13 May 2008
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.


**Press Conference Today


Today at 2:30 p.m., Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and Dana Kartakusuma, Assistant Minister for Technology and Sustainable Development in the Environment Ministry of Indonesia, will brief on Member States’, particularly Indonesia’s, efforts towards achieving the goals of UNEP’s Billion Tree Campaign, as well as announce a major new effort tied to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.


And, of course, today, right after the noon briefing, Janos will brief you for the presidency of the General Assembly.


** China


On China, on the quake in China, we issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary-General said he is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property suffered by the people of Sichuan Province in yesterday’s devastating earthquake.


He extended his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured in the earthquake.  He added that the UN stands ready to support the Government of China in its efforts to respond to the humanitarian needs caused by the disaster.


For its part, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has already issued a Disaster, Assessment and Coordination Team alert, so that it can respond immediately if China requests additional assistance.


OCHA also informed the Chinese authorities that the UN has emergency environmental expert teams at the ready, if so requested.  This comes amid reports that two chemical factories were damaged by the quake.  There’s more information in the Geneva Briefing Notes which you can find upstairs.


** Myanmar


Over in Myanmar, humanitarian efforts continue in the aftermath of the devastating cyclone, with airlifts, land transports, and inland boats carrying relief items getting into and around the country.


This morning, 24 tons of UNHCR shelter supplies airlifted from Dubai have reached Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, consisting of plastic sheets, blankets and kitchen sets from the UN refugee agency’s regional stockpile.  UNHCR Staff are in the Yangon airport to claim the items for immediate dispatch to areas affected by the cyclone.  The agency’s second flight, shared with UNICEF is scheduled to arrive in Yangon tomorrow.


Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has, to date, dispatched 426 tons of food to the affected areas since the cyclone struck.  WFP has distributed enough food to reach nearly 74,000 people with a first ration of high-energy biscuits and rice.  WFP is exploring how best to deliver food assistance by boat as well, with the possibility of using a floating warehouse serviced by a flotilla of smaller boats ferrying in and out of parts of the delta which are inaccessible by land.


The World Health Organization has delivered supplies to many NGOs and it has received and distributed additional Inter-Agency Emergency Health Kits and Diarrhoea Disease Kits.  Myanmar’s Ministry of Health has given WHO a list of essential supplies and medicines that need to be replenished urgently.  The agency will work with the Ministry to establish a revolving stock of drugs to ensure the continuing availability of essential medicines and supplies.


**Food Task Force Website


As you know, the Secretary-General chaired the first meeting of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis yesterday.  The Task force brings together heads of many of the UN’s specialized agencies, funds and programmes, as well as the IMF, World Bank, and relevant parts of the Secretariat.


The Task Force’s primary goal is to formulate a unified, comprehensive response to the global food price challenge.  This will include food aid, social protection initiatives, and agricultural boosts.  The Task Force will present the elements of such a strategy at the high-level conference on world food security in Rome in early June.


For updates on the Task Force’s activities, you can go to a new website that has been launched today.  On the site, there are lists of task force participants, forthcoming events, and key documents and statements made on behalf of the Task Force.  It also offers news and useful links on the food security crisis issue.


The website address is www.un.org/issues/food/taskforce.


** Zimbabwe


The top UN official in Zimbabwe [United Nations Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Agustino Zacarias] says the UN country team has been receiving an increasing number of reports and requests for humanitarian assistance to people that have been affected by violence, purportedly instituted by some elements of the security forces, youth militias, war veterans and gangs of supporters of both the ZANU-PF and the MDC that have been deployed around the country in recent weeks.


These incidences of violence are occurring in the communal, farming and urban areas and there are indications that the level of violence is escalating in all these areas and could reach crisis levels.  The UN country team has been presented with some evidence in support of these reports.


