17 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


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon


Our guest at the noon briefing today is Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan, who will brief you on the Secretary-General’s accelerated renovation strategy for the UN complex, which was recently approved by the General Assembly.


**Secretary-General in Paris


The Secretary-General today is in Paris, and he addressed the donors’ meeting in support of the Palestinian Authority, telling the donors that they must move quickly now, because the peace process can succeed only if we overcome the gap between our diplomatic efforts and the situation on the ground. 


He noted the heavy toll of the conflict over the past seven years, and added that he has made no secret of his concern for the 1.4 million people of Gaza who today are living under the most abhorrent conditions. With few exceptions, he said, all manner of legitimate trade with Gaza has come to a standstill, with devastating effects on the economy and on family livelihoods.


The Secretary-General added that the international community must do its utmost to support the Palestinian Authority as it strives to tackle the immense challenges ahead. In the afternoon, as the conference closed, the Secretary-General pledged that the United Nations will do its part over the next 36 months to assist the Palestinian Authority to implement its programme, adding that Robert Serry, his new Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, will lead the UN’s efforts in this respect.


The donors’ meeting began with a moment of silence for all those who perished in the terrorist bombings last Tuesday in Algeria.  The Secretary-General said afterward that the Algiers attack will never deter the UN’s vital work around the world.


You will have noticed that throughout the UN system today – including at UN Headquarters and in the Security Council – a moment of silence was observed in honour of those who died in Algiers.


The Secretary-General also held a bilateral meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier today, and was scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


He has just now met with the other principal members of the Quartet, which brings together the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union.  The Quartet was to issue a statement after its meeting.


He will end the day by participating in a dinner with the other Quartet members and with representatives of the League of Arab States.


**Secretary-General - Bali Climate Change Conference


The UN climate change conference in Bali wrapped up over the weekend, after negotiations continued an extra day.  The Secretary-General returned from Timor-Leste to help jump-start the stalled negotiations on a final agreement, which was finally hammered out on Saturday.


In a statement issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General strongly welcomed the adoption of the Bali Road Map as a pivotal first step in reaching a new agreement on climate change.  He noted that all three objectives laid out as benchmarks for the conference’s success had been achieved: launching negotiations on a global climate change agreement; agreeing to an agenda for the negotiations; and agreeing to complete them by 2009.


Four major UN-convened meetings to implement the Bali roadmap are expected to take place next year.  The first will be held in March or April.


Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr, who was the senior adviser to the Secretary-General’s delegation in Bali, will be our guest at noon tomorrow to tell you more about the conference.


**Security Council


Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, told the Security Council in an open meeting this morning that the time has come to draw up a roadmap for the way ahead in that country.


He said the options before the Council are to continue the status quo, which he warned may “only postpone the day of reckoning”; to withdraw from Somalia, which “could create an even more serious power vacuum”; or to devise new political and security initiatives. On the last option, he said, the United Nations must launch diplomatic action to mobilize a consensus to stabilize Somalia.


We have his remarks to the Council upstairs, and Mr. Ould-Abdallah has said that he intends to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once the meeting on Somalia has finished.


This afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled another formal meeting to receive briefings on the work done over the past year by the Council’s subsidiary bodies.  Then the Council will hold consultations on the Multinational Force for Iraq, and we understand that that is regarding a draft resolution concerning its mandate.


** Sudan


Special Representative Ashraf Qazi, in his first press conference since he assumed his functions in Sudan, highlighted the progress made by the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in overcoming the political impasse that erupted in October.


And the African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, met in Al Fasher with the Wali of North Darfur State to discuss security issues related the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in the wake of an attack by four armed men on the African Union mission’s (AMIS) Military Chief of Staff near the AMIS camp in Al Fasher.  The attackers hijacked the vehicle and injured the driver in the incident, which occurred on Friday. The Chief of Staff survived the attack.


Senior officials of UNMID and North Darfur authorities are scheduled to meet today to finalize a security plan to ensure protection of UNAMID and AMIS personnel and facilities in Al Fasher.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo -- UNHCR


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres wrapped up a three-day visit to North Kivu in the east yesterday by calling for an end to the fighting there and pledging to improve conditions in the camps where tens of thousands of displaced persons have sought refuge.


