|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.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon all.
The Secretary-General is now en route to Washington, D.C., where tomorrow he will participate in a meeting of the principals of the Middle East Quartet.
The other senior participants at that meeting will be US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, representing the Presidency of the European Union.
The Secretary-General is looking forward to his first Quartet meeting. He hopes that the Quartet will seriously engage with the key issues that have a direct impact on the situation on the ground, going beyond mere statements.
He is fully aware that, within the region and beyond, many are looking at the Quartet to be more energetic in its efforts than it has been at times to break the current impasse in the peace process.
He believes the Quartet should reach out to the parties and also other key regional partners for a more systematic dialogue, and involvement in the Quartet’s deliberations.
**Secretary-General in Netherlands
In the Netherlands today, the Secretary-General visited the senior officials of all the major tribunals based in The Hague: the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Following a visit to the last of those bodies, he spoke to the press to express his appreciation for the Tribunal’s work and to urge the fugitive suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to appear before the court, for their own interest as well as for the benefit of international peace and security.
Later, he met with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, and had a working luncheon with the Prime Minister, as well as with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Cooperation.
At a press encounter afterward, the Secretary-General was asked about the UN Mission in Afghanistan, and he said he was considering increasing the presence of UNAMA’s Office in Southern Afghanistan. We have copies of that transcript.
Asha-Rose Migiro, the Deputy Secretary-General, has begun her work at UN Headquarters today. Over the course of today and tomorrow, she will be visiting various UN departments, as well as the offices of some funds and programmes, to receive briefings and to hear from officials throughout the system.
We expect to have a ceremony in which the Deputy Secretary-General signs a declaration sometime next week. We’ll have more details about that in the coming days, and we also expect that she will come to talk to you next week.
Slovakia today assumes the rotating Presidency of the Security Council, and Council members are today holding bilaterals on the monthly programme of work. Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian will come to this room tomorrow to brief you after the Security Council’s consultations on that programme of work. He should be here at approximately 12:45.
Turning now to Kosovo, many of you have been asking about Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s status proposal. We have just learned that an executive summary of that proposal, as well as relevant fact sheets, will be posted tomorrow at www.unosek.org at around ten in the morning, New York time.
As I’ve already told you, Ahtisaari will visit both Belgrade and Pristina tomorrow, to present his proposal to the parties. He’ll give press conferences in both cities, and we’ll share the transcripts with you as soon as they’re ready.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, today told Kosovo’s Municipal Assembly Presidents that status will not magically solve all of Kosovo’s problems.
We have a press release on that in my office.
In a report to the Security Council on Sudan, the Secretary-General says that much remains to be done to establish an inclusive and constitutional democracy in which unity is made attractive to voters in Southern Sudan. He pledges his personal commitment to focusing on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Northern and Southern Sudan over the coming year, to protect the gains made so far and to give Sudan a stable basis on which to move forward.
The Secretary-General warns that both parties must cease using militias as proxy forces and make the integration of other armed groups a top priority. He adds that a swift, peaceful resolution to the Darfur conflict could go a long way towards restoring trust between the parties to the Agreement.
Also today, we have a press release from Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, on her recent seven-day visit to Sudan, in which she and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah urged all parties to commit to ending child recruitment.
The UN Mission in Sudan informs us that they expect to issue a statement concerning the killing of an African Union Mission police officer in North Darfur; we’ll put that out when we get it.
The World Food Programme (WFP) today condemned a kidnapping and armed attack on a WFP-contracted convoy in eastern Chad last Sunday. The driver was safely released today, together with his truck. The convoy had delivered food assistance to some 220,000 people living in refugee camps in eastern Chad and was on its way back to Libya when it was attacked.
WFP reports that this is the third armed attack on WFP aid convoys in eastern Chad in the past two months. More details are available in a press release upstairs.
** Western Sahara
The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Julian Harston of the United Kingdom as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and the Head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
Mr. Harston has been serving as Director of the UN Office in Belgrade since May 2004. After a career in the British Foreign Service, he joined the UN in 1995, and held a number of senior positions in peacekeeping, both at Headquarters and overseas. We have more background information on Mr. Harston upstairs.
