DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
This is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Susan Markham, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
**Secretary-General in Washington
Good afternoon. Marie gave you the Secretary-General's morning programme in Washington for yesterday morning. I’ll just finish the report. After lunch, he had an off-the-record session with the Washington Post. He then went to the Senate side of Capitol Hill, where he met with seven members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Chairman Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Their talks focussed almost exclusively on the Secretary-General's fight against AIDS, and they went over the details of the Secretary-General’s proposal for a global fund for AIDS and other diseases. His last meeting of the day was with Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who was the Democratic leader of the Senate.
As you know, Washington was in tumult yesterday as a result of the decision by Republican Senator James Jeffords to leave the Republican Party, thereby shifting control of the Senate to the Democrats. Senator Daschle was therefore expected to become the new Majority leader. Still, he kept his appointment with the Secretary-General and he also invited a number of members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. And again, the discussions focussed almost exclusively on the Secretary-General's AIDS initiative, and the Secretary-General also appealed for support on the payment of United Nations dues.
Coming into the building this morning, the Secretary-General commented, "I’d gone to Washington to see the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader. By the time I got there, their roles had changed."
**Secretary-General’s Upcoming Washington Trip
There was some grousing yesterday here about your not having early enough advance notice about the Secretary-General's trip to Washington yesterday. So here's a week's advance notice. The Secretary General will give the keynote address in Washington next Thursday at the Global Health Council to inaugurate the $1 million Gates Award for Global Health. Melinda Gates will present the award, and Graca Machel will be one of the special guests. Then on Friday morning, still in Washington, the Secretary-General will address a breakfast meeting of some 500 members of the United States Chamber of Commerce, to make an appeal for support for his global AIDS initiative.
**Secretary-General to Receive Honorary Degree
He won’t be taking this weekend off because he’ll be going to Providence, Rhode Island, on Sunday evening, in order to attend the commencement exercises at Brown University on Monday, where he will receive an honorary doctorate "honoris causa" in recognition of his contribution to world peace. By the way, among the other honorary degree recipients at Brown University on Monday will be former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
**Afghan Sanctions Report
An expert panel report on enforcing sanctions against the Taliban came out today. The Secretary-General transmitted to the Security Council the report by a five-member Committee of Experts that he established on how the arms embargo and closure of terrorist training camps demanded in the Security Council resolution 1333 could be monitored. Chaired by Ambassador Haile Menkerios of Eritrea, the members, who traveled to the region for four weeks, said that no sanctions monitoring will be effective unless there is total commitment of the Member States involved with its implementation.
The Committee said it considered it essential to look into the illicit drugs trade by the Taliban, and while noting that the Taliban had banned opium production, it also pointed to a sizeable stock of opium and heroin. The report says, “If Taliban officials were sincere in stopping the production of opium and heroin, then one would expect them to order the destruction of all stocks existing in areas under their control.”
The report makes seven recommendations including one that calls for the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to work alongside the border control services in the countries neighboring Afghanistan. It identifies a certain type of aviation fuel, as well as fluids and lubricants needed for use in armed vehicles to be specified in the embargo. There is also a recommendation for monitoring the movement of a controlled substance linked to the production of heroin. The Security Council is expected to take up the report in early June.
In Beirut today, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the first anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, saying, "For one year now, the people of the south have enjoyed a level of calm and stability that they have not experienced for 22 years." Mr. De Mistura took the occasion to note the continuing risk of escalation and further violence in the region and warned, "Recent threatening statements do not serve the interests of anyone in the region, in particular the people of Lebanon."
He urged all sides to avoid actions that could create an unwanted spiral of violence, and said that the United Nations would continue to work towards achieving a comprehensive peace in the region, based on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. We have copies of that statement in my office.
In addition, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed Larsen, is going to deliver this evening an address on Lebanese television to the people of Lebanon, emphasizing that the Israeli withdrawal demonstrates that abiding by Security Council resolutions, and ending occupation, is the way to peace.
