|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.
As you already know, the Secretary-General leaves later today on a seven-nation trip to Europe and Africa.
To recap, he has meetings lined up with European Union, European Parliament and European Commission officials in Brussels as well as senior representatives of NATO and the Belgian government, as well as the King.
Then in Paris, he participates in the International Conference on Support for reconstruction and development of Lebanon, hosted by President Jacques Chirac.
During his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), he will meet with President Joseph Kabila and other senior government officials, address the National Assembly, and meet with peacekeepers and staff of the UN’s largest mission. A trip to Kisangani is scheduled, as is a brief visit across the river to Brazzaville to meet with President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo.
From DRC, he travels to Addis Ababa for the African Union Summit where he will address the opening session and hold a series of bilateral meetings. He ends his Africa visit with a stop in Nairobi, where he will meet with the Kenyan President and the staff of UN headquarters on the continent.
From Kenya, the Secretary-General travels to the Netherlands, where he will visit the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague. He will meet with Queen Beatrix as well as the Dutch Prime Minister and senior officials.
From The Hague, he flies to Washington, D.C. for a meeting of the Middle East Quartet. That’s it for the trip.
**Statement on Lebanon
Now a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:
“The Secretary-General is following closely current developments in Lebanon. He is greatly concerned that the political dispute in Lebanon has resulted in confrontation in the streets, reportedly leading to injuries and loss of life.
“On the eve of his departure to the Paris III conference on Lebanon, the Secretary-General reiterates the support of the United Nations for the stability, sovereignty, security and independence of Lebanon. It is essential that all parties within Lebanon work through the democratic process and return to dialogue as a means of addressing their political differences.”
** Lebanon Update
Some other information on Lebanon, the Office of Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Lebanon, reports that the Beirut airport has been cut off during the recent demonstrations and for the moment is effectively closed. Many roads -- within and around Beirut and in other parts of Lebanon -- have been cut off by blockades, including those involving burning tires and old cars. The office also is monitoring reports of clashes between different factions, mostly north of Beirut.
I’ve been asked in recent days, meanwhile, about the Israeli overflights of Lebanon. In accordance with its standard procedures, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon protests each overflight to the Israeli authorities as a violation of the Blue Line. There were seven such flights recorded yesterday.
Sill on Lebanon, serious environmental challenges are confronting Lebanon as a result of the recent conflict there, according to a report launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
For example, many bombed and burnt-out factories and industrial complexes are contaminated with a variety of toxic substances, such as ash and leaked chemicals. Urgent action is needed to remove and safely dispose of such substances amid concerns that they are threatening water supplies and public health.
The Security Council began its work today by holding consultations on peacebuilding, with a briefing by the head of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office, Carolyn McAskie. The Council intends to hold a public meeting to discuss peace-building issues further on 31 January.
Once consultations end, the Security Council expects to hold a formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution concerning the establishment, for 12 months, of a UN political mission in Nepal. Council members discussed the draft text of the Nepal resolution in consultations yesterday afternoon.
The members of the Security Council will also hold their first monthly luncheon with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today.
Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned in the strongest terms the two bombings at the Bab al-Shargi district in Baghdad on Monday. He said that the bombings, which caused the death and injury of more than 200 innocent civilians, were shocking.
These deplorable outrages again underscore the urgent need for all Iraqis to reject violence and together choose the path of peace and reconciliation, Qazi said. We have his full statement upstairs.
Many of you have been asking about Kosovo, and about when Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s status proposal will be presented.
We’ve just been told that, as a first step, Ahtisaari will share his proposal this Friday with the Kosovo Contact Group in Vienna. You’ll recall that the Contact Group includes representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that it is discussing with Iran its request for withdrawing the designation of certain safeguards inspectors.
It should be noted however, that there are a sufficient number of inspectors designated for Iran, and the IAEA is able to perform its inspection activities in accordance with Iran's Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. It issued a statement on this yesterday.
**UN Refugee Agency
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, reports that, early this morning, 17 Palestinian men living in Baghdad were taken away by men dressed in Iraqi security force uniforms and driving security vehicles. UNHCR is very concerned and is seeking further information.
