|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.
Briefing by Spokesperson
Good afternoon all.
**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa
The Secretary-General today addressed the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, urging the leaders gathered there to open a new and different chapter in the story of broken hope in Darfur.
He said that the partnership between the African Union and the UN is of central importance to dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, asserting that the two organizations must work together to end the violence and scorched-earth policies adopted by various parties, including militias, as well as the bombings taking place there. He emphasized the need to build consensus for the urgent deployment of a UN-AU force on the ground.
The Secretary-General also stressed the need to move forward in implementing the Millennium Development Goals, and said that, in the coming months, he will convene a working group on Africa and the Goals, which will aim to meet by March, to formulate an action plan.
He added that the time has come for the rest of the world to assist African countries in adapting to the effects of a warming planet, while strengthening efforts to mitigate climate change. Nations must implement the adaptation plan of action adopted at last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Nairobi, the Secretary-General said.
While in Addis, the Secretary-General is holding meetings with a number of visiting leaders, including the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.
**Statement on Sudan
In a statement that we have upstairs, the Secretary-General describes his meeting today with President Bashir, saying that they agreed to accelerate joint African Union-United Nations efforts for the political process and the preparation for a peacekeeping mission, based on the Abuja and Addis Ababa agreements.
The Secretary-General stressed the urgency of a re-energized political process in Darfur and informed President al-Bashir that he had agreed with Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare on a joint mission of his Special Envoy, Jan Eliasson, and AU Envoy Salim A. Salim to Khartoum and Darfur in early February to support peacemaking efforts.
He also recalled his letter of 24 January, presenting the heavy support package for peacekeeping agreed with the African Union. The Secretary-General looks forward to a prompt and positive answer to this joint proposal. This will pave the way for the early deployment of a hybrid mission.
The UN Mission in Sudan reports that banditry continues to prevail in many parts of Darfur. In one incident last week in North Darfur, the Mission reports, an African Union contractor vehicle was stolen in El Fasher by two armed men who fled southwards.
In another incident on Saturday, seven armed men ambushed a commercial truck along a road to Nyala. The armed men, suspected to be members of a rebel group, looted 400 litres of diesel and fled; no casualties were reported.
That was in the field in Sudan.
**Secretary-General – Bilaterals
Also in Addis Ababa, the Secretary-General met with President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d’Ivoire, Idriss Deby Itno of Chad, and President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed of Somalia. He was also scheduled to meet President Kikwete of Tanzania, Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, as well as President Bozize of the Central African Republic.
You have upstairs different statements that he made to the press which you can have on the third floor.
**Secretary-General in Democratic Republic of Congo
The Secretary-General visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the weekend, telling reporters before he arrived in the country that it is important to encourage the Congolese Government and people as they solidify their democratic process.
He addressed the 500-member Congolese Parliament on Saturday and pledged to do everything possible to ensure continuity and support for the DRC in this critical post-electoral period. And he briefly travelled to Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo where he held a meeting with Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is the current African Union President.
On Sunday morning, the Secretary-General left Kinshasa for a visit to Kisangani, where he met with President Joseph Kabila. We have the transcripts of his various press encounters, as I said, upstairs and on the web.
** Middle East Statement
The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s suicide bombing at a bakery in Eilat, Israel, which killed three people and wounded another. Such acts of terrorism are a violation of international humanitarian law and can never be justified. The Secretary-General sends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this attack.
The Secretary-General is also alarmed at announcements that further attacks against Israeli civilians are being planned. He calls for swift action by Palestinian security forces to bring to justice those responsible and prevent further attacks.
** Middle East
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, today said that the attack in Eilat “can have no justification”, noting that it was an attack on ordinary people who were going about their daily lives.
De Soto also issued a statement over the weekend expressing his concern at the escalating factional violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly Gaza, and at reports that national dialogue is being suspended.
He called on all parties to cease clashes and comply with international humanitarian law by refraining from acts which endanger civilians. He encourages the resumption, without delay, of intra-Palestinian dialogue with a view to the early realization of agreement on a national unity Government with a realistic and positive platform regarding the basic principles of the peace process.
We have his full statement upstairs.
This morning the Security Council held a private meeting for troop-contributing countries for the UN Mission in Haiti. The Council is now holding consultations on Haiti, with a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Edmond Mulet.
At 2:30 this afternoon, Mulet will come to this room to brief you on the latest developments.
Over the weekend, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad to discuss recent developments in Iraq and their impact on the region.