During his stay, Mr. Guterres visited camps west of the provincial capital of Goma, as well as in Rutshuru, 70 kilometres to the north.  While promising to improve camp conditions, Mr. Guterres said the real solution to the massive displacement lies in lasting peace.  In total, there are 800,000 displaced persons in North Kivu, a result of both the recent conflict between government troops and rebels led by army general Laurent Nkunda and previous conflicts.


At a press conference, Guterres said it was unacceptable that armed men were entering IDP camps and harassing people.  He called on all sides to respect the civilian character of these sites.


** Myanmar


The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, is in Washington, D.C., today for consultations relating both to his work on Myanmar and on the International Compact for Iraq.  Mr. Gambari met this morning with US First Lady Laura Bush and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to discuss UN efforts in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate for Myanmar.


Later this afternoon, Gambari is scheduled to meet with the US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns.  Also later today, he is scheduled to meet with US Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt in connection with the International Compact for Iraq.  Mr. Gambari is scheduled to brief the General Assembly tomorrow on Myanmar.


** Ethiopia


Turning to Ethiopia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says more than $3 million is urgently needed to prevent cutbacks in food distributions to refugee populations by March.  A poor rainy season and desert locusts are threatening food security in that country.  The World Food Programme currently provides monthly food rations to some 80,000 refugees, half of them from Sudan.


** Liberia -- Peacebuilding Fund


The UN Mission in Liberia and that country’s Government today announced that the UN Peacebuilding Fund has committed to providing $15 million in support of peace building efforts in Liberia over the next two years.  A Joint Steering Committee will be constituted to oversee project selection and the allocation of funds.


** Pakistan -- Bird Flu


The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing technical support to Pakistan’s Ministry of Health, following the finding of 8 suspected human cases of bird flu in the country’s north-west.  Among other things, WHO is helping with investigations and is reviewing the surveillance, prevention and control measures that have been implemented.  Multiple poultry outbreaks of the bird flu virus have been occurring in Pakistan since 2006, according to WHO.


**Global Compact


The UN Global Compact is launching its first-ever Local Network Report today. The report provides an overview of Global Compact activities on a country level.  Local Networks facilitate the progress of companies engaged in the Compact and help them implement the Global Compact's principles. Over the past two years, the number of Local Networks has doubled, with Networks emerging or existing in close to 90 countries.


Recent launches have occurred in the Republic of Korea, Cote d’Ivoire, Viet Nam, the Dominican Republic, Turkey and the United States, among other countries.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Johan Scholvink, Director of the Division of Social Policy and Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will hold a press conference to launch the latest World Youth Report, entitled “Young People’s Transition to Adulthood: Progress and Challenges”.


And our guest at the noon briefing will be Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, who will brief on the recent Climate Change Conference in Bali, from where he’s returning later today.


**UNCA Elections


Just a quick note of congratulations to those elected in the recent UN Correspondent Association (UNCA) elections for the Executive Committee 2008.  Congratulations to Tuyet Nguyen for his re-election as President, first Vice President Matthew Lee, second Vice President Frank Ucciardo, third Vice President Jeong Ho Nam, and for those other nine members at large.  Congratulations to those re-elected, and welcome to the new members.


**Questions and Answers


That’s what I have for you today. A question from Al-Jazeera.


Question:  Is there any reaction from the United Nations about the Turkish troops and air strikes in northern Iraq?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is concerned that Turkey has launched air strikes into northern Iraq yesterday and that there had been reports of possible civilian casualties. Thus far there is no confirmation of developments on the ground. At the same time, the Secretary-General is concerned at the continued intrusion of PKK elements carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey from northern Iraq.  The Secretary-General appeals to the governments of Iraq and Turkey to work together to prevent these types of attacks from continuing.


Question:  On the quartet meetings, Mr. Ban Ki Moon has been meeting Ms. Rice.  Can you tell us roughly what they discussed?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the meeting with Ms. Rice was a one-on-one session.  So there was no immediate readout.]


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the read out on that meeting as it just occurred.  I was just trying to report to you who he was meeting on the sidelines.