Meanwhile, in western Algeria today, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) started a 12-day mission to Sahrawi refugee camps to assess the dire food and nutrition situation there, in view of a recent disruption in the food pipeline. You can read more on these items in UNHCR’s briefing Notes, which we have upstairs.
The first of four installments of a major scientific assessment on climate change will be released next Friday, 2 February, in Paris, by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The first part of the report, which is based on the contributions of more than 2,500 scientists from 130 countries, will look at the current science behind climate change, provide data on observed changes, and offer predictions for the future. The report is the fourth such assessment by the Panel and its first in six years. More information is available in a media advisory available in my office.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today expressed concern about new flare-ups of bird flu in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam. But it stressed that the number of outbreaks in the first weeks of 2007 had been significantly lower than the epidemic waves of last year. We have a press release on that also in my Office.
**International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice today gave its decision on the request for provisional measures submitted by Uruguay against Argentina in the case concerning the pulp mills on the River Uruguay.
In their ruling, a majority of ICJ judges found that the circumstances, as they now present themselves to the Court, do not require the exercise of its power.
** Sierra Leone Court
The Special Court for Sierra Leone has scheduled a status conference in its case against former Liberian President Charles Taylor for January 26th on the premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
And to update you on the preparations for the start of the Taylor trial, Stephen Rapp, the Court’s newly-appointed Chief Prosecutor, will be our guest at the noon briefing on January 30.
David Morrison from UNDP took your questions outside of the room yesterday but some of our correspondents did not have an opportunity to hear his statements on UNTV. He will be available again a little later in the week, here on the podium, to take your questions if you have them.
And in response to your request for further details on the Secretary-General’s initiative to review the activities of UN funds and programmes, we have arranged for a senior UN official to brief you on Friday.
That’s all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I assume now that the Secretary-General will not meet with Mr. Ahtisaari as was previously announced?
Spokesperson: Yes, he will.
Question: Where? When?
Spokesperson: He will meet him in Paris.
Question: So, Mr. Ahtisaari will first fly to Paris and then go to Vienna?
Question: Number two. I also assume that the Secretary-General will meet with Ms. Carla Del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY. In that light, what is his position on her request not to close the Tribunal’s doors before the so-called “big fish” –- namely Karadzic and Mladic – stand trial in The Hague? What is his position on the [completion] strategy?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point, as you know, the Tribunal has until 2008. We are not there yet, so we don’t know who will come in front of the Tribunal. We’ll have more on that certainly…you’ll have more information about it soon. About your first question, concerning Mr. Ahtisaari, he plans to travel on February 2nd to Belgrade and Pristina to officially present his proposal to both sides. He will then wait for feedback from both parties before sending the proposal on to the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General will then transmit the report to the Security Council, and then it will be up to the Council to decide when it wants to consider Kosovo. So that, more or less, is the road map.
Question: Does that mean that some type of open ended conference in Vienna will be running during that time – starting this Friday and continuing until sometime after February 2nd – waiting for the results from Pristina and Belgrade?
Spokesperson: No, there won’t be a conference. But Mr. Ahtisaari will be getting the feedback and feeding it through…
Question: Will that be in Vienna?
Spokesperson: I don’t know where yet. I don’t know where he will go from there.
Question: During his meeting with Lebanese leader [Fouad] Sinora, will Ban Ki-moon discuss a tribunal or a new expanded mandate for UNIFIL? What kind of discussions will be on the table?
Spokesperson: We expect all these issues to be discussed in bilaterals, but as you know, the conference itself, which will be presided over by President Jacques Chirac, is on the reconstruction of Lebanon, with a specific project on the table for the donors. But I’m sure all those issues will be evoked in the different meetings that the Secretary-General will have during the bilaterals at that conference.
Question: Will Ban Ki-moon raise with Mr. Sinora the question of why most of the aid that has been pumped into Lebanon has not reached the people most affected by the recent conflict? Up to now, billions of dollars have been pumped into the country but none of it has reached the people in the villages and towns of the south, where most of the aggression took place.
Spokesperson: He will be raising as many issues as he can on Lebanon.
Question: You brought up the UNHCR trip to western Algeria to look at the break in the food pipeline. Are they going to issue a statement or report at some point?
Spokesperson: Most probably, yes.
Question: Is it going to be issued here, or..?
