21 September 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon all, our guest at the noon briefing today will be Tom Koenigs, Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.  He will update you on the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).


** Darfur Meeting Today


This afternoon starting at 3 p.m., the Secretary General and African Union Commission Chairperson, Alpha Oumar Konaré, will co-chair the second high-level consultation on Darfur.  The meeting is expected to gather visitors from 26 countries at the Foreign Minister-level, along with the European Union and the League of Arab States.  The meeting is to mobilize international support behind action on the political process in the lead-up to the negotiations slated to start on 27 October in Libya, the salvation of the African Union-United Nations hybrid peacekeeping force and the humanitarian operations on the ground in Darfur, as well as development and recovery prospects.  Following the meeting, the Secretary-General and Mr. Konaré are expected to have a press encounter at the stakeout microphone outside the ECOSOC chamber.  The estimated time is, for that encounter, 6 p.m.  You should expect a joint press communiqué around that time.


**This Weekend


There are a number of major events -- major meetings -- this weekend, and we have fact sheets upstairs on all of them, but here are a few details:


On Saturday, tomorrow, the Secretary-General and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, will co-chair a high-level meeting on Iraq, which will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. in Conference Room 6.  Participants include the permanent members of the Security Council, the other members of the G-8, countries in the region and regional organizations.  The meeting is intended to deliver a clear message on the need for inclusive national dialogue in Iraq on the UN role in advancing this process, and to obtain explicit recognition on the need for more space for the United Nations in providing assistance to Iraq and its neighbours in regional dialogue.


From 6:15 to 6:45 that evening, tomorrow evening, the Secretary-General and Prime Minister Maliki will hold a press conference in Conference Room 4.


The following day, 10 am, which is Sunday, the Secretary-General and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will co-chair a high-level meeting on Afghanistan that could bring together the countries and organizations represented on the joint coordination and monitoring board of the Afghanistan Compact.  Once the meeting concludes, the participants are expected to issue a communiqué concerning their commitment to Afghanistan and its transition process.  We expect that Secretary-General and President Karzai will speak to reporters in the Security Council stakeout at around 1 p.m.  in the afternoon on Sunday.


The Secretary-General will then chair a high-level Middle East Quartet meeting here at Headquarters Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m.  Attending the meeting will be US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Portuguese Foreign Minister, Luis Amado, on behalf of the EU Presidency, and Quartet Representative, Tony Blair.  The objectives of the meeting are to hear Tony Blair report on his last two visits to the Middle East and to address general political issues.


Following the Quartet meeting, at approximately 6:15 p.m., there will be a joint press conference by the Quartet Principals in Conference Room 4.  Then, at 7:30, there will be a dinner here at Headquarters for the Quartet Principals, members of the League of Arab States’ follow-up committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, and Norway’s Foreign Minister, who will chair the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee on the Middle East the following day.  A rolling stakeout will be set up at the delegate’s entrance so that you can speak to delegates coming to and going from the dinner.


We have more information, of course, in my office, as we do for all those events.  Due to the number of high-level events, the Office of the Spokesperson will be fully staffed this weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday.  The Office will stay open as long as there are press events taking place at Headquarters, and other valuable services over the weekend will be available upstairs in my office.


**Ad Hoc Liaison - Middle East


Looking ahead to Monday morning, the Secretary General will co-chair a meeting in Conference Room 3 on the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is chaired by Norway, and serves as the main coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people.  Among other things, the meeting will help prepare for an international pledging conference in December.  Following the meeting, at a time still to be determined, Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, and Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, will hold a press conference.  We’ll let you know the details later.


**Climate Change Conference Preview


On Monday, the Secretary General’s convening, as you know, a high-level, informal meeting on climate change.  Representatives from more than 150 countries, including 80 Heads of State and Government are slated to attend.  The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall, followed by thematic plenaries taking place in four separate locations all day.  The goal of this meeting is to bring leaders together so that they can express their views and leave with a renewed sense of commitment for tackling climate change, specifically at the negotiations taking place in Bali, Indonesia, in December.


There’s much more information available in my office, as well as on the web at www.un.org/climatechange.


Also, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs has just launched its own climate change website, with extensive links to the Department’s work on this issue.  The site can be found at www.un.org/esa/desa/climatechange.  So you’ll be able to consult those different websites if you are particularly following this conference.


** Montreal Conference


Environment Ministers from around the world are expected to wrap up their weeklong discussions in Montreal today.  They’ve been examining ways to extend the Montreal Protocol, which deals with gases that affect the ozone layer, and possibly move up the deadlines for some of its provisions.  We will provide more information on the conclusion of that conference once it wraps up later today.  I will expect it will be around 5 o’clock this afternoon.  We’re not sure of the time yet.  There will probably be a statement from us.  We don’t know yet at this point. 


