|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
**Secretary-General in Jordan
The Secretary-General arrived in Amman, Jordan, and was met on arrival by the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Farouk Kasrawi. The Secretary-General then travelled to the Foreign Ministry where he met with Kasrawi for about 45 minutes. In remarks afterwards, the Secretary-General said he was in Amman to express his solidarity with the King, people and Government of Jordan after they suffered a terrible attack. He noted that many of the victims of the terrorist bombings had been at a wedding party, and said no cause could justify the vicious killing of innocent civilians.
The Secretary-General renewed his call to all Member States to agree on a comprehensive convention against terrorism, which could be a New Year’s gift to the world’s people if it can be adopted before the end of this year.
Afterwards, the Secretary-General called on King Abdullah and personally expressed his condolences for the terror attacks. The King briefed the Secretary-General on measures that Jordan has been taking nationally to combat terrorism. The Secretary-General then visited the sites of two of Wednesday’s attacks –- the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Radisson Hotel. Later, he met with the UN Country Team and UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) staff based in Amman.
While the Secretary-General was meeting with the King, Mrs. Nane Annan, accompanied by Queen Rania, went to Amman’s Jordan Hospital, where they visited and spoke to children and adults injured in Wednesday’s bomb blast. Many of the victims at the hospital had also lost family members. The Secretary-General has just landed in Kuwait, where he met with the Foreign Minister at the airport. And that is the latest update on his travel.
Police units from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) have been keeping a close eye on the situation on the ground in Monrovia.
The UN Mission says that some supporters of the CDC party attended a rally earlier today and then marched to the National Election Commission, but there were no reports of significant disturbances there.
Some supporters continued marching on, coming close to the entrance to the US Embassy where a UN police unit used tear gas to disperse the crowd. There have been no reports of injuries.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia, Alan Doss, has been in contact with the UN Police Commissioner and the Force Commander, and has also spoken by telephone with CDC candidate George Weah. At his request, Weah was interviewed on UNMIL Radio, where he delivered a message of peace.
The Security Council, in its closed consultations today, is considering a draft resolution that would adjust the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia. The Council may vote on that draft resolution following consultations.
Also today, under “other matters”, Council members are hearing a briefing from Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan on his recent visit to Eritrea and Ethiopia. He visited both countries in his capacity as Chair of the Council working group on peacekeeping operations.
The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reports that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone, and its adjacent areas, remains tense, with troop movements reported on both sides.
The ban imposed by Eritrea on UNMEE helicopters remains in place, while other restrictions on the Mission’s freedom of movement have increased considerably. Night movements have been curtailed almost all along the Zone.
The Mission continues to conduct ground patrols, and also to provide medical assistance to the local population.
The President of the Security Council yesterday wrote to the Secretary-General, to inform him that the Council welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to appoint Martti Ahtissari as the Special Envoy for the future status process for Kosovo, and Albert Rohan as his deputy. Attached to the letter were guiding principles for the future status process, as agreed to by the Kosovo Contact Group. Copies are upstairs.
**South Asia ‘Quake
Turning to the South Asia ‘quake, according to Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs the flash appeal is only 28 percent funded and the $154 million received includes $45 million in unfulfilled pledges.
And we have more on that upstairs, as well.
On Guatemala, the World Food Programme reports that a severe hunger crisis is looming in that country, following the destruction caused by Hurricane Stan.
It is, therefore, repeating an urgent appeal to donors to help feed an estimated 285,000 victims of that hurricane.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization report that they are assisting in a new polio immunization campaign launched today in 28 African countries aimed at reaching 100 million children before the end of the year.
The agency said the new round of inoculations was a “maintenance” programme to follow on a successful vaccination campaign that stopped polio epidemics in 10 countries.
The UN refugee agency says the first organized repatriation of the first of hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries was expected to start before the end of November.
And we have the week ahead for you. To highlight one of them you’re invited to next Monday. Along with UN Staff, you’re invited next Monday to the fourth event of the Dag Hammarskjöld Lectures and Conversations Series, which are being held to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. Titled “From Collections to Connections: Information and Knowledge for Global Decision-Making”, the event will be held in the Dag Hammarskjöld auditorium from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
And that’s all that I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: In relation to Stephanides case that Nick wrote on yesterday, I kind of have a request, which is: is it possible that you guys can come up with some kind of basic data on all of these tribunals and appeals panels, give us some sense of how often they reach findings on issues involving staff. Do they tend to find on behalf of the staff members traditionally or on behalf of the administration? Just some sense of how they make their decision and some history on that would be really helpful.
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll certainly pass on that request. I think Bill had a question.
