15 February 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.


Good afternoon.


**Security Council


The Security Council, just a short while ago, unanimously adopted resolutions extending the mandates of two UN peacekeeping missions.  The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was extended by two months, and the one in Haiti was extended by eight months.


The Security Council has now gone back into consultations, to consider a letter they received on Tuesday from the Secretary-General, concerning a request from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora for technical assistance from the International Independent Investigation Commission in the effort to investigate the bombing that took place that day near the town of Bikfaya.


Council members also intend to discuss a possible press statement concerning the recent attack in Iran, on which we issued a statement from the Secretary-General yesterday.


They will then hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.  That’s the monthly Security Council luncheon.  And, I am told there will be a stakeout area set up outside the Security Council luncheon area.


**Background Briefing - Department of Peacekeeping Operations


I also wanted to let you know that, at 12:30, we will have a senior official here for a background briefing on the proposed realignment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  And that will take place here at 12:30 sharp, and it will be on background.  And before that, we do have the General Assembly Spokesman here, as well, who has a report for you.


** Iraq - UNHCR


Now, turning to Iraq, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, welcomed the announcement by the United States that it will contribute $18 million to UNHCR’s $60 million appeal for its Iraq operations this year.  The United States also said it would expand its capacity to receive referrals for up to 7,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees this year.


Those pledges came following a meeting yesterday between the High Commissioner for Refugees and the US Secretary of State in Washington, D.C.  And, in a press release today, Guterres also noted that Syria and Jordan have been generous in welcoming Iraqi refugees, but that situation is becoming difficult to bear. He said that it is important that the international community help those countries in their efforts to protect and assist Iraqi refugees.  And there’s more information on this on the UNHCR website.


** Iraq


Also, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, met today with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül.  The two discussed recent developments in Iraq and the important role the neighbouring States can play in reducing violence and promoting stability in the country.


The meeting in Ankara is part of Qazi’s regional tour, designed to learn the views of the Governments of the region and explore the different ways these Governments can help enhance Iraq’s stability and regional reintegration.  There’s a press release with more details on this upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


And available today is the latest report to the Security Council from the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  In it, the Secretary-General proposes that alternative measures be explored with a view to reducing the influence of economic operators that use proceeds from natural-resource exploitation to buy and import weapons.


He also recommends that the Congolese Government promote a business climate that discourages extortion, fraud and other illegal practices to strengthen the authorities’ ability to raise public funds.  To meet these goals, the Secretary-General proposes the drafting of a code of conduct specifically designed for private actors in that country.


Also available today is a report of the Security Council’s group of experts on the DRC, which covers a vast range of issues related to the Congolese mining sector.


**France-Afrique Summit


And, in a message to the France-Afrique Summit delivered earlier today in Cannes by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tuliameni Kalomoh, the Secretary-General reaffirmed his pledge to support Africa’s efforts to end violent conflict, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and to be a full and effective partner in international affairs.


The Secretary-General said he is encouraged by France’s continued commitment to African development, which complements the United Nations own efforts to assist Africa.  “Let us strengthen that spirit of partnership,” he vowed, “and of solidarity with Africa’s people.”


** Mozambique


Also in Africa today, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that a WFP-chartered helicopter has started rescue and food delivery missions in flood-hit areas of central Mozambique.  So far, some 10,000 flood survivors have received food from that agency.  And, there’s a press release with more details upstairs on that.


**International Atomic Energy Agency


And an announcement from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Organization for Standardization, which we thought might interest you today -- they launched a new ionizing radiation warning symbol to supplement the traditional symbol for radiation; the three cornered trefoil.


With radiating waves, a skull and crossbones and a running person, the new symbol is expected to help reduce needless deaths and serious injuries from accidental exposure to radiation. The adoption of a new symbol was motivated by the dilemma that the average person had no intuitive understanding or recognition of the trefoil.  And the new symbol – because I thought you might ask me – looks like this.


**Briefings


And a reminder again, at 12:30, we will have a senior UN official on the proposed realignment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and then a reminder that there will also be a briefing on UN police operations to root out gangs in neighbourhoods of the Haitian capital.  The briefing is for attribution, and will take place this afternoon at 3 in the Situation Centre on the 32nd floor of the Secretariat Building.  That’s the Situation Centre of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.


And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, who will brief you on the Liberia Partners’ Forum, which took place in Washington, D.C., this week.  That’s what I have for you, today.  Yes? Can I start in the back and go to the front today?  Laura?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Marie, I wanted to ask you about the announcement that Guterres made in Washington yesterday about the Iraq refugee donor conference to be held in April.  What sort of Middle Eastern representation are they looking for at the conference?  And do you have any other information on it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further information than what UNHCR has made available today on its website, but we can certainly call them and find out if they have more, or you’re welcome to do so yourself.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that among the countries in the region expected to attend the donor conference were Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.  Other countries from the region could also attend, but had not yet confirmed.]