We have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman on the subject of the Sudan.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of the Sudan that they have declared on 24 May an immediate halt to aerial attacks in southern Sudan and in the Nuba Mountains. He hopes that this positive step will help reduce the sufferings of the people in these areas and will also enhance the prospects of peace."
**Security Council Schedule
The Security Council has not scheduled any meetings today, or for Monday, for that matter, which as you know is Memorial Day so we hope not to be here. United Nations Headquarters will be closed. The next scheduled Council meeting is for Tuesday, when the Council will take up the Great Lakes. And that is the Security Council mission to that region, which was led by the Ambassador of France, Jean-David Levitte, who will brief the Council in a closed consultation on his eight-country tour.
**Security Council Mission to Great Lakes
At first light this morning, the 11 Security Council ambassadors who were on that mission left Kigali, Rwanda, for Kampala, Uganda, for the last day of their eight-nation mission to the Great Lakes region. They first met this morning with Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the Mouvement Pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) and a number of his top lieutenants. The discussions centred on working out the details of the recent announcement by Mr. Bemba that he was going to disengage his forces from the front lines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Later in the morning, the Council delegation met with President Museveni of Uganda, who said he was going to withdraw most of his forces from the Democratic Republic in the next three weeks.
The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) reported another cease-fire violation in the Koidu area in the diamond-rich part of the country. On Thursday, pro-Government militia, called the Civil Defense Forces (CDF), attacked Revolutionary United Front (RUF) positions. The Force Commander, Daniel Opande, is in Koidu today, and we expect to have the mission notes shortly.
From Kosovo, we have news that up to 2,000 people have fled to southern Serbia from villages in the north of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as fighting intensified between the former Yugoslav Republic’s forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In a separate development, UNHCR has increased its staff presence in the Presevo area to help ease the tension and anxiety among ethnic Albanian villagers as the Yugoslav Federal Army took over the control of the key sector B of the Ground Safety Zone from the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO).
**Rights of Child Convention
Today is the first anniversary of the adoption of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the General Assembly. Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), encouraged States which have not yet signed or ratified the Optional Protocols to do so. She said, “It would be a splendid sign of commitment to children if this were to be done prior to the United Nations special session on children.” We have the full text in my office.
**Islamic Conference Meeting on Middle East
Tomorrow, in Doha, Qatar, the Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference will be holding an emergency meeting on the situation in the Palestinian territories, and Under-Secretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi, who deals with special assignments in preventive and peace-making efforts, will attend on the Secretary-General's behalf. Mr. Brahimi will deliver a message by the Secretary-General to that meeting, and we have embargoed copies available in my office, if you’re interested. In that message, the Secretary-General will call for restraint and statesmanship, and especially for an end to the bloodshed.
**WFP Assistance to Afghans
The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it has begun providing food aid to some 1,500 Afghans stranded on a border island between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. You can see that press release.
**Human Rights in Workplace
Then, starting next Wednesday, on 30 May, experts from business, organized labour and the human rights community will meet in Geneva to discuss the challenges that companies face in combating workplace discrimination. Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson and International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia will chair the panel, which is one of the events leading up to the World Conference on Racism that will begin in Durban, South Africa, at the end of August. We have press releases on that.
From East Timor, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) has begun preparations for the visit starting on Monday to West Timor by the Bishop of Baucau, Basilio do Nascimento. The Bishop plans to meet with the chairman of the pro-autonomy Timorese militia "UNTAS", and also intends to visit East Timorese refugees living in West Timor.
Thailand today became the eighty-second Member to pay its regular budget dues for this year, and that’s with payment of more than $2.8 million.
**New United Nations Stamps
On the stamp front, we have some new stamps that hopefully the robot camera can pick up. The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) today launched eight new stamps in the Flags of Member States series. The stamps represent the flags of Slovenia, Palau, Tonga, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kiribati, Andorra and Nauru. The Postal Administration also issued two new definitive stamps in the denominations of 7 cents and 34 cents, and we have more information in the Philatelic Bulletin.
