|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 Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. Sorry I’m a few minutes late.
**Secretary-General in Sharm el-Sheikh
The Secretary-General today co-chaired the launch of the International Compact with Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and he told the delegates gathered for the launch that the Compact represents a road map for the next five years, aimed at helping Iraq achieve economic prosperity, political stability and lasting security.
The Secretary-General said, “Much work will be needed to keep Iraq on track, but I am confident that the people and the Government are up to the challenge.” He emphasized that, under the Compact, the Government has committed itself to pursuing a number of important initiatives to promote dialogue and reconciliation and to adhere to a legislative timetable designed to strengthen Iraqi unity.
“ Iraq is at a critical juncture,” he said. “Political solutions are essential to building the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous country.” And we have the entire speech upstairs.
The Compact meeting has just adopted by acclamation a resolution reaffirming the shared commitment of the 74 delegations to strengthen their partnership for a secure and stable Iraq. The Government of Iraq and the international community stressed the need for the Iraqi Government to pursue fundamental reforms in governance, strengthened anti-corruption measures, equal protection for all Iraqis and an institutional framework based on the rule of law.
The resolution adopted at Sharm el-Sheikh also pledges substantive international engagement and investments to bridge the gap between Iraq’s needs and its capabilities in the medium term, with a special emphasis on the granting of debt relief to Iraq.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings, one of which was with the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Motaki. The Secretary-General discussed the nuclear issue with Motaki and urged Iran to continue its discussions with the European Union. They also talked about Lebanon and Iraq, with the Secretary-General calling for Iran to play a constructive role in building a national consensus in Iraq.
The Secretary-General, in a press conference just a few minutes ago, said he was pleased that a number of countries have made concrete commitments under the Compact today. He said that the specific financial commitments made by particular countries are estimated to be over $30 billion, including some commitments of debt relief on the Paris Club terms. And we have his opening remarks at the press conference upstairs and we should have a transcript of that press conference later today.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there reports progress in the disarmament process with the announcement by Peter Karim, a leader of one of eastern DRC’s largest militias, that an additional 500 of his fighters will surrender their weapons and reintegrate into civilian life this week. The Mission also reports that a joint UN-Congolese Army unit was able to verify the effective disarmament of some 320 individuals at the Mbandaka naval base. And a team from the Military Integration Structure recently left the Equateur province after registering some 50 soldiers and 130 former presidential security officers for reintegration. And we have copies of this press briefing upstairs.
And in Liberia, the UN Mission there says that Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, has presided over the official handover by the United Nations of a regional diamond certification office to the Liberian Government at a ceremony in Tubmanburg, a town near the capital, Monrovia.
Mr. Doss also took part in the dedication of the Liberian Government Diamond Office, and later attended a series of workshops intended to strengthen the skills of Liberian immigration workers.
And on Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Mřller, today addressed a gathering of international civil society in Nicosia.
In his remarks, he said no solution to the Cyprus problem would be sustainable unless every Cypriot truly felt that their voice had been heard as it was being shaped.
The Cyprus problem must have a Cypriot solution, Mřller said. And we have his full remarks upstairs.
And on Sudan, the Registrar of the International Criminal Court is visiting three camps housing Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad as part of the outreach strategy the Court has to deal with Darfur.
His three-day visit, which ends tomorrow, is intended to explain the mandate and activities of the Court, especially the right of victims to participate in Court proceedings. The ICC has a press release with more details.
And turning to Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that it was stepping up a drive to deliver food to almost one third of the 365,000 people driven from their homes in Mogadishu by the recent fighting.
And meanwhile, on behalf of the UN refugee agency, WFP yesterday airlifted 14 tons of urgently needed relief supplies to Baidoa. And there’s more on that upstairs as well.
**World Health Organization/United Nations Children’s Fund
In a joint policy statement issued today in Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are urging countries, donor agencies and NGOs to fund and promote the use of vaccine vial monitors.
The monitors are printed directly on vaccine vials, and change colour when a vaccine may have been damaged by heat and rendered ineffective.
WHO says the monitors not only allow health workers to recognize and replace millions of doses of unusable vaccines, but also allow them to keep tens of thousands of unrefrigerated doses that are still effective and previously might have been discarded. And there’s a press release on that.
**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime/World Bank
We also want to flag to you a joint report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank on the high rate of crime and violence in the Caribbean and its threat to growth and prosperity.
The report is being released in Washington, D.C., at 1 p.m. And there’s an embargoed press release upstairs on that.