The UN team on the ground is deeply concerned about the number of internally displaced people that have fled their homes for fear of reprisals by party activists, without food, shelter and other basic social services.  This state of affairs will lead to unprecedented humanitarian needs in the country, the press release says.


The UN country team has brought this information to the attention of the Government of Zimbabwe and continues to engage the Government to seek solutions to the unfolding humanitarian situation and encourages all concerned to ensure that people in need are properly assisted.


**Security Council


The Security Council will meet at 3 p.m.  today to read a presidential statement on Sudan.  The Security Council yesterday afternoon discussed ways to reform countries’ security sectors -- that is the armies and police forces -- and the Secretary-General told the Council in an open meeting that a common framework and a coherent system-wide approach to deal with those matters is needed.  He noted the UN’s long experience in security sector reform, from El Salvador in the past to Sierra Leone in recent years.


He stressed that, first and foremost, the UN should engage in security sector reform at the request of national Governments, or in response to Security Council mandates and General Assembly resolutions.  Beyond that, the Secretary-General said, Member States are the primary providers of security, and national ownership is the cornerstone of our approach.


The Security Council later issued a presidential statement in which it recognized that the establishment of an effective, professional and accountable security sector was one of the necessary elements for laying the foundations for peace and sustainable development.


** Sudan


On Sudan, the Secretary-General’s latest monthly report to the Security Council on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) is out on the racks today.  The Security Council is expected to take up the report tomorrow morning.


In the report, the Secretary-General expresses his deep disappointment that the parties continue to resort to violence.  He says the ongoing military activities of the rebel groups and reprisal actions of the Government and its allied militia are costing civilian lives, limiting humanitarian operations, severely constraining efforts to move towards a negotiated settlement and presenting a fundamental challenge to UNAMID, which is not a peacekeeping force designed to deploy or function in a war zone.  Owing to the violence in Darfur, the mission’s freedom of movement was restricted in violation of the status-of-forces agreement.


Voicing his extreme concern about the security situation in the Chad-Sudan border area, the Secretary-General also calls on the Governments of Sudan and Chad to implement the Dakar Agreement without delay and restore security and order in the border area.


** Middle East


The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has welcomed today’s announcement by Quartet Representative Tony Blair of an initial package of measures to improve the social and economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Serry welcomed in particular the package’s focus on improving movement and access and opening up trade routes.  He added that he hoped this would mark the beginning of improved mobility, economic growth, security and confidence.


According to Blair’s announcement, among other things, Israel has agreed to remove some checkpoints across the West Bank.  It has also approved thousands of entry permits to Israel for Palestinian workers.  Both sides have also agreed to facilitate access to and from Bethlehem, which should have positive effects for both the Palestinian and Israeli tourism sectors.  We have Serry’s full statement upstairs, as well as more information on Blair’s announcement.


** Lebanon


On Lebanon, yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General took part in a conference call with the foreign ministers and representatives of 12 key Middle Eastern and other countries, known as the Friends of Lebanon, as well as with the Secretaries-General of the Arab League and of the Council of the European Union.  They discussed the ongoing crisis in Lebanon.


In a statement afterwards, the Friends of Lebanon welcomed the Arab League Initiative, and its intention to dispatch a delegation to Lebanon to lead a return to dialogue.  The group said that it remains deeply concerned by the situation in Lebanon, which threatens the stability of the country and the region.  It called for the immediate cessation of fighting, the withdrawal of gunmen from the streets, the unblocking of roads and the reopening of Beirut International Airport.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Georg Charpentier, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Côte d’Ivoire, yesterday presided over a ceremony marking the end of the disarmament and reinsertion programme for a first group of 192 former combatants.  At that event, Charpentier also formally broke ground for a building expected to serve as a re-education centre for ex-combatants.  The 192 ex-combatants are former rebels from the Forces Nouvelles and include 12 young women.  The group joined the disarmament effort in March.