This afternoon at 2:30, Ambassadors Penny Wensley of Australia and Ibra Deguene Ka of Senegal, who are the co-facilitators of the preparatory process for the General Assembly’s special session on HIV/AIDS, will talk to you about the informal consultations on the preparations for the session. The preparations end today and the special session, as you know, will take place next month, from 25 to 27 June.
**Week in Review
We have the Week Ahead for you, which I won’t bother reading but which you can pick up in my office. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions on the Afghan report. One concerns the constant reference to the “six” neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, as if they were all of one mind. Is that an accurate reflection, particularly keeping in mind that Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan is much different than any other country’s?
Spokesman: I really can’t speak for this panel, so you’ll have to ask what they had in mind in referring to the “six”.
Question: Will the panel members be here when the Council discusses the report?
Spokesman: The Chairman certainly will be, and I believe he’s agreed to talk to you about the time that it goes to the Council. We realize that’s some time away but that’s the best we could do.
Question: Again, one of the recommendations is to establish a monitoring coordination office. Again, the implication is that you don’t expect the Taliban to be in compliance any time soon if you’re planning to set up such an elaborate system. Is that a correct reading?
Spokesman: Again, I can’t speak for the panel. You’ll have to ask them what they had in mind.
Question: I realize the Secretary-General doesn’t speak about the internal affairs of a Member State, but given that it has such an impact on relations with the United Nations, he must have been pleased that Senator Helms, given his long-standing criticisms of the United Nations, will no longer be in charge of Senate Foreign Relations. Or at least, he must be encouraged that relations might improve. Is that accurate?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has a very good working relationship with Senator Helms, and it was a bipartisan effort, the Helms-Biden legislation, that led to the process that we hope will eventually result in the United States paying a significant amount of its arrears. So I don’t think its fair to say that he’s thrilled with any change in the leadership of any of the committees. He wouldn’t have a position on that.
Question: Any chance of getting those payments increased by yesterday’s development?
Spokesman: I don’t think so, again because it was a bipartisan effort. The legislative process is rather complicated and I think the United States Mission sent a letter to all the other missions explaining a bit how that process works and expressing their hope that the payment of the next tranche could be made soon, they said. We picked up yesterday that those efforts in the Congress are continuing. So our hope is that we’ll get the check soon.
Question: Is he visiting Vermont any time soon?
Question: There were 19 Albanians who surrendered to the United Nations. Are these the same ones fighting now or are they different?
Spokesman: It’s different. I think you’re referring to the surrender of a significant number of fighters in southern Serbia who turned over their weapons to NATO. What we’re talking about now is fighting in northern former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is triggering the movement of a certain number of refugees into southern Serbia, into this newly pacified area of southern Serbia. So I think it’s two different things.
Question: Did the Secretary-General discuss in Washington the possible American pull-out of troops in the Balkans, the transfer announced? And what was discussed generally about the Balkans?
Spokesman: That specific issue didn’t come up. The Secretary-General in a few of his meetings, where he was given the floor to brief them on priority security issues, did discuss the Balkans. I’m not at liberty to go into much detail, but a point that he made was the need to see it as a regional problem, that solving a problem of Kosovo will not be secure without also addressing related problems in Bosnia, the relations within the Federal Republic Yugoslavia, between Serbia and Montenegro. So we urged them to see all of that as a package and to direct their efforts to finding a comprehensive solution in the Balkans.
Question: Is it possible to give an idea on the British resolution regarding Iraq? I heard there are three resolutions about the sanctions.
Spokesman: Then you’re ahead of me because the last I heard there were two. Frankly, I can’t tell you what’s going on because it’s happening in the Security Council and it’s happening behind closed doors. I think the last thing I said to you on this subject was that you’ll just have to be patient and see how the Council deliberations go.
Question: On Afghanistan, any follow-up to the request for a day of mourning for the statues? The UNESCO forwarded the request for an international mourning day.
Spokesman: I’ll have to look into that. (It was later announced that UNESCO’s Director-General had designated a Day of Mourning on the day the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan were destroyed.)