**International Day of Peace


Today is the International Day of Peace and many events took place around the world to celebrate its theme.


At United Nations Headquarters, a Peace Bell Ceremony took place, attended by the Secretary-General and a number of his Messengers of Peace.  In his message celebrating this day, the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire for this day -- urging a 24-hour respite from the fear and insecurity that plague so many regions around the world.


The Secretary-General urged all countries and all combatants to honour this cessation of hostilities.


He reiterated that peace is one of humanity’s most precious needs and is the UN’s highest calling.  He called today an occasion to take stock of global efforts to promote peace and well-being for all mankind.


The event was followed by the student observance of the International Day of Peace.  The Secretary-General also met with students from around the world, where he commended the future leaders of the world for their energy and idealism, as well as their early demonstration of promoting peace and protecting the environment.  Most of you, I guess, had a chance to listen to the press conference earlier today about the Messengers of Peace.


**Security Council


Following consultations, the Security Council yesterday afternoon adopted a presidential statement that strongly condemned the killing in Lebanon on Wednesday of at least seven persons, including Member of Parliament Antoine Ghanem.


On the eve of the crucial period of the presidential election, the Security Council stresses that any attempt to destabilize Lebanon, including through political assassination or other terrorist acts, should not impede or subvert the constitutional process in Lebanon.


It reiterated its call for the holding of a free and fair presidential election in conformity with Lebanese constitutional norms and schedules and without any foreign interference, fully respecting the sovereignty of Lebanon.


** Iraq -- Cholera


The World Health Organization says that it has confirmed 1,500 cases of cholera in Iraq, with the capital Baghdad recording its first confirmed case two days ago.  WHO says that there were also outbreaks of cholera in the northern areas of Iraq.


Meanwhile, in the Sulimaniya area, WHO reports 10 deaths from diarrhoea from among the nearly 30,000 cases confirmed to date.


**UNHCR – Iraqi Refugees


The UN Refugee Agency says asylum applications by Iraqis in industrialized countries rose 45 per cent in the first half of 2007 compared to the last half of 2006, and nearly doubled from the same period one year earlier.  That’s according to provisional statistics based on information provided by Governments.  Nearly 20,000 such claims were lodged in the first six months of this year in the 36 industrialized countries that provided data, with nearly half of those claims in Sweden.


** Uganda – Flash Appeal


On Uganda, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today launched an emergency appeal for $41 million to provide assistance to those affected by flooding in Uganda.  The appeal is based on requirements for an estimated 300,000 people, the majority of them, women and children.  OCHA notes that, since roads and bridges have been washed away, most of the affected communities are cut off, and the only way to bring in food is by air or by boat.  We have more information upstairs.


**South Asia Floods


Following the recent floods in South Asia, UNICEF has been working across the region to prevent outbreaks of diseases, address the health and nutritional status of women and children, and get children back into school.  We also have more information in my office on this.


** Cambodia


On Cambodia, in Phnom Penh today, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia issued a provisional detention order against Nuon Chea, who, according to the co-investigating judges, had been “Number 2” in the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country from 1975 until 1979.


We have the provisional order of detention, which is for a period not to exceed one year, available upstairs.


** Somalia


In response to a question yesterday at the noon briefing, we can confirm that on 18 September, Ghanim Alnajjar, an independent expert on human rights in Somalia, was denied entry to Baidoa and asked to travel back to Nairobi.  The UN Political office for Somalia says that the Somali authorities have deplored the incident and have since invited Mr. Alnajjar to return to complete his mission, saying that his expulsion had been the result of a misunderstanding.


Today at 2 p.m., Ambassador Irakli Alasania of Georgia will update you on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.  Tomorrow, prior to the high-level meeting on Iraq, there will be a press conference by Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It could be at 2 p.m. in Room 226.  That’s tomorrow, Saturday.  Later that day, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 in Room 226, there will be press conferences by the spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of Japan.  So you have a lot more tomorrow.  This is all I have for you today.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Have you received any requests from the Lebanese Government to help you to help in the elections, whether there or abroad?


Spokesperson:  There was the letter that was issued two days ago about the killing.  I will find out for you what contribution the UN will bring and whether we have received a formal request to participate.  It is essentially a Lebanese matter.  If they have not asked, of course, we will do whatever is asked of us.


[She later informed the correspondent that the United Nations had not received a request from the Lebanese Government.]


Question:  There have been many politicians who have voiced their concern about security and they spoke about the United Nations role or the international role in security.


