07 May 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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.


Good afternoon all.


**Guest at noon


The guest at the noon briefing today is Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the International Compact with Iraq, who will be briefing you on the launch of the International Compact with Iraq last week in Sharm el-Sheikh and a follow-up to that launch.


**Statement on Chad/Sudan


This is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General welcomes the bilateral agreement between Chad and Sudan, signed in Riyadh on 3 May 2007 by presidents Idriss Déby and Omer Al-Bashir, under the auspices of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.  The agreement is a positive step towards normalizing the relations between Chad and Sudan, which is a very important factor in resolving the tragic conflicts in both Darfur and Eastern Chad.  It is now crucial for the parties to honour their agreements and, in close collaboration with the United Nations and the African Union, to work together to achieve lasting peace and stability.


The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the efforts of the King of Saudi Arabia to facilitate the conclusion of this agreement, and commends his constructive role in addressing the overall situation in the region.


**Statement on Gaza


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


The Secretary-General is deeply disturbed over yesterday's violent incident outside a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in the Gaza Strip, in which one person was killed and eight injured, including two UNRWA schoolchildren.  This is the latest of a series of intra-Palestinian clashes that have claimed innocent and unarmed victims.  He calls on the Palestinian National Unity Government to exercise its responsibility to ensure law and order, including the protection of humanitarian organizations such as UNRWA that deliver vital services to the people of Gaza.


The Secretary-General also calls on the Palestinian Authority to take all actions needed to halt immediately the firing of rockets against Israeli population centres, which by definition target civilians. 


**Statement on Alvaro de Soto


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


As Alvaro de Soto concludes his service to the United Nations today after 25 years of dedicated work for the Organization, the Secretary-General wishes to express his profound gratitude for Mr. de Soto’s outstanding service.


During a distinguished career both at UN headquarters and in the field, the diplomatic talents of Under-Secretary-General Alvaro de Soto were in high demand around the world, from El Salvador to Myanmar, Cyprus to Western Sahara and, most recently, in the search for peace in the Middle East.


Of particular note was the decisive mark that Mr. de Soto made in the Central American peace process.  The agreements he helped to broker in El Salvador not only brought a better future to the people of that country, but also became a model for UN peacemaking efforts elsewhere.  Mr. de Soto’s contributions to the development of UN practices in conflict mediation and resolution will be a lasting part of his legacy to the United Nations.  


The Secretary-General joins UN staff in wishing him the very best in his future endeavours.


**Statement on Plane Crash


The Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the deaths of the eight French and one Canadian members of the Multinational Force and Observers serving in the Sinai in an airplane crash yesterday.  He expresses his sincere condolences to the bereaved families and to the Governments of the victims of the accident.


** Afghanistan


UN agencies have been working with the local authorities in Afghanistan to provide relief assistance to some 900 families who have been displaced by the recent fighting in the province of Herat.


The World Food Programme has provided food to the area, while UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency and the Afghan Red Crescent Society are providing tents, lanterns, sheets, blankets and soup, among other assistance.


The UN Mission in Afghanistan sent a team to the area last week to examine concerns about the possible disproportionate use of force there, and has so far received about 50 credible reports of deaths.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.


**UNICEF –- Sanitation


This afternoon, the Secretary-General will address UNICEF’s first Preparatory Meeting for the International Year of Sanitation 2008.  He is expected to say that, regarding the Millennium Development Goals, sanitation stands out as one of the critical areas where we are falling way behind.  He is also expected to say that the fact that two out of every five people lack access to basic sanitation services is simply unacceptable.  We have his embargoed remarks in my office.


Also participating in today’s all-day meeting at UNICEF House is Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who serves as Chairman of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.  We have more information on the event upstairs.


**Climate Change Envoys


And just to flag you, the Secretary-General’s three new climate change envoys -- Gro Harlem Brundtland, Han Seung-soo and Ricardo Lagos Escobar -– will be here at Headquarters tomorrow to meet with the Secretary-General.


