29 June 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.


**Secretary-General in Afghanistan


The Secretary-General, as you are already aware, I’m sure, paid a surprise visit to Kabul today, his first to Afghanistan since taking the post.  He met President Hamid Karzai, Speaker of Parliament Yunus Qanooni and General Dan McNeill, the commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) International Security Assistance Force, as well as senior United Nations staff.


The Secretary-General spoke in detail with President Karzai on questions of governance, including the fight against illegal drugs and corruption.  They agreed that to address such problems, strong leadership was needed, accompanied by visible action. They also discussed progress on economic development and the need to promote regional cooperation, as well as the paramount importance of education.


The issue of civilian casualties was raised separately during talks with General McNeill and President Karzai.  General McNeill expressed his intention to do all he could to reduce the impact that the conflict is having on civilians.  President Karzai and the Secretary-General acknowledged the huge importance of the issue and agreed that steps are needed to ensure that Afghan civilians are safe.  We have a press release with more details of the trip.


The Secretary-General and President Karzai will be travelling to Rome in the coming days to attend the 2-3 July Rule of Law Conference on Afghanistan, where they will continue their dialogue.  The Secretary-General is on his way now to Geneva, where he will attend the Economic and Social Council High-Level Meeting on Monday.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Côte D'Ivoire


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on Côte d’Ivoire.


The Secretary-General is shocked at today’s rocket attack on an aircraft that was carrying Prime Minister Guillaume Soro at Bouake airport, resulting in the killing of at least three people with several others wounded. The Secretary-General strongly condemns this attack.  He calls on all Ivorian parties to continue to work together and in close consultation with the United Nations towards implementing the Ouagadougou Agreement.  The Secretary-General reminds all the Ivorian people that this Agreement represents a unique opportunity for a peaceful solution to the protracted Ivorian crisis, which should be used for the benefit of the people of Côte d’Ivoire and the entire subregion.


The United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire also condemned the attack.  It asked the country’s authorities to identify those responsible for this attack and bring them to justice.  The United Nations Mission is calling on all parties to refrain from any action that could compromise the Ouagadougou Agreement.


**Statement on General Assembly Resolution on Restructuring


We have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the General Assembly’s adoption of the resolution on restructuring.


The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the General Assembly’s adoption of resolution A/61/279, approving the thrust of his proposals aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Organization to manage and sustain peace operations.  The proposals approved by the General Assembly include a restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; the establishment of a separate Department of Field Support, headed by an Under-Secretary-General; a major augmentation of working-level resources in both Departments and in other parts of the Secretariat; and new capacities as well as integrated structures to match the growing complexity of mandated activities. 


The approved reform package has been carefully crafted to ensure that the two Departments, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support, will work in harmony, so as to provide unity of command, coherence in policy and strategy, and operational efficiency, while promoting the overall effectiveness and oversight of peacekeeping operations.


The Secretary-General is grateful that the General Assembly was able to tackle the daunting task of approving such wide-ranging proposals in a short period of time. Through this resolution, Member States have reaffirmed the importance they attach to United Nations peacekeeping, and demonstrated their willingness to substantially invest in bolstering the Secretariat’s capacity in this key endeavour.


The Secretary-General is confident that the Secretariat can now move quickly to make appointments and implement the new arrangements.


**Security Council


On the last scheduled working day of the Security Council during Belgium’s presidency in the month of June, the Council held a formal meeting to discuss the work of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Iraq. Council members voted 14 to none, with Russia abstaining, on a resolution today to terminate those two bodies’ mandates in Iraq.


Prior to that, Council members heard from Demetrius Perricos, the Acting Chairman of the Commission, and Gustavo Zlauvinen of the IAEA about the inspectors’ work over the years.  Perricos warned that, in Iraq’s current security environment, it should not be discounted that non-State actors may seek to acquire toxic agents or their chemical precursors in small quantities.


Earlier, the Council issued a presidential statement that, among other things, encourages increased efforts to end the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons.


The Council is now in consultations on Côte d’Ivoire, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Timor-Leste.