Question:  Marie, on the question of Western Sahara.  As you know, Morocco is planning to submit a very advanced autonomy plan to the United Nations in April, and this has been covered widely in the international press.  Now, the POLISARIO has rejected this plan as not viable.  What are the options left for the Secretary-General?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the newly appointed Special Representative for Western Sahara, Julian Harston, has been here this week holding consultations, and he is available for interviews…


Correspondent:  He is not.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I understand that he was.


Correspondent:  No.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll certainly look into that for you.  But, he is in town, in Headquarters, with consultations, and I’ll have to look at when the Security Council will be taking up that issue, but I have nothing further than the fact that the newly appointed Secretary-General’s Representative is here on preliminary, initial consultations.  Mark?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the most recent plans -- both the “Baker Plan” and the subsequent suggestions by United Nations envoy Peter van Walsum -- were in the hands of the Security Council.  It was up to the Council to evaluate the plans and choose where to go.]


Question:  Referring to a piece in the New York Times today, which is discussing the fact that the World Bank can no longer compete in giving aid to countries like Nigeria or wherever, because, as soon as they come in with a project which has various conditions to fight corruption or environmental standards, China comes along offering twice the money with no conditions.  And, the international sort of aid system [inaudible] environmental and all the rest of it standards feels a little bit under siege from the fact that China is just handing out money left, right and centre with no conditions.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this trend?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not sure he’s seen that report today.  We’ll…


Question:  I’m not asking about the report.  I’m actually asking you to comment on the trend, which is well documented. 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard anything specifically on this from him, so let me look into it for you.  Yes?


Question:  Did you receive any of the [inaudible] reports from UNIFIL regarding reconnaissance overflights over Lebanon by the French battalions there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing new, I understand that you were referring to some press reports.  Our office’s attention has been drawn to those press reports by you, but beyond that, I have not heard anything.


Question:  Did they confirm it or deny it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Some weeks ago, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister said all Ethiopian troops would be out of Somalia by the middle of February.  So, since it’s the 15th, I’m wondering, has that taken place?  What is the UN system’s knowledge of that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to check with Mr. François Lonseny Fall to see where things are.  I know he’s in consultations on various issues regarding Somalia at the moment.


Question:  An unrelated question, it has to do with UN employees having outside employment.  There seems to be a rule saying they can’t do that without the Secretary-General’s approval.  A couple of days ago, I asked about a particular UN University individual who’s teaching at a computer thing at Times Square.  So, not having gotten an answer, I’m wondering, can you… is there a list somewhere that says “Here are the people who have the approval from the SG for outside employment”?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I doubt that there is a list, but there are staff rules governing that matter, and that I can get for you, if that’s what you need.


Question:  I have the rules, but it seems like a fair question to say, does a particular individual have the approval.  And so your Office had looked into it, but, after two days, I still don’t have an answer.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll follow up then on the question that you had.


Correspondent:  Thank you very much.


Question:  [talkover] Jonathan Blankson was made head of the UN Human Resources information technology services.  To whom did Blankson report in his last job?  What were his responsibilities since the implementation of the Galaxy system?  Has there been any major upgrade, repairs or revisions leading to that system?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to look into that.  It’s an individual case and if there’s more information on that, I will share it with you.  Yes?


Question:  Because there was a question about whether Mr. Blankson was in fact “the inventor” of the galaxy system.  So, maybe without getting to the legalities of his case, is he the inventor of the Galaxy? The Galaxy system?


Question:  Now that it’s way behind us, is it possible for you guys to release the resignation letters of all USGs and ASGs?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think that’s a matter for public consumption.


Question:  Why?  You say that they all resigned?


Deputy Spokesperson:  And the Secretary-General has announced his first tranche of appointments and he will continue to announce appointments as the decisions are made.


Question:  So, there’s no way you can release them so we can see actually how those resignations were actually offered?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think they are documents to be made public.


Question:  A few days ago, the Secretary-General commended the progress achieved on the negotiation in the Korean peninsula.  Has he also commended the role of the Chinese leadership for their contribution to this achievement?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he commended the role of the six parties in the six-party talks for getting the agreement that they got the other day, which, of course, includes China.  Yes?


Question:  It seems like that high-level group that was supposed to go has decided they’re not going to go?  If that’s the case, can it now be said that the visa was a problem with Bertrand Ramcharan?  And also, how are they going to conduct their work from outside Sudan?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’re talking about the Human Rights Council mission to Darfur.  They announced yesterday in Addis Ababa that, because of the uncertainty over the visa issue for the team, they will continue their work outside the country.  I think the chief spokeswoman from the podium expressed the Secretary-General’s disappointment that the team could not get in, as the Secretary-General himself had raised this matter with the Sudanese President, when he met with him in Addis Ababa at the AU summit.