Spokesperson:  I’ll let you know if we have a formal request.  Any more questions?  We have very little time and I would like to leave more time for Mr. Koenigs and also for our spokesperson for the General Assembly.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  About East Timor, there’s an article about José Ramos-Horta, and he said that they don’t intend to change the terms of reference of their Truth and Reconciliation Commission to knock out amnesty, and he said he didn’t think that what the Secretary-General said in July of the UN participating in that tribunal is official UN policy.  So I guess I’m asking:  Is it the UN’s policy that it will not participate in that amnesty is given to, for war crimes, genocide, and …


Spokesperson:  I’ll check on that for you.  [She later confirmed that the United Nations policy had not changed since the July statement.]


Question:  A couple of housekeeping questions.  The climate change page doesn’t have anything but background.  Is it possible to know as soon as possible, who is speaking, names, not just the countries…


Spokesperson:  I’ll have those in my office today.


Question:  Not just the countries of the four panels, who is speaking?  And the same thing with today’s Darfur, who is attending, not just the name of the country, but the person attending, and that goes for Afghanistan and Iraq also.  And secondly, do you know any reason why the peace messenger event was cut in half, people like Wynton Marsalis and…


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you asked the question to Mr. Akasaka, so I don’t have any reason except the one he gave, that it was a choice … it was a decision by the Secretary General.  As far as the participation in a different meeting, you can have the other meetings, just go into Darfur because it is this afternoon for you.  We have confirmed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Central African Republic, we have confirmed the Assistant Foreign Minister of China, Mr. Zhai Jun.  We have, we can have the full list upstairs.  We don’t know exactly who is in there.  Of course, we do have the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Egypt, Mr. [Aboul] Gheit will be there.  Mr. Bernard Kouchner will be there for France.  Anyway, you have the full list upstairs and you can confirm.  Okay?


Question:  Do you have any updates related to incidents in the Gaza Strip?


Spokesperson:  In the Gaza Strip?  No, we don’t have anything additional from what we had…we had an update on Wednesday.  We will be updating you as well when we’re getting information from Gaza.  We will certainly be talking a lot more about it on Sunday.


Question:  Will you be briefing us much more as it gets closer?


Spokesperson:  We will have briefings after each event, and anytime my office is open.  Anytime you have questions, you’re welcome to come.  We have a focal point for every single event happening, so you can address your questions to someone in that office and we’ll be glad to answer those questions.  Okay, if you have any more, just ask our spokesperson Janos Tisovszky, the spokesperson for the Representative of the General Assembly, to come up and then we’ll have Mr. Koenigs.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Michèle.  I’ll try to be as brief as possible.  I know most of you are here for Mr. Koenigs and not me, which I can live with.  A couple of things.


**General Assembly Plenary


The General Assembly started this morning its second plenary session, which is on the organization of its work – on the adoption of the agenda for the sixty-second session and the allocation of agenda items based on the first report of the General Committee.


The outcome of the exercise is to have an approved agenda with the allocation of the items for either the plenary or the various Committees.  At noon, the Assembly held a minute of silence in observance of International Day of Peace, and currently, the plenary is going through the recommendations of the General Committee as contained in document A/62/250, which is a public document.  It contains 163 proposed items for inclusion for the sixty-second session as opposed to 167 that was before the General Committee.


Now the one item that was proposed not to be included was the one I think most of you were interested in, and this is exactly what the debate is on at the moment.  And that debate includes a number of countries who have asked for the floor -- 114 was the last count I heard (the final number of speakers were 142) and they’re up to about 50 at the moment -- so it’s going to be a long day.  They signalled their wish to speak on paragraph 58 of the General Committee’s report, which relates to the Taiwan issue, which is item 165 of the draft agenda -- which is “urging the Security Council to process Taiwan’s membership application pursuant to rules 59 and 60 of the provisional Rules of Procedure for the Security Council and Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations”.  The President of the Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, appealed to Member States to be as brief as possible in their statement, reminding them that the Assembly is to look at the recommendation of the General Committee regarding the item and not to discuss it in substance.  He above all urged delegates to keep in mind that the Assembly had to finish its work today on the report of the Committee.


**Programme of the President


The President of the Assembly this morning took part in the Peace Bell Ringing Ceremony marking the International Day of Peace.


Yesterday evening, he attended the screening of the movie “Darfur Now”, where he met briefly with UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and discussed the importance of humanitarian missions and the respective role of celebrities.  Both Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt expressed their interest to continue to assist the United Nations, including the General Assembly and its President, in this regard.