Spokesperson: Well, as soon as we get it, we’ll tell you about it.
Question: Is the Secretary-General still hoping to meet with the Sudanese President on the sideline of the AU Summit? Does he expect significant progress on the peacekeeping mission in Darfur on this trip – or perhaps even a breakthrough?
Spokesperson: Yes, he is going to meet with President Al-Bashir. He has already spoken to him on the phone. So they will be meeting in a bilateral meeting at the AU Summit. I cannot say what progress will be announced, but the Secretary-General is hoping to see the whole Darfur issue move forward.
Question: On Lebanon, in previous statements, the Secretary-General had been keen to mention his support for the Lebanese Government. In this statement, the Government is not mentioned. Can you elaborate on that? Was this for any particular reason?
Spokesperson: Well, Prime Minister Sinora’s Government is the democratically elected Government of the country, and the Secretary-General supports the democratic process in Lebanon. We think it is important that on Lebanon, we have all agreed, several times, that all Lebanese communities need to be represented and feel represented in the Government. We continue to call on all parties to return to the table of national dialogue and work toward national reconciliation. That would be the statement.
Question: Does the Secretary-General see a direct link between the timing of the pre-planned donor meeting and the demonstrations, strikes and unrest right now in Lebanon?
Spokesperson: Well, all I can tell you is that the Secretary-General is going to the meeting, and we hope that the people who are now in Lebanon will be able to make it to the meeting.
Question: You mean…
Spokesperson: Prime Minister Sinora and Geir Pedersen are both in Beirut right now and cannot get out at this point.
Question: Does he expect to also meet with members of the opposition who don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Sinora Government?
Spokesperson: This is what Geir Pedersen, who is the Special Representative, is doing. And Mr. Pedersen will meet with the Secretary-General, and he will be at the reconstruction conference, so I’m sure he will be relaying to Secretary-General Ban, the results of his contacts.
Question: But does he see a direct link between the timing of those two events?
Spokesperson: He has expressed no opinion on this.
Question: A follow-up on Darfur: the Secretary-General has said that it’s one of his top priorities. What will he specifically be taking to President Al-Bashir?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, there is a UN-AU plan – clearly expressed in phases – for Darfur. This is still on the table and being discussed. And I think what we’re going to see is how fast the different phases can be implemented.
Question: Secondly, Sudan is a candidate for the Presidency of the AU, and some are suggesting that that should be opposed with the conflict going on. Is that something that the Secretary-General would take a position on?
Spokesperson: No. That is something the AU members will take a decision on.
Question: Michèle, do you have a day-by-day itinerary for the Secretary-General’s trip? In particular, what are the exact dates of the Lebanon reconstruction conference in Paris?
Spokesperson: The reconstruction conference is on Thursday in Paris. The Secretary-General will first go to Brussels to meet different officials there…
Question: Yes, but do you have it in writing, or in the form of a bulletin that we can have?
Spokesperson: We’ll try to get you more details.
Question: The Doha Round of World Trade discussions have been at an impasse for a long time now over the issue of agricultural subsidies, and there are indications that they may resume. Is the Secretary-General encouraging their speedy resumption?
Spokesperson: Oh, definitely. He has talked about the Doha Round and he has spoken in favour of the resumption of those talks, yes, he has.
Question: The Lebanese Government now does not represent 50 per cent of the population. How can the donor countries -- with the United Nations encouraging them -– entrust this Government with additional loans, when, at the end of the day, the debts would be incurred by the Lebanese people, who, based on past experience, will not benefit? They have just accumulated more than $45 billion in debt – over 220 per cent of GDP -– and still they are giving them more loans. Is it for the United Nations to support meetings such as the Paris III conference?
Spokesperson: Well, the United Nations is dealing with an elected Government.
Comment: But you said yourself that it does not represent a large portion of Lebanese society.
Spokesperson: Did I say that?
Comment: That was what was extracted…
Spokesperson: I don’t think I said that.
Question: You said that all sects had to “feel represented”.
Spokesperson: Yes, I said that.
Question: So obviously, these people who are in the streets, more than 50 per cent of the Lebanese people, don’t feel they are represented there. So why would the United Nations support such a Government, which has a long history of corruption, evidently from the debt it has incurred? Do you support corrupt Governments?