Question: Was the ceasefire in Sudan called by the Government or the rebels? And with regard to the embargo against the Taliban, will the United Nations control the air or land, since it’s so difficult in the mountains to monitor the smuggling of the weapons?
Spokesman: In the Sudan, the Government called a halt to the bombing in the south. So it’s not a cease-fire but a cessation of bombing activities in the south. That the Government did unilaterally. On the panel’s recommendations on what might be necessary to monitor the sanctions against the Taliban, that we’ll have to see what the reaction of the Security Council will be. As I said, they won’t take up this report until early June.
Question: Yesterday, Marie was asked about the Secretary-General having gone to Washington more times in the past few months than his predecessors might have gone in years. Is it just a coincidence that he’s been going a lot there? Is it because he’s trying to get to know the new administration or is there some strategy to improve relations in a more substantive way between the two sides?
Spokesman: I think the new administration has something to do with it and the rest is circumstantial. The Gates award, for example, was something he wanted to do. It had nothing to do with the politics of Washington, and while he was down for that, he decided to talk to the Chamber of Commerce. His previous visits were linked to the administration. They were quick in-and-out visits, he didn’t have time to see the Congress. He wanted to see Congressional leaders. He didn’t anticipate the changes that were taking place in Washington yesterday, but anyway, his meetings were on both sides of the aisle. And no, I think it’s no significant shift. I think it’s just the need to get in touch with the new leadership on the administration side, to stay in touch with the Congressional leadership, especially while the contribution issue is still not resolved.
Question: How does it work at other capitals? Does he normally meet with legislators in those countries?
Spokesman: Almost every time. If it’s a full trip, two-day visit, he’ll see government representatives, he’ll see opposition leaders and he’ll see parliamentary leaders. That’s pretty much the standard formula.
Spokesperson for General Assembly President
Just to give you a bit of information, you asked about a resolution. I understand there is a resolution in the making that will go before the General Assembly. I’m not sure of the total content, but it is relating to the statues in Afghanistan. I believe it’s being prepared by Hungary and Austria. So if that helps, you might want to follow up on that, and I believe it’ll come to the plenary on Thursday next week.
Just to let you know, the open-ended consultations of the plenary on the General Assembly’s special session on HIV/AIDS continues today, and they’re having the first read-through of the declaration of commitment. This morning they talked about research and development, and they are then going, this morning I think, to the follow-up, leaving the issue of resources until this afternoon. Hopefully, that’ll complete the first read-through. They’re having, as you know, intense consultations, day and night, morning, afternoon and evening. In fact, the evening session last night went until 1:30 this morning, and it is possible they’ll continue all day tomorrow and tomorrow night to complete. But we’ll know later today when they see how they progress. And, of course, as Fred said, the two co-facilitators will be here at 2:30 to give you all the details, as much as they can.
These, of course, are closed meetings and I have not been able to be at the meetings all the time. Those that I have been at, I can certainly tell you that the whole room is engaged and they’re very intense. I believe that almost every paragraph has had some changes made, quite significant changes. So, I believe all the issues are now being put on the table and they will then negotiate those difficult issues.
At 3 o’clock today, the President of the General Assembly will chair the informal consultations, and at this meeting, the agenda for the special session on HIV/AIDS is expected to be adopted. As you know, there’s no formal preparatory committee for the special session on HIV/AIDS. It’s all being held as informal consultations. So they have to adopt an agenda and then it has to go to the plenary of the General Assembly.
Also today, the Fifth Committee is adopting a large number of resolutions, most of them concerning the financing of United Nations peace operations and a few other issues related to that. These draft resolutions will then go to the plenary, perhaps at next Thursday’s session, which is the next scheduled session of the plenary. But I don’t know for sure. It depends on the documentation. If you’re interested, of course, we can provide you with copies of the drafts. Unfortunately, the Fifth Committee will not finish today as we had hoped. This is a second resumed session that they’re holding. They have one item left and I believe that will be completed next week.