**World Press Freedom Day
And as you are no doubt aware, today is World Press Freedom Day.
In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General notes that more than 150 media professionals lost their lives in the line of duty in the past year. He also appeals once again for the immediate and safe release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston.
We have copies of his message upstairs, as well as a message from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.
UNESCO, meanwhile, is marking World Press Freedom Day by holding a two-day seminar in Medellin, Colombia, where it plans to award its Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize posthumously to slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Here in New York, UNESCO is also sponsoring a luncheon at 1 p.m. on “Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity”. And at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 5, there will be a panel discussion on “The citizen journalist: The Internet as a tool for freedom of speech”.
And just a couple of things: one is an appointment that we should just flag for you and another is a clarification.
Robert F. Benson of Canada has been appointed Director of the Ethics Office and began his work on 1 May. Mr. Benson is a former Interim Ethics Commissioner in the Canadian Parliament and, prior to that, he served as Deputy Ethics Counsellor within the Canadian Government. There’s a short bio upstairs of him.
Mr. Benson succeeds Ms. Nancy Hurtz-Soyka who has served as Interim Director of the Ethics Office since its inception in early 2006.
And the clarification is in response to some press queries about a meeting that the Secretary-General held on Lebanon two days ago.
The Secretary-General and Ambassador Mohamed Chatah, Senior Adviser to the Lebanese Prime Minister, discussed the proposed establishment of a tribunal of an international character for Lebanon.
Contrary to some reports, at no time did Ambassador Chatah ask if he could attend a meeting of the Security Council. Accordingly, there was no rejection of such a request.
Ambassador Chatah presented to the Secretary-General the views of the Government of Lebanon regarding the status and prospects for ratifying the tribunal. He also underlined the commitment of the Lebanese Government to see that the tribunal is established in order to enhance stability and the rule of law in Lebanon.
In response, the Secretary-General briefed Ambassador Chatah on discussions taking place at the United Nations on this issue.
And that’s what I have for you. We have the General Assembly Spokeswoman here to brief you as well. But before we turn to her, any questions for me? Let’s go from the back to the front.
**Questions and Answers
Question: At the beginning of this week there was a meeting of the Afghan President and Pakistani President in Ankara. Did the United Nations issue a statement about it and does the UN have a comment about the meeting?
Spokesperson: I’m sorry. I didn’t quite hear. There was a meeting in Ankara?
Question: Yes. In Ankara between Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Musharraf with the Turkish President. So I just wonder if the UN issued any statement about the meeting or declaration.
Spokesperson: No. We have not.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the UN Mission in Afghanistan believed the Ankara Declaration deserves support and says that it looks forward to seeing it being acted upon. The UN has consistently advocated for better dialogue and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, she added.]
Question: Yesterday, it was announced that Jan Egeland, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Political Affairs, was appointed Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. Is the Secretary-General concerned that this might be seen as a conflict of interest?
Spokesperson: I don’t believe so. As you know, Mr. Egeland will be taking up appointments from time to time and he will be affiliated with the Department of Political Affairs on this. And I checked with them and I think he will continue to work on an as-needed basis if there are reasons for him to contribute.
Question: Tuesday it was announced that the report on resolution 1559 would be released, and then yesterday. Why this delay? Do you have any reason?
Spokesperson: No. I don’t know if there was an actual due date for this, but I understand that the report is being finalized and I’ll let you know as soon as it goes to Council members, as we usually do.
Question: It’s a follow-up to Mr. Abbadi’s question. Yesterday, I was told that Jan Egeland and other people are paid on this “whenever actually employed basis”. That they’re paid as a USG but just for the days that they work. But they have another employer. Are they also paid by the other employer at the same time? Meaning, are they serving two masters? And what’s the review process? In this case there was no conflict. But who in the UN reviews whether someone working for the UN and also a private entity, that there’s not a conflict? What’s the process?
Spokesperson: Yes, if they are working as a part-time job, they are paid from their other employer. Well, you’d have to ask them about their other employer. In terms of if there’s a conflict of interest, that’s something that the OHRM, our Human Resources Department, would be vetting and, if necessary, with the advice of our Legal Department.
Question: How many “whenever actually employed” people are there working for the UN? And can we get a list of those?
Spokesperson: I think we’ve mentioned this from this podium. But, as you know, the new Secretary-General is still in the process of reviewing the various senior officials. So as soon as the line-up is complete, we will obviously let you know.