He stressed the need for greater regional engagement in support of the efforts by the Government of Iraq in reducing violence, bringing greater stability and promoting national reconciliation among all Iraqis. He also praised Syria’s role and generosity in hosting a large number of Iraqis and discussed ways in which the United Nations could assist in alleviating their needs. We have more on Qazi’s latest travels to Iraq’s neighbouring countries upstairs.
The number of peacekeepers serving in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon rose above 12,000, following today’s arrival of the main contingent of soldiers from Qatar. Also on Monday, two Belgian de-miners were injured by shrapnel in a cluster bomb explosion during a mine-clearance operation in the vicinity of Kunin, near the town of Bint Jubayl. Their injuries were not life-threatening. We have more details in a press release upstairs.
The second annual observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust was marked with a ceremony this morning in the General Assembly Hall.
In a video message to the gathering, the Secretary-General called the Holocaust a “unique and undeniable tragedy”, and said that today’s tribute was an essential response to those misguided individuals who claimed that the Holocaust never happened.
Saying that we must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world, the Secretary-General also welcomed the participation in today’s ceremony by disabled persons and the Roma and Sinti community, who were also victimized by the Nazis. And on that note, there will be a press briefing on the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti and present-day racism in Europe here in this room at 1:30 p.m.
**Guest at Noon Briefing Tomorrow
The Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Stephen Rapp, will be here tomorrow to brief you on the preparations for the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
I will take your questions first, then I will invite Ashraf Kamal, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, to come to the podium.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General to the proposal of ElBaradei that the Security Council should suspend the sanctions if Iran agreed to suspend the enrichment of uranium?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have anything on that yet.
Question: Noting the Secretary-General’s statement about his meeting with Bashir in Addis Ababa, can you tell us anything more about whether, how much substance, if any, there is behind whatever Bashir has agreed to, in terms of the hybrid force -- did they discuss details of the size of the force, the command structure, and all the things that really amount to the real nuts and bolts of the agreement, or is it just a reiteration of a general statement that he’s made in the past but really hasn’t followed through on?
Spokesperson: I can assure you that there were specifics discussed, particularly concerning the second phase of the plan of action. We have the full statement of the Secretary-General when he came out of the meeting, that you have upstairs. It doesn’t talk about the specific numbers, but it’s the same plan we had discussed before. What is new is that they are pushing the process forward. As you know, Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative are going to be at the beginning of February back to push for more specifics and to accelerate the process.
Question: Just to follow-up then, they had a specific discussion about phase two. Did they come to any conclusions or decisions on phase two -- timetable or numbers -- I guess the numbers are what’s been previously planned. And also, to what extent did they discuss phase three?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know. I don’t have this information at this point but I can inquire for you whether anything was discussed about phase three or any specifics.
[The Spokesperson later noted that the Secretary-General’s letter to the Sudan had referred to details on the heavy support package, which would include more than 2,200 uniformed personnel, several hundred police and 75 civilian personnel.]
Question: Do you have any reaction from the Secretary-General regarding the American intention to kill Iranians and arrest Iranians, as well as recently they attacked the Iranian embassy, or consulate, in Irbil and arrested or abducted five diplomats. Do you have any reaction of these declared intentions of killing Iranians in Iraq?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General will not have any comment on any declared intentions.
Question: Two follow-ups to the press conference we had Friday about the North Korea and UNDP. Warren Sach, there were two points on which he said, he couldn’t answer, only the Board of Auditors could answer. And I’m wondering, whether it’s possible, at some point to have them come and answer. One of the questions was why the North Korea internal audits didn’t show up in the main audit, but there were other ones. And he did the best that he could, but it seemed to open the door to trying to get this Board of Auditors to clarify some issues.
Spokesperson: Okay, you would like the Board of External Auditors.
Question: Yes, the ones who will actually do this auditing.
Spokesperson: We will try to see if we can arrange that.
Question: The UNDP’s spokesman David Morrison, after the press conference, I asked him about these 10 North Koreans that travelled in August of 2006 to Lund University in Sweden. He said the UNDP didn’t fund it, although they arranged the travel, but that something called the University for Peace did; which I looked at, it’s a UN-affiliated, or UN-mandated institution, with Maurice Strong on the Council. So I guess I want to know a little bit more about this University for Peace and if it is able to give out laissez-passers and G4 visas, what its role is in the UN system and in the things that have been announced, whether it would be audited, let’s put it that way.
Spokesperson: Whether the University for Peace would be audited? Okay, I could ask.
Question: And laissez-passers and G4’s -- whether they’ve given them out in connection with the North Korea project and whether they’re still outstanding.
