2 November 2009
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 Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Good afternoon, all.


**Secretary-General in Afghanistan


The Secretary-General made a previously unannounced visit to Kabul today, following the attack on a Kabul guesthouse last week, in which five UN staff members were killed and others were injured.  He met with UN staff, Special Representative Kai Eide, heads of UN agencies and security officials.


Speaking to reporters, he asserted his appreciation for the work of UN staff in Afghanistan.  He added, “My main goal this time was to insist that everything be done to ensure the security of all staff ‑‑ Afghan and internationals.  We have suffered a grievous attack but our work will continue.”


The Secretary-General said, despite speculation whether the United Nations would pull out of Afghanistan or Pakistan, that “we will not be deterred”.


He also met today with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai to assure them and the Afghan people of the continuing support of the United Nations towards the development of the country and the humanitarian assistance that the UN provides to millions of Afghans everyday.  And he noted that President Karzai assured him once more that security for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), will be strengthened.


He also issued a statement from Kabul responding to today’s decision by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), to forgo a run-off vote and to declare Hamid Karzai as the winner of the 2009 presidential elections.  He said that Afghanistan now faces significant challenges and the new President must move swiftly to form a Government that is able to command the support of both the Afghan people and the international community.


Prior to arriving in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General had met in Dubai with some of the staff members who were injured in last week’s attack in Kabul.  The Secretary-General had a warm and frank discussion with more than a dozen staff who have suffered from trauma after the attack.  Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Gregory Starr, accompanied the Secretary-General to Dubai and is staying on in the region to examine safety and security issues in a more concrete way.


**Secretary-General in London


The Secretary-General is expected to arrive in London early Tuesday morning for a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  He will address a Summit of Religious and Secular Leaders on Climate Change.


Tonight, Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s climate change support team, will deliver a message on his behalf to a dinner on the eve of that summit.


**Pakistan


On Pakistan, following a decision by the Secretary-General, the presence of international staff in north-western Pakistan has been reduced to those staff who are vital for emergency, humanitarian relief or security duties, among other essential operations.  All other international UN Staff who were involved in the running of programme activities will be relocated out of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).


Security measures will be enhanced for staff that will continue their work in those areas.


The United Nations is committed to providing development and humanitarian assistance to the people of Pakistan.  It will continue to work in the areas where help is required.


** Iraq


On Iraq, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco has arrived in Baghdad and started preliminary consultations related to Iraq’s security and sovereignty.  He met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Ministers for Defence and National Security.  Upon completion of his mission, Fernandez-Taranco will report to the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General sent Fernandez-Taranco to Iraq for preliminary consultations in response to a request from the Government of Iraq.


**Gaza


On Gaza, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), reports that nearly 80 truckloads of goods entered Gaza from Israel yesterday, through the Kerem Shalom crossing.  The majority of those truckloads contained fruit, cooking oil, dairy products, flour, frozen meat, tea and coffee.


More than 100,000 kilograms of cooking gas also made it into Gaza through Kerem Shalom.  But the Karni conveyor belt and the Nahal Oz fuel pipelines remained closed.


**Security Council


Austria has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for this month, and Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting is holding bilateral talks with other Council members today about its work during November.


Tomorrow, the Security Council is expected to hold consultations on its programme of work for the coming month.  Ambassador Mayr-Harting will brief you on that subject at 12:30 tomorrow in this room.


**Climate Change


The last 5-day negotiating session before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December started today in Barcelona, Spain.


Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that he was convinced that it was possible to further narrow down options and come up with working texts for a comprehensive, fair and effective international climate change deal, during this session.  The Barcelona talks need to make clear progress and put in place a solid foundation for success at Copenhagen, he added.


Parties are expected in Barcelona to make progress on adaptation, technology cooperation, action to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries and enhanced capacity-building.


Noting that workable middle-ground options had emerged on these items, de Boer said these could now be taken forward.  But, he also said that the targets of industrialized countries presently on the table were not ambitious enough, and that more clarity was needed on the issue of financing.


**Deforestation


And also on climate change, five new countries have joined the UN-REDD Programme ‑‑ which supports countries to develop capacity to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.


Argentina, Cambodia, Ecuador, Nepal and Sri Lanka are the first to officially request to participate in the UN-REDD Programme, in addition to the initial nine member countries, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


**IAEA


This morning, Mohamed ElBaradei delivered his last speech to the General Assembly as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  He said that, from the time he started as Director General in 1998, the Agency has moved from being a relatively unknown technical organization to becoming a major player at the centre of issues critical to international peace and security.  The Agency, he said, has gained universal respect for its independence and objectivity in nuclear verification, safety and security.