As part of the UN Mission in Timor-Leste’s efforts to stop the fighting and crimes committed by gangs in the Timorese capital of Dili, more than 100 UN police officers, backed by personnel from the International Security Forces, yesterday conducted a large operation in two Dili neighbourhoods.
The UN Police arrested 47 suspects and seized a large number of illegal weapons, including homemade firearms and Molotov cocktails. The suspects are presently under UN custody, while the police collect more evidence before taking them to court. Further information is available also upstairs.
Today we have an announcement on the contributions received for the 2007 regular budget. As of the end of January, a total of 31 Member States have paid in full their assessments to the regular budget for 2007.
Inclusive of the current assessments, a total of approximately $5.8 billion is outstanding as of the end of January. Of this, $2.1 billion is for the regular budget and $3.3 billion relates to peacekeeping operations. The remaining outstanding amount consists of $330 million for the international tribunals and $68 million for the Capital Master Plan. That’s what I have for you.
I’d like to apologise to all of you for giving unclear and imprecise information yesterday about the resignations offered by senior officials; I was speaking on the basis of information that was incomplete.
I have now received the full, and updated, facts about the resignations. The Secretary-General, at the start of January, had sent out letters to 55 Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General, asking them to offer their resignations in order to give him flexibility in filling senior posts.
As of today, he is satisfied to note that all 55 have responded to his letters. In one case, one of the officials did not actually turn in a response letter, citing compelling health reasons. The Secretary-General can now move ahead with the process of determining how those posts can be filled.
I was asked yesterday about the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigations into the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and into the centre at Thessaloniki. OIOS says that both investigations are still in progress, and that they are not in a position to give a time estimate for completion.
I’ve also been asked about the balloons that flew over the Blue Line into Lebanon. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that its involvement in this matter is limited. Responding to a request from the Lebanese Army, UNIFIL provided specialists to analyze the contents of some balloons that were located within its area of responsibility. It has provided the full and final results of those tests to the Lebanese Army, and UNIFIL understands that the Lebanese Army is continuing its enquiries into the issue.
This is all I have for you today. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Any specific proposals the Secretary-General has to energize the Quartet as he said in his statements and does he have a position on going into final status issues versus keeping the gradual approach to the conflict?
Spokesperson: Yes, you should have an answer to your question tomorrow, when the Quartet meets. There is going to be first a meeting of smaller meetings beforehand. Then the Quartet will meet and you will have some answers, I hope, tomorrow. There is going to be a press conference in Washington tomorrow.
Question: I meant to ask you about the appointment of Julian Harston to the Western Sahara. Do you know what his schedule is and when he’s going to be in the building or is he here now?
Spokesperson: I don’t think so but we’ll ask. We’ll ask when you would like to meet with him and we’ll try to find out for you what his schedule is.
Question: Will the Secretary-General be coming to UN Headquarters tomorrow after his trip to DC? Like in the afternoon?
Spokesperson: Yes, he will late in the afternoon, to go to the concert.
Question: Is he going to be holding any press availability?
Spokesperson: Not when he comes back, no, because the time will be too short. But next week he will certainly give some press briefings on his trip.
Question: Did Mr. Ban Ki-moon meet Mr. [Manouchehr] Motaki [the Foreign Minister of Iran] in Addis Ababa on his recent trip and did they discuss the nuclear matter?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what they discussed, but I can confirm that they met.
Question: I have seen some press reports saying that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has made a statement that Iran has the right to civil nuclear power…did you get any transcript about that?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have the press statements that he actually made but as you know we have consistently reiterated that Iran has the right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to the peaceful use of nuclear technology. This we have said over and over again. At the same time, you know the international community has asked for more clarity about aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme and we continue to urge Iran to help clear up those questions, through dialogue with other countries, and through cooperation with the IAEA, and the resolutions of the Security Council – this is our position.
Question: A couple questions…first of all, could you tell us who is going with the SG to the Quartet (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: Yes, I mentioned to you that Mr. Alvaro de Soto will be accompanying him. I said that yesterday.
