6 December 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Guest at Noon


Good afternoon.  We had an addition today to the briefing.  We will probably have Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes as the guest.  He is currently briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to Africa.  If that concludes in time, he will come here to talk to you.  If not, he will speak at the stakeout outside the Security Council.


** Darfur


The Deputy Secretary-General will be leading the UN delegation to the African Union-European Union Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.


As part of her delegation, she will have the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked and Small Island Developing States, Cheick Sidi Diarra, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, and the Deputy Chef de Cabinet, Kim Won-Soo.


Mr. Mulet and Mr. Kim are scheduled to meet with the Sudanese delegation at the Summit on issues related to the deployment of the African Union-United Nations hybrid force in Darfur, known as UNAMID.  The purpose of those meetings, which will take place tomorrow and Saturday, will be to address and resolve the issue of force composition, as well as all other obstacles impeding the deployment of UNAMID.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire, Choi Young-Jin, is expected to participate in a mini-summit on Côte d’Ivoire.


**Security Council


The Security Council is currently on the subject of John Holmes’ trip to Africa, but it began its work today with a briefing on the work of the Council’s mission to Timor-Leste by the head of that mission, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo.


After that, the Council held another formal meeting to hear from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes on his recent visit to Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.  He told the Council that he is extremely concerned by the humanitarian situation in all three areas.


He said there are strong reasons to believe that a catastrophe could occur in the next few months in Ethiopia if all the necessary action to avert it is not taken.  He added that, despite its scale and relative success in sustaining millions and saving hundreds of thousands of lives, the humanitarian operation in Darfur is increasingly fragile.  He is particularly concerned about the seriousness of the situation of hundreds of thousands of people displaced from Mogadishu, scattered over inaccessible areas in south and central Somalia.


As I mentioned, he will speak to you afterwards.  Then at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will take up Burundi, first in a formal meeting, and then in closed consultations.


**Security Council on Wednesday


Just to recap, Serge Brammertz yesterday afternoon delivered his last briefing to the Security Council as the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon.


He told the Council that the investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination, as well as preliminary results in other cases, suggest that the perpetrators had, and most likely still have, operational capabilities available in Beirut.


Brammertz said that, in recent months, as investigative tracks have advanced, the scope of the investigation has narrowed.  He added that, based on the progress made recently, he is more confident and optimistic than ever that the investigation can be concluded successfully.


Brammertz and his successor, Daniel Bellemare, met with the press following the meeting and Security Council consultations.  Mr. Bellemare expressed his commitment to a seamless transition when he takes up his job on 1 January.


**Climate Change


Turning to the climate change talks in Bali, all of the negotiating groups that will draw up draft conclusions for adoption next week have now been established, and they’ve begun work on all the major issues.  Meanwhile, the plenary is taking up the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Some parties are suggesting that those reports should be updated by the end of 2009, when a post-2012 climate change deal is expected to be in place.


The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, today called on industrialized countries to take the lead, by reducing their emissions between 25 and 40 per cent from 1990 levels.  He stressed the need to include the carbon market in negotiations on a future deal, in order to achieve these targets.


And, also on climate change, we have upstairs two press releases -- one from the Framework Convention on the need to do more to extend the benefits of the Clean Development Mechanism to Africa, and another from the UN Environment Programme on how environmental sustainability could potentially create millions of new “green-collar” jobs in fields like construction, sustainable forestry, agriculture, engineering and transportation.


**Deputy Secretary-General – Development


At UN Headquarters today, the Deputy Secretary-General this morning addressed the General Assembly “Dialogue on Development”.  Highlighting the new UN Development Agenda, she said the publication reflects the importance that the entire UN system attaches to building a more equitable, healthier and more secure world for all.


She added that there will be no more important mission for the UN than helping developing countries share in the world's prosperity.  A stronger UN needs a stronger development pillar, she concluded.  Her full remarks are available upstairs.


** Afghanistan


The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, today condemned the killing of a truck driver in Afghanistan, who was delivering WFP food aid.  The driver’s assistant was abducted and remains missing.  Sheeran said she strongly deplored this attack, as she does all acts of aggression against humanitarian workers helping people in desperate need.


The truck, which was carrying 14 tons of high-energy biscuits, was ambushed by armed men on the road from Kandahar to Helmand, in southern Afghanistan.  The truck and its cargo are still missing.  In October and November, two other attacks on trucks delivering WFP food occurred in the same area.  There’s more information on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.