Question: Can we even just know the current line-up? I’m not saying like who he’s going to appoint. I got a sense yesterday when I got your answer that I didn’t know how many of them that there are.
Spokesperson: I think there is a review process going on. So I don’t think we’ll have anything available until that is complete. But if I can get you something, I will.
Question: Just to follow up on this first of all before I go to my question. Is there any criteria to decide whether world luminaries who are working on a per-job basis get USG-type compensation or do they get $1 a year? Who decides which person deserves $1 a year and which person deserves a USG-scale compensation?
Spokesperson: It’s the Secretary-General ultimately.
Question: Is there any criteria or is it just pressures?
Spokesperson: Senior appointments at that level, the Secretary-General, as you know, has, as in the Climate Change Envoys, chosen people of a certain calibre that he can utilize to bring about global consensus. And for that kind of a job he taps people who may not be necessarily available on a full-time basis and it’s basically an economical way to get his work done.
Question: And then you get people that are just as prominent like Egeland and working for their Government at the same time, and how come they get USG scale rather than $1? I mean, you can use the same economical way there?
Spokesperson: Well, this is part of the negotiations as in any job.
Question: So the people who get $1 a year are (inaudible)? But to my real question, this is just to follow up on a question I asked earlier this week, have the auditors in North Korea asked for a visa to enter the country and was that visa accepted or rejected?
Spokesperson: On that, as you know, there is an audit going on by the external Board of Auditors. It is still ongoing and so, as long as the process is ongoing, we really can’t comment further on this. My understanding on your specific question about the visas to North Korea is that the visas were not requested. And as far as we know they have been doing their work out of New York. The reason why I say that it is our understanding is because we don’t speak for the external Board of Auditors. The external Board of Auditors is independent of the Secretariat. They were asked by the ACABQ to conduct this audit at our request. So we do really need to pose that question to the external Board of Auditors.
Question: To follow up on that, would the Secretary-General accept an audit of a country programme if the auditor had not visited the country? Would it be seen by the Secretary-General as a comprehensive audit?
Spokesperson: Again, right now the audit process is ongoing. As long as the audit process is ongoing, we can’t comment on it. The report has not been submitted to the ACABQ yet.
Question: If the visa was denied, would the Secretary-General consider pressuring North Korea to grant a visa to auditors?
Spokesperson: Again, Benny, I think you are asking a hypothetical question because at this point the process is still ongoing. The Board of Auditors is still working on their report.
Question: I have two questions: one is a follow-up on this conversation that’s taken place now between you and Benny. Do you have a list of people who were hired at $1 a day with diplomatic immunity who are not being reconsidered for the jobs again because there are some big people who were here who have been rehired? Is there a list of this from the Secretary-General? Can we get that list?
Spokesperson: As I mentioned earlier, the intention was to provide such a list once the review process was complete and we have the whole new line-up. There are, as you know, some senior officials whose contracts have lapsed and they have not continued. So taking all of this into consideration, I think the intention is to make this all transparent and available once the review process is complete.
Question: Since today is World Press Freedom Day, I’d just like to point out that most of the journalists who have been killed in the line of duty have been in Iraq in the last four or five years. Who is responsible? Is the Iraqi Government responsible for bringing those people to justice or the Coalition Forces, the occupying forces over there, to bring these people who have been kidnapping the journalists, to bring these people to justice? Can you tell us about that? And also I asked about certain attacks taking place in Pakistan. I had asked about a Secretary-General statement. I was promised they would look into it, but they never have.
Spokesperson: I’m sorry. What is your question about Pakistan?
Question: I had asked Michele once about when there were attacks against Pakistani newspapers, and does the Secretary-General have something to say? And she said not at this time, probably later. And now in Iraq in particular, where most of the kidnappings have taken place, has there been accountability at all of who has been killing the journalists?
Spokesperson: On your specific question, I will follow up. I wasn’t aware that this request had been made. But in terms of how the Secretary-General feels about the freedom of press and journalists, of course he considers a free and secure press to be one of the key ingredients for democracy and peace. Your question about Iraq, it sounds to me it requires a legal answer. I’d have to find that out for you.
Question: But the only thing is do you know, you don’t necessarily have to have this answer right now, do you know if the Iraqi Government or the Coalition Forces, out of dozens of kidnappings of journalists and beheadings, were they ever able to apprehend the people who did commit these crimes?
Spokesperson: I’d have to check with our Mission there to see if they have any first-hand information. But as for your general question about who is responsible for the protection of their citizens, and which is in this case Iraq, it is usually the country which is responsible for the protection of their citizens.
