DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

21 October 2005

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

21/10/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

Following is a near verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

I apologize for the lateness of the hour, but it’s been a busy morning for you and, therefore, it’s been a busy morning for me.

**Mehlis Report

As you all know, the report by Detlev Mehlis and the UN International Independent Investigation Commission was transmitted late yesterday by the Secretary-General to the Security Council.

In his letter transmitting the report, the Secretary-General said that the report details progress made in the investigation of the 14 February bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.  A criminal investigation, however, is yet to be completed, and the report points out in detail the necessary steps to advance further the investigation as it is taken up by the Lebanese authorities.

The Secretary-General also said he intends to extend the Commission’s mandate until 15 December, during which period it would continue its investigation and assist the Lebanese authorities.

The Security Council intends to discuss the report when it receives a public briefing by Mr. Mehlis, followed by consultations, next Tuesday.

**Secretary-General on Mehlis Report

And I wanted to add on this issue a statement attributable to the Spokesman:

“The Secretary-General has insisted throughout the process on the importance of the independence of the Mehlis’ investigation.  This is Mr. Mehlis’ investigation and his report.  

The Secretary-General has at no time made any attempt to influence the content of the report.”

**South Asia ‘Quake

The Secretary-General sent a letter today to all Member States, calling on them to urgently contribute much needed funds and assets to the UN’s relief effort in quake-stricken Pakistan.  Noting that there is a growing sense of desperation among the people waiting for assistance, he stressed that the next few weeks are critical.  We have the full text of that letter upstairs.

Meanwhile, Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland met in Brussels today with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and addressed the NATO Council on the Pakistan situation.  Egeland said, after the meeting, that NATO would work closely with the UN and the Pakistani Government as it increases its operations in the area.

For its part, the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR says that a massive NATO/UNHCR airlift for earthquake survivors is now in its third day of operation and has so far delivered more than 60 tons of lifesaving tents, blankets and other relief items to Pakistan.  With help from the Turkish Government, the airlift will be rushing in additional emergency materials over the next several days, using military planes from many NATO member States.  Separately, UNHCR has sent in 10 planeloads of supplies from its stockpiles in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

Also continuing their work on the ground are the World Food Programme, which reports that every day, some 50 tons of food are being shuttled in, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, which has sent in 200 education kits.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the UN’s flash appeal remains only 18 per cent funded.

** Eritrea

The Secretary-General has written a letter to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki regarding his Government’s ban on UN helicopter flights.

The decision, he says, severely inhibits the UN Mission to carry out its mandate, as requested by Eritrea and Ethiopia and authorized by the Security Council.

He also expresses his concern about the negative implications for the security of the UN peacekeepers and their operations, and reminds the President that freedom of movement is a fundamental principle of peacekeeping.

The Secretary-General also writes that any decisions to undermine the effectiveness of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the ceasefire arrangements on the ground, will not advance the peace process, which he acknowledged was stalemated.

Finally, he expresses his growing concern about the restrictions placed on humanitarian operations in Eritrea, where food insecurity remains of paramount concern.  It is critical that these restrictions be lifted, irrespective of political issues and considerations, the Secretary-General said in the letter.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström briefed the Security Council this morning on the humanitarian situation in Eritrea, where 2.3 million people face a crisis.  She said food insecurity and widespread poor nutritional status among women and children remain the paramount humanitarian concern in Eritrea.

There are few countries in the world where 60 per cent of the entire population is dependent on international relief assistance for survival, she said.   Eritrea, for the time being, is one such country. 

Also this morning, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Côte d’Ivoire, which supports an African Union resolution on a solution to the crisis there, and calls for the strengthening of the role of the Prime Minister in that country.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece, the chairman of the Sanctions Committee for Côte d’Ivoire, wraps up his visit to that country today.

He is to hold meetings with leaders of the Forces Nouvelles and political parties who were signatories to the 2003 peace agreement.

** Georgia

Available now on the Security Council’s website is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.

In it, the Secretary-General says that the resumption of dialogue between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides is a welcome development.

And I’ve been asked to flag for you a press release sent out by the United Nations Department of Management.

**Procurement

On October 20, 2005, the United Nations considered several cases related to publicized allegations of unethical or otherwise improper behaviour of certain United Nations contractors.  In this connection, the United Nations has decided to suspend Eurest Support Services (ESS) as a registered UN vendor, pending the completion of a UN investigation into allegations that ESS had improperly obtained internal United Nations information with respect to proposals for a food rations contract for the United Nations peacekeeping Mission in Liberia.  Currently, the United Nations has seven contracts with ESS for the provision of food rations to approximately 30,000 troops in seven peacekeeping missions.