There will be a photo opportunity on the 38th floor.  Then, sometime in the afternoon, the envoys will be available to speak to the media, most likely here in Room 226.  We’ll squawk additional details as they become available.


Also, if there are any requests for one-on-one interviews with the envoys, those can be sent to our office.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


The guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Mr. Mats Karlsson, Chair of UN-Energy, and Mr. Gustavo Best, Vice Chair of UN-Energy, who will launch a report on bio-energy.  This is all I have for you.  Just a few questions before Mr. Gambari speaks to you.  Yes, George?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Is there any word yet on Mr. de Soto’s possible successor in the Middle East position?


Spokesperson:  We do not have a name yet.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, then Evelyn?


Question:  Did the Secretary-General send a message of congratulations to President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, and what does he think of his strong opposition to Turkey’s entry to the European Union?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General will not have an opinion on Mr. Sarkozy’s opinions.  The Secretary-General will definitely send a congratulatory remark, but usually we wait until the inauguration of a president before we send any such congratulatory remarks.  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  On those two energy reports, I assume that (inaudible) Commission for Sustainable Development, but at any rate, it’s a busy day tomorrow.  Can they get them to us in advance?


Spokesperson:  You would want to have them before noon?


Question:  Today.


Spokesperson:  No, today I don’t think it will be possible.


Question:  But throwing reports around and expect them to be written the same day when it’s busy doesn’t work.


Spokesperson:  Okay, we will see if we can try to move the venue.


Question:  Thank you Michèle, according to the high-level panel, or if I misquoted how they call themselves, on climate change, there is almost a panacea for the slowing of the global warming.  Does the Secretary-General share their optimism?  According to some other Governments, they are very much concerned that the panacea or the proposed measures offered will slow economic growth, whether that is 2 to 3 per cent in the United States, or 10 to 11 per cent in China.  Which way does the Secretary-General prefer?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is not right now, at this point, commenting on that report.  It is a report by a group of experts, and they are commissioned to do that report.  He does not have any specific opinion on the targets set or any specifics of that report at this point.


Question:  Is he going to dig more under the shallow of these statements and be more engaged on this issue?


Spokesperson:  Well, he has been very engaged on climate change, as you know.  In fact tomorrow, you are going to see three special envoys on climate change that the Secretary-General has appointed, and it means that the Secretary-General cares, is very involved, and very engaged on the issue.


Question:  Sorry, just to follow-up, because we definitely have two opposite opinions or approaches.  One is radical cutting of the greenhouse gases and another one is very much concerned because they have their own interests, as any Government would have.  So my question is, which way the Secretary-General will lean or prefer?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the debate is very much open, so I think he is following the debate.  He does not have an opinion on a specific set of remedies proposed.  Yes, Mark?


Question:  I just wondered with regard to Gaza, where the situation is just getting worse again and that attack on a school this morning, which is a United Nations school, right?  I’m not sure exactly…


Spokesperson:  UNRWA school, yes.


Question:  Is the United Nations considering, at any stage, withdrawing from Gaza, or is the United Nations thinking it should need an increased security presence in Gaza?  How sustainable is it for the United Nations to stay there under current conditions?


Spokesperson:  Well, first, it was not an attack on the school.  It was not an attack directed against the school.  There was a clash outside of the school and you had victims.  Two young children…two adolescents were victims.  I just expressed earlier the concern of the Secretary-General for the worsening situation in Gaza, however, we are not talking about the United Nations leaving Gaza at all. 


Question:  Is there any proposal, since you’re not talking about leaving Gaza, to ramp up security, in some way, to invite some international security presence, or something like that?


Spokesperson:  Well, I will ask your question to UNRWA and other people involved on the Palestinian issue.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Yes Michèle, two quick questions:  one is that today’s Sydney Morning Herald has a story accusing the United Nations peacekeepers in East Timor of sexual abuse and using brothels, etc.  And it quotes unnamed United Nations personnel confirming it.  Does the United Nations have any response?  What is DPKO doing on these allegations?