Today is the beginning of the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, of which there are now 17. In a statement issued today, the General Assembly President noted that when he visited East Timor in January this year, he was able to experience first-hand the sense of expectation and hope of a nation just emerging into independent life. And on this commemorative occasion, he said it’s a time for us to look back with satisfaction at the achievements of the United Nations in the area of decolonization, but more importantly, to look ahead at the concerted work that must be carried out to fulfil the objectives of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, of which the ultimate goal, of course, is a world free of colonialism. His statement is available upstairs and of course on the Web site, as well.
I mentioned that the plenary will meet on Thursday. I don’t have the details yet of what it will be discussing, but I will let you know as soon as I can next week. In fact, next week looks to be a very busy week. The President will hold consultations with the Chairman of the Prepcom for the General Assembly’s special session of Habitat on Tuesday, as well as with the Chairs of the regional groups. They will discuss organizational aspects relating to the special session on Habitat, which is the week after next. And on Thursday, I believe the Executive Director of Habitat will brief you. I’ll give you some more details or the organization and background material for the General Assembly’s special session on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday of next week, the open-ended working group on the causes of conflict and the promotion of a durable peace and sustainable development in Africa will meet. The President of the General Assembly will chair these meetings. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the working group will discuss education, and on Thursday it will discuss conflict prevention and post-conflict peace building. On Tuesday morning there will be an interactive panel discussion on education in Africa. And the keynote speech will be by Professor Eshiwani, who’s the Vice-Chancellor of Kenyatta University and President of the Association of African Universities. Unfortunately, this is a closed meeting, but I’ll see if I can get copies of any of the interesting statements.
The morning session will be followed at the lunch hour by an informal session with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), also on education in Africa, starting at 1 o’clock. The NGOs will share their information and expertise about their activities. This is an open meeting and it’ll be in Conference Room 1. So I can give you more details of what’s coming up later in the week when we meet on Tuesday at the noon briefing. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the AIDS thing, it seems like 60 per cent of that draft is now in brackets on what was once a very nice draft. What happens if they can’t come to an agreement on 90 per cent of it? If it’s in brackets tomorrow night, does it go to capitals, or what? Secondly, did you say this was a decade of colonialism or decolonization? How many colonies are there in the world who want to be independent, or is this another anachronism like the Trusteeship Council?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m not an expert on the decolonization issue, but I know there are 17 left, and there’s a committee that meets every year. Currently they’re meeting in the Caribbean, in Havana. I can give you more information on that if you like after the briefing. There’s a Web site we maintain. And we certainly have a lot of information we can give you.
And on the issue of what’s been going on in the AIDS informals, I think it’s an exaggeration to say that 60 per cent of the document is in square brackets. There, of course, are sections in square brackets, but there’s a lot that’s just been put on the table, that hasn’t been bracketed or anything, and they haven’t even got a clean text yet. Basically, various suggestions have been made about additions, deletions and things people can’t agree on, but they haven’t seen a clean text or gone through a clean text. It’s just basically putting on the table what everybody would like to see in the text.
Question: What happens if there’s a huge compromise on sex education and this entire prevention programme, because it seems very difficult to have a prevention programme on AIDS if you don’t mention the word sex anywhere. Some of the Islamic countries are doing the same thing they did in the women’s conference. How do you see a compromise on this? It’s not the same as in the women’s document, where it’s a small part. This is prevention.
Spokesperson: You’re right. It’s a big issue that goes right through the document, as you know. I think the co-facilitators would be better able to tell you of the discussion because I haven’t been there for all of it, just parts.
Question: There was some talk of having another week of negotiation on this text. Does Saturday thwart that effort, or are you still talking about another week somewhere down the line?
Spokesperson: They haven’t yet announced or decided what will happen next. I believe that tomorrow has been booked, right through to 1 o’clock in the morning again tomorrow. There’s no booking for Sunday or Monday. But I believe at the end of the day today, they’ll be in a better position to know how much more is needed. This is the first reading of the document so there is a lot more work to do, but once they see a clean text, it may be they’ll go very quickly tomorrow. But we’re waiting to find out how they proceed. And in fact you can ask the co-facilitators. They might be in a better position by then to tell you.
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