** Afghanistan


On Afghanistan, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that it will resume the assisted voluntary repatriation of Afghans from the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar tomorrow.  The repatriation process had been suspended because of security conditions in the Afghan province of Nangarhar over the weekend.  We have a UNHCR press release upstairs with more details.


**Disabilities


Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke at a special event to commemorate the entry into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.  He said the entry into force heralds a new dawn in the fight for the well-being of people with disabilities -- a struggle rooted in the fundamental principle of universal human rights.


At the same time, he stressed that, as our journey to create the Convention concludes, an even more challenging path stretches ahead.  Now we must take concrete steps to transform the vision of the Convention into real victories on the ground.  We must address the glaring inequalities experienced by persons with disabilities.  And we must counter discrimination and prejudice.  We have his full remarks upstairs.


**Secretary-General Trip to Harvard


The Secretary-General will make a one-day trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 23 May to deliver a speech on nuclear disarmament at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  Before becoming Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon had been a Mason Fellow who earned a Master in Public Administration (MPA) at the Kennedy School in 1984.  This event is open to the public, and any media interested in participating should contact the Kennedy School’s Communications Office.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And then tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference on food and water waste by Pasquale Steduto from the Food and Agriculture Organization; David Molden from the International Water Management Institute; and Anders Berntell and Jan Lundqvist from the Stockholm International Water Institute.


And I have just received a number of last minute things.


** Middle East


In response to questions asked earlier today, the Secretary-General condemns the killing of a mother-of-six and UNRWA school-teacher in an IDF operation at her home last Thursday.


UNRWA has called for an impartial investigation into the incident in a letter sent to the Israeli authorities, and the Secretary-General fully supports this call.  He extends his condolences to the family and children of Wafa Shaker El-Daghma, and to her UNRWA colleagues who carry out such important work in the service of Palestine refugees.


The Secretary-General also reiterates his call upon Israel to exercise maximum care and restraint, and reminds the IDF of its responsibilities to protect civilians under international humanitarian law during its military operations.


On a separate note, in response to further questions, the Secretary-General condemns the continuing Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilian targets, which killed two civilians in southern Israel on Saturday and yesterday.  The Secretary-General reiterates his condemnation of all such acts of terrorism and calls on Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to immediately halt the firing of rockets and similar attacks.  He also reiterates his strong support for the Egyptian efforts to reach a truce, which would also encompass the re-opening of crossings to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza.


**Secretary-General’s Appointments


And we also have a couple of appointments to announce.


The Secretary-General has appointed Angela Kane of Germany as Under-Secretary-General for Management, and Alicia Bárcena Ibarra of Mexico as Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  Ms. Kane will replace Ms. Bárcena Ibarra, who, in turn, will succeed Mr. Jose Luis Machinea of Argentina.


Ms. Kane is currently serving as Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Political Affairs, and immediately prior to that she served as Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Ms. Bárcena has been serving as Under-Secretary-General for Management since January last year and, prior to that, as the Chef de Cabinet to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  We have the full announcement on both Ms. Kane and Ms. Barcena upstairs and you can have that in my office.


This is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Yes, Edie? 


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, on Myanmar, there have been reports from Yangon itself quoting the UN as saying that only a tiny portion of international relief is reaching Myanmar cyclone victims.  Is the United Nations concerned that food and aid from the UN and from others that is going to Myanmar is being diverted to non-cyclone victims and that the cyclone victims are not getting the aid and material that is being sent to them? 


Spokesperson:   Well, you know that concern.  The Secretary-General said that yesterday when he was speaking to you.  That concern exists.  We don’t have any independent report of specific portions of the aid going to other sectors besides the victims.  It is a fact that a very small percentage of the victims so far have received the aid, but from yesterday until today, from what I read, you saw that the situation has improved in terms of the delivery of aid.  It is not improving as fast as we would wish.  It is not improving as fast as the situation requires, but at the same time more aid is getting in today than it was yesterday.