The understanding that I have now is that the mission team will continue its work.  It has now gone to Chad, where it will be or is interviewing refugees who have fled from Darfur.  They intend to complete the work within the timeframe that they have been given.  And I understand that that report, or the mission, will be completed by early next week.


If there are no other questions, in about 10 minutes, 11 minutes, we should have the background briefing in here.  Thank you very much.  This is the background briefing by a senior UN official on the realignment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which all of you have been requesting.  So we’ll have that today.


Thank you.


Briefing by Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General to Brief General Assembly on Peace, Security, Disarmament Proposal


The Assembly President received from the Secretary-General this morning a letter with annexes outlining his proposals to strengthen the capacities of the Organization in the field of peace and security, and to advance the disarmament agenda.  The President will soon circulate the letter to Member States.  And, at the Secretary-General’s request, the President will chair an informal meeting of the plenary tomorrow afternoon to allow the Secretary-General to explain his ideas to Member States.


**Secretary-General to Brief General Assembly on Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Handbook


Tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. just before this informal meeting, the President will chair a meeting where the Secretary-General and the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force will brief Member States on the progress to date in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, including the launch of an online Counter-Terrorism Handbook.  Yes Mark?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  What is this online counter-terrorism handbook?


Spokesperson:  Exactly what it says.  It’s a handbook, which is online, to counter terrorism.


Question:  Well, actually, by that, it’s not a handbook then, it’s an online book.  But, what does it say in it?


Spokesperson:  Well, as soon as it’s launched, you can view it online and see everything in it.


Question:  Well, I just wondered what it, who created it, just seeking some details here… [talkover]?


Spokesperson:  The task force that the Secretary-General established, in order to create that handbook.


Question:  What does it address?  Who is it designed to help?  What information does it contain?


Spokesperson:  It’s -- everything is in there.


Question:  No, that’s not an answer, everything, everything… [talkover].


Spokesperson:  …all the answers to your questions.  I’m not trying to be evasive.  I mean, this is something.


Question:  Will it highlight… [inaudible] counter-terrorism?  Will it tell us whether we should torture, or not torture, all those hard-hitting questions, or is it going to be just… [talkover]?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think it goes into torture, but it’s a very useful handbook.  Just take a look at it.


Question:  Who is it for?


Spokesperson:  It’s for everybody.


Question:  How much does it cost?


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s designed especially for Member States.


Correspondent:  This is ridiculous.


Spokesperson:  It’s designed… well, I’m sure you could have my own opinion of my answers, but that’s not the point.  The point is this is a briefing for Member States in an open meeting and you will know what this handbook is all about, and that’s pretty much it.  I’m sorry?


Question:  How much did it cost to produce?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but I can check for you.


Question:  Another question.  It has to do with the Pension Board.  The board of the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund seems to have, the General Assembly sends four members to it.  So, I’m wondering how, you know –- there seem to be four members that are appointees or are elected from the GA –- so I’m wondering, first, how they’re elected by the GA, by the General Assembly or by some Committee, and also whether they can, the issue I’ve asked you about, these OIOS reports that now supposedly go back to the GA, can these four individuals, do they play any role –- because they’re on the Pension Fund Board, in bringing this back to the GA?


Spokesperson:  No, no.  The Chairman of the Board sends his report, the annual report of the Board, to the Fifth Committee.  It’s a standing item.  I think it’s an annual item.  If not annual, it’s one of the biennial items.  And, once that report is made to the Fifth Committee, the Member States can either endorse the report of the Pension Fund, ask questions of the Pension Fund about why they did not accept recommendations made by OIOS, and it’s either that the Chief can persuade Member States that this was the right decision to make, or Member States can easily take a decision or resolution telling him, “No, you have to accept the recommendations made by OIOS.”  Yes, sir?


Question:  Now that the President has this letter from the Secretary-General, and they’re holding a plenary tomorrow, is she envisioning some kind of timeframe for [inaudible] the report?


Spokesperson:  I think it’s pretty early to look into a timeframe right now.


Question:  Does she have a preference herself?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Not yet.  Yes, sir?


Question:  What is the status of the discussion on Security Council reform at this stage?


Spokesperson:  She named the facilitators.  They’ll start consultations very soon.  That’s where we’re at right now.


Question:  Are there any new concrete proposals?


Spokesperson:  No, nothing concrete yet.  It’s just the format this time around is different from the format before.  It involves the five facilitators so that each of them will handle one of the major points.  Okay?  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record