Question:  On the quartet, I didn’t hear any voiced concern about the recent bloodshed over the weekend between Fatah and Hamas. Has the Secretary-General said anything about this, pulling together money for that State when the main parties of the State are killing each other?


Deputy Spokesperson:  If it was not in his statement upstairs there may not be a direct reference to it, but the whole purpose of his attending this meeting is obviously to try to bring an end to the bloodshed on the ground.


Question:  To follow-up on the question about (inaudible)…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on the report. I will look into this report and get back to you after the briefing.


Question:  There’s a report of a Burmese from Myanmar being shot on the border of Thailand and that this had been raised to the UN system.  Are you aware of that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  That would be the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and they have not reported anything thus far.


Question:  Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General about the continued delays in the Lebanese elections?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General on Lebanon calls on the Lebanese political leaders to exert every effort to resolve their differences and arrive at a solution for an immediate presidential election without conditionalities in accordance with constitutional rules.


Question:  Regarding Darfur, can you tell us about the situation in western Darfur? Yesterday there was military fighting between the army and the rebels.  Can you give us an update on that?  Also, did you get any response from any contributing country on the hybrid force?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Not yet. I’m sure that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would let us know as soon as they have any offers, given the effort that is going on right now to try to get them.  In terms of the fighting on the ground, the latest report I received from the mission was in regards to the attack on an AMIS vehicle.  Obviously the fighting on the ground is something that AMIS is still monitoring.  So I don’t have any direct comment on that for now.  As for the UN, as you know that it is involved in trying to bring about the political talks, as well as trying to get this peacekeeping mission on the ground.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon. 


**President’s Statement on Bali Outcome


The President has a statement attributable to his spokesman on the outcome of the Bali negotiations. It reads as follows: “The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Srgjan Kerim, welcomes the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali.  He commends the spirit of cooperation and compromise shown by all parties during the discussion.  The President believes that advancing further on this agreement in the forthcoming negotiations is of crucial importance.  He would also like to thank the government of Indonesia for the leadership shown during the process and for hosting the meeting.  The President is convening a high-level meeting of the General Assembly on 11 and 12 February 2008 to consider creating synergies and building support to negotiations on climate change.  The event will bring together Members States, private sector and civil society to discuss how in partnership with the United Nations system climate change can best be addressed.”


The statement will be available to you upstairs in hard copy and on the website of the General Assembly President.


**General Assembly Plenary


The General Assembly is holding a plenary meeting this morning, taking action on several different draft resolutions before it emanating from previous debates that it held during its work.  I want to flag one draft for you, L.36, concerning assistance to the Palestinian people.  The reason I’m flagging it is that this was adopted without a vote this time.  In previous years this was usually done without a consensus, in other words, it was taken to a vote.


**Event on Forests


There’s another draft I want to flag for you on a report from the Second Committee, containing a recommendation for the General Assembly to adopt the so-called non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests.  This was done without a vote.  Following this, currently as we’re having this press briefing, there’s a special event in the form of an informal General Assembly plenary, tied to the adoption of this non-legally binding instrument.   As background please note that it was after fifteen years of discussions and negotiations on a global approach to protect the world’s forests that the seventh session on the UN forum on forests in April this year adopted this landmark agreement on international forest policy and cooperation.  This non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests is the first of its kind and reflects a strong international commitment to promote sustainable forest management through a new, more holistic approach.


**President’s Statement


The President addressed this informal event and had the following to say:  “The instrument adopted today reflects the strong international commitment to promote on the ground implementation of sustainable forest management through a new more holistic approach that brings all stakeholders together.  It was a very long process.  It took over fifteen years of discussions and negotiations to achieve this but it was worth the effort.  This agreement was the first of its kind.  It truly reflects our common commitment to approach the social, economic and environmental aspects of forests in an open collaborative and forward-looking manner.  There is much more to this instrument than just protecting trees.  Indeed there is now growing global recognition of the role of forests in stabilizing climate change and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems.  So protecting forests really means fostering sustainable development.”


**Open-Ended Working Group of Security Council Reform


Let me go back to Friday because Friday when I briefed at lunchtime the meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on an Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council was still ongoing.  Because of the number of speakers it stretched into the afternoon.  This was the first meeting of the open-ended working group during the sixty-second session.