**General Debate


On the upcoming general debate -- which begins Tuesday 25 September -- with the theme “responding to climate change”, we should have an updated speakers list for you in the afternoon.  The moment we get that we will make it available.


At this point the count still looks 191 Member States taking the floor -- that’s every Member State except Djibouti -- and two Observers:  the Holy See and Palestine.


And that’s all I have for you.  Questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Janos, there has been President’s intent to go through 110 speakers on one issue, or is this dealing with all the issues?


Spokesperson:  The 114 speakers I’ve mentioned have all asked for the floor concerning paragraph 58, which relates to the issue of the General Committee’s recommendation not to include an agenda item on Taiwan.  That is what is going on.  How long will the debate go on? As I said, the President did urge Member States to concentrate on the topic of including or not including the proposed item, and not go into the substance and try to be as brief as possible.  And, if we look at the rules and procedures, sure there are possibilities to call an end to the debate, but that would require a vote.  So there are various ways to cutting the debate short.  I don’t know what is going to happen -- how long this is going to last.  But it might be a long session.


Question:  I was told, I think it was thrown out of the discussion, the debate.  Now he still allows all this debate.  What is the logic about speaking on an issue that has been already rejected?


Spokesperson:  The issue has not been rejected.  What we have here, and this goes a little bit back to what you and Matthew have been asking, which is about transparency and decision-making.  What we’re talking about here is that the actual decision-making of the Organization is done in public through the plenary.  It’s the plenary that takes the decision.  The General Committee makes a recommendation.  Now from there on, it’s up to the Member States to take action in the framework of the plenary, which is a public meeting.  In fact the General Committee’s recommendations are also now basically public because you can have them now either in the Journal today or you can have them in the document that I mentioned.


So what I’m saying is that it is in a public context, a transparent format that the decisions are taken by the Member States.  Now it is also the sovereign right of every Member State to take the floor.  The President does not want to curtail Member States in that exercise.  Therefore, he allows this procedure to go on.  However, if Member States wish to decide to limit the debate, they can certainly propose that, a vote might be taken on that and that’s the way then that the procedures will go.


Question:  Is there any chance that the Committee’s decision could be changed today, or like during the general debate? Is that technically possible, and did that happen before?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know of a precedent, I have to ask.  But technically, yes it’s possible.  That’s the whole idea of the plenary making the decision, while the General Committee is making the recommendation.  Yes, technically it’s possible to overturn any recommendation.  Matthew?


Question:  I wanted to ask you if the Host Country Committee has received any communications of problems of visas or access.  Last year there were some things around Venezuela, so I just wanted to, I guess, ask you if you are aware of any either complaints or issues that have been raised to the Host Country Committee?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any, no.  Masood?


Question:  Do you have any updates on the Capital Master Plan?


Spokesperson:  I know you asked that.  We looked into it, and as far as we know, it is on the agenda of the Fifth Committee.  As far as the General Assembly is concerned, it’s the fifth progress report on the Capital Master Plan that is on the agenda of the Fifth Committee.  Now, as regards updates on the Capital Master Plan, that’s something for the Secretariat.  So Michèle may be able to help you on that, through I think Ms.  Bárcena’s Office.  Or there is also a representative for that, no?


Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Yes, you will have a… but of course, if there is any change in the proposal it will be first submitted of course to the Member States before you get a briefing on it.


Question:  When will we find out if the financial implications along with security because there was debate about accepting (inaudible)…


Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Well, we’ll have an update as soon as, of course, the General Assembly, the Member States are informed of any proposals to change anything.  Yes?  About exact numbers.


Question:  This is kind of a question to both of you, but I actually think mostly to Michele.  Are you going to be… or do you know of any of the schedule of press conferences, particularly Head of State press conferences, and will those be included in our daily media alerts? I checked with the ones, the dates for next week on the forward dates, none of them have come in yet, at least as of last night.


Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Yes, but you are going to…upstairs, today is Friday, you have the Week Ahead.  On the Week Ahead you have a number of bilaterals scheduled, a number of press conferences scheduled, a number of stake-outs scheduled, so you can consult that.  For the sake of time, I didn’t talk about it, but you have it upstairs.


Question:  As long as I know where to go.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President:  If there are no questions for me then I will gladly turn the floor over.


Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Yes.  Well I will first read a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  It just was brought to me.


The Secretary-General is concerned by reports of an incident yesterday between Georgian Ministry of the Interior units and Abkhaz de facto personnel which reportedly left two Abkhaz dead, several wounded, and a number taken prisoner.  United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) is in the process of conducting an investigation.  The Secretary-General calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to prevent any further escalation of the situation.


And I’ll invite now Mr. Koenigs to come to the podium.


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