** Somalia


UNICEF is launching a large-scale immunization campaign for some 47,000 children under five and 56,000 women who live in camps for the internally displaced in Somalia.  The campaign is starting this week in IDP camps.


With 95 per cent of children under five having never been immunized, Somalia has some of the worst health and social indicators for children in the world.  And the UNICEF effort will complement ongoing campaigns to deliver clean water and sanitation, build schools and improve health services.


The approach is cost effective.  UNICEF and WHO believe that they can reach 3.5 million children and women in the next two years for as little as US$ 15 per person per year.


** Brazil


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, wrapped up a three-day visit to Brazil last night.  Arbour met with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, other Federal Government officials and the Federal Supreme Court, as well as State authorities, in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.  They discussed Brazil’s progress and challenges with regards to human rights.  Civil society groups in Brasilia and São Paolo also had the opportunity to discuss their human rights concerns with her.


Arbour encouraged the Brazilian authorities to continue their efforts to improve the administration of justice, especially with regards to the widespread use of pre-trial detention.  She suggested specific measures to alleviate prison overcrowding, to foster accountability among law enforcement officials, and to prevent abuses against detainees.  There’s a press release with more information on that upstairs, as well.


**Health


The World Health Organization (WHO) today unveiled a new research and development agenda, which aims to ensure that children get better access to child-friendly medicines.  There’s a press release with more information on that upstairs.


**UPU/Postal Report


Despite the proliferation of e-mail, snail mail is alive and well, according to the Universal Postal Union.  In its report on world postal statistics for 2006, released today, the UPU finds that the number of letters sent has remained steady.  In Switzerland and the United States, for example, the average inhabitant sends around 700 letters per year.


Meanwhile, parcel traffic continues to grow, with Africa, Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States showing the biggest increases.  And postal revenue is up sharply -- 13 per cent from the previous year.  We have more information on that upstairs.


**Secretary-General at Stakeout


And just some reminders:  At 3 this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak to you and take your questions outside the Security Council stakeout in his last press appearance before he leaves this weekend for the climate change conference in Bali.


I was asked yesterday about the Secretary-General’s plans for speaking engagements here and by the end of the year.  We expect that the Secretary-General will talk to you at a press stakeout once he returns from his travels to Asia and Paris, in the second half of this month.  He does not intend to give a year-end press conference; instead, his next big press conference will be at the start of next year.


**Press Conferences


For your planning purposes, Michael Adlerstein, the head of the capital master plan (CMP), who welcomes the adoption of the draft resolution on the accelerated strategy for the CMP by the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, will be here to talk to you on 17 December on this accelerated strategy and take your questions on that.


At 1:5 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development; Joseph Stiglitz, President of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University; and Jagdish Bhagwati, Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Columbia University, on the recent developments in the world economy and current policy challenges.


This is what I have for you, and we have Janos, the General Assembly Spokesperson, here.  And, as I said, we will try to squeeze in John Holmes if we can get him.  Any questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  It seems that truckloads of food are always being shanghaied around the world where they are headed for a needy village.  Is there much information about what is done with those?  I know that sometimes in the past they have been shanghaied by military people that have the fed their soldiers with the food.  But is there any general information on what happens to these high-energy biscuits or rice or whatever else is --


Deputy Spokesperson:  What you’re asking is, do we know what happens to the food aid that is being carjacked?  Obviously, we don’t if it goes missing.  However, a lot of the places where these incidents are happening are, obviously, in places of conflict, where there’s violence, where the population at large, not just the people we’re trying to reach, are in desperate need of food.  And, therefore, the attackers also need it or want to sell it, or whatever else they do when people are in desperate need.


Question:  I wanted to double-check and have an on-the-record comment on, are there any updates on when is the Secretary-General receiving the report on Kosovo?  Any changes on the schedule?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We hope that he will receive the report from the Contact Group before he leaves.  And as soon as the Security Council members receive copies of it, we will inform you.


Yes?


Question:  How far behind is the schedule for the capital master plan?  How much of these delays added to the cost of the master plan?  Why the delays?  And have these delays further added to the difficulties in dealing with New York City? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if you were in this room when I announced to you that Michael Adlerstein is going to come and address all these issues.  He just learned that the Fifth Committee has adopted the accelerated strategy.  This falls in line with his views on trying to get the plan under way as soon as possible.  So I’d prefer if he came and addressed all these issues in person with you.


Question:  Can you make any comment as to why there’s been such a delay and how much these delays are costing, how is it hurting --


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think all of that was outlined in the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly.