Question: (inaudible) there was no comment in Iraq (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: We’ll check with UNAMI, we’ll check with our Mission in Iraq and get back to you if there’s anything more on this.
Question: Who is responsible for this in Gaza?
Question: Going back to Iraq, does the Secretary-General have any intention to announce an increase of the UN presence in Iraq in the framework of the Iraq Compact Group and all the talk that’s taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh?
Spokesperson: I think he’s answered this on a number of occasions. The security concerns in Iraq are very much on his mind. And if he and the experts feel that the security conditions are right, then there is nothing more the Secretary-General would like than to be in Iraq to help the people of Iraq.
Question: But in the framework of this conference taking place on Iraq, can (inaudible)
Spokesperson: No. This is, as he pointed out, setting the groundwork for the future.
Question: Two questions: one is that the UN nuclear conference today failed over Iranian objectives. What does the UN have to say about this? And my second question is that in the Danish press today, there were calls to the UN to (inaudible) the move with the “oil-for-food” scandal by the UN. As they say in the Danish press, the UN has stopped investigating. Can you say something on that, too, please?
Spokesperson: On your second question, I’m not familiar with this press report, so we’d have to look at it before. I don’t quite understand the context that it’s coming from. Your first question was about the NPT Conference in Vienna. My understanding of that is it’s one of the preliminary conferences in a long process and our understanding is that it’s a process that is ongoing and will be resuming shortly. But it is a lead-up to something that will be happening quite a ways down, so let’s see what happens.
Question: I just have a follow-up question related to the DESA investigation. I don’t know if you have an answer today but it would be helpful to have it tomorrow. There is a rumour out there that Guido Bertucci, who heads the Division of Administration, is going to be retiring soon. And the question is, how might this impact on the investigation? If he retires, does that mean it ends? Does it continue? Do they hold off his retirement? I mean we had some precedence, like Alexander Yakovlev and Benon Sevan in which they were allowed to retire with their pension and everything intact. What becomes of the investigation? And also, there’s talk out there that, even though there were recommendations made to DESA on how to fix things within their shop, those recommendations were not being followed. Do you have any follow-up on that?
Spokesperson: I have nothing further on this today, so I’d have to look into it for you.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that Bertucci’s retirement was not until July 2008.]
Question: I understand that the Lebanese Mission had requested to attend yesterday’s meeting of the Security Council. Are they not aware about the regulations regarding closed meetings of the Security Council?
Spokesperson: I just read you a clarification on your precise question, so if you could pick it up, or I can give it to you after this.
Question: When you were talking about the meeting of the Secretary-General in Egypt, he addressed, obviously, Iran, and Michčle previously said that he did not have any intention to go to Tehran. Did he get any invitation by the Iranian officials so far to visit Iran?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of, but I’m reading you what was reported to me from their meeting today. So I don’t have anything further on that.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the reporter that the Secretary-General had received an invitation to visit Iran but that no decision had been taken on that yet.]
Question: I wanted to follow up on Benny’s question about the North Korea audit. I thought the Secretary-General had written to North Korea on 28 February and you all announced it on 6 March that he’d written to North Korea saying please help my auditors. So if they weren’t even going to apply for a visa, what was the thinking behind that letter? Can you say why Ban Ki-moon wrote to North Korea and said help me if in fact there was no help needed?
Spokesperson: You’d have to ask the Board of Auditors.
Question: He wrote the letter.
Spokesperson: Ever since he called for or he asked the ACABQ to request the audit, there have been a number of steps. Actually what it was, it was that DPRK, I believe, is the one who sent him a letter expressing their concerns and he responded back to DPRK about their concerns. I think that’s the letter you’re referring to.
Question: Yeah, but he said help us.
Spokesperson: But again, you’d have to ask the Board of Auditors because they’re the ones who investigated. We don’t know how much cooperation or non-cooperation they are receiving.
Question: Just one follow-up on this, just a reminder, the idea when he announced, I distinctly remember the figure of 90 days on this, then 100 and something anniversary day. Is there any thinking about the slipping of the deadline?
Spokesperson: I checked back to see, because we had Warren Sachs actually brief you about this process, and we checked back at his transcript. And what he said was that it would have been a proposed time frame of 90 days so again you’d have to ask the Board of Auditors if they consider this to be a delay.
Question: But if the proposal deadline is passed and gone, how much would we let it slip? I mean if it becomes 190 days, is that acceptable?
