19 April 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 Michčle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  We have a group of Latin American journalists attending the briefing today.  We would like to welcome them.


**Statement on Iraq Bombings


A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General about the bomb attacks in Baghdad:


Following the horrendous carnage in Baghdad yesterday, where a string of bombings left nearly 200 people dead and many more injured, the Secretary-General expresses his outrage at the callousness and scale with which innocent civilians are being slaughtered on an almost daily basis in Iraq.  Another deadly bomb attack registered today only underscores his concern. 


In the face of these latest provocations, the Secretary-General expresses his solidarity with the Iraqi people and he appeals to all communities of Iraq to show maximum restraint.  He calls urgently on the political and religious leaders of Iraq to come together in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect in order to find a way out of this destructive spiral of violence.


Still on Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, also issued a statement, warning that these horrific acts threaten Iraq’s integrity and viability, jeopardising the country’s future, and thrusting its citizens deeper into the cycle of violence and vengeance.  He again called on all Iraqis to resist being pushed into the abyss of calamitous sectarianism.


We have his full statement upstairs.


**Statement on Arab Peace Initiative


Another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:


The Secretary-General welcomes the statement yesterday by the Arab Ministerial Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, which indicates increased engagement of the League of Arab States to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 


The Secretary-General looks forward to meeting with the Ministerial Committee that has been formed to promote this process.


**Secretary-General in Europe


The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Italy today after he visited the UN Logistics Base in Brindisi, where he observed the main facility that provides support to UN field operations worldwide.


He toured warehouses, stocking tents, blankets and high-protein biscuits, which are ready to be sent at the outset of any humanitarian emergency worldwide, and he listened to staff explain the logistical challenges of setting up communications equipment in remote peacekeeping outposts.


The Secretary-General then flew back to Rome, where he attended a luncheon hosted by Mayor Walter Veltroni before leaving Italy for Switzerland.


He is scheduled to be meeting right now in Bern with Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey.  He will have a working dinner with the President and other senior leaders before he travels to Geneva tonight.


** Sudan


The Tripartite Mechanism, composed of representatives from the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan, which oversees the implementation of the UN support to the African Union Mission in Sudan, held its 10th meeting yesterday in Khartoum.


The participants welcomed the Sudanese Government’s acceptance of the UN Heavy Support Package, as well as the pledge from Sudan that the Permanent Mission of Sudan in Addis Ababa has been instructed to expedite issuance of travel visas to AMIS staff and associated personnel.


We have more details on that meeting in today’s bulletin from the UN Mission in Sudan.


** Lebanon


UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel is continuing his visit to Lebanon, in which, since arriving on Tuesday, he has met with the Lebanese Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, the President of the Republic and a number of Lebanese parliamentarians and political leaders.


All of his interlocutors have expressed support for the establishment of the tribunal.  Mr. Michel has emphasized that it is in the interest of all to have the tribunal established within Lebanon’s constitutional process.  He will continue his meetings in Beirut tomorrow.


**OCHA - Gaza


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that Israel’s restrictions on where Palestinian fishermen can fish are hurting the 40,000 Gazans dependent on the fishing industry for their primary source of income.


As those Palestinians have become progressively impoverished in the last six years, the World Food Programme, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other humanitarian agencies have been working to provide food and support job creation.


We expect a press release on this from OCHA later on this afternoon.


** Uganda


High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today reiterated her call to the Government of Uganda to review its forced disarmament strategy in Karamoja, in north-eastern Uganda, where violence and human rights violations have continued to escalate since her report last November.


In a report released today, Arbour deplored Uganda’s failure to implement the recommendations in her last report.  She concluded that any disarmament process must be accompanied by concerted and sustainable development initiatives in order to stabilize the situation in Karamoja.


We have more on that in my office.


**Children and Armed Conflict


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, just ended a two-week mission to Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Her conclusion was that children bear the brunt of the armed conflict in the Middle East.


Interacting with children in the region, Coomaraswamy said she was disturbed by their expressions of fear, anxiety, anger, revenge and hopelessness.  But she added that she was pleased that both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government said they were ready to review school curricula to make sure they weren’t inciting violence and hatred.


We have more on that upstairs.


**HIV/AIDS


Out today is the Secretary-General’s report on developments in the past year toward achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment.


He says important progress has been made, but much more needs to be done in the areas of prevention and fulfilling international commitments.  The rapid scaling up of services must also be balanced against ensuring the long-term sustainability of those services, he says.


**UNHCR


Mr. L. Craig Johnstone of the United States has been appointed as UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees.  He succeeds Ms. Wendy Chamberlin, also from the United States, who left in December last year.  He is expected to assume his duties in June.