The United Nations intends to issue new tenders as soon as possible for the provision of food rations at various peacekeeping operations.  The request for expressions of interest to participate in these tenders will be posted on the UN Procurement Service’s website.

The United Nations reiterates that it will strictly enforce a zero-tolerance policy concerning unethical, unprofessional or fraudulent behaviour for UN contractors.

**UN Day

Monday is UN Day.  The Secretary-General will begin the commemoration by laying a wreath in memory of our fallen colleagues.  The Secretary-General and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson will also ring the Harmony Bell.

The day will be marked by many more events, including films showing and lectures.  A full schedule is upstairs.

The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra will give a concert in the evening.  And we have more information upstairs, as I said. 

And on that same topic, the World Chronicle Special Sixtieth Anniversary, will be shown at 3:30 on in-house channels 3-31.  Today is Friday and one can only rejoice at that.  And we have the “Week Ahead” for you.

And just one housekeeping note.  Today, I understand, is the last day of one oF your colleagues Mohammad Reza Bagheri from the Iranian News Agency, and I know you all join me in wishing him well at his next posting.  I will now take some questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  We had this wonderful briefing, Mr. Mehlis came here and we heard this very interesting press conference and we didn’t learn anything.  So, maybe, you can give us some light to this report.  When the first version of the report has been changed?  Can you tell us when?

Spokesman:  First of all, let me go through a bit of the schedule of yesterday.  At about 11:30 a.m., the Secretary-General met Mr. Mehlis for an appointment that had been long scheduled to show him the report.  Then, Mr. Mehlis told the Secretary-General that they had been up against some tight deadlines.  So some editing was still going on, being done by his, Mr. Mehlis’s team, in his office during that time.  The meeting was fairly short, it lasted about ten minutes.  The Secretary-General expressed the wish to then see Mr. Mehlis again that afternoon, once the Secretary-General had had a chance to read the report.  And they saw each other again, shortly after 3:00, for about 45 minutes or so.

Question:  This first original report has been leaked to some media.  There were some names also, can we use those names?

Spokesman:  I will never tell you what to write or what you can’t write, so that’s a question for you to answer.  Mr. Mehlis has told us that you can expect from him, hopefully early this afternoon, another statement clarifying some of the confusion that may have arisen during the press briefing earlier today.

Question:  We want to know which copy of the report will be discussed at the Security Council next week because the original report by Mr. Mehlis was not edited, and he just edited because he did not want the media to know what was the original report.  So, will the Security Council discuss the original report or the edited one?

Spokesman:  The report that has been transmitted to the Security Council and that will be discussed is the one you got in hard copies yesterday.

Question:  So, they will not consider the names of the Syrian officials that were taken out?

Spokesman:  The report they will get is the one you got in hard copies.

Question:  Which version of the report was actually given to the Secretary-General at 11:30 yesterday?

Spokesman:  It was the latest version as had been readied by Mr. Mehlis by then.  The appointment with the Secretary-General had been set in advance, but obviously Mr. Mehlis informed the Secretary-General that he needed some more time to do a little bit of editing, and the Secretary-General then told him he wanted to see him later that afternoon to discuss the report, once he had had a chance to see it.

Question:  This is a little confusing.  Why wasn’t the meeting postponed until the report was actually ready?  Why have a photo-op and exchange a report that’s not the actual report? 

Spokesman:  The first meeting had been scheduled long in advance, and then a later time was found for the Secretary-General to see Mr. Mehlis again. 

Question:  The fact still remains that today this report has been totally discredited, and has been undermined completely, with what happened this morning in the Mehlis’ press conference, and consequently the Secretary-General’s reputation is also again being questioned.  What is it that can be done to make sure that this report’s credibility is again restored?  Because it is, as far as I’m concerned, it is totally discredited at this point. 

Spokesman:  I think I’ll refer back to what I said this morning, that as far as the Secretary-General is concerned, it is Mr. Mehlis’s report.  Mr. Mehlis drafted it, and the Secretary-General at no time made any attempt to influence what is in the report.

Question:  OK, so I just want to make sure that I fully understand the events.  At what time did Mr. Mehlis meet the Secretary-General and what time did he leave?  And are you saying that during that meeting, in another office, Mr. Mehlis’ staff was editing the report?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mehlis’s staff was continuing to work on the report.  They were up to a tight deadline, and they continued to work on the report.

Question:  Can we clarify, what time did he meet the Secretary-General, and what time did he leave?

