16 April 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, all, and welcome to the students from Columbia University who are with us today.


**Security Council High-Level Meeting


The Secretary-General addressed the high-level meeting of the Security Council on the role of regional and subregional organizations in dealing with peace and security in Africa, and he told the participants that preventing and resolving conflict peacefully must remain high on the shared agenda of the African Union and the UN.


In that context, he welcomed the announcement of a new Government in Kenya and urged all sides to stay committed to resolving the longer-term causes of the recent unrest. He added that we must step up the work for desperately needed progress in bringing peace and stability to Darfur and Somalia.


On Zimbabwe, the Secretary-General said that he is deeply concerned at the uncertainty created by the prolonged non-release of the election results and warned that the situation could deteriorate further with serious implications for the people of Zimbabwe. The credibility of the democratic process in Africa could be at stake here, he said. If there is a second round of elections, they must be conducted in a fair and transparent manner, with international observers.


The Secretary-General urged the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to continue their efforts, and added that the United Nations stands ready to provide assistance in this regard.


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe also addressed the Council, and he presented the two reports that the Secretary-General has submitted concerning the UN’s cooperation with regional organizations and on conflict prevention, particularly in Africa.


We have his and the Secretary-General’s statement in my office upstairs.


Today’s open meeting, which is chaired by South African President Thabo Mbeki, is expected to go into the afternoon, with 43 speakers inscribed. Council members are also considering a draft resolution on cooperation with regional organizations, including the African Union, and may vote on this later.


** Darfur


The Secretary-General’s most recent 90-day report to the Security Council on Darfur is out as a document today. The Secretary-General says he is extremely disappointed at the lack of progress on all fronts in the efforts to address the situation in Darfur.


He says the parties appear determined to pursue a military solution; the political process stalled, the deployment of UNAMID, the African Union-United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur, is progressing very slowly and continues to face many challenges; and the humanitarian situation is not improving.


The primary obstacle is the lack of political will among all the parties to pursue a peaceful solution to the Darfur crisis. The Secretary-General calls once again on Member States to pledge the necessary capabilities for UNAMID and to prevail upon others who may be in a position to do so.


He also calls on both Chad and Sudan to take definitive steps to normalize their relations and ensure the full and expeditious implementation of the Dakar Agreement.


And, he calls on all parties to urgently commit to a cessation of hostilities and to meaningfully engage in the political process led by the UN and AU Special Envoys.


** Côte d’Ivoire


In his latest report on Côte d'Ivoire, which is out today as a document, the Secretary-General says that the Ouagadougou Agreement has built on progress made by previous agreements. It has also helped achieve greater strides, bringing Côte d’Ivoire closer to national elections. Its most significant achievements include the increasingly positive political and security environment in the country, the re-emerging economy and progress in the identification of the population.


The Secretary-General welcomes the consensus among the Ivorian parties to hold the elections in 2008. The challenges ahead will, however, subject that consensus to a rigorous test, he warns. In this regard, the parties should do everything possible to preserve the spirit of reconciliation, dialogue and inclusiveness. He also encourages them to make progress on disarmament, the reunification of the country and the full restoration of State authority. Without tangible progress on these key issues, the progress achieved so far will remain vulnerable to the risk of serious reversals.


The Secretary-General will be visiting Côte d'Ivoire next week –- he said that yesterday afternoon to you – as part of his official visit to West Africa. And later this afternoon, he is scheduled to be meeting Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and we’ll try to get you a readout for you later today, for those who are interested.


** Western Sahara


The Secretary-General’s latest report on Western Sahara is out as a document today. In it, he welcomes the parties’ commitment to continue the process of negotiations.  But, he adds, momentum can only be maintained by “trying to find a way out of the current political impasse through realism and a spirit of compromise from both parties”.  “Consolidation of the status quo is not an acceptable outcome of the current process of negotiations,” he says.


In addition, the Secretary-General expresses concern about the restrictions on UN military observers and about the humanitarian situation of Western Saharan refugees.  While welcoming progress in the area of family visits and other confidence-building measures, he notes that such programs could be at risk if they don’t receive further funding from the international community. 


**Security Council


Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending for six months the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and calling on both Georgia and Abkhazia to “consolidate and broaden” recent improvements in the overall security situation.