Question: Did Mr. Doss confirm the word out of Monrovia that there is an official result of the presidential election.?
Deputy Spokesman: The official results are not expected for, I’m told, about a couple of weeks. So no, the official results…there are some reports today, based on a very high percentage of votes counted in some areas. But we don’t have the official results yet, and the update that I have is the latest. We will certainly keep you posted on the elections there that we are obviously counting very closely.
Question: Marie, I believe, the G-77 has written a letter to the Secretariat, and the Secretary-General objecting to the creation of the new ethics office, the oversight, what to you call it, office and another rule of law unit that he was about to create over and above the objection, I mean, without getting the approval, I think, from the Fifth Committee or ACABQ. And they say that this is basically a U.S.-driven, what do you call it, initiative and they’re bypassing the normal procedures and why is that it is happening?
Deputy Spokesman: I haven’t seen that G-77 letter. Let me look into it that right after the briefing.
Question: Now that we know all about the previous findings by the Joint Disciplinary Committee because of the very comprehensive Associated Press piece, can we get a comment from the Secretary-General, one, on what he is intending to do, in response to the recommendation. And two, to the finding of the committee that was sympathetic to the argument that Stephanides was a sacrificial lamb.
Deputy Spokesman: On your first question, yes. The Secretary-General does intend to respond to the disciplinary committee ruling by Monday, which is the deadline. And on your second question, I think many of the questions will have to wait for the Secretary-General’s response to answer your questions. On your second point, again, I just want to reiterate that Joseph Stephanides was the only sitting staff member against whom there were adverse findings by the Volcker Committee, and that was the basis for the decision taken.
Question: Given that we’ve got just one day left…one working day left for the deadline. Therefore we’re obviously going to hear on Monday what the decision is. Maybe we can get the Chief of Staff down here to answer our questions since I think he played a rather prominent role in explaining why Mr. Stephanides was fired in the first place.
Deputy Spokesman: The answer to that question again was that Mr. Stephanides was the only staff member that the Volcker Committee found had violated staff rules. That is something that, as you know, Mr. Stephanides himself had admitted, maybe I can finish the sentence, and as you know the Secretary-General based that decision on the recommendations based on those findings. And in terms of the response, as you know, the Secretary-General did also take…did lift the immunity of another staff member who had left...but as you know the case of Mr. Yakovlev, who is in jail. As far as your request to have Mark Malloch Brown come here and brief, I will certainly pass that on.
Question: Has Mr. Stephanides been provided with a copy of the ruling at this point?
Deputy Spokesman: You’d have to ask Mr. Stephanides that.
Question: As a matter of interest, why was the Secretary-General trying to hide this finding about Stephanides? I asked about it on Monday and I was told there was nothing and there was, and I knew there was. So clearly there’s been an attempt to hide it. Why is that?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think there was an attempt to hide it. I had no information on it for you. And as I said, the Secretary-General intends to respond by the deadline on Monday, and that’s when we’ll have something for you.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a position on whether it’s appropriate for Detlev Mehlis to negotiate a memorandum of understanding governing the investigation in Syria?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have a specific answer to that, but I think the Secretary-General has said that he trusts his very efficient and highly qualified prosecutor to conduct his investigation in the way he sees fit.
Question: About Joe Stephanides, in the Volcker report, it said there was a public reading of the bids on July 30, 1996. The reason Stephanides was fired was for conversations that took place with the British in early August 1996, i.e., after the public readings of the bids. Can you explain to us how Stephanides could have been fired for revealing information that had been revealed in the public bid days before?
Deputy Spokesman: I can’t go into details of this, as you know, because the Secretary-General’s response to this ruling has not gone yet, but in terms of what you said about Stephanides, my answer is the same in that the decision, the punishment was based on the fact that he violated staff rules. And I really don’t want to get into the details of the case, but he himself has admitted he violated staff rules.
Question: You’re saying that it’s a fact that he violated staff rules. You’re saying that at a time when the joint disciplinary committee has found there isn’t a fact that he had violated staff rules. Do you accept the joint disciplinary commission’s analysis or not?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is what is being looked into. The punishment at the time was based on the fact that he had violated staff rules. It was in the Volcker report. It was revisited again, and he was found to have violated staff rules, which he himself has admitted to doing. So the recommendations for the disciplinary action taken was based on that. As for whether we were hiding this ruling or not, I think in this case, Nick of the Associated Press did some good reporting and got a scoop.
Question: Great respect to his scoop. I approached Farhan after I heard about this over the weekend. I approached Farhan with very specific questions and no one got back and they were like we haven’t heard anything and that was the end of that.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think this scoop came from the Spokesman’s Office.