Question:  Yesterday we heard that there were 34 visas granted.  Do you have any update of any more?   And also, on the five-member team from Bangkok, we heard that two got in last week.  Are there any updates on that? 


Spokesperson:  I have to check on who got the visas and who didn’t.  As you know, the 34 visas that were obtained yesterday are from a number of requests that were made and they are for different agencies.  I can check for you which agencies got them.  But what I don’t have are specifics in terms of the changes since yesterday.  I don’t know how many more were issued yesterday afternoon but the last number we had was at noon yesterday was 34.


Question:  No more…


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t have the information.  We asked to get updates on a regular basis.  On the visa issue, we didn’t get an update this morning.


Question:  (inaudible) Would you check on whether certain nationalities are being denied visas? 


Spokesperson:  Well, it is a fact, let’s say, that certain nationalities are privileged.


Question:  Exactly.  What we will like to know is whether, for example, any countries have not got visas.  Why is that (inaudible)? 


Spokesperson:  I can check for you the specific nationalities.  We did not get that information, yesterday, of which nationalities were being refused access, but we will try to get a little more detail for you today and also an update.  Yes, Benny? 


Question:  Following up on the Burma situation now, last week on Friday, John Holmes briefed ECOSOC about the situation.  Is there any plan to further brief Member States in any forum – Security Council, General Assembly, ECOSOC - on the situation? 


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the requests have to come from the different bodies.  I assume there will be further updates and the Member States would be further updated on the situation.


Question:  As things stand on Myanmar, does the Secretary-General believe that 24 hours after he sat in this chair that the Government’s response remains unacceptably slow? 


Spokesperson:  It is still too slow, yes.


Question:  And also, what is the status of his efforts to get in touch with General Than Shwein terms of speaking on the phone or getting a response to either one or both his letters? 


Spokesperson:  Well, he didn’t speak with the senior General.  However, we are making a number of phone calls to the area to reach all the people.  He spoke to the President of Indonesia yesterday morning.  He spoke to the Foreign Minister of China yesterday morning also.  He spoke to the Prime Minister of Singapore yesterday in the evening and those are the different calls he has been making in the area.  Yesterday, he wasn’t able to reach, nor this morning, the people in charge in Myanmar.


Question:  Well, this morning.  What happened this morning: when someone tried to place a call no one else picked up or they were told the General couldn’t come to the phone?   So how does it work in terms of what happened here?   Are they unable to speak to each other? 


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know.  I know at this point communications are difficult technically.  I will not say that they have refused to pick up the call.  What I can say is that we were not able to reach them.  I will try to get more information to you on if the call was placed again today.  I know there were many efforts yesterday to reach the Senior General.


Question:  Do you have his cell phone number? 


Spokesperson:  You want to have it maybe? 


Question:  No, I mean seriously, does anybody have the correct number or the correct address? 


Spokesperson:  We do have the correct numbers.  Yes.


Question:  On Zimbabwe, there are reports coming out of Harare.  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General to the increased tension in the country and how far are we along in discussion of a UN envoy and what is his reaction to reports that the run-off elections would be delayed? 


Spokesperson:  Well, we have already expressed, that was last week -- we registered how closely he was following the situation and he has remained in contact with leaders in the area.  I don’t have any specific things today to give you besides what I had from the Resident Coordinator there.  I don’t have any additional information.


Question:  There must be some sort of growing unease with the situation now.


Spokesperson:  Yes, definitely.  There is.  Yes? 


Question:  On Lebanon, is there any further meeting for the Friends of Lebanon group soon and does the Secretary-General consider the militia’s act in Lebanon as violation of rule 1559? 


Spokesperson:  We read the statement that came out of the phone call yesterday, the conference call that was made yesterday.  It was initiated by Secretary of State Rice and it involved 15 participants.  I don’t think they have planned a meeting in the immediate future.  That meeting was on the phone yesterday, and you read the statement that they had.