The Security Council also adopted a Presidential Statement on Lebanon that called on all concerned parties, in particular in the region, to intensify their efforts in implementing resolution 1701 (2006), including by fully cooperating with the Secretary-General in that regard. The Council also emphasized the need for greater progress on all key issues required for a permanent ceasefire and for a long-term solution.


The Security Council also was briefed by Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on Cyprus. Pascoe told reporters afterward that his discussions last week with senior officials in both Athens and Ankara also left him “really optimistic” about the outlook for Cyprus and the chances of ending the long-running dispute.


** Cyprus


And also on Cyprus, efforts to reunify the island will take another step forward this week, according to the UN Mission there. After a series of meetings, representatives from both sides have now decided on the agendas of the six Working Groups and seven Technical Committees, which were agreed to by the two sides’ leaders at their meeting last month. 


This Friday, the heads of the Committees and Groups will start their work following a brief ceremony in the UN Protected Area of Nicosia.  Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar will preside over the event. Representatives of the two leaders will also make statements.


**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that time is running out to avert looming food shortages and a potential humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) following confirmation of a critically low national harvest.


According to WFP, the food security situation in the DPRK is clearly getting worse and it is increasingly likely that external assistance will be urgently required to avert a serious tragedy.  It adds that WFP takes the situation very seriously and will be intensifying discussions with the DPRK Government and major donors that have indicated a willingness to provide food aid to DPRK.


The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently projected a 2008 food shortfall in DPRK of 1.66 million metric tons, nearly doubling the 2007 deficit, and the highest level since 2001.


**Economic and Social Council -– Food Prices


On the topic of rising food prices, the president of the Economic and Social Council has announced plans to hold an ad hoc Council meeting in the first half of May on a global response to the food crisis.  This comes following consultations with the Bureau, as well as with the Secretary-General.  We hope to have more details on this in the coming days.


In other news, public administration experts are here at Headquarters all week to mark the 60th Anniversary of the UN Programme on Public Administration and Development. You can have more information on this also upstairs.


** Haiti


The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) reports that the situation is calmer after weeks of violent mass protests related to soaring global food prices. Since yesterday, the Brazilian contingent of the UN peacekeeping force has been handing out 14 tonnes of food rations in the impoverished neighborhoods of the capital, including the Cite-Soleil, Bel Air and Cité Militaire areas, where recent food riots caused several deaths. Some 3,000 families are expected to receive the food rations along with 10,000 litres of water.  The operation is expected to conclude next weekend.


** Liberia


Turning to Liberia, the nationwide “Stop Rape Campaign” has been launched in a fourth county. Speaking at the launch in Lofa County, Deputy Special Representative for the Rule of Law Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu said families of rape victims must not agree to private settlements with rapists or their families, as this only encourages rapists to attack others.


She stressed the importance of enforcing the country’s rape law, and called on individuals and communities to expose all rapists and to allow the law to take its course.  We have more information upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Alan Doss – who was with you yesterday -- the Secretary-General’ Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is saddened by yesterday’s deadly crash of a commercial plane in the north-eastern town of Goma.


There are conflicting reports as to the number and identity of the victims, with the UN Mission reporting between 21 and 37 dead, with survivors including three UN staff members and one UN dependent. More than 70 people are reported to have been on board the plane, although it remains unclear whether most victims were passengers or residents of a nearby neighborhood the plane dove into while attempting to take off.


Expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Special Representative Doss pledged continued UN involvement in the rescue operation, which is continuing right now.


**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)


Despite gains in fighting deadly childhood diseases around the world, critical health care is not reaching the majority of women and children in the most affected, high-mortality countries.  That’s according to the new report on “Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival”.  The study was undertaken by UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities, and other institutions.


While noting progress in such areas as providing vaccinations and insecticide-treated bed nets, the report finds that few of the nearly 70 developing countries that account for 97 per cent of maternal and child deaths are making adequate progress in providing the vital health care needed to save the lives of women, infants and children.


We have more information on this upstairs.


**Disarmament


The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs is set to hold a two-day workshop from tomorrow in Lomé, Togo, to support the implementation of the International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons.


The workshop, organized in partnership with INTERPOL, is tailored for West and Central African countries as part of a series aimed at promoting the International Tracing Instrument and assisting states in building their capacity to implement it.


