1 July 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.


**Press Conferences Today


Following this briefing, Jean-Maurice Ripert, Permanent Representative of France, will brief you on the launch of the French European Union Presidency on 1 July at 12:30 p.m.


He will discuss the priorities of France’s European Union Presidency, as defined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and its relevancy within the UN.


And, immediately afterwards, at 1:15 p.m., Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, will present this year's UN World Economic and Social Survey.


**Secretary-General in Japan and China


The Secretary-General wrapped up his official visit to Japan with a press conference on Tuesday morning, saying that he was pleased throughout his visit to hear of Japan’s renewed commitment to the United Nations, its strong support for UN reform, and its determination to expand Japan’s role and activities in the United Nations.  He also welcomed the fact that Japan, China and the Republic of Korea are increasingly looking to their common future as friendly neighbours with global interests and responsibilities.


Asked about Zimbabwe, the Secretary-General noted that we have successfully managed the situation in Kenya, adding, “This will give us some good lessons”.  He once more pledged his full commitment to spare no efforts to work out a solution.


He said that the developments regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and its nuclear programme represented “a very encouraging step forward”, adding that the participants in the six-party talks should not lose this momentum.  As for visiting Pyongyang, he said that he had not made any formal schedule yet, but that he would like to find out when would be the most opportune and appropriate time to visit.


The Secretary-General then travelled from Tokyo to Beijing to begin the second leg of his three-country North Asian visit.


Just a short while after his arrival in the Chinese capital, he delivered an address at the Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, during which he outlined the challenges facing the world today and China’s leadership role in meeting them.  He told the students that they inherit, not just China’s future, but also the task of helping to build the well-being of the whole world.


We have his speech upstairs.


**Group of Eight Summit Meeting


Prior to attending the Group of Eight (G-8) summit meeting in Toyako next week, the Secretary-General has written the G-8 leaders to tell them that the world is facing three challenges that require their urgent attention:  the food crisis; climate change; and progress on the Millennium Development Goals.


On the food crisis, he warns that, if we do not act decisively, an additional 100 million people may fall below the poverty line worldwide.  He recommends an increase in the proportion of official development assistance that goes to agricultural production and rural development, from the current level of 3 per cent to a new level of 10 per cent, without diverting funds from existing education or health budgets.


On climate change, the Secretary-General says that we must arrive at a shared vision of what a new climate change agreement will look like, addressing all the building blocks agreed upon in Bali.  And he once more urges leaders to scale up efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.


** Cyprus


Greek Cypriot Leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot Leader Mehmet Ali Talat reached agreement in principle today on the issues of single sovereignty and citizenship for a future unified Cyprus.


The agreement came at the end of a four-and-a-half hour meeting at the UN Protected Area in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, read out a joint statement on behalf of the two leaders.


Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat will meet again on 25 July, as work continues in preparation of full-fledged negotiations later this year.


** Lebanon


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), concerning Lebanon, went to the Security Council yesterday.  In it, he says that, with the Doha agreement, there are new opportunities for the Lebanese people to consolidate the country’s political stability and create an environment conducive to further addressing the critical challenges facing the country.  He says that he looks forward to the speedy establishment of a national unity Government and to the revitalization of the country’s constitutional institutions.


The Secretary-General adds that the events witnessed during the violence in May illustrate starkly the risks to the foundation of the State of Lebanon that are posed by the actions of non-State actors.


He says he is encouraged by the renewed declarations from the international community on the importance of finding a solution to the Shab’a Farms issue, and he plans to strengthen the diplomatic process aimed at resolving this key issue.


And he expresses his concern that the air violations by Israel reached record levels during this past March and April.


**Security Council


With the start of a new month, the rotating Presidency of the Security Council has passed on from the United States to Viet Nam.  The new Council President, Ambassador Le Luong Minh, is having bilateral meetings with other Council members today to discuss the programme of work for the coming month.


The Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on that programme tomorrow morning.  Then, at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon, Ambassador Le will talk to you in this Room about the Council’s work during July.


** Africa -- Millennium Development Goals


Today, on the final day of the African Union Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the Deputy Secretary-General, along with other officials, launched a report containing the recommendations of the Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group.


In the report, the Group, which was an initiative of the Secretary-General, recommends targeted investments in agriculture to launch a green revolution in Africa; stepped-up support to education and health-care systems; major projects to fill critical gaps in the continent’s infrastructure and trade networks; and improvements in national statistical systems, so that progress on the Millennium Development Goals can be tracked more effectively.


The report also calls for greater quality and predictability of official development assistance, as disbursements increase to finance these investments.


We have more on that upstairs.


**World Economic and Social Survey


The Department of Economic and Social Affairs is launching its annual World Economic and Social Survey today.  The report says there can be no doubt that we are living in a time of increased threats and vulnerabilities.  Bank runs, mortgage defaults, rising commodity prices, climate change and problems of conflict are all factors.


Overall economic performance has been fairly strong in recent years, but globalization, market deregulation and rising inequality have created growing anxiety about the direction of the world economy.  The social contract has been frayed in developing and developed countries alike, and more attention needs to be focused on rebuilding it through a policy agenda that successfully integrates economic and social polices. 