Question:  And on 1559, does the Secretary-General consider the militia’s act in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon violation of 1559? 


Spokesperson:  Of course.  [But it is up to the Security Council to decide what is and is not a violation of resolution 1559.]


Question:  On China’s earthquake, did the UN discuss with the Chinese Government in detail what kind of help the UN can provide to the people in the earthquake region and what time aid can start? 


Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, you know, the UN has offered help.  So far, the Chinese have accepted in theory but they are, at the same time, taking care of what is happening in the field.  We are dealing with a very different situation here and, I think, quite a bit of effort is being done in China to help and save the maximum number of lives.  The UN has offered and the UN is ready, as I said earlier, and we are waiting for a specific request from the Government.  Yes, Tarek.


Question:  I have a question on Lebanon.  Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon concerned over the movement of a US military ship just in front of the shore?   And I was wondering if he raised that issue in the contacts he made yesterday that you talked about.


Spokesperson:  Well, on this issue, what he is most concerned about was the fighting in the streets and he expressed his concern about the security situation and he has been following that very closely.


Question:  Doesn’t he think that ……


Spokesperson:  He hasn’t mentioned specifically the situation of the ship off the shore of Lebanon.


Question:  Okay, one small question on Sudan.  Did the Sudanese Government send a letter to Mr. Ban Ki-moon complaining against Chad regarding the developments in Khartoum and Darfur? 


Spokesperson:  I will check whether there was a letter received.  I will check that for you.  Yes Matthew? 


Question:  In East Timor, there is this controversy where Roque Rodrigues, who is recommended by the UN Commission to be prosecuted, has now been hired by the UN as a Presidential Security Adviser.  Supposedly, there is an OLA memo to ASG Mulet saying this is a bad thing for impunity.  Can you confirm that such a memo exists and can you explain why the UN would hire a person that the UN itself says should be prosecuted? 


Spokesperson:  Well, I think that, [according to] the last contact I had with them, the situation was being investigated and they were trying to find out what happened and what are the charges against this gentleman.  At this point we don’t have the results of that investigation and we should find out very soon.


Question:  Just to be, I felt that he was actually named in this UN Commission of Inquiry as someone who should be prosecuted.


Spokesperson:  Yes, he was and how he got hired and how it happened, that is what is being investigated.


[She later added that Mr. Rodrigues was not a United Nations staff member.  He was on a special service contract for UNDP.]


Question:  (Inaudible) maybe we can hear it from Atul Khare.  I think he’s meeting with Mr. Ban today.


Spokesperson:  Yes, he is.


Question:  Is there some way that we can have him at the stakeout or somewhere? 


Spokesperson:  We can try to have him for you.  We have a number of heads of missions here and we’ll try to get as many as possible to be talking to you soon.


Question:  And I just wanted to ask you about the appointments that you named.  Since the Department of Management doesn’t have the same post in the building, was there a shortlist?   Can you describe the process by which Ms. Kane was hired?   Can you confirm that the Chief of staff, Simona Petrova, is now going to work on the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and can we get a briefing by Ms. Bárcena sometime before she  leaves to tie up loose ends of things she has been working on, such as freedom of information, things that she said would be accomplished? 


Spokesperson:  Well, we can certainly ask her.  As you know, she is very busy now with the Capital Master Plan and with everything that is happening on that level.  But of course I will ask her.


Question:  How about the shortlist? 


Spokesperson:  The shortlist.  I don’t know how the process went.  I do know there were several candidates and the final choice was a decision by the Office of the Secretary-General.


Question:  How about the idea that the Chief of Staff would now work with the Executive Office? 


Spokesperson:  Well, that I don’t know.  You know, there are several people moving around in the building.  We don’t keep track of every single person going from one post to another.  You can have full lists of who goes where from the Departments any time you wish to have them.


Question:  Well, is the idea that when a new head of department begins, does she bring in a new team or do the older people stay? 


