|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE 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 Michèle 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 all.
**Guest at Noon Briefing Today
Our guests at the noon briefing today will be Mr. Mats Karlsson, Chair of UN-Energy, and Mr. Gustavo Best, Vice Chair of UN-Energy. They will be launching a report entitled Sustainable Energy: A Framework for Decision Makers.
UN-Energy, as you know, is an inter-agency mechanism established in response to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and it is designed to ensure coherence in energy policy across the United Nations system.
The Secretary-General’s three new Climate Change Envoys are here at Headquarters today. They are Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway; Mr. Han Seung-soo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea and former President of the General Assembly; and Mr. Ricardo Lagos Escobar, former President of Chile.
At 3 p.m. this afternoon, they will be here in Room 226 to brief you.
At 1 p.m. this afternoon, the Envoys are scheduled to have a working luncheon with the Secretary-General, who will deliver brief remarks welcoming them and discussing their mission.
As you know, the Secretary-General has defined climate change as “one of the most serious challenges facing the planet in our lifetime.” He says the three special envoys are to engage in high-level consultations with member States to galvanize action on the issue.
** Darfur Appointment
The Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission have appointed Rodolphe Adada of the Republic of Congo as Joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur. In accordance with the 16 November 2006 high-level meeting in Addis Ababa on the situation in Darfur, whose conclusions were subsequently endorsed by the 30 November 2006 summit level meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council and the 19 December 2006 statement of the President of the UN Security Council, the Joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur will head the AU-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
On behalf of the Secretary-General and the African Union Commission Chairperson, the Joint Special Representative will have overall authority over the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, oversee the implementation of its mandate and be responsible for the mission’s management and functioning.
The Special Envoys of the United Nations and the African Union for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, are arriving in Khartoum today for a two-day visit to Sudan. This is the third visit to be jointly conducted by the two envoys to Sudan in order to assist in reenergizing the Darfur peace process.
The envoys are scheduled to arrive in Khartoum from Cairo where they met with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, the UN mission in Sudan reports that a formal ceremony was held today in Al Fasher, Darfur, at which the United Nations handed over to the AU mission in Darfur the medical support items stipulated in the Light Support Package. These items include pharmaceutical products, drugs and vaccines, and a fully equipped ambulance.
** Northern Ireland Statement
A statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General:
The Secretary-General was pleased to hear of the formation of the new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. He joins others in applauding this development as a historic step on the road to a peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland.
The Security Council held consultations today to discuss the Secretary-General’s recent report on Ethiopia and Eritrea. Dmitry Titov, the Director of the Africa Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, briefed Council members on that report.
The Security Council President, Zalmay Khalilzad, read a press statement afterwards, saying that Council members remain deeply concerned at the impasse in the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace process. They reiterated their support for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and called on both parties to cooperate with the Mission.
Also, we have out on the racks today the latest report by the Security Council’s 1267 Committee, which deals with sanctions on Al-Qaida, the Taliban and associated individuals and entities.
This morning, a UN local staff member living and working in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar was shot dead while on his way to work, apparently by men on a motorbike.
In a statement, Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that the motives for this attack need to be established, and the UN Mission is working with the authorities in Kandahar to help the investigation.
The safety and well-being of Afghan and international staff who work for the UN in Afghanistan is a matter of paramount importance, Koenigs said. We have his statement upstairs.
Continuing on Timor-Leste, the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) reports all logistics are in place for the second round of the Presidential elections to take place Wednesday. The distribution of polling material across the country’s 13 districts continued today with UNMIT providing logistical support to the national authorities in charge of running the election.
The boxes of ballots and counting forms are being delivered to some 700 polling stations in about 500 centres. UNMIT adds that a total of 630,000 ballot papers will be distributed throughout the country.
To best ensure that Wednesday’s election is peaceful, both United Nations and local police will have a presence at every polling centre with mobile patrols stationed in each district. Formed police units will also be on standby.
The Secretary-General, on the eve of the second round of the presidential elections in Timor-Leste, said he trusts that participation in this round will be just as enthusiastic as the first.
Calling on both candidates and their supporters to react to the results in a peaceful manner, the Secretary-General also said that any concerns on the process should be raised through the appropriate legal channels. He stressed that the United Nations remains steadfastly committed to continuing to assist the Timorese people in the work for development, peace and democracy.
**Charles Taylor Trial
The Special Court for Sierra Leone has set the start of the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for June 4. This was decided yesterday at a pre-trial conference in The Hague. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including mass murder, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Court’s Prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, has said that he plans to present some 139 key witnesses, including individuals with inside knowledge of Taylor’s alleged activities, in an effort to prove Taylor’s suspected role in the atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war.