**UNESCO


All next week, a UNESCO mission will be in Peru to assess the state of conservation at Macchu Pichu, one of its World Heritage sites.


That’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you have a response to the letter written to the Secretary-General on the New York Times report yesterday about the planes being used for attacks in Darfur? 


Spokesperson:  Not the letter… you mean the report to the Security Council?


Question:  Yes, which was in the New York Times yesterday.  The Ambassador called for an inquiry, suggesting that this was blatantly false and without any basis, and also questioned why it was released selectively to the New York Times.  Do you have any response to that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know why it was released to one media but I can say that it was released to all the media, also because that same information was released in another British newspaper about two weeks ago.  So it’s nothing new.  The report concerns events in March, the sighting of that plane, and yesterday I gave the Secretary-General’s reaction on this.  There was an official reaction of the Secretary-General.


Question:  You said there was going to be an inquiry into this?


Spokesperson:  Yes, UNMIS has been instructed to convey the Secretary-General’s concern expressed in the statement yesterday, and to seek clarifications from the Government on the reported use of the UN marking on aircrafts for military use.


Question:  Is the UN going to take up with the Government of Kazakhstan the fact that its international registration code is “UN”?


Spokesperson:  I cannot say at this point.  Certainly, there is clarification to be obtained.  Among the clarifications mentioned, there has to be clarification obtained about that.


Question:  Will the Secretary-General instruct his staff to maybe suggest to Kazakhstan that they use a different designation other than “UN”?


Spokesperson:  Well, this was not going to be done at the level of the Secretary-General.  It’s going to be done at the level of, certainly, DPKO and other agencies.


Question:  Regarding the mission to the Lebanon border, is there any progress regarding sending that mission?


Spokesperson:  No, I can just confirm that the mission is going to be sent but we don’t have the details yet.


Question:  The Sudanese Ambassador said he was going to write a letter.  Is there a way for us to obtain it once you get it since it’s all about media coverage and the entire report is no longer confidential?


Spokesperson:  Sure, certainly.  If the letter comes, I will let you know.


Question:  Back on Sudan, did the SG in fact receive and read the experts’ report before yesterday’s story was published?


Spokesperson:  He was certainly aware that there had been violations.  He didn’t have the details of those violations.  As you know, he officially protested against a number of violations when he discussed Darfur, first when he was in Saudi Arabia, when he met with Mr. Bashir, he talked about the violations.  He did not specifically mention that one plane, or those planes, because he did not specifically refer to that, no.


Question:  But did he actually read and receive the report before yesterday’s story broke in the Times?


Spokesperson:  Those reports go to the political affairs branch of the United Nations.


Question:  So he read it?


Spokesperson:  Probably.


Question:  There have been many calls, probably to you as well, but from what we read in the media there are a lot of requests to the UN to come in, step in for the Kirkuk issue.  As you know, it’s probably going to be bigger in the coming days.  There was a report by the International Crisis Group today calling on the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy to solve the Kirkuk problem.  Have you received any formal request from any side, from the Turkish side, Iraqi side or Kurdish side?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I can inquire about it.  As you know, the Secretary-General is travelling at the moment.


Question:  On the carnage in Iraq… is it the responsibility of the Iraqi Government or the occupying forces?  There’re so many people that have been killed.  It’s an absolute outrage what has happened.  Who takes the responsibility… the occupying forces or the Government of Iraq?


Spokesperson:  I cannot answer that question.


Question:  Any news on the replacement or when a replacement will be found for Mr. [Alvaro] de Soto in the Middle East?


Spokesperson:  No, not yet.  Mr. de Soto’s contract is still continuing and as soon as it is finished, they will announce the new envoy.


Question:  You said that the Secretary-General welcomed the efforts on the Arab Peace Initiative and he’s willing to meet with ministers.  When is that going to happen?


Spokesperson:  When he is going to be in … as you know, he’s going to go for the Iraq Compact [meeting] very soon in Sharm el-Sheikh, and probably will be meeting the ministers at that time.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General going to attend the meeting in Cairo of the second round of the Baghdad Conference… the 3 and 4 of May?


Spokesperson:  Yes, but it’s not going to be in Cairo.  It’s going to be in Sharm el-Sheikh; that’s what I just said. 


Question:  The Secretary-General met with the Pope and they reportedly discussed multilateralism, inter-cultural dialogue and UN reform.  Have they discussed any other issue, for example, the Middle East conflict?  And also, the Secretary-General has invited the Pope to visit UN Headquarters.  Has the Pope accepted the invitation?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information yet.  I know the invitation was extended.  I can give you a better readout of the meeting.  What you have is what I have in terms of what was said at that meeting.