Spokesperson:  Well, she hasn’t started yet.  You should ask the question to Ms. Kane when she starts, which will be in July.


Question:  July when? 


Spokesperson:  First of July.


Question:  Just one last thing on that subject.  (inaudible) is actually going to leave the building at the end of May?   Is that the case or not? 


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t know.  I don’t have that information.


Question:  What is Ms. Bárcena’s new title again? 


Spokesperson:  She is going to be head of ECLAC, the Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.


Question:  One last thing on Myanmar.  Yesterday the Secretary-General said that he would think about talking to the Thai authorities about a base somewhere in Thailand.  Is there any update on that? 


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have an update on that.  I have nothing new since yesterday about that but he has been talking with the Thai authorities, yes.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General concerned that China has not yet accepted the UN offer made for the earthquake victims? 


Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t think he is that concerned because so far, he doesn’t have any reports that aid is not reaching the survivors and that the survivors are not being taken care of.  I think his concern was about the situation in Myanmar, because of the fact that people were not receiving that aid.


Question:  Also, what is the status of the Secretary-General’s decision-making process with the new Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations? 


Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything on that yet.


Question:  When is the Secretary-General going to hold his next pool pledge of hour-long news conference in this room? 


Spokesperson:  Well, I will ask him.  Yesterday, he wanted to really put the emphasis on the situation in Myanmar and convey his concern.


Question:  So, no plans scheduled as of….


Spokesperson:  I can ask him about when he would want to do it.  Right now I have to say that, since the cyclone in Myanmar, and the task force meetings on food security, he has been really quite busy with those different issues.  But I’ll ask him if he can come for a full-fledged press conference.


Question:  What is the situation with the decision on the Human Rights Commissioner? 


Spokesperson:  We don’t have a decision on that yet.  I gave you what I had.  I gave you two appointments today.  I don’t have anything more.


Question:  How long is the shortlist? 


Spokesperson:  How long is the shortlist?   I don’t know.


Question:  Bernard Kouchner is a candidate for your position? 


Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that in any way.  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Just a second.  I am sure that Janos is coming to join you.


Briefing by General Assembly President Spokesperson


Good afternoon, good to see you all.


Let me give you an update on the programme of the President and also, a couple of things coming up in the next days that should be interesting for you.


**General Assembly President Meets with Israeli and Palestinian Leaders


Let me start with the programme of the President based on the information we received from colleagues travelling with him.


General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim held meetings today with President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as senior members of the Knesset, including the speaker, Dalia Itzik, and also with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.


Tonight President Kerim will attend the opening of the so-called "Presidents Conference" and this will be opened by President Peres.  Tony Blair will Chair and moderate the discussions with over 25 current and former presidents on Israel’s role in a rapidly globalizing world. 


In all meetings where the Israel-Palestine situation was discussed, President Kerim emphasized the need for a comprehensive peace settlement in the region.  That the solution lay in two states, Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace and security.  President Kerim also condemned terrorism in all its forms, and expressed concern regarding the death of civilians. 


As regards the two-state solution, President Kerim in speaking to Egyptian diplomats earlier has already made the point of stressing that:


“The General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to support two-States - Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders - as the most viable solution.  However, our mission has not yet been accomplished.  After more than 60 years we still need a fully viable, secure and independent Palestinian state.”


During their meeting, President Peres thanked President Kerim for his personal intervention to facilitate the adoption by the General Assembly of a resolution on 'Agricultural Technology for Development' that Israel tabled in the Second Committee of the Assembly -- which was a first for Israel in the General Assembly -- and his role in the United Nations’ official recognition of the Holocaust through the adoption of the Holocaust resolution.  President Kerim noted that, as Israel embraced the General Assembly, so Member States were also embracing Israel.