Question: No, I know it didn’t, but I’m saying, in response to a specific question on the basis of information that I knew exactly what this ruling was. But the Spokesman’s Office, I’m not necessarily blaming the Spokesman’s Office, that’s why I said the Secretariat earlier, for whatever reason has decided to hide this information or react to this information even with regard to very specific questions from journalists. It looks like you’re hiding something and I don’t understand why you would have hidden this.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I said, I was not hiding anything. I would have given you the information as soon as I had it.
Question: The Secretariat incorporated was hiding this, trying to not let it come out. Why is that?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think there was any attempt to hide it. I think the ruling was being considered and that’s why we’re saying today that it is being looked into.
Question: You’re only actually now responding to this because it was printed in the Associated Press, but the fact was there before, as presented to you and questioned to you by journalists.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay, your point is noted. But today is the day that you’re asking me further questions, and I’m responding to them because Nick does have this story out now.
Question: Does the Secretary-General still believe that he’s guilty despite the staff rule, the (inaudible) ruling of the finding that was spelled out in the Volcker report? Regardless or whether or not they’re going to reconsider the punishment, does he still believe he committed an offence?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the fact still stands. As I mentioned, the Volcker report did find that Mr. Stephanides did violate staff rules. He said so himself. And the United Nations, the Secretary-General, took a decision based on the recommendations from the relevant departments based on that. So that fact hasn’t changed. So what I am telling you now is that we are taking into account, reconsidering the severity of the punishment, and we will get back to you on that as soon as we have the response.
Question: To your recollection has this Secretary-General ever rejected a recommendation from the JDC?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know the answer to that question.
[She noted later that the Secretary-General at times does not accept the JDC’s recommendations, and that the matter only then be taken up by the UN Administration Tribunal.]
Question: Is it unusual for a joint disciplinary committee to overturn or reject an action by the Secretary-General?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know. I’ll have to take a look into that. [She later said that it was not unusual.]
Question: The other day in the press conference given by OIOS, we heard that in an audit of peacekeeping procurement irregularities, the audit had found what were described as technical violations of staff rules. Can you tell us if there has been any action to discipline any United Nations officials in relation to those violations of staff rules? And if there hasn’t, why not?
Deputy Spokesman: Well I’d have to ask OIOS. OIOS investigations are probably still ongoing, but let me check with OIOS.
Question: Are there any other cases that are sort of pending, that are sort of in the appeals process? Either retired United Nations officials or others? Are there any other cases like Stephanides that are coming down the pike?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll have to check that for you. [She later told the reporter that there are on other oil-for-food-related cases pending.]
Question: On Mehlis, the Syrian officials seem to refuse to send the six individuals to Lebanon to be interrogated, and they would be willing to send them elsewhere. What’s the position of the Secretary-General on that specific issue?
Deputy Spokesman: I think that the Secretary-General would leave that decision to Mr. Mehlis. As for the Secretary-General’s position, I refer you back to his comments he made earlier this week on that subject.
Question: On Iraq, Saddam’s lawyers are again repeating, their call for an ad hoc United Nations tribunal to take this case and get it out of Baghdad where he could be tried in a somewhat less hostile environment. Is the Secretary-General considering that request, or would he be amenable to setting up such a court?
Deputy Spokesman: I’d have to look into that. I don’t have a response to that right now. [She later said that the UN did not have a mandate from the General Assembly or Security Council to take up that request.]
Question: The other day we had a renewal of the Iraq mandate the multinational force but also a renewal of the arrangements of the IAMB, of which the United Nations is the chair. I was wondering if the United Nations intends at any stage to talk about the oversight of what’s going on with (inaudible). We made a request the other day for the Controller to come down or one of his staff to speak to us. I mean we’ve had nothing but obstruction, obstruction, obstruction, from the United Nations in terms of reporting. Not one briefing, not one helpful comment, not one anything, and I’m wondering, seeing as you’re the Chair of this committee, could the United Nations please, now that they’ve had a change of leadership, take its responsibilities and talk about what’s going on in the IAMB for us?
Deputy Spokesman: We have requested for that briefing. I’ll have to follow up on that request. They did post the minutes of that meeting on their website that we did flag to you, and we also said that we’re still pursuing the request for the briefing.
Question: Along the same lines of the questions we are not getting answered, I’d like to revive the question of where the Mercedes is, and whether any disciplinary action has been taken against any United Nations official involved in apparently fraudulently claiming tax discount for that Mercedes.
Deputy Spokesman: James, it’s like a broken tape recorder. My answer is the same. I have nothing further to say on that subject.