Regarding Iran, ElBaradei urged Tehran to be as forthcoming as possible in responding soon to his recent proposal, based on the initiative of the United States, Russia and France.  He added that trust and confidence-building are an incremental process that requires focusing on the big picture and a willingness to take risks for peace.


** Darfur


The African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), has participated in a reconciliation ceremony in Shangil Tobaya, in North Darfur, aimed at ending a spate of ethnic clashes that have claimed the lives of some two dozen people in the area.


Ethnic tensions had increased, with fears of potential reprisal attacks, after it emerged that a member of the Tengur tribe was killed by Zaghawas during their fight with the Birgid tribe.


Yesterday, a senior member of the SLA/Minawi-faction from El Fasher and a mediation committee of local leaders (or Umdahs) visited the village where the killing occurred, to urge the affected tribes to exercise restraint.  A peace agreement was signed by the two tribes, with the objective of preventing further ethnic clashes in the area.


**UNMIS-Electoral


Still on the Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), have embarked on the largest ever delivery of voter registration material in Sudan, in preparation for the nationwide voter registration exercise that started yesterday.


At the request of Sudan’s National Elections Commission (NEC), the two UN entities will be delivering registration kits, forms, tarpaulin, and training books for registration staff.  Also being delivered are 26 generators, office furniture and communications equipment.


UNDP is taking care of transportation of materials to Sudan’s 25 state capitals.  UNMIS air assets are being used for the delivery of materials to 43 inaccessible and remote locations in Southern Sudan and Southern Kordofan state.


In Darfur, the African Union-UN Mission (UNAMID), will deliver voter registration materials to 10 isolated areas in Northern and Western Darfur.


**Sierra-Leone – Special Court


On Sierra Leone, eight persons convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for serious crimes committed during the country’s civil war have been transferred from the Court’s detention facility in Freetown to Rwanda, where they will begin serving their sentences.  At present, no facility in Sierra Leone meets the required international standards for holding these convicts.


The prisoners were transferred over the weekend, accompanied by officials from the Special Court’s Security and Detention sections.  They included three former leaders of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), whose sentences were recently upheld on appeal.  The prisoners will be incarcerated at Rwanda’s Mpanga Prison, under an agreement signed between the Special Court and the Rwandan Government last March.  The prisoners have received sentences ranging from 15 to 52 years, with credit given for time served while in detention at the Special Court.


**Liberia


And still staying on the African continent, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), reports that it has successfully foiled an attempted jailbreak in Monrovia’s Central Prison.  Yesterday’s attempted escape started after one inmate reportedly managed to grab a set of keys from a corrections officer and locked the officer inside a cell.


Fifty inmates then managed to escape from some cells into the main prison yard.  But they were intercepted at the main prison gate by the UN Mission’s Jordanian Formed Police Unit (FPU), and some officers of the Liberian National Police (LNP).  Several warning shots were fired in the air to prevent the inmates from escaping.  In the process, some of the inmates, 10 Jordanian FPUs and one corrections officer sustained minor injuries.  None of the inmates escaped.


**Nepal


On Nepal, in a report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General expresses serious concerns that core commitments in Nepal’s peace process have yet to be implemented.


He stresses that persistent mistrust among the parties, daily politics and internal party issues are currently compromising their capacities for flexible negotiation.


The Secretary-General urges the parties to devote greater energy, through the Constituent Assembly process and other fora, to addressing issues that have been identified as long-term underlying causes of the conflict, including the restructuring of the State.


**Pneumonia


On the health front; more than 5 million children could be saved over six years if a comprehensive plan to tackle pneumonia is adopted worldwide, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).  That comprehensive plan is being jointly launched by the two agencies at the Global Pneumonia Summit, being held today right here in New York.  According to UNICEF and WHO, pneumonia kills more than 4,000 children every day.


**Private Sector


And still right here in New York, more than 60 top executives of institutional investors and stock exchanges around the world are meeting at UN Headquarters today.  They are here to explore ways in which stock exchanges can promote sustainable business practices and long-term approaches to investment.


In a video message to the gathering, the Secretary-General said that managing and integrating environmental, social and governance issues are critical in creating a world economy that is more stable, inclusive and sustainable.  In that regard, stock exchanges and other financial bodies and institutions have a key role to play, he added.