They also discussed the political and economic situation in Israel, including prospects for a comprehensive peace and the establishment of a Palestinian State.  President Peres was hopeful of an agreement by the end of the year under the process established in Annapolis.  However, he noted that implementation would be the difficult aspect, as recent developments in the region were not helping.  The General Assembly President, once again, reiterated the need for a two state solution - Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace and security. 


President Kerim also had meetings in the Knesset.  He met Knesset Speaker Dalai Itzik.  She thanked the President for his leadership during 62nd session, in particular for encouraging Israel to play a more active role in the General Assembly.  The President also met with the Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset, Tzachi Hanegbi, who briefed the President on the Committee’s role within the Knesset and prospects for peace in the region.


And about an hour ago, the President also had a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and there the discussion focused again on Israel’s role in the work of the General Assembly.


President Kerim, this afternoon, travelled to Ramallah to meet with President Abbas.  In their discussions President Kerim reiterated the need for a two state solution and an end to the violence.  He expressed concern about the humanitarian situation on the ground, particularly in Gaza.  They also discussed the prospects for a peaceful settlement by the end of the year.  President Abbas briefed the General Assembly President on the various technical committees that had been established with Israeli authorities to resolve specific disputes.  President Abbas stated that he was holding regular meetings with Prime Minister Olmert.  He also noted that everyone was engaged, including the Quartet, but that decisions needed to be taken.  President Kerim on his part expressed his resolute support for the Quartet process and hoped that all parties would reach agreement by the end of the year. 


President Abbas also briefed the General Assembly President on an economic conference to be held in Bethlehem on 21 May that will involve over 1,000 delegates from all over the world to promote development and investment in the West Bank.  President Kerim briefed President Abbas on his discussions with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's initiative to facilitate a resolution of the disputed land and a normalisation of relations between Syria and Lebanon.  President Kerim also expressed the hope that Palestine would become the 193rd Member of the United Nations.  President Abbas called on the United Nations to have a more active role in the peace process, in particular, for the Secretary-General to take the initiative to encourage negotiations when and if they needed a push.  The President promised to raise this with the Secretary-General when they would meet on Friday in New York.


**Statement on China Earthquake


And couple of other things.  We had a statement on the China earthquake.


The President issued the statement yesterday.  It was a statement attributable to the Spokesman and, in that statement, the President expressed his most sincere sympathies to all victims of the devastation, extending his deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the disaster.  He also expressed his support to the authorities in China in their effort to mitigate the after effects of the earthquake and welcomed the readiness of the international community – including and especially on the part of the United Nations system -- to assist the country and the people of China to overcome the immediate humanitarian as well as longer term infrastructural effects of the devastation of this natural catastrophe. 


**Disability Convention


President Kerim also welcomed yesterday the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in a message to the ceremony that was held yesterday marking the event in the afternoon.  He noted that the entry into force of the Convention was an important step and encouraging signal for persons living with disabilities in the world.  On the one hand, it was a fitting way to honour the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while on the other hand it should make us think through and visit our conscience as to why it took 60 years for us to agree on something that is actually part and parcel of basic human rights.  He also stressed that the Convention was not only an acknowledgement of the fact that in dealing with our common problems we needed the common effort from all members of society, but it is also designed to enable and facilitate this common effort.  The engagement of people with disabilities in those efforts should serve as a major source of inspiration for all of us.


**Upcoming Events


And some upcoming events that are mentioned in the Journal.


As seen from the Journal, the General Assembly is expected to hold a plenary meeting Thursday in the morning to take up a draft resolution, the symbol is A/62/L.45, it is supposed to be out very soon, sponsored by Georgia under agenda item 16, which is Protracted conflicts in the GUAM area and their implications for international peace, security and development.  The draft focuses on the status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia.


Also from the Journal you will see that the Secretary-General will hold another informal closed door briefing to Member States on Friday.  The focus is on recent developments including the food crisis.  This would be the fourth time that the Secretary-General is briefing Member States within the framework of the 62nd session.  The first was in November just after he came back from his travels and was preparing to go to Bali.  On 6th February, there was a briefing which was also on the Secretary-General’s recent activities focusing on his Africa trip and then 11th March, there was another briefing on development related issues, and as I said, this would be the fourth one.