Question:  Two questions:  Balkans and [inaudible].  There’s this quote by the Deputy Special Envoy for Kosovo, Albert Rohan, that independence for Kosovo is inevitable and that that’s the preferred solution.  Is he speaking for the Secretariat?  Who’s he speaking for?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I saw the press reports.  I don’t have anything directly from him, so I’ll have to check.


Question:  Yes, but is that the Secretariat’s position, I guess, is my question.  Is that their position?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as I said, is awaiting the Contact Group’s report.


Question:  Also, there’s today –- there are no tours of the building.  The tour guides are apparently on strike or didn’t come in.  There’s a job action.  Can you say whether they’re -– they’ve protested that they’re not staff members, on health insurance and other matters.  What’s the Secretariat’s response to the complaints raised by the Guided Tour Unit?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The guided tours to the United Nations were drastically reduced today after 22 guides called in sick.  Visitors who had made their prior reservations were generally able to go on their tour as scheduled.  But all others were prevented from visiting UN Headquarters.  This is apparently related to a number of issues that the tour guides have raised with management in recent weeks, but no communication has been received from the guides today.  A meeting had been scheduled this afternoon to discuss these issues and Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Public Information Kiyo Akasaka had planned to join and announce that he would constitute a working group to discuss these issues of concern.  The meeting is still scheduled as planned and the United Nations is fully committed to dialogue with tour guides.


Question:  Let me just ask one follow-up to that.  There seems to have been an issue of whether the tour guides can be represented by the staff union or at least attend this meeting.  Is there -- does this new announcement -- apparently they were rebuffed.  They want to be represented.  They want to be organized.  Does this announcement mean that they can be in fact either represented or the union can attend?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The announcement is making clear that the Department of Public Information is reaching out and wants to have dialogue with the tour guides as soon as possible.


Yes?


Question:  Do you have anything to tell us on Israel building over 300 new houses in eastern Jerusalem?  And whether this is a breach to the Road Map and the commitments announced in the meeting Mr. Ban Ki-moon attended in Annapolis a few days ago?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have an immediate reaction to that today.  [The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the UN’s position on the illegality of settlement activity is well-known.  These new tenders for 300 new homes in east Jerusalem, coming so soon after the renewed commitment to Road Map implementation at Annapolis, are not helpful, she said.  She added that the UN will be discussing this with Quartet partners.]


Question:  This is not a question, but more of a request.  If you could tell Mr. Adlerstein and his office when they come next week to prepare some materials, some specifics, about the greening of the UN building because that’s one aspect with Bali going on right now that we haven’t really heard a lot about.  It’s just more said in general, but there are no real specifics about what the plan is, how that ties into the capital mater plan.


Deputy Spokesperson:  We will make sure we relay that.  And he will be the guest on 17th.


Question:  On Somalia –- and I understand that Mr. Holmes may comment, as well, so I’ll ask him, as well –- but there was a report yesterday that the UN was confirming that the Transitional Federal Government was blocking food delivery to the whole southern region of Somalia.  Is that still the case?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I may not have brought the guidance from yesterday on that.  I think maybe what you’re referring to is the WFP operations in Lower Shebelle.  I can confirm that it was resumed yesterday after restrictions were imposed the day before.


Okay.  Janos first, and then we’ll wait for Mr. Holmes.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.  Good to see you.


**General Assembly President’s Programme


The President of the Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, had a working breakfast this morning with the Secretary-General.  This was part of their regular working meetings.  The focus of attention was the work of the Assembly as it was wrapping up its session for the year, as well as some of the key issues coming up for next year.  Three topics stood out:  climate change, the Millennium Development Goals and management reform.


But as regards more details, I will leave those to the President himself who will come and brief you, most likely on 19 December at 11.


Climate change is also the topic of a meeting scheduled between the President and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg taking place in about 5 minutes at City Hall (scheduled for 12:30).


**General Assembly Plenary


The General Assembly met in plenary in the afternoon yesterday and it took action on the reports of the First Committee -– all 52 recommended texts –- and it followed the same pattern the Committee had as regards those 52 texts.   Meaning, those that were adopted without a vote were adopted without a vote.  Those that had recorded votes went for voting.


This morning, the Assembly took action on the reports from the Sixth Committee and all 20 recommended texts were adopted without a vote.


Let me also give you a head’s up on scheduled plenary actions for some of the other committees that we already know, and I know that some of you are waiting for this.


One in particular are the reports of the Third Committee, and those are scheduled for the 18th December in the morning.  Those are the ones that, of course, relate to the issues that you were especially following like the moratorium on the death penalty or the various human rights situations.  So, 18th December in the morning, Third Committee reports.