Turning now to Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) has started its first distributions of food aid in Mogadishu to 16,000 residents and returnees. By the end of this week, WFP expects to have distributed food over the past week and a half to 114,000 people, including those who fled violence in the city and those who were unable to escape the fighting. We have a press release on that upstairs.
** Iran - Earthquake Reduction
The Secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has announced that a new regional earthquake risk-reduction centre will open tomorrow in Tehran, Iran.
The centre will provide training, enhance awareness among authorities, managers and experts, and improve the capacities of the Asia and Pacific region to deal with disasters. We have more on that upstairs.
UNICEF is welcoming today’s announcement by the Clinton Foundation of major reductions in the price of critical HIV/AIDS medicines. UNICEF says the agreements reached with drug manufacturers will allow millions of children to receive treatment.
The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) says that it will be reinforcing its relationship with a Haitian foundation in a bid to improve support for the country’s response to HIV/AIDS. There is a press release from UNAIDS upstairs.
**Guest at Noon Briefing Tomorrow
The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, who will be briefing you on the effect of climate change on the world’s cities.
This is all I have for you. Do you have any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: There was a story, the Washington Post story about the situation with UNESCO. It said UNESCO claims it destroys all e-mail after a month. It doesn’t keep any e-mail after a month, so I guess it made me wonder: What is the policy in the Secretariat for retention of records? Is there any retention of either communications…is it a month, or is it longer?
Spokesperson: Well, automatically a number of messages are erased by the system itself. Of course, I assume that anything of importance is saved.
Question: So, there is no minimum period of time to have it be kept?
Spokesperson: No. I can check on that for you. I can check on that.
Question: One more follow-up on a question I had asked several times: Has there been a request for a visa for the auditors to go into North Korea and has it been denied?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of…to both questions.
Question: I mean, it’s not the first time I’m asking…
Spokesperson: I know it’s not the first time.
Question: So, maybe now…
Spokesperson: As far as I know, they have not asked for visas and they have not been refused visas.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
**Security Council Reform
The Assembly President met yesterday with representatives of the G-4 on Security Council reform. The G-4 expressed their belief that the time has come to move the process forward and begin negotiations.
They also requested that the Assembly President appoint one or two facilitators who would work on a non-paper that would present options that would reflect: the G-4’s known position, i.e. expansion of the Council in both permanent and non-permanent categories of membership; the intermediary options proposed in the recent report by the five facilitators; and the position of Uniting for Consensus, i.e. expansion only in the non-permanent category of membership.
The President is continuing consultations with the wider membership of the Assembly, and is in fact, as we speak, meeting with representatives of Uniting for Consensus (UFC) to hear their views.
She is committed to move this process forward and make progress on the matter, as Security Council reform is part and parcel of UN reform, and as the issue has a direct impact on the work of the Organization and the General Assembly.
As announced last week, the Assembly’s informal thematic debate on “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace” will take place this Thursday and Friday. A detailed programme of the informal debate is available on the GA website.
We have scheduled a press conference by one of the panellists, Mr. Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, for 12:30 p.m., on Thursday, here. I’m told through the Office of the League of Arab States that he will field questions, not only about the debate but any questions that you would have for him.
We can also arrange interviews with several other panellists: Robert Thurman, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Columbia University; Ghassan Salame, Professor of International Relations at Sciences Po University and former Minister of Culture of Lebanon; Manish Kasliwal, National Chairman of the Young Jains of India; and possibly, Karen Armstrong. We have yet to get confirmation. There are reserved seats for the press in the Trusteeship Council this time around, and I’m keeping record of who’s going to be there.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just want to find out, this G-4, they (inaudible)… Did it ask for new facilitators? Two new facilitators?
Spokesperson: One or two.
Question: Two, which the UFC has opposed already…I mean, one of…
Spokesperson: She is meeting with them now, so…
Question: So basically, we’re back to what UFC is saying and what the G-4 is saying, am I right? They’re going to present the case to the President of the GA?
Spokesperson: Okay, we are back to what, the original positions?
Question: The original positions.
Spokesperson: Well, we have to wait for Uniting for Consensus to meet today and then decide whether they are still at their position or they have changed. I can’t pre-judge that.
Question: Can you ask the President of the GA after she meets with (inaudible) whether we are going to start back up again from the same levels?
Spokesperson: Yes, it’s very frustrating for me too.