Question: And that’s just de Soto?
Spokesperson: No, he has other members of his team that will be with him, either travelling from Rotterdam or travelling from New York.
Question: For the record, what is the rationale of asking all USGs and ASGs to resign but not Andrew Toh, who is under investigation?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said, because he’s under investigation.
Question: So, in order not to be asked to resign, all I need to be is suspected of corruption and I’m fine, right? Is that how it works?
Spokesperson: No, the process is going to be carried through all the way. But as you know, the process is ongoing.
Question: Isn’t it prejudicial to his case if he’s treated differently than all other USGs and ASGs?
Spokesperson: Well, not all USGs received letters, you know that. I mean, we had said that before – that there were USGs that were under the purview of the Secretary-General. In the case of Mr. Toh, he has an ongoing case against him and he has to clear that up first, before a decision is taken on his case.
Question: One more question about reversals of things…yesterday you said that UNIFIL, in fact, found that there was no harmful substances in the balloons. Are you reversing that now?
Spokesperson: No, I am not at all. I said they are still saying this. They submitted that report to the Lebanese army and the Lebanese army is to follow up on this. That’s all I said. Don’t make me say things I did not say, please.
Question: Although you’ve said that we all know tomorrow’s Quartet meeting is going to be on the Middle East. Since all parties that are going to meet tomorrow are somehow concerned on Kosovo – is there any chance or do you know that they may touch the issue of Kosovo, tomorrow even, in Washington?
Spokesperson: I don’t think so. In Washington? It’s going to be strictly the Quartet meeting.
Question: Does the Secretary-General – has he been fully briefed now on Mr. [Martti] Ahtisaari’s proposal on Kosovo?
Spokesperson: He met Mr. Ahtissari, as I told you, at previous briefings. He met Mr. Ahtissari during his trip. He’s fully briefed.
Question: Does he have so far, at this very moment, any opinion on that, whether he’s concerned, whether he’s optimistic again?
Spokesperson: No, he has not reacted to the report yet. He’s waiting for Mr. Ahtissari’s consultations to be over. And for a final proposal to come.
Question: And to use this block if you’ll allow me, in The Hague, when he met with officials of the ICTY, he obviously touched on the exit strategy of the ICTY. Now what is the Secretary-General’s position on the exit strategy of ICTY, bearing in mind that two most important fugitives that you mentioned before are still at large? Whether this fact is really going to jeopardize that 2008 or 2010 exit?
Spokesperson: He actually answered your question in his press report this morning and you have full access to that press statement upstairs now.
Question: Would you know off the top of your head, so I don’t have to go in the book account, how many ASGs there are and how many USGs there are?
Spokesperson: The total number I don’t know, because the number I have, the 55 are the number of people who are under the purview of the Secretary-General and not whose nomination did not depend on another body -- like WFP or… So, the 55 I gave are the number of USGs [and ASGs] who received those letters.
Spokesperson: USGs and ASGs, both.
Question: Could you break that down – how many…
Spokesperson: I have 20 USGs…
(The Spokesperson’s Office later announced that there were 19 USGs and 36 ASGs.)
Question: There are others but they’re not under the Secretary-General.
Spokesperson: No. There have to be consultations with the body -- the other bodies that they depend on.
Question: If the UNIFIL analysis showed that there was nothing harmful in the balloons, what was in the balloons? What was the purpose – has that been determined?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Lebanese army should have the answer to that, because they are, from what I gather, continuing an investigation.
Question: But I thought UNIFIL…
Spokesperson: UNIFIL said that, but the Lebanese army can decide to pursue on it.
Question: But what did UNIFIL say was in the balloons?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have the exact, the lab report, but the report was that it was negative. And they actually saw only, they analyzed the balloons only in the Tyre region, where they have actually control.
Question: What’s the point of dropping Israeli balloons in Lebanese territory?
Spokesperson: That is a question you should ask… I don’t have an answer for that one.
Question: You said that they were drifting from Israel but in fact, all eye-witnesses said they were dropped by aircraft…
Spokesperson: Did I say they were drifting from Israel… I never said that.
Question: They drifted over, yes, or they flew over.