**Greening of UN Headquarters


The United Nations is planning a significant “greening” of the Headquarters compound, and the surrounding neighborhood, during the landscaping phase of the Capital Master Plan.


In addition to the greening measures that have already been announced to lower energy use and save water, the Office of the Capital Master Plan has also announced a plan to plant 150 new trees on the North Lawn and in the vicinity of the United Nations compound following the completion of the renovation project in 2013. In coordination with neighbourhood associations, the United Nations will plant a number of the trees on First Avenue and on 48th Street, in the neighbourhood outside of the United Nations compound.


Todd Forrest, Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections at the New York Botanical Garden, will work with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to assist the United Nations in the selection of appropriate species and locations to assure that the proposed tree planting will serve not just as a greening program, but also an opportunity to increase the diversity of trees in the Turtle Bay area.  A full press release with more details is available upstairs.


**Pope Visit


In response to your questions about the availability of the Pope’s speech to the General Assembly on Friday, we checked with the organizers of his visit.


An embargoed text will be released to the media by my office two hours before the speech is delivered. According the latest programme we have, the delivery time is 11:20 a.m. Friday.


**Press Conferences


Later today at 5 p.m., there will be a press conference by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. 5 p.m. today, here in 226.


And this is all I have for you, thank you.


Questions and Answers


Question:  The Secretary-General met last night, and again this morning, with President Lee of Korea. Was there any comment, or any statement, anything regarding these meetings?


Spokesperson:  I can give you a readout of the meeting, of what was discussed. It was, I can say, a very warm and cordial meeting. The Secretary-General strongly welcomed Lee’s vision of a global Korea in partnership with the UN through an active role and participation in its work.


He urged proactive Republic of Korea measures on climate change, expanding its part in peacekeeping, increase official development assistance (ODA) in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and other pending issues such as Sudan and Darfur.


Regarding the Korean Peninsula, the Secretary-General welcomed the positive developments at the six-party talks, emphasizing the need for understanding and harmony on the Peninsula.  Also, the Secretary-General wished the President a successful summit with U.S. President George W. Bush.  That is what I have as a readout of his meeting.


Question:  The food shortages are becoming major problems in the world.  How efficient do you think the UN is, and how efficient will it be to confront this problem?  And also, does the UN have an emergency plan in such a situation?


Spokesperson:  As you know, it is not just a UN problem.  It is a world problem. It is not a problem for the Secretariat.  It is a problem that we have been discussing a lot in the last few days.  It did not just start with the riots in Haiti.  It started way before that.  The rise in food prices have been discussed also in the World Food Programme, with FAO, and there are a number of UN agencies working on this issue, on trying to find solutions. These are solutions that are, of course, not just for the UN to find or implement.  They are solutions on a larger scale, and I have to say that the World Bank has also been involved in trying to find solutions.  With the rioting in Haiti and food riots in African countries, there is an urgency to the situation, and I think it is closely felt here. We are hoping to have a briefing for you tomorrow.  We are not sure yet, we are trying to arrange it with Josette Sheeran, who is, as you know, in charge of WFP.


Question:  In that context, does the Secretary-General share the views of the panel of UNESCO experts, who say that in order to avoid social explosions all over the world, major agricultural countries must change their policies?  Does he share this view?


Spokesperson:  Definitely, the agricultural policies of different countries are being discussed, right now. There is no doubt that the fact that so many countries have stopped exporting food, has contributed tremendously to the present crisis.  A number of countries no longer export rice, and, of course are feeding first their own population. This is having a tremendous impact, and it is one of the issues that is being discussed.


Question:  In light of the Secretary-General report on Darfur in which he has lamented lack of political will and being unable to move forward:  one of the reasons that is being given is that the AU force is unable to move because of a lack of funding.  They believe that the funding should come from the UN, and that the UN is unable to give any funds for any force unless the Security Council authorizes that.  Is the Secretary-General ready to talk to Security Council members to somehow negotiate some kind of deal that funding for this AU force is made available?


Spokesperson:  The AU force is part of the UN force in UNAMID. It is one force, it is one joint force.  As you know, they call it a hybrid force.  This is what we have right now, and funding is being sought after for the whole force.  But above all, what is required right now is [a number of critical capabilities] such as helicopters.  You have heard this over and over again in this room, about what the needs are and what is being sought from a number of contributing countries.