Question: First of all, if the President of the General Assembly is going, finally, to meet us and to brief us, besides inviting us to meet her at the informal gathering, number one. Number two, is it fair to assume that somebody, or even a group at the General Assembly -- one, informal, or bigger group -- is not satisfied with the work of these five facilitators, and they are moving to put…to add two more, or whatever?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t think you can look at it in this way. Well, one of the ways to achieve consensus is to make everybody unequally unhappy…equally unhappy, I’m sorry. And that’s basically what we do at the United Nations.
Question: Can I quote you on that?
Question: Can I quote you on that?
Spokesperson: You can quote me on anything you want, Errol. But what actually is happening is that they want the process -- the first group, the G-4 -- wants the process…well, and most of the membership as well, feels that this is time to move it to negotiation, not just go, as Masood suggested, all over again. So, that’s basically what she’s looking at, and she has to listen to everybody first and then make the painful decision of either appointing a facilitator to…or whatever the majority of Member States decide.
Question: But not under the pressure of someone that is very unhappy or…
Spokesperson: I don’t think there is only one party that is unhappy, one country. So, it would not be pressure. Pressure comes from everywhere and she is not one who yields to pressure, I can assure you of that. Mr. Abbadi, yes?
Question: Is it fair to say she is going to break the status quo, the deadlock? I mean…
Spokesperson: We are all praying and hoping for that, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: The way you define consensus is not the United Nations definition. The United Nations definition is…
Spokesperson: It is my definition…and I will put a patent on that.
Question: Second, how long would it take the President to come to…
Spokesperson: That’s speculative. I’m not going there. This thing has been going on for 10 years. You don’t expect her to break the deadlock overnight, but she’s doing everything in her power to make it move.
Question: No, no. I’m asking, how long would it take the President of the GA to appear in this room to brief journalists?
Spokesperson: Mr. Abbadi, you were the first person to ask for that and I claim guilt for not having consulted with her because she was away, and now Errol has asked for that, so I’m going to tell her. But the first time I told her she said she was very happy with my performance, so, we’ll see if I can persuade her, through bad performance, to appear before you. Yes?
Question: There’s a 17 May election by the General Assembly for the Human Rights Council. There was a briefing here by two NGOs who called on the General Assembly to get involved in asking particular groups, particularly one with Belarus in it, to find other candidates. I wonder two things: One, whether the GA President has had any involvement in trying to address these concerns that are in the public, and if she has met with civil society, or anyone else, on the issue of the Human Rights Council elections?
Spokesperson: I don’t know if she has met with them. I have to check on that. I can ask her.
Question: And has she had any involvement, do you know her views of these…
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that. These were requests by NGOs, right? It’s not that I have any disrespect for NGOs, it’s just that…
Question: No, I understand…no, absolutely…it’s just that I’ve heard she’s big with civil society…
Spokesperson: …this borders on interference in Member States’ affairs. These are sovereign countries, and whether you like Belarus or you don’t like Belarus, it’s a sovereign country. It has the right to run for membership on the Human Rights Council. If the system does not allow for people to be satisfied completely with some countries, well, that’s the fault of the system. We have to change it.
Question: I know…the CSD and the running of Zimbabwe to chair it…is there any, has there been any action, response? Same response…
Spokesperson: Yes Benny?
Question: I was going to go with the CSD as well, but Zimbabwe has been dealt with.
Spokesperson: I’m so happy I can answer you both at the same time. Yes, ma’am?
Question: Yes, I want to go back to the Security Council reform. Is there any movement on the procedures aspect of Security Council reform and any…?
Spokesperson: That’s basically what they’re trying to do, move it from just talking into an actual negotiation. But in order to do this, you have to talk to the principal groups.
Question: Right, but there’s two aspects of Security Council reform, one is expansion of the Council and the other is the processes and procedures of the Security Council itself.
Spokesperson: Working methods.
Question: Working methods, okay. What is happening with the working methods?
Spokesperson: If one thing moves, everything moves. It’s not that it’s contingent, one on the other, but everybody wants to see movement, and movement and movement everywhere. In other words, if I had to choose a more sensitive part of it, it would be the expansion, because that’s basically what we’re talking about. Once you break that open, everything falls into place.
Question: But there is a lot of contention, or frustration, also with working methods…
Spokesperson: I am very frustrated, I am telling you.
Question: And so I wondered if there is any development in that aspect, or attention to that.
Spokesperson: There is equal attention paid to every aspect, I assure you.
Okay? You had more than your share today.
* *** *For information media • not an official record