**Deputy-Secretary-General’s Travels


The Deputy Secretary-General has arrived in Guinea-Bissau as part of efforts to consolidate peace and promote good governance in that country.  She was in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on Thursday evening.  She spoke to media on arrival and highlighted the efforts being made by the United Nations and the African Union in dealing with the Darfur crisis.  The Deputy Secretary-General is expected back in the Ghanaian capital on Saturday afternoon for the African Union Summit.


** Darfur


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations this morning met with potential troop- and police-contributing countries for the African Union-United Nations hybrid operation for Darfur.


Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, opened the meeting and appealed to the participants for early contributions. He also noted that suitable offers from African contributors will be given priority, but if there are not enough such offers, offers from outside Africa would be accepted.


The potential contributors were briefed on the military and police requirements of the hybrid operation, as outlined in the African Union-United Nations joint report issued earlier this month. They also heard a briefing on the logistical challenges of deploying in Darfur.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations characterized today’s meeting as a constructive start, and it will press ahead with informal discussions with the potential contributors and hold the next meeting after the Security Council officially authorizes the operation and establishes a mandate.


**Timor-Leste


Tomorrow is election day in Timor-Leste and the Secretary-General, in a video message recorded last week, expressed the hope that Timorese voters will demonstrate a determination to see genuine multi-party democracy prevail in the young nation.  He called on candidates to accept the results of the parliamentary elections and to raise any concerns about the vote through the appropriate legal channels.  He also renewed the United Nations commitment to stand by Timor-Leste’s side as the country consolidates the foundations of democratic governance.


The United Nations Integrated Mission, meanwhile, says that representatives of the five leading political parties met yesterday to discuss threats of violence looming over the election and how best to prevent violence during and after the vote.  The Mission was also represented at that meeting, which saw participants commit to more dialogue on a number of specific violence-prone areas.


** Georgia


The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia says that senior representatives of the Secretary-General’s Group of Friends of Georgia met in Bonn, Germany under the chairmanship of Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.  The meeting, attended by Georgian and Abkhaz delegations, addressed the enduring tensions in the zone of conflict, the absence of dialogue between the sides and the need to promote the confidence-building measures endorsed by the Security Council.  The Group of Friends includes France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.


**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - Pakistan Floods


Turning to Pakistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing emergency supplies in the province of Baluchistan, where more than 800,000 people have been affected by flooding.  Heavy rains and a recent cyclone have left dozens of villages under water, and thousands of people homeless.  UNICEF is providing tents, blankets, medicine, and water purification tablets, as well as 50 tons of food supplements. 


**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia


In response to questions, we would like to emphasize that it is up to the Security Council to decide who will be the next Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, upon recommendations by the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General would like to ensure a transition as smooth and rational as possible between Prosecutor Carla del Ponte and her replacement.  Confidential discussions are under way, but no decision has yet been taken.  The matter has not yet been brought to the attention of the Security Council and the Council members will be informed once all necessary details have been agreed upon.


As for Mr. Serge Brammertz, the Secretary-General greatly appreciates his skills and the manner in which he is discharging his duties as head of the International Independent Investigation Commission for Lebanon. The Secretary-General wishes to be able to rely on his talents so that the United Nations will continue to benefit from them.


**Post-Employment Restrictions


In answer to another question I was asked yesterday, about post-employment restrictions: there was indeed a bulletin issued last December, putting into force regulations regarding post-employment restrictions.  It outlines clear limitations on United Nations staff who have been involved in various levels of procurement activity, but in no way concerns accepting a political post.  I hope this answers your questions.


**World Health Organization (WHO) on Venous Thromboembolism


In a study released today, the World Health Organization says that the risk of developing venous thromboembolism -- or blood clots -- doubles for passengers who remain seated or immobile after travel of four hours or more, whether it is in a plane, train, bus or car.  The study also found that those taking multiple flights over a short period of time are at higher risk.  Walk around, WHO advises.  WHO stresses, however, that the risk of developing blood clots when travelling is relatively low, at about 1 in 6,000.


**The Week Ahead


We have the Week Ahead for you.


Tomorrow, Saturday, is Belgium’s last day as Security Council President, and Sunday is China’s first day as Security Council President.