The meeting is co-hosted by the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment, the Global Compact and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


**UNDP


The UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Helen Clark, will begin an official visit to Chile tomorrow.


She will meet with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and other senior government officials to discuss her development priorities, climate change, and the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.  She will also meet individually with each of the UN Resident Representatives and Resident Coordinators in Latin America, who are in Santiago for their annual meeting.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


A look ahead: tomorrow at 11 a.m., as I said earlier, Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission, will be here to announce a collaboration between the Peacebuilding Commission and Yoko Ono to donate proceeds from John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” fortieth anniversary digital single to the UN Peacebuilding Fund.


Looking ahead again, following that at 11:45 a.m., Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, will be in this room briefly to launch the logo for the International Year on Biodiversity (2010).


And as I mentioned earlier, at 12:30 p.m., following tomorrow’s noon briefing, Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, Permanent Representative of Austria and President of the Security Council for November, will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.


And this is all I have for you today.


Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, now that the Secretary-General is in Kabul, is he planning a similar trip to Pakistan, where UN officials were also killed in bombings?


Spokesperson:  Not at this time.  I will let you know if it happens.  As you know he had to cancel a full day of appointments on his trip to London today and he could not cancel the second day also.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General think that Pakistan is more dangerous than Afghanistan at this point in time?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think he measures it this way, no.  I think he feels that they are both difficult places at this time.  The reason essentially is that you know what happened last week in Kabul and the Secretary-General felt ‑‑ and he expressed it very strongly on Friday and on Thursday ‑‑ he said he was going to send a higher official to express his solidarity with our colleagues there and he went himself.  So, it’s not a question of danger; it’s a question of the event that occurred last week.


Question:  Two weeks ago in Pakistan, a similar thing happened….


Spokesperson:  Yes, and it was World Food Programme (WFP) staff, and actually the head of WFP did a similar thing.


Question:  I have to agree with him.  I think that it’s conspicuous that he’s close because Pakistan is more in danger of becoming a non-existent country; the people are really suffering there.  That’s just weighing-in.  I agree.


Spokesperson: What I’m saying is that the Secretary-General went there after the ceremony that took place on Friday here where we had a special ceremony, as you know, for our fallen colleagues.  He felt that he had to go immediately to Afghanistan to be with them, with those who are survivors.  It was his first stop; he first stopped in Dubai to talk to the survivors.  So, instead of appreciating the gesture, we are saying, he should go further and go to Pakistan.  He should also go to a number of places where UN staff are in danger.  I agree with you.


Question:  Does he not feel that what happened in Pakistan was as egregious as what happened in Afghanistan?


Spokesperson:  It is exactly the same ‑‑ not the same situation, but exactly the same degree of concern.


Question:  The press release that was put out about Pakistan announces that it’s being moved up to Phase IV:  international staff out; locals can keep working.  I just wondered two things ‑‑ usually you’ll say that security and phases are never discussed publicly ‑‑ so I just wanted to know, one, why this is different in this case and, two, what is the phase in Afghanistan?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know what the phase is in Afghanistan at this point.  In the case of Pakistan, this shouldn’t have happened that they would reveal publicly the phase level.  We usually do not comment on security levels.


Question:  Okay, I just can’t figure it out.  It would be strange if the UN and different countries had different policies on phases.  But I wanted to know, I saw Kai Eide’s and, I guess, the Secretary-General’s announcement on Afghanistan, saying it should be orderly and timely.  Was there any consideration given on the UN’s part?  Did it think that cancelling the second round and just declaring Mr. Karzai the winner, despite the findings of fraud in the first round ‑‑ was there any downside to that?  Was there attempt to speak to the number three candidate and see if he wanted to run in a run-off?


Spokesperson:  This was something, as you know, for the Afghan electoral commission to do, which they didn’t do.  At any rate, the number three was not supposed to be part of the run-off.  It was supposed to only be two people who would be part of the run-off.


Question:  I only saying that if the number two dropped out, there’s at least an open chance that the number three then would want to participate in the run-off.


Spokesperson:  It doesn’t work like this in electoral law.  In electoral law, a run-off is between two candidates, in most countries.  In this specific case, it is that.


Question:  I guess all I’m saying is that I saw Kai Eide’s statement before the IEC made any announcement about cancelling the second round.  Kai Eide put out a statement saying, now we look forward to it being concluded in a timely basis, which many people interpreted as being the UN, like the United States and some other countries, wanting to cancel the second round for security reasons.  Can you respond to that?