Question:  But the funding of the AU force, is there…


Spokesperson:  No, there is no problem there. That used to be a problem when they were a separate force.  Now you have one force.  So the funding issue is a funding issue for the whole force.  And as you know, the full force is not deployed yet.  26,000 people were supposed to be deployed.  They are not deployed yet, and it is a much slower process than the UN has envisaged.  But this is what is happening.


Question:  On the occupied Gaza: Israel’s stranglehold on the Gaza is so complete that [inaudible].  UN humanitarian [inaudible] have said that the goods are unable to pass through, and everything.  The Secretary-General in the past has tried to appeal to the Israeli authorities to allow these things to go through.  Is he going to renew his efforts to ask the Israelis to allow these relief goods to go through?  They are trickling down, not really…


Spokesperson:  It is a continuous effort and the Secretary-General never stopped asking for that.  UN people on the ground have also been pushing for this for a very long time.  As you know, it is not new, it is a continuing effort.


Question:  I was told that, in terms of the civilian international staff that UNAMID is hiring in Darfur, that, thus far, 30 per cent of the posts that have been approved by the General Assembly have been filled.  Is that because it is hard to find people, or are they only staffing up as peacekeepers arrive?  What is the relation between those posts and the arrival of the peacekeepers?


Spokesperson:  I can get the details for you.


Question:  In the meeting with President Lee, did they discuss the idea of South Korea become part of the UNAMID force?


Spokesperson:  No, what they had discussed would be support on the part of the Republic of Korea on peacekeeping operations in general.


Question:  There was story in South Korean press that there was a team of four South Korean military people in Darfur, trying to scope out whether they could be a troop contributing country.


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that.


Question:  It is reported that in the Security Council Chamber today that Gordon Brown had said that, if there was a second round of voting in Zimbabwe, there should be international observation in some way. Can the UN provide election observers, and if so, which agency?


Spokesperson:  The UN can provide election observers, but the UN has to be asked by the country itself.  We cannot just decide to send electoral observers. We have done it for elections over and over again. They hire people to go to observe elections.  It is of course headed by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA).


Question:  This is a kind of a technical question.  There was a press briefing by Gordon Brown downstairs, only for the British press, or maybe only for the traveling press, because they paid for the room.  I want to know, how does that work? How much did they pay and how does that work?


Spokesperson:  This house belongs to the Member States.  I don’t know what the exact fee is to rent a room.


Question:  It seems like a technical thing, but since other journalists here were barred from that press conference, I decided that I want to know how much they paid for that room.


Spokesperson:  Okay, we can try to find the answer.


Question:  Does the UN at least nominally have a policy that all press conferences should be open to all accredited journalists, and does it at least frown upon, or disdain the idea of having press conferences limited to journalists of only one nationality?  If so, can that policy be, at least, asserted in this case?


Spokesperson:  In this specific case, it was not in this room.  This room, 226, is reserved for press conferences. So…


Question:  Do countries have the right to book rooms by themselves and give press conferences which are totally private, in manners of their own choosing?


Spokesperson:  Yes, they do.  Unfortunately, the only thing we can really control is Room 226.  This was already a question that was raised before, because one press conference has been held here before, where the issue was raised because some correspondents could not get in.  We raised that issue then, and this will no longer happen. Not here, in 226.


Question:  I have two unrelated questions.  The first is in light of food prices.  The U.S. Farm Bill is set to expire on Friday.  Does the UN have a position on that?  My other question is about Somalia, which has asked for a UN security force.  Is the UN [inaudible] help that way or…


Spokesperson:  First I’ll answer the Somalia question. It is a matter for the Security Council to decide whether or not they can provide such a force.  This is totally a Security Council decision.  The Secretariat can only carry on once such a decision is taken.


Your first question about the U.S. bill:  we cannot comment on a national bill.


Question:  Does the UN have an election observer team that could be sent to Zimbabwe if there is a second round [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  There is a pool of people usually sent to cover elections.  But usually, also, depending on the need, some people are hired for that.


Question:  And do you have an estimate over how large a team like that would be and what is necessary in the case of Zimbabwe?


Spokesperson:  Let us not put the cart before the horse, because at this point, we have not been asked. If such a request was made to the UN, we would be ready to answer that request, of course.