You can find out more about the report at 1:15 this afternoon, when Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram presents its findings here in Room 226.


** Mozambique


Walter Kaelin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, has just wrapped up a visit to Mozambique, a country that is affected by recurrent floods, cyclones and droughts.


Kaelin stressed that relocation of those living in disaster-prone areas to safer zones can increase security, but should only be resorted to if there are no other solutions and if the relocation is sustainable.


He underlined the importance of ensuring that disaster survivors can enjoy their rights –- in a culturally acceptable manner –- to adequate housing, health and education, particularly in relocation areas.


We have more on that upstairs.


**Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons


Today is the fortieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.  In a message to mark the occasion, which we have upstairs, the Secretary-General says that, although the Treaty has suffered serious setbacks and faces multiple challenges to its credibility, it has also seen steady progress and significant measured success.


He says that achieving the universality of the Treaty remains a priority.  We are a long way from a nuclear-weapon-free world, and the recent revival of interest to achieve this vision is welcome and promising.


** Bangladesh


More than seven months after Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh, food still remains the most urgent priority for many families in devastated areas, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).  The next major harvest isn’t until November or December, and many households lack sufficient food reserves, as well as the money to afford the rising price of food.


WFP recently completed its seventh round of general food distribution, reaching more than 1.5 million people with rice, pulses, edible oil, high-energy biscuits and other food.


We have more information on that upstairs.


**United Nations Development Programme


The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today released a new report, which shows how more inclusive business models can be good for both human progress and wealth creation.  It’s called “Creating Value for All:  Strategies for Doing Business with the Poor”.


The report explains how companies can expand beyond traditional business practices and bring in the world’s poor as partners in growth and wealth creation.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Renewable Energy


In a new study released today, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that investment in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries rose more than 60 per cent last year, to nearly $150 billion.  UNEP cites the rise in oil prices as a major cause.


Wind energy accounted for almost a third of investments in the sustainable energy sector.  But solar power grew most rapidly, making up roughly 20 per cent of the total.  We have more information upstairs.


**UN Publications


Starting today, the price for United Nations publications will be reduced by 75 per cent in least developed countries and by 50 per cent in developing countries.  This new marketing effort will make more than 4,000 United Nations publications affordable to educational institutions, students, teachers and researchers in poorer countries.


The price in developed countries will continue to be set based on prevailing market conditions in those countries.


We have a press release upstairs from the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI).


**United Nations Children’s Fund


To meet the urgent needs of severely malnourished children in Ethiopia, the UN Children Fund’s (UNICEF) has airlifted food to Addis Ababa last night.


The airlift contained the ready-to-use therapeutic food Plumpy’Nut, a scientifically formulated nutrient-dense, peanut-based paste to treat severe malnutrition for children without medical complications or serious illness.


The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 75,000 children in over 100 drought-affected districts are suffering from severe acute malnutrition at this time.  UNICEF urgently calls for more resources considering the total number of children affected.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.


**Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean


Alicia Bárcena Ibarra of Mexico today assumes her duties as Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  Ms. Bárcena is the first woman to hold the position of ECLAC Executive Secretary.


Ms. Bárcena has identified financing for development, macroeconomic stability and progress towards a knowledge society as priority issues for her tenure.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Manouchehr Mottaki, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will be here to brief you on his participation in the Economic and Social Council's high-level segment which is taking place this week.


And immediately after the noon briefing, at around 12:30 p.m., Le Luong Minh, Permanent Representative of Viet Nam and President of the Security Council for the month of July, will present the Council’s programme of work for July.


**Economic and Social Council


And this should have been said earlier, but there will also be a side event to the Economic and Social Council high-level segment today.


At 1:30 p.m., in the UNCA club room, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, will speak on the issue of sanitation for sustainable development.


Sulabh International has been chosen by UNDP as an exemplar company for businesses that work with the poor.


And this is all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Robert Benson came out with a report on the issue of Tony Shkurtaj.  It seems to be at odds with the independent report, and he actually criticizes some of the findings of the independent report.  Who do I believe?


Spokesperson:  I think the question is, it is Mr. Benson’s report, and that is all I can say.


Question:  One report says that Tony Shkurtaj is unreliable, and that there was no retaliation against him, while the other not only says that it seems there was, but it also wants UNDP to pay.


Spokesperson:  It is Mr. Benson’s prerogative to have his report on that review.


Question:  I am a reporter; I have to find out what is truth.  One UN commission’s report says A; the other says not A.  Which of these versions do I believe?


Spokesperson:  Well, do your homework.  It is Mr. Benson’s review.


Question:  He recommends strongly that UNDP pays 14 months back pay to the whistleblower.  Does the Secretary-General stand behind that recommendation?  Should UNDP in fact pay that money, or are they free to rebuff that recommendation?


Spokesperson:  We will see what is going to happen.  The Secretary-General of course is behind Mr. Benson on his report.  There is no doubt about it.  What UNDP will do, we will be seeing this; how they will implement that report.