Spokesperson:  No, I have to say that we were willing to go along with whatever decision was taken by the Afghan electoral institutions.


Question:  It would be incorrect to assume that Kai Eide’s situation about timely meant that the UN had a preference for cancelling the second round?


Spokesperson:  I think it would be.  Yes, George.


Question:  With reference to your report about things coming through the various passages into Gaza:  is the Israeli Navy also blockading the entire Gaza strip by sea, such that nothing can come in there?  And, if there were no such blockade, are there in fact sufficient port facilities in the city of Gaza, which is after all a coastal city, such that things could be brought through there?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think that they are allowed to bring anything through by sea.


Question:  You don’t know whether there are port facilities…


Spokesperson:  It has nothing to do with being allowed to go in, to bring merchandise in.


Question:  You’re telling me that there is some kind of naval blockade that prevents anything getting through?


Spokesperson:  Yes, there is.  As far as I know, there is.  Yes.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General involved at all in the suspension of assistance to the Congolese Army, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?  Was he involved in that process of making the decision to suspend the assistance?


Spokesperson:  Of course, the Secretary-General was informed about it.  The decision was taken by Mr. Le Roy who, as you know, is the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and happens to be there now.  He has called for a joint investigation by the UN Mission and the Congolese Army into the killing of 62 civilians between May and September 2009 near Goma.  He added that, until the results of the joint investigation were known, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), would immediately suspend its logistical support to the units believed to be implicated in these killings.  It will be up to the Congolese Army to take necessary measures once the investigation is closed.  So that is the situation at this point.


Question:  Do you think the Congolese Army is capable of launching a credible investigation, considering the number of abuses and allegations?


Spokesperson:  Well, I said a joint investigation.


Question:  How does that work exactly?


Spokesperson:  Well, that works with the UN being actively involved, because those are extremely worrying reports.  It says that there is compelling evidence that elements of the 213th Brigade of the RDC Armed Forces (FARDC), were responsible for the killings of those civilians.  So we have suspended assistance to them, because those were really grave and serious concerns.  The reports also indicate that a significant number of women and children in Lukweti in North Kivu, between May and September 2009, were killed.  MONUC has agreed on the launch of the investigation and I can assure you that the UN will not very easily abandon this.  We will definitely make sure that the investigation is carried out.


Question:  Recently here, the Special Rapporteur on Summary Execution, Philip Alston, said he named a massacre, he called it, of 50 civilians in Shellio, which seemed to be a different attack than this.  At the time, Alan Doss was here and he said that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of that and they’d continue working.  Are these two related, or is the UN looking into what Alston found, or…?


Spokesperson:  Every time there is an allegation, there is a follow-up.  In this specific case, it’s because we had enough information to warrant an investigation, a full-blown investigation.


Question:  On what Alston reported, is there not an investigation?  Is there not enough evidence for what he said?


Spokesperson:  I can check for you what has been done on this.  Yes?


Question:  My question is about Afghanistan again.  The run-off voting will not be held.  Do you think there is no problem in terms of the legitimacy the Government and Mr. Karzai?


Spokesperson:  Well, you heard what I read form the Secretary-General’s statement saying that there should be a credible Government that is put into place.  I think the eyes of the world are on Afghanistan right now, in terms of what is going to happen in terms of governance, in terms of the new Government coming in.


Question:  Forgive me in advance, but on this KFC thing, I’ve now heard ‑‑ because you said that when something happened you’d say so I just want to confirm ‑‑ I’ve heard that two security officers have now been put on administrative suspension.  One, is that true?  For how long does it last?  I’ve also heard that somebody from the President of the General Assembly’s Office might have been involved in inviting the impostor upstairs.  Is that going to be the end of it?  Just two low-level security officers suspended?


Spokesperson:  No.  They are just suspended temporarily, while they are investigating what happened.  We are still trying to find out all the details of what happened.  I cannot answer the second question.  I’ll leave it to Jean Victor to answer you in a few minutes.  Yes?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any thoughts on the statement made by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton endorsing Israeli policies on settlements, whereas the Quartet position is to call for a freeze on settlements?


Spokesperson:  Well, our position on the settlements has not changed.  That’s all I can say.


Question:  One member of the Quartet has changed its policy.


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the Quartet itself hasn’t changed its policy, and the Secretary-General certainly has not.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement?


Spokesperson:  No, he has no comments at this time.