Spokesperson: This wasn’t quite what I said, this is what press reports said. All I said was that UNIFIL had an analysis of the balloons that were in the area that…
Question: Eye-witness reports carried in the Lebanese press say that they have been dropped by aircraft…
Spokesperson: As I said earlier, I’m not giving my opinion on press reports.
Question: If they are harmless, why would they drop down, not fly…?
Spokesperson: I think that’s a question to go to the Lebanese authorities.
Question: I understand Mr. Pedersen yesterday was discussing this with the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. [Nabih] Berri. They promised they would pursue it further. Can you also tell me about whether Mr. Pedersen met other than Mr. Berri and Siniora, did he meet [Samir] Geagea and [Walid] Jumblatt as well?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information.
Question: On the restructuring, that the group of non-aligned countries are vigorously opposing the amalgamation of the disarmament department into the political department. In view of that opposition -- how is the Secretary-General going to proceed?
Spokesperson: As I said earlier, the Secretary-General wants to have consultations with the membership as a whole, which is what he’s going to do on Monday. And when he consults the membership, he’s going to know more about the objections of individual Member States and he will act on it. He said that he wanted to fully respect that legislative process and he will be listening during those consultations to what different Member States have to say about restructuring and about the proposals that he has put forward.
Question: You mentioned yesterday that the appointments would come after restructuring. Does that also apply to the Secretary-General’s team on the thirty-eighth floor? When are we likely to see some more clarity on who is actually advising the Secretary-General -- who has what position there?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an answer for you today, but the Secretary-General is coming back to Headquarters, so we should know more about plans of when he is going to announce new appointments.
Question: Is there a time line or deadline for when the Secretary-General wants to complete the appointment process? We hear in February, or sometime in February?
Spokesperson: That is going to depend on how the restructuring consultations go on.
Question: But does it have to be completed in February, because that is when the contracts expire?
Spokesperson: Not necessarily. The two processes are not necessarily linked. That was a general timetable we had. But it is possible that the Secretary-General will announce other appointments before the whole restructuring process is finished. We don’t know at this point.
Question: On Nepal, Human Rights Watch says that recruitment of child soldiers is continuing in spite of recent peace agreement. Does the UN expect to have a role in the release of thousands of child soldiers to prevent further recruitment, especially in light of the statement you read by Radhika Coomaraswamy?
Spokesperson: As you know, we are monitoring the situation and we should have more about it soon.
Question: In the last news-cycle, one of the President Al-Bashir’s advisors has been quoted as saying that the US wants regime change in Sudan and is using the international community and NGOs to bring that about. Has there been any response from the UN to that statement? There is another statement, saying that the International Criminal Court is entirely not needed in Darfur.
Spokesperson: As I said, we don’t have reactions to press statements or things relayed by the press.
Question: Jan Pronk is out. Is the Secretary-General going to appoint a new Special Representative for Sudan?
Spokesperson: Yes, most probably.
Question: As part of the restructuring, or faster than that?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point.
Question: Could you say which Funds and Programmes the Deputy Secretary-General is going to visit? Are you going to put out her schedule?
Spokesperson: She is going first to start meeting the staff in Headquarters. Then she is going to go on. This is not a process that is going to end next week, it is a continuing process. It is normal that she meets the staff.
Question: Under the previous administration, they would also put out the Secretary-General’s schedule and also the Deputy Secretary-General’s.
Spokesperson: The schedule of the Deputy Secretary-General will be put out also, but starting next week.
Question: Eleven days ago we asked UNFPA to describe programmes in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Their Spokesman said that they would do ten days ago, and they have not provided anything. We have got the internal audit, and so we now know what it is. But I am wondering whether, speaking for Ban Ki-moon or the Secretariat, whether in the sake of transparency, if you think it is appropriate that a fund or programme of the United Nations declines to provide any information for 11 days?
Spokesperson: Well, you should ask them once more.
Question: I have asked them, yesterday. So I guess, maybe I am asking you to give some guidance. I know that these programmes and funds and agencies are separate, but I think it ends up reflecting on – if he wants to bring transparency, a place to start would be with the funds, programmes and agencies.