Let me flag some of the key points that the President of the General Assembly made in his concluding remarks Friday afternoon as that meeting wrapped up.  He said -- and there are four things that I want to flag for you -- that the debate was characterized by substantive and concrete contributions from Member States; that there was support expressed for the President and for the newly created Task Force. If you remember there was a Task Force created with three vice-presidents and the president and the vice-presidents were the permanent representatives of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal. The President also noted that there was support expressed for the seven principles as guidelines for the process ahead.  If you remember, these were the seven principles that the President expressed when the General Assembly debated the issue of Security Council reform a couple of weeks ago.  And finally, he noted that Member States indicated their preparedness to look for and find a common denominator for inter-governmental negotiations and a considerable degree of appreciation was also expressed for a so-called intermediary approach.  This latter idea is contained in the report of the working group adopted on the last day of the sixty-first session on the 17th of September.


**General Assembly Plenary


This afternoon, the Assembly will continue its meeting in plenary and will take action on reports from the Fourth Committee.


Tomorrow the Assembly is meeting in plenary.  In the morning, it will take actions on the reports from the Third Committee.  That is something that had been interesting to you because it has all the human rights related issues including also the draft or the recommended resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty.  So that’s all tomorrow morning.


Tomorrow afternoon, Marie has mentioned this already, between 3 and 4 p.m. in an informal setting, the Special Envoy for the Secretary-General for Myanmar, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, will brief the General Assembly.  He will brief on his work as special envoy, not on his last efforts, but his overall work.  That’ll be tomorrow afternoon.


**Main Committees


I optimistically mentioned Friday that the Second Committee was supposed to have ended its work Friday.  It did not.  It asked for an extension.  It is supposed to be ending its work tomorrow on the 18th by taking action hopefully on the last remaining draft resolutions it has before it and that relates to the Triennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the UN system, commonly referred to as the TCPR.  Most likely, if that happens, the Assembly is going to take up the reports from the Second Committee on the 19th in the afternoon.


The Fifth Committee is ongoing, as most of you know.  Today in the morning it has taken up a number of the so-called programme budget implications emanating from the various resolutions passed in the different committees.  In the afternoon, it is also going to continue in an informal plenary setting discussions on this issue and it will bring back an issue it had discussed some time ago that was on your radar and that’s the procurement task force.


The Fifth Committee is still slated to finish its work on the 19th in the evening and that would mean that on the 21st the Assembly will wrap up its work in the form of a plenary taking action on all remaining reports from the Fifth Committee.


The President of the Assembly is coming to you, to this room on 19th December, on Wednesday at 11 a.m. for his wrap-up press briefing and he’s going to give you all the details on the various issues, including the Security Council reform.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  About the Gambari report tomorrow, is this to be a briefing to be delivered in the plenary openly?  Will other countries be speaking?  And why do you make the designation you just made that it would be an “overall” look and not his last?  Does that mean it won’t be a specific fact-finding kind of briefing he’s given the Security Council after his return, but it will be something more general?


Spokesperson:  It will be in an informal setting.  It will be in Conference Room 1. My understanding is that this will be a closed meeting.  It will be about an hour.  It is envisaged that Members States may address the issue and pose questions.  The reason why it will be an overall approach on the part of Mr. Gambari, is that if you remember in the past when he had three recent visits -- out of those three, the last one was a case when he was not in Myanmar but in the region -- on all three visits, he briefed the President of the Assembly.  This time he will brief the whole membership with the intention of not just talking about the latest stage of where he is, but basically his overall efforts, including his other previous visits as well.


Question:  Will it be closed?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes.  Because it’s an informal plenary, it will be closed.  This was the last information I got from General Assembly Affairs when I asked about this because I knew you’d be interested.


Question:  What’s happening with the budget and the outstanding budget issues?


Spokesperson:  The budget -- as some of you know and some of you have reported extensively on this -- the budget negotiations are ongoing in the Fifth Committee. Over the weekend there were more informal consultations and these continue and will continue until the 19th. The hope is that by the end of the day on the 19th there’s going to be some agreement reached on the budget.  As you know, the way the Fifth Committee is working is on the basis of consensus so it will want to adopt a text without a vote on the basis of consensus.  It is the understanding of the members of the Fifth Committee to work until the end of the 19th to agree on a budget.


