8 August 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Press Conference Today


At 12:30 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Mr. Irakli Chikovani, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of Georgia, on the situation concerning Georgia.  So, that will be right after we are done with this.


** Korean Peninsula


I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Korean peninsula and inter-Korean reconciliation, which we issued late last night:


The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement in Seoul of a planned summit meeting on 28 August in Pyongyang between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea.  The Secretary-General believes that such a meeting offers a significant opportunity for the promotion of peace and security on the Korean peninsula and inter-Korean reconciliation.  He wishes to commend the two leaders for their initiative and hopes that this positive development will give further impetus to the progress made recently within the framework of the six-party talks.


And that statement is available upstairs and on the web.


**Floods in South Asia


On South Asia, we issued a statement late yesterday in which the Secretary-General expressed his deep sadness at the hundreds of lives lost and the millions affected by floods.  We have that full statement upstairs.


On the humanitarian front, the World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the health situation in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, where increased cases of water- and food-borne diseases have been reported.


In Bangladesh and Nepal, WHO has already pre-positioned and stockpiled diarrhoeal kits, cholera kits, water-quality testing kits and emergency supplies, such as water purification tablets and antibiotics.  It says it stands ready to assist Governments in meeting the public health needs of the affected populations.


Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has started to distribute food to flood victims but says it is concerned about the longer-term effect of the flooding.  Families have lost crops and livestock, houses and roads have been destroyed and livelihoods disrupted.  WFP is urging donors to provide support for early recovery assistance programmes, such as food for work.


And tomorrow the guest at the noon briefing will be Margareta Wahlström, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief you on this situation.


**Secretary-General in Barbados


The Secretary-General this morning is meeting with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, to discuss developments in the Caribbean and the work of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  He is also to meet later today with the Attorney General of Barbados, Dale Marshall.


Last night, the Secretary-General had a working dinner in Bridgetown with the Envoy of the Middle East Quartet, Tony Blair, to discuss the work of the Quartet.


The Secretary-General is expected to return to New York tomorrow.


** Sudan


Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, is continuing his five-day visit to Sudan by going today to El-Geneina and Nyala in Darfur.  He will then visit the capital of Darfur, El-Fasher, starting tomorrow.


His trip to the three states of Darfur includes meetings with representatives of internally displaced persons, tribal leaders, Arab nomads, civil society groups and the local authorities.  He then plans to travel to N’Djamena, Chad, on 10 August, to meet President Idriss Deby.


Yesterday, in Khartoum, Eliasson met with Sudanese presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie, and Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Mutrif Siddiq, and briefed them on the Arusha meeting with leading personalities of the movements that had not signed the Darfur Peace Agreement.


Today’s briefing notes from the UN Mission in Sudan also mentions that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced yesterday that its air operations to help internally displaced people from Khartoum return to their areas of origin in the country has ended.  A total of 1,530 IDPs returned by air to the Central and Western Equatorial States since the air operations began in mid-July.


**Timor-Leste


The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste reports that heavy violence continued over the past 24 hours, where buildings and private homes in the Baucau and Viqueque districts have been set on fire, and widespread stoning of vehicles and buildings has also persisted.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, strongly condemned the violence.


UN police officers, in conjunction with the Timorese police and the International Security Forces, have been fully deployed to stop the violence.  Since yesterday, 45 people have been arrested for their participation in it.


** Lebanon


In South Lebanon, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is launching a $3.3 million programme to help farming resume after months of interruption caused by last year’s war and unexploded ordnance.  Ten per cent of the cluster bombs have now been cleared, allowing a resumption of farming activities in a number of districts, reports FAO.


The agency will help farmers rehabilitate their greenhouses by providing them with fertilizer and seeds, among other things.  It will also help livestock keepers restock and assist them in improving their productivity.


According to FAO, half of the working population in South Lebanon relies wholly on agriculture to make a living.


And we have a press release on this upstairs.


** Sri Lanka


Turning to Sri Lanka, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today visited the eastern part of the country, where more than 160,000 civilians were internally displaced between October and May.  While visiting an IDP settlement near Batticaloa, Holmes said that it was tragic that those affected by the tsunami three years ago had to flee again because of renewed conflict.


In meetings with local authorities, Holmes stressed the need for improved cooperation between the Government, UN agencies and NGOs in supporting the return of the displaced.  He called on local authorities to open all areas to humanitarian operations and to restore public services.