Spokesperson: I think they have been very forthcoming…
Question: Has the Secretary-General ever expressed any views that you know of about extraordinary rendition and torture? We know that 13 American CIA agents were indicted in a German court yesterday, I don’t know if he has a comment about that, but in general about extraordinary rendition and the use of torture – has he expressed any opinion on that?
Spokesperson: Not specifically, no.
Question: Is the Secretary-General going to discuss Iran tomorrow in the Quartet, since matters in the Middle East are quite interlinked? Will that be raised?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point.
Question: Do you think that the handing over of weapons to Abbas’ faction by Israel yesterday and today is helpful before the Quartet meeting?
Spokesperson: Every move towards a peaceful solution is a positive step.
Question: But they have been giving them weapons, truckloads of weapons, and there have been skirmishes, fighting…
Spokesperson: I don’t have specific comments on this issue.
Question: Is the Secretary-General planning to set up a new political mediation unit headed by Jan Egeland? If so, does that count as part of the restructuring that has to be put before the General Assembly, or is that something he can do on his own initiative?
Spokesperson: It is something he could do on his own initiative.
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point, it has not been confirmed yet.
Question: When you say it is not confirmed, he has proposed it? What is the status of this concept?
Spokesperson: That is what I am telling you. I don’t have the precise information on it. If I do, I will. As soon as we hear something of that sort, you are the first people to be informed.
Question: Jan Egeland was here. Did he meet recently? There was a photograph I saw since Ban Ki-moon has been Secretary-General.
Spokesperson: Yes, he has met with Mr. Egeland.
Question: You can’t characterize; there is no readout on what the meeting was about?
Question: The Secretary-General has always emphasized the notion of transparency. When he travels overseas, he is usually accompanied by a group of journalists. Can a list of journalists who accompanied him be made available?
Spokesperson: If they want to, of course, we can make a list available to you, and you can contact them individually. But the Secretary-General himself is going to give you a read-out of his trip next week. The list of journalists is available upstairs. You can have it.
Question: About the meeting with the staffers. There were recently meetings in Nairobi –- [Alicia] Barcena and the Deputy Secretary-General and others met with unions. The two largest unions, however, New York and Geneva unions, were not represented. Can you account for the reasons why and understand are these two unions not in on the negotiations, as far as you are concerned, or what’s the deal?
Spokesperson: I can confirm that the New York union was not represented. I don’t know about the Geneva one, I will have to check on that and find out the reasons. But you can check with the staff union and ask them for the reasons.
Question: Yes, but I want your end. The staff union is one side; management is another in these negotiations. As far as you are concerned, did you invite them, did you try to?
Spokesperson: Yes, they were invited. All staff unions were invited.
Question: I picked up yesterday, a press release from the Secretary-General’s speech in Addis Ababa. Two thirds of page 4 of that release contained answers to questions which I was posing here for the last two weeks and for which I got no answer. Would it not be nice to present us with what the Secretary-General has actually said on page 4 of his speech?
Spokesperson: Well, you have them. Every time there is a press transcript, it is immediately made available to you as he goes along on his trip.
Question: but my questions were, about 10 days ago and since then all the time, the press release was released yesterday. I assume that that information was available, at least I would expect this information to be available to the Spokesperson.
Spokesperson: Are you talking about what the Secretary-General says during his trip, his statements in general?
Question: He addressed here the question on climate change which is of extreme interest to Africa. He did this for the extent of two thirds of a page of his speech. It was a major part of his speech, and I am simply addressing this under your point that you made today about incomplete information….I would expect this information to reinforce what the Secretary-General is saying instead of squashing it by answering me that this information is not available.
Spokesperson: As soon as the information is available, as soon as the Secretary-General says something on his trip, within the four hours that follow you have the complete transcript of that information. Everything he said, was transcribed and you have access to it on the third floor, so I would reiterate that this is done systematically.
Question: This was made available on January 31st; the speech was on January 29th.
Spokesperson: No, I am sorry, you are wrong.
Question: I stand corrected.
Spokesperson: Any other questions? Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record