Spokesman:  He left, the first meeting started, the handover of the report took place at 11:37 in front of cameras, and he left at 11:47 or 11:50.  I’ll have to check, but it was a fairly brief meeting.

Question:  And, just to understand, to clarify, are you saying that during that period, Mr. Mehlis’s staff was editing the report?

Spokesman:  Yes, and Mr. Mehlis will make that clear, I think, in the statement that we expect from him shortly.

Question:  Mr. Mehlis said that the reason he made his decision to take the four names out was when he learned the document was about to become public.  Can you account for why he didn’t know that?  I mean, hadn’t your office said to him “this document will become public at some point”?  Was he operating under the idea that it would become public only on Tuesday?

Spokesman:  I will try not to speak for Mr. Mehlis, but it’s obvious that the definition of the word “public” may have a different meaning for those of us here and those of you here in this room, than people who don’t usually work with the UN.  When he was told he was given a report to the Security Council, I don’t think it was that clear to him that it would be made public. 

Question:  On the Internet, there are bloggers who already have one version and the other version.  Everything is right there in the open.

Spokesman:  I understand that.  What I’m telling you is that the final version that will be discussed in the Security Council, is the hard copy you all got yesterday.

Question:  Mr. Mehlis was asked toward the end of his press conference when exactly he was alerted to the fact that it would be made public.  Do we know when and by whom? 

Spokesman:  The decision to up…

Question:  When he found out and who…

Spokesman:  He will have to tell you when he found out, and we’ll try to get him to answer that question.  I can’t answer that question.  The decision to up the transmittal of the report from this morning to last night was made late yesterday afternoon, when it became clear that already some of the wires had it and some of the newspapers had it, and it was decided to transmit it earlier.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General meet with Mehlis prior to his meeting with him yesterday at 11:30?  Did he meet with him possibly at his residence the day before?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  He didn’t have any meeting with him?

Spokesman:  No, not that I’m aware of, and I will double-check, but he did not meet with him.

Question:  I just sort of, on an aside, wanted to express my support for the fact that your office pushed and that the UN actually released this report.  You did the right thing, whatever people might accuse you of, and…

Spokesman:  Just in the wrong way.

Question: … and you did the right thing in the right way, so I just wanted to say thanks for getting it out as fast as you could.  That’s transparency.  That’s how the world works.  You can’t stop technology anyway, so that’s just…

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question: …a word of support in case anybody tries to give you, you know.

Spokesman:  Come back whenever you want, Mark.

Question:  Shifting gears, on Eritrea, I believe that there are about 1,200 Indian soldiers there, and the Indian Ambassador has said that they are unable to operate, or under the circumstances, they would be constrained to remove themselves.  Is that…?

Spokesman:  I will try.  Mr. Guéhenno, I think, met yesterday afternoon with the troop-contributing countries, and we’ll try to see if that came up, but the situation by the day, as this ban continues, makes it more and more difficult for us to operate. 

Question:  I actually came down here to echo what Mark said.  I know it was tough for you to go to bat for us and to try and get the report out, but I really think it made a big difference to, at least, have everybody have the real news instead of waiting and having a whole two cycles and 12 or 14 hours in speculation and, in some cases, wrong speculation.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  About this letter by the Secretary-General to Eritrea, when was the decision made to send that letter, and when was it sent, and is there any incentive for Eritrea to do what it is asked…

Spokesman:  What is it?  I’m sorry.

Question:  Is there any incentive or a warning that the UN may pull out its soldiers?

Spokesman:  Their incentive is that they should do the right thing and lift the ban.  That’s the incentive, and I think obviously having a crippled peacekeeping mission is in no one’s interest, and not in Eritrea’s interest.

Question:  Can you just clarify on the Mehlis thing, is he to produce a statement this afternoon?  Will we see him again?  What’s going to happen?

Spokesman:  My understanding at this point is that he will produce a statement.

Question:  This afternoon?

Spokesman:  Yes, early this afternoon.

Question:  In this room? (various inaudible questions)

Spokesman:  The important thing is that he will produce a statement.  The technicalities of it, we’ll know … and it will only be in hard copy.

Question:  You didn’t answer the questions about when the letter was sent…

Spokesman:  The decision to send the letter was taken a couple of days ago, and I’ll have to check exactly when it was sent, but it has been in the works for awhile.  [The spokesman later said the letter was sent 18 October.]

Question:  I just wanted to ask you about the UN contractors who are being investigated for misconduct.  Was that only referring to peacekeeping missions, or did you consult with Mr. Volcker while he…

Spokesman:  No, no, this has to do with allegations that have come to light.  The main is one with ESS, which supplies to seven peacekeeping missions.