Before wrapping up his four-day visit to Sri Lanka tomorrow, Holmes is expected to meet with the country’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.


**International Institute on Peace Education


The Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, this morning delivered the opening remarks at a three-day conference that marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Institute on Peace Education.


She said that the Institute’s mission to use education for peace in its broadest sense reflects the evolution that has taken place over the past few decades in the way we define collective security.  And the understanding of peace education has changed from what was once a mission to eliminate the risk of global extinction through nuclear war to become, today, a broader quest to build a culture of peace.


And we have her remarks upstairs.


**International Indigenous People’s Day


Tomorrow is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.  Events taking place here at Headquarters include a welcome and spiritual ceremony from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Visitor’s Lobby, which will feature Native American song performances and a sacred pipe ceremony.  Also taking place is a panel discussion on “Honouring Indigenous Youth and Languages" from 2:30 to 5 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.  We have a media advisory and press release available upstairs.


We also have available copies of a joint statement from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and Special Rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen.  In it, they call on the international community to address the pressing concerns of the world’s 370 million indigenous people, including poverty and marginalization.  They also urge the General Assembly to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


And just a reminder that our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Margareta Wahlström, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief you on the recent floods in South Asia.


And we have at 12:30 the Deputy Permanent Representative of Georgia to brief you in this room.


Do you have any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  What is this here with all this gear, is that something new?


Associate Spokesperson:  That’s not for this briefing.  I believe that is for the briefing following this one by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Georgia.  That will become more clear now.  It has got nothing to do with the notes I read, though.


Question:  On the South-East Asian flooding, could you give us a sense of the context of how big an area we are talking about?  How does this compare to other floods we have seen in previous seasons?


Associate Spokesperson:  A number of agencies on the ground, including UNICEF, have said that, for some of the affected countries, like India, this is the worst flooding that they have seen in the countries’ history.  The country most affected by the floods is India, where about 18 million people have been hit by the disaster, particularly in the states of Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh.  That country has not yet made an official request for international assistance.  We have tried to do some help in terms of, for example, the provision of oral re-hydration salts and other assets by UNICEF.


In Bangladesh, you have up to 8 million people estimated to have been affected, particularly in areas around the capital, Dhaka.  At this stage, that Government has not made an appeal for international assistance, but WFP and UNICEF have already begun a limited distribution of biscuits.


Then in Pakistan, some 2.5 million people have lost their livelihoods as a result of the floods.  The Pakistani Government has not asked for emergency assistance, but has welcomed WFP deliveries of food in some of the worst-hit areas.


The agencies stand ready to assist the Governments in the region, but the WFP reports that, to date, the only country to request international food assistance has been Nepal.  And Nepal has also had assistance, by the way, from the UN Mission there, which has tried to use its helicopters to help provide aid and assistance to flood-hit areas.


Question:  There seems to be yearly flooding in some of these countries.  I am just curious, why is it every time there is a flood it seems there is a worldwide crisis and appeal for help?  Why doesn’t the UN have mechanisms in place to respond quicker and sooner on the ground?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have mechanisms in place.  One of the things, as I have pointed out, is that very few of the countries involved have asked for international assistance.  We are trying as it is to pre-position goods in the areas and to respond to the needs that might arise, but in certain cases, we of course have to wait for the request of the national Government for assistance.


In terms of what you talked about, recurring problems, I know that, in some of the countries, the problems have worsened in recent years, in part because of deforestation, which reduced the amount of trees and other areas that could have channelled the water in other ways in the past.  So, the problem is one that is getting worse, which is one of the reasons why one of the things we try to do also is find ways that countries can rely on other resources and not have to go through a period of deforestation and the sort of ruinous effects it can have when these natural disasters strike.


Question:  Is there any readout on the meeting between the Secretary-General and Tony Blair?


Associate Spokesperson:  Just that it was a working dinner and that they discussed issues in the Middle East region and the work of the Quartet.  Nothing further on that.  I do expect that they may meet again if there is a Quartet meeting in the coming month.