Question:  What is your assessment of that picture so far? Are they heading for consensus or is it going to be deadlocked?


Spokesperson:  I know you’d like me to give a qualitative statement but let me not do that simply because it is very, very difficult to ascertain whether we’re heading for a deadlock or whether there are positive developments.  At the moment everybody is engaged and there’s genuine consultative work going on with the intention of agreeing on a budget by the end of the 19th.


Question:  Will Mr. Gambari have a written report? And can you try to make it available to us?


Spokesperson:  I’ll certainly look into whether he will be giving a written report or a statement and if in what format that can be made available to you.  I’ll look into that definitely.


Question:  Also on the budget, down there today the comptroller, there were a lot of Secretariat officials kind of milling around.  Maybe they were testifying or speaking now that we’re up here.  Do you know if that was in the context of all these programme budget implications or the results of modified and revised estimates.


Spokesperson:  If you look at the Journal, you will see that the first part of the Fifth Committee was an open meeting and it was about the special political missions and an introduction of that report and also on the programme budget implications of various resolutions.  Afterwards as that ended, the meeting was to go into informal consultations.  So the presence of Secretariat officials was probably for both.  As regards to the introduction, the formal introduction and debate on those materials plus also the continuation of the informal negotiations or discussions as regards the procurement task force and the various different programme budget implications and other things related to the programme budget biennium or the proposed programme budget for the 2008-2009 biennium, there is a lot of back and forth as regards the Secretariat and the budget people when it comes to these issues.


Question:  On the Second Committee and the TCPR, is it true if they pass that, there has to be a review of budget implications?


Spokesperson:  It depends on what actually they pass. It’s a long text.  It has 280 some paragraphs.  That in itself is something that draws out the process.  You’re right.  If they pass it in a format that has programme budget implications, then obviously it will then go to the Fifth [Committee].  But it may not necessarily be the case.  They could also go with a text that does not have budget implications.


Question:  Can they do that by Wednesday?  Or is that something that would be done after next year?


Spokesperson:  Not necessarily.  I think it can be done and finished this year.  Things can be speeded up.  As I said, I think the understanding is that they will try to work for a text that does not have programme budget implications.  On TCPR, if you look back over the past three years, 2004, 2001 when this came up, the negotiations on this text, just by the sheer length of it, but also maybe because of the detailed technical aspects of it, it usually went almost to the last days, it was 21 December or 23 December that it was adopted.  Compared to that, we are at today the 17th and tomorrow the 18th, we’re doing pretty good.


Question:  How would you compare this budget debate in coming to the wire like this in previous years?  Has the process, in your estimation, become more entrenched and more difficult?  I remember Kofi Annan at one point joking about how he’s not going to have the electricity to be able to have the light bulb running.  Put this in context of previous years, perhaps.


Spokesperson:  I think most of you who covered the UN would remember two years ago when there was a budget adopted, but with a spending cap.  And that took also something that went to the wire.  The thing is that if we have something on the 19th I would say this has been a good year.


If things drag out, we’ll see where they go.  We talked about this.  What are the different scenarios.  I don’t necessarily want to go into this as to whether that spending cap was something that created a precedent or whether this year there’s going to be something that will create a precedent.  What we see here, and this is something that has been discussed when the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) reported on the budget, when we have discussed this here in this context, is that this time I think what creates new attention  are the following: that this is the first budget for a new Secretary-General, so I think that in itself is something that would warrant special attention on the part of the Member States; also, there are a number of different reform issues tied to the budget and that’s another issue that may focus special attention on all this.  And if you add to all that the usual issues of how budgets have been passed within the UN when it becomes a negotiation process amongst the various different groups of Member States with their own specific priorities and approaches to the budget, then I think all of that adds together to basically create what we may call a debative atmosphere.


Having said all that, there is still a good chance that a budget will be adopted on the 19th and that would mean a very constructive cooperative atmosphere on the part of the Member States.  At least this is how I would see it.


Thank you very much.


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