Spokesperson: We are dealing with the Government that is there. If the Lebanese people want to change Governments, that’s an internal matter for the Lebanese themselves.
Question: Can we go back to Darfur? Are there any new ideas? It’s clear that the Sudanese are definitely hesitating on anything other than a little bit of logistic help. And so far, the Secretary-General/ [Jan] Eliasson plan looks like the “ Darfur light”. Is there any plan at the African Union to put pressure on Sudan’s Arab neighbours, who have been very, very silent on this peacekeeping issue?
Spokesperson: I have to say that the Secretary-General is having very wide-ranging contacts on this, Evelyn. A number of bilaterals will take place during the AU Summit and he is hoping for progress on Darfur. Now, how much progress will we have? Well, we don’t know at this point. I think you will find out as soon as we get some conclusion…he has already stated to make contacts, as I said. He spoke with President Al-Bashir. He also spoke with [African Union Commission] Chairman Konare today, and there will be a number of contacts initiated around the AU meeting and we should have more on this pretty soon.
Question: So it’s not just the Darfur light plan, but also the peace negotiations?
Question: I don’t know if anything was formally decided while I was away. On the monthly lunch today, why is there no television stakeout? There used to be. Is it that the Secretary-General doesn’t want to talk today?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has a number of press briefings scheduled for the next few days, practically on an everyday basis. He is on a very tight schedule today and that’s what it is…
Question: Well, I know there’ll be briefings when he’s on the road, but…
Spokesperson: Yes. But he will certainly give a briefing when he comes back…
Question: So, it is going to be policy that he will not be doing luncheon stakeouts?
Spokesperson: No, no. It’s not policy, Richard. This is just today, which happens to be very busy for the Secretary-General.
Comment: Well, there are a lot of issues that are going on in the UN and the large-and-getting-larger UN press corps has not seen him for a while and it would not be a bad day for him to stop and talk about those issues…
Spokesperson: Yes, well, we talked a lot about those issues while you were away, and I’m sure the Secretary-General will keep on talking about them. Even if I am not here, you will have someone who will relay to you all the information we get on the road.
Question: Well, there’s a big difference between the Secretary-General and these other people. We’re talking about today. The other thing is that he had talked about the fact that he had selected a Deputy Secretary-General -– while she was interviewing him, he was interviewing her without her knowing it. I am curious: in choosing you as his Spokeswoman, when you were at UN Radio, how many times, if ever, did you interview him over the years?
Spokesperson: (laughter) No. I met with his team.
Question: But you never interviewed him?
Spokesperson: As a journalist? Yes.
Question: You did?
Question: Several times?
Question: On Darfur, you were talking before about the country donations – or lack thereof – to the second phase of the Darfur package. Is there anything new on that? Are there any new contributions?
Spokesperson: No. We don’t have anything new on this.
Question: Is it basically that there is no contribution whatsoever outside the Bangladeshi contingent?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have anything new at this point. We’ll let you know as more comes in. I just wanted to let you know that the Security Council has adjourned and the resolution on Nepal has passed. And the President of the Security Council will be at the Security Council stakeout following this briefing.
Question: In terms of new appointments or reappointments under Ban Ki-moon, has anything been done about the post of Special Envoy on UN Reform, held by Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga under Secretary-General Kofi Annan?
Spokesperson: No. There have been no appointments announced for the different SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] posts, or the USG [Under-Secretary-General], ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] posts. As you know the restructuring project is now in front of different members of the General Assembly. As long as this has not passed, there won’t be any further appointments, I don’t think. We might have some, but at this point. I don’t think we’ll have any major appointments right now.
Question: How many journalists are accompanying the Secretary-General on his trip, and how was it paid for? By the UN or through their agencies?
Spokesperson: Their agencies pay for the trip. The only thing the UN is paying for is their transportation from Paris through Africa and back to Amsterdam. And there are 22 journalists going with the Secretary-General.
Question: And the UN pays for that?
Spokesperson: No, the UN does not pay for that.
Question: Well, the UN pays for their travel from Paris through…
Spokesperson: It’s a UN plane. They pay for their hotels and all other incidentals.
Any other questions? Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record