Question:  I just wanted to ask if there is any update on the talks between POLISARIO and Morocco, and whether you will allow the media any more humane access than we had last time.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, in terms of that, what I can say is that the talks will proceed in Manhasset on 10 and 11 August, which is Friday and Saturday.  The parties have all confirmed their participation in the talks.  And yes, we are putting in place some arrangements, so that we will be able to keep you a little better informed.  Of course, given the nature of these talks, there is a limit to the amount of information we can provide, but we will do what we can.


Question:  Will there be a place where reporters can gather and wait for people to come in and out?


Associate Spokesperson:  I am trying to see whether that is possible, but at the very least, there will also be somebody in Manhasset who will be able to provide us with some regular flow of information.


Question:  On Western Sahara, the Security Council has described the plan for autonomy proposed by Morocco as “credible and serious”.  Does the Secretary-General share that comment, that view?  And also, is he conscious of the fact that if there is no solution to this conflict, that room will be left open for a possible increase of terrorism in the entire Maghreb region?


Associate Spokesperson:  To your second question:  our hope is that, as long as the parties are continuing with these talks, that that will ease some of the tensions in the area.  We encourage them to continue with the process.  The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Peter van Walsum, will continue to work with all the parties to make sure that they stay at the table and that the tensions are kept to a minimum.  As for the Security Council, the Security Council speaks for itself.  At this stage, the Secretary-General has no further comment beyond what was stated in his last report on Western Sahara.


Question:  I did hear your statement on the North-South Korean talks:  given the Secretary-General’s past role as Foreign Minister and his current role as Secretary-General, will he be playing any role?  Does he plan to travel to the peninsula in the near future?  Is there anything that he can be doing to facilitate?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any travel to the peninsula to announce.  At this stage, though, the one thing I would like to point out is, although in the past the Secretary-General was the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, in his current capacity, he is the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a whole, and the position of the United Nations as a whole is to encourage the process between the leaders of both the Democratic People’s Republic and of the Republic of Korea to continue in their efforts.  We will continue to monitor those developments.


Question:  Concerning the involvement of the United Nations in Iraq, how will it expand?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have a significant amount of involvement, as we have had over the past few years.  As of right now, we have roughly 55 international civilian staff on the ground, along with a contingent of Fijian guards and some 300 or so national staff, who also help to carry out our projects.  In addition, we have people outside the country, particularly in Amman, Jordan, helping to coordinate, among other things, the humanitarian and development work that we are trying to do in Iraq.


As for how that will expand, some of that will depend on the decision that the Security Council takes in the coming days about the mandate for the UN Mission in Iraq, and we are prepared to fulfil the mandate that the Security Council gives us.


Question:  Any reaction of the Secretary-General to the statement issued by the Staff Union saying that they don’t want to go to Iraq and they are asking the Secretary-General to actually pull out the people who are already in Iraq right now?


Associate Spokesperson:  We intend to continue with the work that is needed to fulfil our mandate and our responsibilities to the people of Iraq.  At the same time, we are always aware of the security situation on the ground.  We assess the security situation daily, and the Secretary-General has no intention of placing staff at any sort of unreasonable risk.  He will continue to base the deployment level of staff on the ground on the security situation.


Question:  Do you have any particular reaction to that Staff Union statement issued yesterday?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think that is my reaction.


Question:  I heard this morning somewhere about Under-Secretary-General Pascoe saying that there is a plan to raise the number of 65 currently to 90, I think, or something like that…


Associate Spokesperson:  He said this at the stakeout yesterday.


Question:  And my question is, what are they going to do, the extra 25 or so?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, let us not put the cart before the horse.  Let us wait for the Security Council to decide what mandate we will have.  In part based on that, we do have some ideas, and we have been doing some planning in the last weeks for what kind of work we can do on the ground to better help the people of Iraq.  But I’d rather wait first for the Security Council to consider the resolution on the UN mandate.


Question:  Any update on the investigation regarding the Moroccan troops involving sexual abuse in Côte d’Ivoire?


Associate Spokesperson:  There is no update for now.  That work is ongoing, and once it is completed, we might have something further to say.


Question:  The President Bush proposal for a conference on the Middle East has been described sometimes as a regional conference, at other times as an international conference.  How does the UN look at it, the first, the second or both?  And also, the next meeting of the Quartet, I have heard it would be in November.  Is there a date or a month set for the meeting?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have a date for the next meeting of the Quartet to give you right now.  As for what kind of conference it is, I think it is best to ask the US officials in the State Department who are organizing this conference, what kind of conference it is.  The Quartet already made its own comments about President Bush’s proposal in its last statement of a few weeks ago.