Question:  It’s been announced that the United States and Australia are going to start trading asylum seekers, i.e. people that try to go to Australia will be sent to US facilities and people trying to get to the United States from Haiti and elsewhere will be sent to Australia.  This is in an attempt to make it less likely for people to try to get into the country.  So I’m wondering whether anyone in the Australian press, whether anyone in the UN system, UNHCR or elsewhere has any comment on this type of asylum strategy.


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.


Question:  On the plane thing, yesterday we had a briefing by a senior UN official, at which he said that he thought it was from Kazakhstan because of the symbol system that Mark brought up.  Actually that plane shows up in a registry of planes sales as having been sold by a Russian airline to Sudan.  So I’m wondering whether the senior UN official or DPKO… if the only basis for the Kazakhstan thing, was the “UN” symbol on the [inaudible]?  Also, if it’s possible, given this situation, to actually name the individual?  Why he only spoke on background, given that he spoke to like 40 reporters here?


Spokesperson:  Well, he spoke on background.  This is the current practice, as you know.  When we want to give you additional information on one subject, where we don’t have a specific statement to make on that subject, we want to give you information.  I think this is standard practice at the UN.


Question:  Had he asked Kazakhstan, for example, if it was their plane or… but it seemed like that’s what he said. 


Spokesperson:  This was a possibility evoked.  There is an investigation on what the plane is about.  He also mentioned in the same briefing that some people sighted that plane, not only on the Janjaweed-controlled part of Darfur but also in the Chadian Government-controlled part of eastern Chad.  And there were also sightings in the Central African Republic.  Is it the same plane?  We don’t know.  At this point, we’re trying to ascertain the facts.


Question:  I just want to nail down either the basis for the Kazakhstan thing… was it entirely based on just the “UN” being on [the plane]?  Has the UN system run the number that’s actually painted on the plane’s wing?  Given what it said yesterday, when will DPKO be providing an update or saying, here’s whose plane it is?


Spokesperson:  Didn’t I just say that UNMIS is on the ground and trying to investigate this?  So we’ll have an answer.


Question:  On Sudan, Russia and China are actually opposing sanctions on Sudan, and the US is coming out saying that they will… if the UN doesn’t come forward, if Sudan doesn’t do more, they will put sanctions on Sudan.  Isn’t it that the UN system is not working properly?  That’s my question.


Spokesperson:  What do you mean?


Question:  Is not the UN system on Sudan working properly so that the sides are coming out with different ideas, different perspectives, different strategies?


Spokesperson:  But you know that we are made up of a number of Member States, who have different interests and different strategies and different political views.  So I don’t think it’s new to the UN.  It’s part of our existence as an institution that you have different positions on an issue, whether it be sanctions in the Security Council or it is other matters in the General Assembly.  So I don’t think it’s something new to the UN.  We are not talking about the Secretariat here.  We’re talking about the Security Council.  The Security Council certainly doesn’t take instructions from the Secretariat.  Nor does the General Assembly take instructions from the Secretariat.  You are dealing with different entities here.


Question:  This is a follow-up to the Thessaloniki audit.  What does the SG intend to do in the stand-off between [Office of Internal Oversight Services] (OIOS) and [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs] (DESA)?  [inaudible]… DESA’s refusal to accept OIOS recommendations from that audit…  Who will he be backing in this stand-off and how will he be backing them?


Spokesperson:  Well as far as… we got some information for you from DESA, and we heard that the final report on the Thessaloniki centre issued by the Office of Internal Oversight Services on 23 February, which is the one after the one you mentioned, it is still part of an ongoing process between the two departments – the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and OIOS.  The main focus of the final stage is to finalize recommendations to be implemented by DESA.  So this is… we’re not at this stage yet.  The conclusion that was reached that the two departments are at a stand-off… when I asked DESA that question, they said it was entirely false.  They said that both entities considered that the audit process is a consultative one and that is what is going on now.


Question:  I just want to say that whenever there is an OIOS report, it has to leak out, it’s never presented, it’s an ongoing process, recommendations take 50 years, and somewhere, for the sake of transparency, maybe this new administration can [inaudible].  Eventually diplomats are going to get it - like the one that was just done - and we will get it.


Spokesperson:  But I think there are some audit reports that come out regularly.  I mean audits are part of the way this house functions. 


Question:  I endorse everything Evelyn says.  Under Ban, we still have yet to see evidence that the UN has any intention of becoming any more transparent than ever it was.  Another question: regarding the 38th floor, what is the status on the hiring of all the staff there?  Is the process almost finished yet?


Spokesperson:  It’s still being finalized.


Question:  How much longer because obviously there’s a wide sense of lack of communication between the membership and the 38th floor because the 38th floor is not working yet because it hasn’t got people there.  How much longer is that likely to take, that process?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have an exact date but I do know that you had been told of the number of people who had presented candidacies.  I think right now we are at the final stage of the process.  I cannot give you a date.