From Monday until 27 July in Geneva, the Economic and Social Council holds its substantive session.  The Secretary-General will open the high-level segment, which runs from Monday through Thursday, and present the Millennium Development Goals Report 2007.


The International Conference on “Rule of Law in Afghanistan” takes place on Monday and Tuesday, at the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome.  The Secretary-General is expected to co-chair part of the session on the second day, on 3 July.


**International Criminal Court


This Sunday will mark the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The Secretary-General regards the creation of the Court as one of the major achievements in international law during the past century.


A statement marking the fifth anniversary, which we have upstairs, says that the Court has already established itself as the centrepiece of a system of international criminal justice.  It provides a unique opportunity to hold people responsible for the most serious crimes, and already the Court’s activities have helped to deter potential perpetrators of international crimes.


**New Addition to the Family of Former Spokesman for the Secretary-General


And just to close with good news, for a change:  A small family note, after a long week.  Our colleague, Stéphane Dujarric, Deputy Communications Director, had his third child this week, Julien Federico.  At 8 pounds, 3 ounces, he might become quite a challenge to his parents.


That’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can you confirm that Mr. Serge Brammertz will be producing three reports before December 2007?


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this, Sylvaine, at this point.  It is up to Mr. Brammertz to determine how he will produce his reports, and this is his decision alone.


Question:  Michèle, thank you very much for your highly diplomatic, semantic [update] -- although I couldn’t get anything from that regarding Mr. Brammertz, especially after this answer to Sylvaine, whether he’s considered for the Prosecutor or not.


Spokesperson:  Well, I did say that there are consultations taking place.


Question:  So, is his name inside?  And what of the name of Mr. David Tolbert, who is the Deputy Prosecutor for Ms. Carla del Ponte?  When I talked to her, she said that she would actually prefer Mr. Tolbert to succeed her. 


Spokesperson:  We cannot, at this point, talk about consultations, Erol.  We are waiting for the results of those consultations.


Question:  What does it mean, “confidential discussion”?  Who is involved in that discussion?  Only the Secretary-General, or who else with him?


Spokesperson:  I can find out for you who else is there, but I can also confirm they are confidential.


Question:  Michèle, I want to find out: you just announced that the United Nations Children’s Fund is sending some aid to Pakistan’s Baluchistan province affected by the recent floods.  Besides that, there is Karachi city, which is the most impacted, where 300 people died of electrocution and several hundred thousands were... Is either the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) or anybody else now in the process of planning anything for that particular city at all, or not?


Spokesperson:  The question of helping the people who have been affected by the floods and by the cyclones is the responsibility, as you know -- and has been taken over by -- the Pakistani Government.  We just provide upon request what is needed.  I don’t know yet whether this area you’re mentioning is part of the United Nations’ special efforts.


Question:  Whether the request is made or not.  Okay, I just want to have, also, a follow-up on the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) question.  Does that mean that after the UNMOVIC has been shut down, now formally, by the Security Council, the UNMOVIC website will also be shut down?


Spokesperson:  I can only assume so.


Question:  Yesterday, you announced that there’s an update there.


Spokesperson:  No, I said...  Well, yes, it is.  Up to the point where it’s dismantled, it is there.


Question:  But it is now finished, following the...?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Michèle, I wanted to get some clarification: the Security Council resolution 1754 (2007) mentions both the Moroccan plan and the Frente Polisario plan for the Western Sahara.  Yet, in the Secretary-General’s report out yesterday -- or today, officially -- in paragraph 12, there’s a statement that he wrote here that “the Polisario could be asked to test Morocco’s readiness to take part in serious, constructive negotiations by making concrete proposals to define, clarify or amend provisions in the Moroccan proposal, leaving the final status out of consideration at this stage”.  There’s no mention of the Polisario proposal.  So, I was wondering: I know that [Peter] van Walsum doesn’t like to come in here, but is there any way that we can get some sort of clarification specifically on this paragraph?  Because I just wanted to see...  Now it seems that things have changed, based on this new report.  So, if there could be any, sort of, somebody coming in, or an expert to talk about this, I’d appreciate it.


