush and the Secretary-General on Iran’s nuclear energy programme so on. Is he going to put this issue at the top of his agenda? Is he going to talk about finding a peaceful solution to this issue? Can you tell us what he is going to do about it? I had asked Kofi Annan this question and he cooperated. I want to see what [the current Secretary-General] is going to do about it. I haven’t seen anything constructive yet, even though tensions are rising between Iran and the United States.


Spokesperson: Well, right now, he has already underlined, and he has said before –- and what I said Friday stands, he did not have any direct discussion on this issue with President Bush – that what he wanted was an inclusive political solution, something that other countries in the region would be involved in. That is all I can say so far. If you want specifics, we’ll get them eventually, but not at this point.


Question: Speaking of Iran, I understand that this week or next week is the annual Holocaust remembrance. Is Iran invited to this?


Spokesperson: I don’t know. Thank you very much. If you have any question for Mr. Morrison, he is in the back of the room if you want to talk to him about UNDP.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record