Spokesperson:  DPKO has been aware of that article and there is an investigation going on.  As every time there are allegations, there is an investigation that goes on.  As you know, the Secretary-General has said over and over again, zero tolerance for this type of situation if it is true.  Now, we have to confirm that the events actually took place, that the United Nations cars were there and all the information that was given out by the newspaper.  We have not confirmed that independently.


Question:  One way or another, there will be some DPKO final…?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is going to be an investigation on that.


Question:  The other one actually has to do with the North Korea audit.  We’ve heard, and I wonder if you could confirm, that the Board of Auditors presented a draft of the final audit to Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert on Friday.  Is that the case?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know at this point.  I do know that the Board of Auditors is planning very soon to give the report to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).


Question:  But I just wanted to ask, I thought the report they were giving to them was this preliminary, two-week scope of work report.  But now, we’re told, at least I’ve heard, that what was shown to Dervis and Melkert is the final report.  Which is it?


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that it is the final report.  I will let you know when I find out.  But I do know that the auditors are ready to submit their final report.  Yes?


Question:  I understand there is some progress regarding withdrawing Israeli forces from al-Ghajar town in South Lebanon.  Can you update us about that?  Another thing, Mr. Siniora sent you a letter around 10 April and I wanted to know exactly what was the content of that?  What did he request in that letter?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the second question, I will inquire for you what the content of the letter is.  On the al-Ghajar withdrawal, I don’t have any additional information on that.  Yes, Mark?


Question:  Yes, just one more on Mr. de Soto’s replacement.  Has there been an issue, because you’ve known for some time that he was going to leave.  Why has it been


Spokesperson:  At this point, I don’t have a name yet to give you.


Question:  Right, so why has it not been possible to find a replacement, given that you’ve known for a couple of months? 


Spokesperson:  At any rate, the operation keeps on going.  Mr. de Soto is being replaced temporarily by someone in charge, an officer in charge in his office.


Question:  Who has been consulted on this new appointment?  Who, basically, has a say-so in this new appointment?


Spokesperson:  Well, I will get some information for you on that.  Yes Benny?


Question:  To follow on Matthew, actually….Is it fair to say that the final report may be handed down without the team ever visiting North Korea?


Spokesperson:  It could happen, if they had all the information they needed.


Question:  How could they have all the information they needed without visiting the country in which this operation was taking place?  I mean, part of the issue, as I understand it, is that there were projects that did not, according to some allegations, were not even real projects.  They were like (inaudible).  The question is, without looking at those projects, how would you know?  


Spokesperson:  Well, I think those are pretty…you said they were not projects.  I think all the projects that took place were projects.  Whether you might disagree on the way the projects were handled is another story, but they were bona fide projects that took place over a number of years.


Question:  Well, the question is:  how do you know without auditors even visiting the country to see…


Spokesperson:  Well, I’m sure as soon as the final report is in, you can have answers to your questions. 


Question:  One example that comes to mind is the Chicago Tribune reported that 300 computers were delivered to North Korea and 298 of them disappeared and were unaccounted for.  That seemed to be the kind of thing that could not be proved or disproved from outside, without going to actually see.  I don’t know, I’m just remembering that…


Spokesperson:  Let’s wait to see what the report will say. 


Question:  Can you confirm if Javier Rupérez has resigned as Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Secretariat?


Spokesperson:  Yes, he has resigned.  He resigned on Friday, I can confirm.


Question:  Not to be…when was that going to be announced?  What were his reasons for resigning?  He was a pretty high official.


Spokesperson:  Simply that he wants to go on.  He has other projects that he wants to go and pursue. 


Okay, I am inviting now Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, who as you know, has been working very hard on the launch of the International Compact for Iraq, to talk to you about what happened in Sharm el-Sheikh, and also the follow-up to the launch of the project. 


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