Question: In the backdrop of the Stephanides ruling, does that mean that other people who had been removed after the Volcker Commission would also be -- if they go to the panel -- could also be reinstated? I mean the case of Benon Sevan or anybody else. I mean they could all do it.
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, you’re asking a hypothetical question. I Benon’s case, he has retired. I mean this disciplinary committee is there for staff members.
Question: When the Secretary-General spoke to the Saudi King, did he ask him to intercede with the Iraqi factions and unite their efforts and go to the reconciliation conference?
Deputy Spokesman: In his discussions, obviously Iraq came up. I don’t have that degree of detail, but I can certainly look into that for you. [She later said that the Secretary-General had said that the reconciliation conference initiative was encouraging.]
Question: Did Mr. Annan intercede, discuss the Lebanese questions issues with the Saudis during his meeting with the King?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll look into that for you. [She later said that they had exchanged views on that matter in their Wednesday meeting.}
Question: Was the Secretary-General scheduled to stay in one of those hotels in Amman?
Deputy Spokesman: If he were, I’m not sure we would be telling you for security reasons. But my understanding is that, all the hotels in that area are very close together.
Question: On Mehlis, I must ask, why does he refuse to go to Damascus to interview if they were willing to talk to him there?
Deputy Spokesman: I think you have to ask Mr. Mehlis this question. I mean this is an independent investigation.
Question: You keep referring to this as an independent investigation. In what way is Mr. Mehlis’s investigation independent? Isn’t he a United Nations appointed person? Isn’t he paid by the United Nations? Doesn’t he report to the United Nations? Wasn’t this last report apparently edited by the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: What I meant is he is taking his decisions about the course of the investigation that is ongoing.
Question: It is a housekeeping point. We have another ad hoc security problem. Print journalists have been told that they cannot wait outside a respectable distance from the roped out area waiting for ambassadors coming in or out without having an escort from MALU. They’ve been told that this has always been the case and it’s quite demonstrably not the case. We’ve never needed MALU escorts for print escorts outside the General Assembly Hall. This is another case of a new rule, an ad hoc rule, that has not been discussed, that has not been told to us and just pops in, apparently arbitrarily. This is not acceptable. This is not good journalism. Many people complain that we only cover the Security Council. We’re outside the General Assembly Hall and now you’re trying to make it difficult, not you but someone, and this is the problem I don’t know who this someone is, that’s trying to make it difficult for us to cover. This doesn’t help the General Assembly, it doesn’t help the General Assembly President. It doesn’t help his agenda or anybody else’s agenda and you’re tying up a very valuable staff member to sit outside with us for hours on end doing nothing. So I would need to have that on the record. Despite what some guards are telling us, this is not the standard procedure, and not only does this specific arbitrary ruling have to stop, but this whole process that’s been going on since the Summit, without any rhyme or reason, has to stop as well.
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of your concerns and I was in touch with DPI, which is taking the lead on this, and they are conducting discussions right now with Security to address your concerns. They told me to assure you that your interests are at heart, and they’re trying to negotiate an entire package, and they’re doing everything possible to ensure the best access for you, and that they would be doing so in consultation with UNCA, but I take your point and I am aware of your concerns.
Question: But can you assure me that print journalists can be down in the GA, which is in session right now at 3 pm? They can, as they also have been able to do, be down there doing their jobs with the ambassadors without an escort?
Deputy Spokesman: I cannot assure you of that, but I know that DPI is working with Security on this, and that’s all I have for now. But I’ll try and get you an update after the briefing.
Question: Has there not been a change of the rule?
Deputy Spokesman: I understand that due to security concerns they are requiring escorts on the GA second floor hall area.
Question: Security concerns? What’s the new security concerns that wasn’t concerns before?
Deputy Spokesman: I think they’re talking about the general concerns about security, but as it is, a security matter, I am not aware of the specifics.
Question: Are they worried about GA ambassadors but not worried about Security Council ambassadors?
Deputy Spokesman: I have no further information on this. All I can tell you is that the discussions are ongoing right now to try to solve this problem.
Question: On behalf of UNCA, that if there are security concerns, UNCA deserves to know exactly what the security concerns are, and why a policy that’s been in effect as far as I can tell from the beginning of the United Nations is being changed without even consulting the people who are most affected. Because this basically would cut for print journalists one of only two places where we have the opportunity to reach out and talk to Permanent Representatives. And in effect if those journalists are kept behind those glass doors, nobody’s going to see us. I mean we are going to be standing there, blocking doorways, beckoning ambassadors to try and come and talk to us, and as Jim said, the end result is going to be that there isn’t going be any significant coverage of the General Assembly. And while we’re talking about what happened and what these new rules are, Security has also prevented some of us from actually going down the escalator to the delegates’ entrance and then walking down the stairs into the basement. And that is also something we have never been barred from doing.