Question:  Regarding the negotiations on Friday and Saturday on the Western Sahara, can you give us a schedule or information?  Is it going to be closed, the negotiations?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, they are closed negotiations, as I informed your colleague just a few minutes ago.  The participants have confirmed that they will participate in the talks that will take place in Manhasset on Friday and Saturday.  We will try to get some information from there for you, but the meetings themselves are closed to the press.


Question:  I am sorry, but just with regard to the work that you have been doing, planning for Iraq, can you say a little bit more about, you know, what stage of preparation works out.  What is it?  A sort of a blueprint?  A discussion paper?  What are we talking… what have you been putting together over the past few weeks?


Associate Spokesperson:  These are just internal discussions that have been taking place in the Secretariat.


Question:  Internal discussions at what level?  Between…?


Associate Spokesperson:  They have been from the relevant desks, the relevant officials in the UN Mission in Iraq, and up to people like the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, who spoke to you about some of this just yesterday.


Question:  Is there a draft blueprint at the moment, or a draft plan of action or anything like that?


Associate Spokesperson:  There is nothing to circulate.  Certainly, there have been internal discussions.


Question:  Probably, Mr. Pascoe has already decided, or the internal discussions resulted in an increasing the number from 65 to 95, so obviously, you are not waiting for the Security Council resolution.  You have already decided to expand your role in Iraq.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, no, we have not raised the ceiling yet.  What he was expressing was that the ceiling may be raised.  One of the things we need to know first, though, is what precise mandate we have.  We will make the decision on the ceiling accordingly, taking into consideration both our mandated task and also, of course, the security developments on the ground, whether we have the sufficient safety, including secure facilities, to ensure that we can have that many international staff on the ground.  But we have not made that decision yet.


Question:  So the number may go down to 80, or 85, for example, depending on the security situation?


Associate Spokesperson:  We will make the announcement about the ceiling once it becomes relevant.


Question:  You already did… make the announcement about the ceiling.


Associate Spokesperson:  No, he said something that might happen.  It has not yet happened, though.


Question:  In respect to the question of the Western Sahara, does the Special Envoy intend to brief the Security Council immediately following the conclusion of the Manhasset meeting?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know when the Special Envoy intends to brief the Security Council.  He has briefed them in the past, and we would expect that he would brief the Council again following these talks.  But I don’t know precisely when.


Question:  It may not have been announced, but it has been said, has the security situation on the ground… is it deemed now safe enough to have those 35… 25… from 60 to 90?


Associate Spokesperson:  As of today, the ceiling is where it has been.  It is at 65.  We have not changed it.  We are in talks with the Iraqi authorities, with the multinational forces, to see what arrangements can be made for security if there is to be any increase in deployment.  But, like I said, let us wait for that to happen.


Question:  I don’t understand one thing, though.  The 65 number always included also security people, is that correct?


Associate Spokesperson:  No, the 65 is the ceiling not including the Fijian guard unit.


Question:  So, would there be a need, if you do decide, as was expressed yesterday, to raise to 90, will there be a need to enlarge the Fijian group as well?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know what adjustments need to be made to the security presence on the ground.  Like I said, we haven’t gotten to that point yet, so it is a bit premature to suggest what the conditions would have to be.


Question:  What difference would 25 people on the ground make as far as security?  Does it make much difference?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, it makes a difference in terms of safe accommodations, safe travel and so forth, yes.  You have to make sure that their needs are taken care of.  Somebody has mentioned the Staff Council’s concerns and we certainly have in mind the concerns about staff security and we will…


Question:  Do you have secure conditions now?


Associate Spokesperson:  We think that the conditions on the ground are sufficient to allow for the deployment that we have and to perform the tasks that we have.


Question:  With regards to this creation of this new reinforced headquarters or something that’s being talked about, how does funding work for that?  Is that something that comes from the core UN budget, or is it like from the peacekeeping budget?  I am not sure how that all gets paid for.


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  This is something that is still being discussed, so I don’t know whether the funding has been worked out.  I’ll see if there are any details about that.


[The Spokesperson’s Office later informed the correspondent that, normally, those costs would be part of the United Nations peacekeeping budget.]


* *** *


For information media • not an official record