Also from the Journal you will see that there is another round of informal consultations scheduled for Member States on mandate review on Thursday and on system-wide coherence on Friday, so those two processes are being carried on.  Information on both is available for you on the President’s website.  The mandate review process, as you may know, is co-chaired by the facilitators, the Permanent Representatives from Namibia and New Zealand, and they are focusing on a methodology to analyse the so-called humanitarian assistance cluster of mandates.  As regards the system-wide coherence process, that is facilitated by the Permanent Representatives of Tanzania and Ireland, they had several different meetings and the one coming up on Friday is to focus on gender issues.


And also, for those following events, of course, you will see from the Journal, but you may also know, of course because we have talked about this, that the Fifth Committee is continuing its work, the second part of its resumed session, with informal consultations.  As you know, the focus of the second resumed session is on peacekeeping missions.


That is what I have.  Any questions.  Matthew, please.


**Questions and Answers


Question: Yesterday, there was quite a lot of criticism of the Secretariat’s budget for MINUSTAH, saying that it has a decrease for quick impact projects I guess that would have addressed some of the rioting that took place in April and also saying that there is a 77 per cent vacancy rate in national staff.  Given that almost everyone that spoke about the proposal criticized it, what happens? Between now and the end of May, does the Secretariat, can they revamp the proposal? What is the process from mid-May to end of May? Does that actually have to be approved? Does the Fifth Committee vote on all of these things by the end of May or does it continue into September?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the idea of the second resumed sessions is that they focus on peacekeeping missions and peacekeeping budgets and the budgets run from 1 July to 30 June on an annual basis.  So basically, by the end of the session, ideally, the expectation is that decisions are made on the budgets of the peacekeeping missions.  So, in fact, what will happen is that informal consultations will go on as regards the budgets of the peacekeeping missions that were introduced yesterday.  The various different documentations was available, those were introduced yesterday, Member States started the discussion, and basically, as you will see from the Journal and from the programme of work that is available on the website of the Fifth Committee, informal consultations will go on regarding the budget you referred to, as well as on the other budgets that were introduced.  And within the format of those informal consultations that involves Secretariat officials, these issues would be answered and worked out and, hopefully, the budget would be adopted.


Question: So the Secretariat doesn’t make a counter proposal even if they make a proposal and if everyone, if the Committee criticizes it?


Spokesperson:  I think that, as with all things in the Fifth Committee, and I think you know this just as much as I do because you tend to follow it quite meticulously, is that there is quite a considerable back and forth between the Secretariat and the Member States on various different aspects, including absolute details to the last dollar and cent or to the last post, if you wish.  So there is going to be detailed discussion on this.  So when you say counter proposals, it is more like a process of discussion, of questions-answers-questions-answers.


Question: Where do we stand on getting a briefing about the Committee on Relations with the Host Country and why the meeting was closed to the press and also the work of the Committee?


Spokesperson:  I mentioned to you in Friday when we bumped into each other that the last thing that I heard was, actually a two-track process.  On the one hand the Chair of the Committee, Ambassador (Andreas) Mavroyiannis of Cyprus, is going to contact the President of UNCA to discuss the format and context of the briefing, and, at the same time, I heard that he is also open to direct contacts from any member of the press to approach him directly on this issue.


Question:  So he is not going to give a briefing ……?


Spokesperson:  No, no, no, no, Matthew, that is not (what I said).  If with his discussions with the President of UNCA the idea is that you, meaning journalists, would like him to come for a briefing, he is all for it.  If you, yourself, just want to contact him to ask him about the Committee work, that is also possible.  If you want to contact him directly and ask him for a briefing, that is also possible.


So with that, thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record