Question: This notion that we now begin a negotiation, and a negotiation means only that we’re going to lose access. We used to be able to walk in through the delegates’ entrance, to leave the building through there. Little by little, there’s another reconsideration of security. It’s always focused on the press, and it’s always carving away our space. And there’s a special area that goes from the Security Council out to the delegates’ entrance, which allows us to do a remarkable level of reporting and creates access that we don’t have and that is not going to allow us to do our jobs properly, and they have done this. They tried to bar the windows in the lounge in the Security Council. Every couple of years, there’s an effort to bar access to reporters. So if you could just convey, and even if you could have this new guy who does security, to have him come down and talk to us, to try and make a case because this is outrageous, and it really is a huge infringement on our ability to do our work properly.
Question: As far as I know, there has been no incident ever of a correspondent creating a situation endangering anyone else. Other situations have arisen where the journalist has been the potential victim, and we all have cases of non-journalists who have presented threats. So just to follow Colum’s point, that we are never the problem and while all of this does it make it harder for us to do our legitimate work?
Question: This whole attitude that somehow we are the enemies. The way the security guards behave. They try to look us down and push us around. That is also a problem.
Deputy Spokesman: Can I turn it over to the General Assembly Spokesperson now?
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
In the General Assembly, the joint plenary debate is expected to continue through this afternoon on the report of the Security Council and the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council.
On Monday, the General Assembly will hold a debate in plenary on the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, among other items. Action under consideration includes draft resolutions on the Indian Ocean tsunami, the South Asian earthquake, and the Chernobyl disaster.
Upon investigation following the requests from Member States, given that the report is not formally a UN document being submitted to the General Assembly, it was felt that it was not appropriate to reproduce it as an Assembly document, and that Member States have had access to the report on the website for the Independent Inquiry Committee.
G-77 letter: The letter from the G-77 and China is expected to be issued as an official document on Monday, at their request. The President received the letter and commented that he has read it carefully.
He said that the letter mainly addresses the Secretary-General's report on "Implementation of decisions from the 2005 World Summit Outcome for action by the Secretary-General" (A/60/430). The issues raised primarily fall within the purview of the Secretariat.
As part of the follow-up and implementation of the 2005 World Summit Outcome, informal consultations of the plenary of the General Assembly on management reform are planned to start soon. Within the framework of these consultations, which will be headed by two co-Chairs, Member States will have the opportunity to discuss a range of management issues, including those raised in the G-77 and China letter.
As the President stated in the informal plenary meeting on 7 November, the role of the Fifth Committee and ACABQ is crucial for the consideration of matters falling within their areas of competence.
Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Just on the security issue. I mean, the President received some complaints about a month ago, at the time of the elections for the Security Council, and we followed up with DPI. We were told by DPI, at the time, they had meetings with Security, and that it had been straightened out. But, obviously, it hasn’t been, so I’m sure the President will be very concerned, obviously.
Question: Every time one of these things comes up, it’s straightened out, and a week, 10 days later, a brand new one comes up.
Question: I think what you’re hearing is a resentment that a freedom of press issue is being portrayed as a security issue.
Spokesperson: Yes, I’m sure he’d be very concerned. We’ll do everything we can…
Question: Can we ask him, as the General Assembly President, to intervene with the UN Security Coordinator to make sure that there’s continued access to the bulk of UN membership who do sit in the General Assembly and never make it onto the Security Council?
Spokesperson: I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can with DPI to…
Question: Would you let us know in the next day what he has done?
Spokesperson: …working with DPI.
Question: (inaudible)… the nature of complaints?
Spokesperson: About a month ago, there were also complaints about press access to delegations exiting the GA Hall. I don’t know the details. I don’t remember the details.
Question: Is the General Assembly President aware of any additional or new security concerns that might justify changes in the security set-up there?
Spokesperson: We were told that it was being straightened out between DPI and security, so I don’t really want to reopen this discussion.
Question: Obviously, you’ve been sitting on your hands. Will you now please get off sitting on your hands and do something, is what I’m asking?
Spokesperson: We’ll definitely make our voice heard. But, I think DPI is trying to address it. It’s not like there’s…
Question: (inaudible)… out of these complaints, were who delegates felt offended that somebody asked them a question? Or were they security concerns, please? Because there is a difference.
Question: (talkover)… Committee on Public Information been notified of any changes in security? Have they been consulted in the changes of access by the press to the delegations in the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: I don’t think the Committee plays that role. Just to turn to what’s happening in the Assembly, have we cleared this matter up, or at least taken a position on it? …
* *** *