Question:  But you said there were a number of others, too.

Spokesman:  There was another company.  I can give you the full text of the statement afterwards if you bear with me two seconds.  ESS and the other one was IHC Services. 

Question:  One of the defence lawyers of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was killed, and I’m just wondering, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve seen this report and we’ll have something shortly for you on that.

Question:  Just back to Hariri for one moment in all this.  Has the Secretary-General, or do you have something from the Secretary-General, on the substance of the report, his reaction to that, and beyond that, the idea that there are countries now who have an interest perhaps in circulating draft language that specifies perhaps serious consequences because of the outcome of this report? 

Spokesman:  I think, as for draft resolutions, you have to talk to the members of the Council.  The Secretary-General, I think like all of us, read the report with great interest and is continuing to study it.

Question:  I understand that Member States will have to formulate the language, but does the Secretary-General have any sort of opinion as to whether or not sanctions, for instance, are appropriate at this point?

Spokesman:  That again is a decision by the Council, and you have to remember that Mr. Mehlis’s mandate has been extended, and the investigation itself is ongoing.

Question:  On the subject of leaks, apparently -- that’s why I’m concerned on the Mehlis’ report -- we have seen besides the New York Times getting it, there were reports from Germany, from Der Spiegel, there were reports from Damascus, so there is a leaker in Mr. Mehlis’s…

Spokesman:  You know, if you find me an international organization, a Government organization, or a newspaper that doesn’t have leaks, then I will buy you lunch.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  How does the Secretary-General now react to the impression made by the two circulating versions that he and other senior UN officials might have influenced the writing of this report?   

Spokesman:  I can’t be clearer.  He, at no time, made any effort to influence what’s in the report.  It’s Mr. Mehlis’s report.  It was his work, it’s his report. 

Question:  Sorry, just one more.  The fact that some of us got this edited version that clearly shows the timings of each insertion and deletion from the Spokesman’s Office, was it a lapse or was there possibly a concerted effort to show that there were two versions out there? 

Spokesman:  I would urge you to look towards unfortunate clerical error rather than to conspiracy.

Question:  You’ve said that you’ve noted that the Secretary-General has extended the mandate and the investigation will be ongoing.  Should we infer from that that he does not believe it’s the right time to specify specific actions against Syria?

Spokesman:  No, I’m just telling you that it’s an ongoing process.

Question:  Does that mean that the conclusions they have in the report are final and there is no need for more investigation?  Ms. Rice has already asked for those sanctions. 

Spokesman:  Sanctions and all the resolutions are the work of the Security Council, and you should address your questions to them.  Thank you very much.  Pragati?

**Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly

Informal consultations of the plenary on the Peacebuilding Commission are being held today to discuss the options paper setting out various proposals for the Commission’s mandate, composition, reporting lines and other outstanding issues.  On Monday, morning and afternoon, informal consultations will be held on the Human Rights Council, to consider its size, composition and membership.

Monday, of course, is United Nations Day.  President Eliasson will be participating in and speaking at a number of events to observe the Day, including the “birthday party” at 9:30 a.m., the ceremony to dedicate the restored Chagall Peace Window at 6:00 p.m., and the UN Day Concert with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at 7:00 p.m. A “Note to Correspondents” on all the events is posted on the UN website.

This evening, President Eliasson will be the keynote speaker at a gala dinner being organized by the United Nations Association of New York for the UN’s sixtieth anniversary.  At the gala, whose theme is “A Spotlight on Global Health”, awards will be given to two NGOs -- The Links, Incorporated, and the International Federation of Health Plans -- as well as the Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for the World Health Organization. Mrs. Cherie Blair, the wife of the British Prime Minister, is also attending in her personal capacity as Chair of the Loomba Trust, an NGO.  Media are invited to the reception, which starts at 6 p.m. We have information upstairs about that, and the media arrangements for the fund-raising dinner, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Delegates’ Dining Room.

Also, starting this evening and through Monday, the UN Secretariat building will be lit with the message “UN60” to mark the Organization’s sixtieth anniversary.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can we have some more information about the concert planned for the 24th?

Spokesperson: The United Nations Day Concert?  It is in the Media Advisory.  We have copies upstairs and it’s also on the website.

Question:  Are Member States are making any progress in their discussions on the establishment of the PBC (Peacebuilding Commission)?

Spokesperson:  Yes, they have entered a phase of negotiations now.  They have stated all their initial positions and they are progressing.  I think they are fairly much on track to hopefully reach an agreement in mid-November.  There is no way to predict.

Thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.