Question:  Fairly quickly?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  A follow-up to the question on Somalia:  a multinational force, is that something that the Secretary-General will advise?  The Somalian Foreign Minister yesterday said he is going to call on the Security Council to send in this multinational force to end the decades-old civil was in his country.


Spokesperson:  As I said, it is a matter for the Security Council to decide.  The Secretariat can only execute what the Security Council has decided in the case of a peacekeeping force.


Question:  But in his report he has four contingency plans.  A multinational force, although he did touch upon it, he didn’t really say if he would advise that.


Spokesperson:  It is a report to the Security Council.  You saw the content and we stand by that. Nothing more.


Question:  As you indicated, the Secretary-General in his recent report on the Western Sahara, said that more realism should be shown during the negotiations.  In view of the fact that Morocco has officially said that it will not give up an inch of that territory, and that it [inaudible] prepared to negotiate on that advance status –- autonomy of that territory –- is this an indirect quote to the Polisario to show a more realistic stance?


Spokesperson:  No, I would not interpret it this way.  There are negotiations ongoing and let us wait for these negotiations to develop.


Question:  I know that Steven Spielberg was here yesterday. He mentioned something to the Secretary-General, I believe it was in relation to Darfur.  Do you know exactly what that was?


Spokesperson:  I tried to get a readout for you on the Spielberg meeting.  What I got is that Darfur was on the top of the agenda.  This was really all I got.  And we got, I guess, an additional readout for you last night -– you can have it from my office -- with Mr. Spielberg asking that Darfur be pushed to the top of the agenda.  I would like to say that Darfur has always been on top of the Secretary-General’s agenda.


Question:  The Summit today is [inaudible] AU-UN relationship. Will that have any effect on the UNAMID force in Sudan or do you expect that it would influence that force? What is the relationship?


Spokesperson:  No, there is no relationship.  This is an open debate, today.  Whenever there is a specific decision to be taken about UNAMID, it would be taken in a separate meeting of the Security Council.  And you can probably find upstairs the agenda of the Security Council for this month.


Question:  In that meeting between Mr. Spielberg and the Secretary-General, did Mr. Spielberg ask permission to make a film on Darfur? Is that what he came for?


Spokesperson:  He does not have to ask the Secretary-General for permission to do a film on Darfur.


Question:  With the United Nations as one of his venues, I guess, for his film.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details of that.  But I can try to find out if that was specifically discussed.  But of course, the Secretary-General would welcome any effort to put forward the whole Darfur issue.


Question:  On the Secretary-General’s meeting with [inaudible] of the asylum seekers of North Korea?


Spokesperson:  The SG gave you at his press encounter today a readout of his meeting with President Lee, so you can get from there what they discussed. And I read what we had in terms of the readout of the encounter.


Question:  There is no debate in the meeting of two people about how to address the asylum seekers of North Korea. The [inaudible] mission is saying that there could be some discussion on how to handle the asylum seekers from North Korea.


Spokesperson:  I don’t think they went into that much detail. They discussed mostly the relationship between the UN and South Korea.


Question:  Yesterday, Lynn Pascoe, I think, and I am going to ask you to confirm it, seemed to explain Mr. Ban’s not going to the Olympics opening ceremony by saying that he was doing an earlier, more substantive visit to China.  Is that in connection with the G-8 meeting in Japan?  And in connection with the G-8 meeting in Japan in July, is he going to visit Beijing and Seoul?


Spokesperson:  We don’t have an exact time and date yet, but I can confirm that the Secretary-General does plan to go to China before the Olympic Games to discuss a number of issues. As you know, China plays an important role here at the UN, being a permanent member of the Security Council.  So there are a number of issues that will be discussed.


Question:  So that is the explanation.  While you were away, Marie said he may not be going to the opening because of scheduling issues and there were a lot of questions about what scheduling issues.  Is this previous visit…


Spokesperson:  No, no, there are other scheduling issues involved. In this specific case, he felt that he needed to go and discuss some substantive issues. And that is what he is going to be doing before the Olympic Games.


Question:  During his visit to the UN, Pope Benedict XVI he is expected to discuss, among other things, the Alliance of Civilizations work.  Does the Secretariat of the Alliance of Civilizations play any role in this visit? Are they issuing any special press release on this occasion?


Spokesperson:  I can find out for you, but I am sure they have been participating in the preparations for the Pope’s visit to the UN.


Okay, thank you very much.


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