Spokesperson: Okay, will follow up on this.
Question: Thank you.
Spokesperson: You mean the headquarters of the University for Peace? Okay, I’ll check on this for you.
Question: I do apologize, actually somebody asked about this, because I came a bit late. My question is there is a spokesman of Mr. Martti Ahtisaari quoted in Vienna saying that the process of delivering that official document to the Security Council could be somehow delayed because of “technical problems of slowness” in translating those documents. He was then quoted to say that the documents will not be delivered in February, maybe even be delayed till March.
Spokesperson: I cannot speak for him. I don’t have the exact information on how long it will take to translate those documents, but I can try to put you in touch with the Spokesperson.
Question: It seems to be that he blamed the Secretariat of that slow-motion process in translating, so my question was whether you would like to address this…
Spokesperson: Well, I can inquire for you. I can try to find out, why, in what languages we’re talking about.
Question: He even mentioned all languages. I wonder if they’re going to be in five or six languages translated…
Question: Is the Secretary-General and Mr. De Soto – are they encouraged by the invitation of the King of Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian parties to go to Mecca and discuss the National Unity Government?
Spokesperson: They haven’t given an opinion on this, but I’m sure that since they are preparing for the Quartet meeting on 2 February, I am sure they are very much interested in what will happen there.
Question: On the situation in Lebanon after the injuring of the two UNIFIL soldiers, we have seen many violations of 1701 from the Israeli side. Gaza is still occupied, of course, overflights are continuing as you reported and recently we have seen poison gas balloons landing in Lebanon dropped by Israeli airplanes. Did you get any reports from UNIFIL regarding that? And when will there be a call for ceasefire in Lebanon, seven months after the cessation of hostilities there?
Spokesperson: Well, we don’t have at this point -- as I said, the other day, the violations of 1701 are recorded on a regular basis by UNIFIL. They did not mention specifically the balloons, that you, that really they confirmed, were seen across the border, but I have no additional reaction from UNIFIL on those balloons.
Question: But they confirmed that they are inspecting these balloons?
Spokesperson: Certainly they are.
Question: Because these were dropped four days ago, and they didn’t come to any conclusion what the nature of the gas in these balloons?
Spokesperson: We don’t have a readout on that yet.
Question: Who will go with the Secretary-General to the Quartet meeting?
Spokesperson: To the Quartet meeting? At this point, the delegation is not set yet, but I should be able to inform you by tomorrow.
Question: At the AU meeting, the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is reportedly going there. Is Ban Ki-moon going to meet with him?
Spokesperson: I haven’t seen his name on the list of people he is scheduled to meet.
Question: If he does, I guess I would ask whether he’s going to raise human rights and other issues.
Spokesperson: Yeah, but we don’t know that yet.
Question: In Nepal, not with Maoist rebels, but in South Nepal, there’s been violence of a different sort. And I’m wondering whether the UN’s, the now mandated mission there -- is this mission limited to only dealing between the Government and the Maoists or are they going to have some involvement in this more recent outcropping of violence in South Nepal?
Spokesperson: Well, you can check the Security Council resolution on this.
Question: I don’t think it mentions it. But I think this violence occurred after it.
Question: In his speech to the African Union, the Secretary-General, referring to the major goals, spoke about partnership in science and technology. Does he imply transfer of science and technology from developed to developing countries?
Spokesperson: Definitely. Well, I think I will invite one last question.
Question: When was the last time Mr. Geir Pedersen met with Walid Jumblatt in Lebanon?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I saw Mr. Geir Pedersen, he met with the Secretary-General in Lebanon during the conference in Paris. I’m sorry I didn’t mention that question you had asked before. But I know he’s meeting across the board with all parties.
Question: And he is meeting Jumblatt?
Question: Well, recently, the Lebanese army seized about 70 rockets by an Islamic group. And now it turned out that this Islamic group is supported by the Government and they are building militias and they are using weapons and 17 missiles were seized in Russia, close to south Lebanon, by the army. Now, this same group, which is supported by the Government, is asking to report their return, to return these missiles. I hope that your representative (inaudible) in UNIFIL will followed on that, will get more information on this…
Spokesperson: Well, this is not a question. I think we’ll wait for…I mean there are things which pertain to the Government of Lebanon that the UN cannot constantly give opinions about. Mr. Geir Pedersen has a very specific mandate and needs to meet with all parties, and his mandate is one of trying to bring about help, to bring about a peaceful solution.