Spokesperson:  The only thing I can tell you at this point is that there is probably going to be a different -- second -- version of this report that will come out within the next few days.


Question:  Really?  And what’s it going to be based on?  Is it a revision, or…?


Spokesperson:  Probably, yes.  I cannot say anything at this point, but you will, next week, probably get a revision of this.


Question:  Michèle, I looked at the compendium, and a little bit, just briefly, at the results and the conclusions.  And it just seemsl… They seem very important -- in terms of what was in the UNMOVIC -- about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and what was anticipated and what they actually found.  Is anybody looking into that, and trying to understand the lessons from that?  Is anybody taking that seriously?  How does that get tended to?  Who’s in charge of learning from this experience?


Spokesperson:  The Security Council is.


Question:  So it would be to ask them what they’ve learned from it?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  It’s reported that United States Senator Norm Coleman wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday about what he called “a whistleblower” on the whole United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) situation.  He said he wrote to the Secretary-General.  So, I wanted to make sure that that letter’s been received, and to know what the Secretariat’s response is on whether the individual named in this letter is a whistleblower and should be afforded protection.  And also, I’ve become aware that those security guard television sets -- they’re out on First Avenue and inside the building, which have, like, pictures of people not to be let into the building -- now includes this individual’s photo.  So I’m wondering if we can find out how such a photo gets included, and whether that’s consistent with being a whistleblower.


Spokesperson:  I will find out whether, first, the letter was received, and second, whether the picture of the person is included.  But I’m not sure I can find that out. But I can try.


Question:  Also, what will the Secretary-General’s response be to this request that an alleged or purported whistleblower should be protected?  What will be done in that regard?


Spokesperson:  I can tell you that the Secretary-General has already discussed this with different senior advisers in this building, and this is being taken care of.  And it is a concern.


Question:  Just a follow up to Laura’s question on Western Sahara:  who requested this second version of the report?  Did Morocco express any kind of criticism?  Or Polisario wants…?


Spokesperson:  There were reservations from all parties.


Question:  Polisario?  Morocco?


Spokesperson:  I said from all parties, there were reservations.


[The Spokesperson later issued a Note to Correspondents advising them that the report on Western Sahara will be reissued shortly without the final section of observations.  It was felt by all concerned that, at this stage in the talks, it would be in the best interests of the process for the Secretary-General’s envoy to share observations and recommendations to the Security Council in his coming oral briefing to the Council and to the parties directly within the negotiations themselves, rather than in a public report.]


Question:  In Nepal yesterday, there was a press conference where one of the ex-Maoist fighters said that they withheld weapons from the United Nations weapon collection.  Now he wants to turn these weapons in.  What is [Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Political Mission in Nepal] Ian Martin and the whole United Nations’ response?  How long have they known about this?  I guess it’s one of the major Department of Political Affairs missions that’s out there, and it seems like a pretty big development.


Spokesperson:  I will have to inquire for you about this question.


[The Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the United Nations Mission in Nepal is aware of this case, which relates to a very small breakaway faction of the Maoists that maintains it has some weapons and wishes to hand them in.  They have been in contact with the Mission, which will address it in accordance with its mandate.]


Question:  A little bit off-topic, a Friday question: is the Secretary-General at all interested in obtaining an iPhone?


Spokesperson:  In doing what?


Question:  In obtaining an iPhone.  Have you heard about them?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  I don’t know.  I should ask him.  It is a Friday question, you’re entitled.


Question:  I was wondering what the Secretary-General thought about the fact that the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support is going to be established for a year only, and if he still considers the resolution today a victory for him?


Spokesperson:  Yes he does, to the extent that it is...  Of course, he didn’t get everything that he asked for, but it did, I think... Substantially, it is a very positive resolution adopted by the General Assembly.


Question:  It has been six months that the Secretary-General has had this position.  Is there any summary that he has?  Or any lessons from the six months?


Spokesperson:  It is difficult for me to answer this question right now, Rhonda.  The Secretary-General will answer this question, definitely.  We will try to arrange for -- at least, before the end of the summer -- for him to discuss with you these six months.


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