Spokesperson: My understanding again is, and it’s only my understanding because we don’t speak for the Board of Auditors, but the ACABQ which I mentioned is the body that requested the audit is starting to meet on 14 May. So my understanding again is that at this session there will be something presented.
Question: I also remember Michčle said something like “the clock is ticking”. So it’s ticking. Yesterday, we had a meeting of the Committee to Protect Journalists and they made a list of the 10 backsliding countries. Number 3 was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where obviously the UN has had a big presence for many years. So a question that was raised, and obviously they didn’t know because they just did the report, what is the UN, DPKO and other parts of the UN system doing in countries where they have a big presence to actually actualize and implement freedom of the press? If incidents take place in countries where they have a big presence, do they speak to the Government? Just in DRC for example -- where they were almost running the country -- how does the UN itself actually implement freedom of press on the ground, in countries like Haiti, where journalists are killed, or like the DRC?
Spokesperson: I’ll check in the DRC for you.
[The correspondent was later told that, in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there, as part of its general mandate, monitors human rights conditions and protests violations of press freedom.]
Question: On Kosovo, the members of the UN mission to Kosovo returned and it seemed that they came back with different ideas or different concepts about the problem in Kosovo. I was wondering about the position of the Secretary-General. Does he still believe in Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan?
Spokesperson: Yes, he does. Okay, now the General Assembly Spokesperson.
Briefing by Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
I am going to be very brief. I don’t have much.
**World Press Freedom Day
Regarding World Press Freedom Day, this morning at the Department of Public Information (DPI) conference held on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Assembly President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa had a statement delivered on her behalf by a Vice-President of the Assembly, Ambassador Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein.
In her statement, the President made a special plea for the immediate and safe release of the BBC’s correspondent, Alan Johnston. “Not just Alan Johnston, but every reporter unlawfully imprisoned must be set free,” she emphasized.
**Security Council Reform
The other two items are just things that I would like to flag again. We announced them before.
This afternoon, the Assembly President will chair an informal meeting of the General Assembly’s Open-ended Working Group on Security Council Reform.
And next week, Thursday and Friday, she is convening an informal thematic debate on the topic “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities.”
As I mentioned before, this will consist of four panel discussions on four themes and there will be a concert on Thursday and a side event on Friday at lunchtime on the arts as a means to bridge gaps between different cultures.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On this report on the Security Council reforms, is the President of the General Assembly concerned that rivalry is the main problem, that the Security Council reforms are somehow…
Spokesperson: You mean rivalry?
Question: Yes, rivalry.
Spokesperson: Well, it’s something that the Member States will have to work out among themselves. Of course, it’s a very contentious, very difficult question, so they all have to come to some agreement. There are differences on all kinds of aspects of the reform of the Security Council.
Question: Did she stress any of her personal concerns about the report that’s been digested so far?
Spokesperson: Well, this afternoon is the first opportunity that the Member States will have to express their opinions about the report and then we’ll see where things are from there.
Question: Is the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] willing to pay for the audit much beyond 90 days?
Spokesperson: I’ll have to find out. I don’t know. I’ll have to find out, Benny.
Question: There’s some controversy about two GA-related appointments. One would be Zimbabwe now slated to head the CSD [Commission on Sustainable Development] and Belarus’ application or running to be on the Human Rights Council in Geneva. So, I’m wondering if the President of the General Assembly has a comment, if not on these particular countries’ bids, then on the fact that in the elections there’s no competition; there’s just regional groups who put forward a name and they get on it. This was the idea behind the Human Rights Council and the CSD. Does she have any comment on whether these are working out, particularly the Human Rights Council, in the way in which they were hoped as a GA reform?
Spokesperson: On the Human Rights Council elections, the results are not automatic. Not every country that just puts its name for candidacy will be elected. They have to get an absolute majority. It’s an absolute majority, not just a simple majority of those present and voting. That was what was agreed upon during a protracted negotiation process last year. So having your candidacy on the slate doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to be elected.
Question: But I think it was reported that in this round of elections, that in all of the seats there was only one person running for it.
Spokesperson: It doesn’t mean that they will get automatically elected. They have to get an absolute majority vote.
Question: So there could be regions that aren’t even represented on it?
Spokesperson: We’ll have to see what the election results will be. Every country that’s going to be on the Council will have to get an absolute majority vote.
Question: Just because there’s some controversy, if she has any comments on it.
Spokesperson: I will see if she has any comments to make on it.
* *** *For information media • not an official record