Question:  In the next couple of weeks?  I mean, just a month ago, it was in the next couple of weeks and now it’s… I’m just left a bit confused.


Spokesperson:  I didn’t say the next couple of weeks.


Question:  Not you, but a month ago, people were saying we’re almost there.  And we’re still almost there.  I’m just wondering what does that mean?


Spokesperson:  We’ll find out soon.  I’ll let you know.


Question:  Yesterday I asked a question about what measures the Secretary-General has taken to respond to Staff concerns… in the town hall meeting with them.  Were you able to get an answer?


Spokesperson:  I do know that there are consultations continuing between the Department of Management and the Staff Council on those reforms, and I think this also is an ongoing process.


Question:  This is a follow-up to the report from the person who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories.  Is she equating the Israeli education system to that of the Palestinian education system, where we see examples of children being taught to hate Jews, to hate others?


Spokesperson:  You’ll be able to ask her the question.  She’ll be here on Monday as our guest at the noon briefing.


This is all I have for you.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of General Assembly


Three short, albeit important, announcements:


The five facilitators on Security Council reform will be meeting with the Assembly President at 5 p.m. today to hand in their report.  The President will take a look at the report, turn it over to Member States, give them a few days and then they will decide what to do with that.


ACABQ decided on Monday to take up the Secretary-General’s proposals on restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations when it returns from its recess on 15 May.


On mandate review, the informal consultations of the plenary are scheduled for tomorrow morning to introduce the new co-chair, who is theAmbassador of Namibia.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just remind me what’s going on with the mandate review process.  I just completely lost touch with it.  So where are we in terms of proposals and discussions and so forth?


Spokesperson:  There are some proposals that they think they can get consensus on but they were waiting for the naming of another…


Question:  I’m sorry, who’s they?  I mean, really, treat me like a total know-nothing on this one.


Spokesperson:  Member States were awaiting the appointment of the second facilitator to maintain the required balance and this is why…


Question:  I still have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m sorry.  What are we talking about here?  What is the proposal in terms of how many mandates are going to be cut and who is discussing what about…?


Spokesperson:  I can get you the final report on that.  It will give you all the details. 


Question:  Who’s the other facilitator?


Spokesperson:  Ireland.


Question:  So once they get a developing country, which is obviously going to be Namibia, then they’re actually going to start to work?


Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s the hope.


Question:  On system-wide coherence -- that dreadful phrase -- I see the SG wants the pilot programmes… he wants to do something about the women’s operation.  Do you hear any discussion on environment?  Now that climate change is very much in the news, I remember the panel report saying the UN has 200 days of meetings around the world on this issue, all of it overlapping.  The developing countries not even having the staff to send to… Is any of that going to be condensed?  Or is it just to have a new climate change…?


Spokesperson:  As I said when the report came out, the easy part of it was, I hope, the issue of women, because that is a structural change that you can effect immediately and amalgamate everything.  But other parts of the report require a lot of work because they are basically governance and financing, and this means money and sovereignty, and the way to run things.  And this takes a little more time, to put it modestly, than other things like structure.


Question:  Just on system-wide coherence, do you have a prediction… there were two days of debate, Monday and Tuesday, what happens next?  What’s the next step on system-wide coherence?


Spokesperson:  If I have to make a prediction, I will say it will take significant time.  And again, that’s a very conservative estimate.


Question:  On the urgent audit that Ban Ki-moon called for of UNDP in North Korea, they keep saying now that the ball is in ACABQ’s court, that the 90-day clock… I’m not really sure where it is.  You once said that it had… what is the status about the GA…?


Spokesperson:  Again, I told you that the ACABQ said we have not yet received the report.  Once they receive the report, they schedule some time to discuss it and then they make the recommendations, and then it goes off to the Fifth Committee. 


There was one question; I think Evelyn asked Michčle about the OIOS reports.  You know it’s a decision by Member States that the OIOS reports remain with OIOS and are released on request by Member States; released to the particular Member State that asked for that report.  So, like you said, you will eventually get them once Member States get them.


Question:  It could be a decision by the Secretary-General to show some transparency.  I mean Betsy Pisik has already run, a week ago, a storyon the Greek institute report.  And it goes on this way.  Different people go after them and get them.  Why not all…?


Spokesperson:  We should all become very close friends of Betsy.


Question:  Why not just give the damn thing out because we never know where the process ends.  The process always goes on.  I’ve been here a long time and I’ve yet to get an OIOS report that makes sense, that’s not a summary of the year’s investigation. 


Spokesperson:  Let’s just hope for the best.


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For information media • not an official record