Question: Mr. [Terje Roed-] Larsen, in his recent report about the implementation of 1701, said, based on hearsay from the Lebanese Government, that weapons are still infiltrating coming from Syria to Hezbollah group. Now he turned a blind eye to flows of weapons coming to the pro-Government militias and now we have confirmation, straight open declared confirmation, from [inaudible], leader of the Islamic group, saying that these missiles are his and he wants them back. And also, we have seen these militia weapons used against peaceful demonstrators in Beirut, killing many Lebanese. And I hope Mr. Larsen this time will be less biased for the Government of Lebanon and he will be realistic, that he reports these things that is not only…
Spokesperson: This is not really a question. The last one, really, the last one, because I think my colleague is waiting.
Question: This one is really a question. On Tuesday of last week, the Staff Council passed a vote of no confidence in the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resource Management, Jan Beagle. So I don’t know if the Secretary is aware of that -- has any comment -- does the Secretary have any comment? Would it be possible to understand the issues better to get ASG Beagle or Ms. Barceña to address the issues raised by the Staff Council?
Spokesperson: Well, we have no comment at the moment.
Question: One follow-up. Apparently the major issue on that is the internal system of justice, which the Staff Union wants a formal internal system of justice and appeal system. Does the Secretary-General have any views on that particular issue of internal…
Spokesperson: Not at the moment.
Question: So, it will take a while before he forms his opinions?
Spokesperson: Yes. Yes. May I invite you to come to the podium?
Briefing by the Spokesperson for General Assembly President
Good afternoon, everybody.
The President of General Assembly Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa addressed this morning the special meeting in the General Assembly Hall in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. In her remarks the President stated, “It is a tragedy that the international community has not been able to stop new horrors in the years since the Holocaust. This makes it all the more important that we remember the lessons of the past so that we do not make the same mistakes in the future… For the dignity of all humanity, we must reaffirm our unfaltering resolve to prevent such atrocities, whenever and wherever they might occur.” Copies of the full text of the President’s statement are available upstairs.
The President has received a letter from the Secretary-General, dated 26 January, in which he requests the President to take early action on forwarding to Member States his proposals under agenda items 117 and 132, strengthening UN peace and security operations and advancing the disarmament agenda. The letter will be issued as an official document tomorrow, under symbol A/61/717.
The President has started informal consultations today with Permanent Representatives on how to proceed with the consideration of the Secretary-General’s proposals.
The President of the Assembly will travel this evening to Paris to attend the 2-3 February International Conference on the Environment organized by the French Government. We will make her statement at the conference available once it is delivered.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I think that this thing, the University of Peace, was founded under a GA resolution. You seem to know the GA process very well -- are you aware of it? How often does it report to…(inaudible)?
Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into that. The University of Peace is something that I have not checked. I’ll check on that. It has to be part of the UN, yes.
Question: The Secretary-General has been the discussing the issues of restructuring of the Political and Security departments with Member States -- do you know at what stage these discussions are?
Spokesperson: Discussing it with Member States -- that is up to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General. I am not going to comment on this letter, until tomorrow, until it becomes an official document. I’m sure you’ll have lots of questions by tomorrow and let’s wait and see where these consultations that the President is having with Member States will take us and then I’ll respond to your questions tomorrow.
Question: A follow-up, these Member States are members of the General Assembly also?
Spokesperson: Of course.
Question: So the General Assembly has a role to play in this. That’s why I asked this question.
Spokesperson: Absolutely. Let me clarify what I said. I’m not going to make comments on how the Secretary-General contacted Member States informally before he made his proposals -- that’s Michèle’s job. But the President has received his letter officially now and she’ll be circulating it tomorrow and it will be issued as an official document. And these are the proposals that the Secretary-General is making to Member States. So, once they’re out tomorrow officially, we will have a little more time to discuss what’s in them, what do we expect, et cetera.
Question: The previous President of the General Assembly, Mr. Jan Eliasson, had a habit of talking with press often, to brief the press in this very room. He met with press on many occasions. Just regarding this certain situation on that letter becoming an official document, the President, Ms. Khalifa, would be able or would like to come and brief the press on that?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, as a matter of logistics, I don’t think she’d be able to because she’s flying to Paris this evening. And second, there is nothing yet. She’s just having these preliminary consultations to see how she’s going to present these proposals to the Assembly, and then we’ll take it from there.
Question: If there is any idea that you’re talking to the President…?
Spokesperson: You want me to ask her to come and talk to you?
Question: To talk to the press, to come…
Spokesperson: I’ll ask her. Anything else? Thanks.
* *** *For information media • not an official record