Question:  UNDP at one point said Benson doesn’t have jurisdiction over them.


Spokesperson:  As I announced yesterday, they have a new Director of the Ethics Office.  And they will be working with Mr. Benson.


Question:  So, does he have jurisdiction?  I mean, does this ruling, as far as they are concerned…


Spokesperson:  I cannot speak on behalf of UNDP.


Question:  Institutionally, does this ruling apply?


Spokesperson:  Well, we can get someone from UNDP to discuss this with you, of course.


Question:  What does the Secretary-General think about the report?  Does he have any comments about it?


Spokesperson:  He does not at this point.  He has not received it yet, as far as I know.


Question:  One of the things that Secretary-General Ban has been trying to do was to have this cohesive approach to these things within all of the United Nations.  Doesn’t this pose a predicament in terms of trying to overcome that problem?  Is this not an issue that he will weigh on, and weigh on in a very noticeable way?


Spokesperson:  Mr. Benson speaks on behalf of the Secretariat, so you know…


Question:  I understand.  But in terms of Organization-wide…


Spokesperson:  As you know, he has been working on this for quite a while, and the fact that right now they are making changes in the structure of the different agencies on the ethics issue is part of that concerted effort to have one system and one standard.


Question:  Another question related to UNDP.  I understand that the Executive Board of UNDP has received a request, or at least a proposal, to again relaunch the programme in North Korea.  Does this mean that some of the issues that were raised at the time, and the very reason why the UNDP pulled out, in terms of staff, hiring, payments and some of the other things in which UNDP was operating in contradiction to its own rules… have these issues been resolved?  Have the North Koreans now agreed to UNDP’s conditions…?


Spokesperson:  I cannot answer for UNDP.  I suggest that we have someone from UNDP come and talk to you about the issue.  I cannot answer for them.  I do know that the issue of returning to the DPRK has to be approved by the Board, of course.


Question:  And in terms of Ban weighing in on the issue of Tony Shkurtaj and its wider ramification for whistleblowers and system-wide coherence, when might we get some sort of…?


Spokesperson:  At this point, in terms of Mr. Shkurtaj himself, the report, as I said, of Mr. Benson stands as the position of the Secretariat.


Question:  There are some reports saying that the former Australian Foreign Minister has accepted the position of Special Envoy for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Cyprus.  Can you confirm that or…?


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have an announcement at this point.  Not yet.


Question:  One of the articles saying that Mr. Downer said he has the job also reports that it is a part-time post and that he will be working part-time for a corporate advisory firm.  I understand you have no announcement on it, but do these envoys… what procedures does the Secretariat have to ensure that there is no conflict of interest between their outside jobs and their UN jobs?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a specific answer for you.  It is of course discussed with every single person who is named as a Special Envoy.  In this specific case, I cannot comment, because in this specific case, we don’t have an appointment yet.


Question:  There is also a report that Burmese nationals in Japan had a kind of protest or an event outside the UN office in Tokyo yesterday, during which they tried to or did deliver a letter to Mr. Ban about the lack of progress from their point of view since his visit to Myanmar.  Has he received the letter, and what is his response…?  Does he feel that Myanmar has been taking enough steps since he visited, or is he concerned and dissatisfied?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know if he is dissatisfied.  I think he has been urging for more steps.  But largely, he has noted the progress made in delivering aid to the people who needed it most.  In terms of the letter itself, I can check with the delegation there whether a letter was delivered to the Secretary-General.


Question:  Thank you.  Last week, there was supposed to be a press conference by Jan Egeland on his visit to the Sahel and climate change.  It was cancelled at the last minute.  Is it still going to take place?  Why was it cancelled?


Spokesperson:  Because he was travelling.  That is why.  He was travelling.


Question:  Will he be here soon?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  If he comes here, he will definitely have the press briefing with you.


Question:  It has always been my understanding that every agency of the UN is distinctly separate with a separate purpose.  Is the Secretary-General really trying to pull them together?  Or is it our confusion to understand that they are meant to be separate entities?  I mean, UNDP does feasibility studies about projects that are upcoming.  They go to the field.  They investigate.  That is my understanding, so I am hoping that you can correct me on it.  They go to the field, they do the feasibility study.  The new project is found to be feasible or to be repeated.  Then they go back and it goes through them.  But from what I hear now, between the questions and what you seem to be saying, is the Secretary-General really trying to bring these agencies…?


Spokesperson:  No, each agency has a specific constitutional element.  They are all different and they all have their Board and they all have their decision-making group.  So, this doesn’t mean that the Secretary-General is trying to…  What the Secretary-General is trying to do is having the UN react as one in a number of situations, and he is trying to have the same standards apply to all funds and programmes, as he is the Head of the UN Secretariat.  He is not going to change the actual constitution and the way the agencies and funds are working and are funded and are directed by their own administrative Board.


I am sorry.  I cannot answer any more questions because we have gone beyond the time allocated to us.  At 12:30 p.m., I have to leave the room for Mr. Ripert.  Thank you.


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