The Fourth Committee -- which finished earlier than the Third -- its reports are to be taken up by the Assembly on 17th -– so a day earlier -- in the afternoon.


Let me also flag two recent things, actually fresh off the racks –- at least fresh off the pen of the President of the General Assembly –- on two upcoming issues.  One has interested you a lot for quite some time and that’s the next steps as regards Security Council reform.  The President had just sent out a letter to all Member States, dated today, and it says, amongst other things, the following:  “After broad consultations with Member States, I have the honour to inform you that it is my intention to hold a meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council on Friday, 14th December 2007, at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 2.  At the meeting, I will inform the membership on how the process of Security Council reform should be carried forward.”


Another letter also dated today and going to the membership, concerns again something you have been interested in, and that’s Mr. Gambari’s briefing to the full Assembly membership.  In that letter, the President says to the Member States, “I have the honour to inform you the General Assembly will hold an informal meeting of the plenary on 18th December 2007 from 3 to 4 p.m. in Conference Room 1 at which the Member States will have the opportunity to hear a briefing by the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari.”  So that’s 18th in the afternoon.


Let’s get back to the plenary’s work.


This afternoon, the Assembly will be holding a debate on development issues.  Preceding this, and acting as a kind of catalyst for this debate, is a meeting with the theme “Dialogue on Development”.  And that is just being held in the ECOSOC Chamber organized by DESA, and you will have a press briefing on this at 1:15 here.


The President of the Assembly has taken part in that meeting, and he told the participants that the objective of the dialogue was to discuss emerging trends in the world economy that might affect all of our efforts to achieve faster progress to implement the international development goals, in particular the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015.  And he said that he hoped that this dialogue would also provide a contribution to the Assembly’s deliberations in the afternoon.


In his statement, the President also noted that in a globalized economy no country or company could insulate itself entirely from international risks.  He mentioned that the current challenges reminded us that national governments and multilateral institutions had to be ever vigilant and ready to take appropriate steps to ensure that we could respond rapidly to changing international market conditions that might undermine growth.


He also stressed that robust global growth that was resilient to economic shocks and sustainable over the long term was the best catalyst for development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.


But he also warned that we had to take into account the interrelationship between economic growth and its impact on the global climate.  He also stressed that for many poor countries aid was a much-needed catalyst for development, but in no country was it sufficient.  Developing countries had long argued the importance of growth for lifting their people out of poverty.


He concluded by stressing that progress was possible, but for that, above all, we had to demonstrate the necessary political will.  The full speech is available for you upstairs and it will be available on the website of the President.


**Main Committees


A very quick update on the Main Committees that are still working -- that’s the Second Committee and the Fifth Committee:


The Second Committee yesterday met in formal session and took action on a number of drafts that it had before it -– in fact, nine in all -– without a vote. It is expected to take further action on drafts tomorrow.  It is scheduled to finish its work this week.  We’ll see if that in fact will happen.


Fifth Committee, I think, by now all of you know what has happened this morning on the capital master plan:  the Fifth Committee in a formal session adopted the draft text on the capital master plan (document A/C.5/62/L.8).


Let me add here that as regards this issue, it looks as though the General Assembly will take this up separately -– so not as part of the other reports of the Fifth Committee.  The Fifth Committee secretariat is working on this and they will submit as soon as possible for GA action a report on the CMP and that should be at the earliest possible time.  I don’t have the exact date -- or at least I can’t confirm it.  When I can, I will do so.  But as you heard from Marie, Mr. Adlerstein will be here on the 17th and, hopefully, by then the Assembly has taken action on it.


That’s all I have.  Questions?  Please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  This Open-ended Working Group on Security Council Reform, what can expect from it?  Will the PGA be announcing this is a process I’m setting up, here are my facilitators, this is the timeline?  Or is it just going to be another…?


Spokesperson:  Yes, something along those lines that you have mentioned.  But let’s wait for the 14th itself.  And, as I mentioned, a couple of days afterwards the President himself will come and brief you and that’s going to be one of the issues that he will give his view on in more detail.


Please?


Question:  Will the President’s meeting with Mayor Bloomberg be about -- what will it be about?


Spokesperson:  I mentioned it, it will be -– actually it’s going on now -- So it is focused on climate change.


No more questions.  Thank you very much.  We will wait for Mr. Holmes.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think what will probably happen is Mr. Holmes will probably go to the stakeout given the time constraint here and since we have another briefing at 1:15.  Thank you very much.


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