Thank you so much.  Jean Victor.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Michèle.  Good afternoon.


This morning the President of the General Assembly Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki received the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr. Muhammad ElBaradei.  President Treki and Dr. ElBaradei exchanged views on the content of the IAEA report to the General Assembly.  They also exchanged views on the upcoming Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty that is scheduled for May 2010.  President Treki noted that disarmament and non-proliferation is one of the priorities of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.


They also discussed developments pertaining to the ongoing negotiations concerning Iran and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


The President of the General Assembly expressed his appreciation and that of the Member States to the role played by Dr. ElBaradei during his three terms at the head of the Agency.  He commended Dr. ElBaraadei’s integrity and that of the Agency in fulfilling their mandate which has been recognized through jointly awarding IAEA and Dr. ElBaradei the Nobel Peace prize in 2005.


That’s what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes.


Questions and Answers


Question:  You may have heard what I was asking, and I don’t mean to go from these heavy topics down to this…  I just want to nail this down.  I believe you said that the daughter of President Treki took photographs with Colonel Sanders’ impersonator.  But I am saying that I have heard, including from security sources, they believe that the daughter of Dr. Treki invited Colonel Sanders upstairs, or the impersonator.  I just want to know from you:  Is that the case or not the case?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know about the second part of your question since investigations are still ongoing.  What I said is that I saw a photograph where the daughter of President Treki, who is a colleague and a member of our office, appeared on a photograph.  That’s all I said.  As Michèle said earlier, investigations are still ongoing and we should leave it there for the time being.


Question:  I guess I’d ask you to see whether an answer is possible given that two people have now been suspended it seems like it’s just a yes or no question whether, I don’t know if it would be right for her to invite, if she did invite the person up or not.  But if they did, this seems to be an important factor while these people are suffering suspension.


Spokesperson:  That’s many ifs…


Question:  Right.  [inaudible]…


Spokesperson:  and I think…


Question:  I’m just asking for a yes or no if she did…  Is that… Can you ask her?


Spokesperson:  No, I mean I just don’t know that.  I mean that is very speculative.  We don’t know who, if anyone in her office did, and this is being investigated by the Secretariat.


Question:  And this a final, just to put a point on it, is that…


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  …some, and again, even people that work in security say there are people who were put on suspension because they’re staff members and it’s alleged that they did something.  Is Dr. Treki’s daughter a staff member?  Is she subject to the same standard of proof for being on suspension if that were warranted?  What exactly is her status with the UN?


Spokesperson:  That has already been answered, the question of the daughter of the President of the General Assembly.  She is a diplomat and she is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Libya and she has been seconded to the Office of the President just like many other Member States have seconded staff members to the Office.


Question:  Are they subject to OHRM discipline or not?


Spokesperson:  Well, basically when you are in this building, even if you’re a visitor you are obliged to abide by some specific rules.


Question:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  You’re welcome.  Yes, George.


Question:  The report which you spoke of Jean Victor, the IAEA report, is that something that has been made public or is it expected to be made public and distributed shortly?


Spokesperson:  First and foremost, the speech of Dr. ElBaradei…


Question:  That I know, I have that already.


Spokesperson:  I think the report to the General Assembly, I’ll double-check that, but it should normally be made public.  Normally, it will be.  Yes, Masood.


Question:  I just wanted to find about this Security Council reform thing.  [inaudible] … will he be speaking to the press any time soon?  [inaudible] … which has made any headway at all.


Spokesperson:  Thank you, Masood, for bringing this question up again.  We’re going to ask again and we’ll try to see if the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan can come and brief you on that important issue.  I’ve taken that down.  Yes.


Question:  Any update on exactly what is going to be happening with the Goldstone report on Wednesday in the General Assembly?  Is there anything new that we need to know about?


Spokesperson:  I’m just begging your patience.  We’ll try to give you an update tomorrow and if we can find somebody to brief you, I’m going to ask the President himself.  Otherwise, I’ll provide updates of what’s going to take place on 4 November, tomorrow. Yes, Matthew.


Question:  Just one more on this topic of whether the President of the General Assembly believes that the UN budget can only be increased or cut with General Assembly approval; will you be able to get what his position is?  It’s a hot topic in the Fifth Committee, and I think it’s one on which, it involves the powers of the General Assembly.  Does he have a view?


Spokesperson:  I hear you.  This question was asked at the end of last week.  We’ll try to find out today and maybe by tomorrow we’ll let you know.  Thanks.  Good afternoon.


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