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

17 November 2005

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

17/11/2005
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

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General in Pakistan

The Secretary-General arrived today in Pakistan, where he will attend the donors’ conference for earthquake reconstruction that is to be held on Saturday.  He met at the airport with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister and they spoke to the press after that meeting, saying that much more is needed in terms of resources to deal with the response to the earthquake.

He added that what will take place in Pakistan is “recovery plus”, in which houses are not just rebuilt, but built in a manner that can withstand another disaster.

The Secretary-General also met with the UN country team working to deal with the disaster, and received a briefing from them on the situation.

Tomorrow, he is expected to visit some of the areas that have been hardest hit by the earthquake, including the city of Muzaffarabad.

**WSIS

The Secretary-General, together with a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Wednesday night unveiled a prototype of a cheap and rugged laptop for children, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis.

The low-energy green laptops, which are powered with a wind-up crank, will let students interact with each other while learning.  Speaking at the “One Laptop Per Child” event last night, the Secretary-General noted that the $100 laptops are to be financed through domestic resources, donors and possibly other arrangements, at no cost to the recipients themselves.  They are to be distributed through education ministries using established textbook channels.

Calling the laptops an “impressive technical achievement,” the Secretary-General said that they were able to do almost everything that larger, more expensive computers could do.

**Security Council

The Security Council, as you know, today held consultations on Afghanistan, on which it heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, on events following the September Lower House and provincial elections.

In the weeks since those elections, the independent Electoral Complaints Commission has rendered its decision on some 900 complaints.  The Commission ruled that, while irregularities did occur, systematic fraud did not take place across the country and the certified electoral results are legitimate.

Guéhenno also discussed recent security developments in Afghanistan, including the car bomb attacks on Monday.  You’ll recall that we issued a statement on that.

Guéhenno also briefed the Council during closed consultations, under “other matters”, on the situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

**Capital Master Plan

The latest report by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on the Capital Master Plan to refurbish UN Headquarters in New York, is out as a document today.

A senior UN official will be here at 1:15 p.m., in about an hour’s time, to brief you on where the Plan stands today.

**Tsunami

The Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President Bill Clinton, will be making his second trip to the tsunami-hit region, in his UN capacity, later this month.

He will be in Sri Lanka on 29 November and Aceh on 30 November.  He will then head to Brussels on 1 December to brief the European Commission on ongoing needs.  There’s a media advisory on this planned trip upstairs.

**UNESCO

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today announced the launching of a new travel initiative to promote sustainable tourism and awareness of World Heritage Sites.

The new body, called the World Heritage Alliance, was created by the travel company Expedia and the United Nations Foundation, with the cooperation of UNESCO.  We have more details on this initiative in a press release by UNESCO upstairs.

**Climate Change

In a new publication linked to the UN Climate Change Convention, the UN Climate Change Secretariat confirms that developed countries, taken as a group, have achieved sizable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Compared to the 1990 levels, overall greenhouse gas emissions of these countries were down 5.9 per cent in 2003 –- but the secretariat warns that further efforts are required to sustain these reductions.  And there’s more information on that up stairs, as well.

**IAMB

Regarding the IAMB [International Advisory and Monitoring Board for Iraq], we have been informed that the members have agreed to hold a press conference after their next meeting in early December.

The dates are still being finalized.  We will get back to you on the precise date, as soon as it is set.

In the meantime, if you have any specific questions right now, you can raise these with the IMF’s William Murray, either by telephone or e-mail.  And we have his contacts for you upstairs.

**Independent Inquiry Committee

And also in response to some of the questions we’ve had in the last couple of days on the extension of the Volcker Committee, the United Nations is finalizing arrangements for access by Member States and others to the documentation that has been amassed during the course of the Committee’s work.  The aim is to provide the widest possible access to documents for duly authorized law enforcement and regulatory agencies, consistent with confidentiality agreements and other arrangements agreed by the IIC in collecting the information.

Separately, the IIC is being extended until, at least, the end of December 2005, in order to facilitate cooperation with any criminal investigations by national authorities seeking to follow up on the findings of the IIC’s final report.  When the IIC is formally closed, the UN will ensure that arrangements are put in place to manage future access to the IIC’s files and ensure full cooperation with new or ongoing investigations by appropriate national authorities.  The IIC will not be conducting any further investigations.

And on the question of funding, this is under discussion but likely to be financed in the same way as earlier phases of the IIC.  The expected costs would be much smaller than during the investigative phase, as it requires a smaller team to facilitate access to the information.

And that’s what I have for you.  And a reminder at 1:15, we will have a briefing on the Capital Master Plan.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you please update us on the Mehlis investigation?  There are many reports saying that we might have... the venue would be either under the UNIFIL in south Lebanon or under the supervision...  Could you please tell us what’s happening?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further on Mehlis for you.  We have been saying all along that Mr. Mehlis is in the lead on this and let’s let him speak on his investigation.  The Secretary-General, as you know, has both spoken publicly and has directly been in contact with the Syrian authorities and his latest conversation with President Assad took place last night.

Question:  Since the Secretary-General has not spoken out against the use of white phosphorus by the US forces in Falluja, and admittedly by the British forces, chemical weapons, so does this mean that the Secretary-General believes, or could you say that Saddam Hussein when he used the chemical weapons against his people was not OK, but now it’s OK?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have just two points on that issue.  We are aware of the reported use of white phosphorus in Falluja last year, and are concerned about its effects on the local civilian population.  We welcome the decision of the Government of Iraq to launch an immediate investigation into this matter.

Question:  The mandate of the IIC was extended to the end of December, but after that, does the United Nations envision that it will control the IIC records, because some Member States I understand are concerned that if the records go back to the United Nations they might be shredded or something like that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I just read a statement, you may not have been here…

Question:  I understand you read a statement, but the statement does not address the question of who will control?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s because those discussions are currently being decided between the OLA, the legal department of the United Nations, the Iraqi authorities, and the Volcker commission.  And I mentioned that we are finalizing the arrangements for access by Member States and others to this documentation with the intent of the widest access possible.  A decision has not been reached, and, therefore, I cannot answer your question the way you phrased it.

Question:  What is the view in these negotiations (inaudible)?

Deputy Spokesman:  The view is that the United Nations would like to provide the widest possible access to documents.

Question:  I understand, widest possible access?  Does that entail that the United Nations will have full control of them and then whoever wants to have it will have access?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is precisely what is being discussed now, and as soon as we have something that has been finalized we will announce it to you.

Question:  Can you tell us the name of the person in the legal department who is conducting those negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have that name, but I can find out for you.  [She later told the reporter the discussions were being led by the head of the Office of Legal Affairs.]

Question:  You mentioned access by legal authorities, but Paul Volcker last year did not contain it in that way.  He just said that evidence would be provided to the fullest possible extent.  Is there intention to provide access to the press or the general public?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I said, these arrangements right now are being finalized.  I really have nothing further of what is going to be made available for whom.  I read this statement to clarify the procedures that are taking place right now.  And as you know, the Volcker Commission is still in existence now, so they are there to answer these questions to the end of its existence.

Question:  The story in the New York Sun today, about raising the question of whether or not the United Nations counter-terrorism coordinator is the same person as somebody called Javier Ruperez, listed on the Volcker lists as being the recipient of oil allocations.  Has the United Nations conducted any investigations of this matter, and reached any conclusions about whether or not this is the same person?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as the United Nations is concerned, as you know he was nominated by the Secretary-General and his appointment was approved by the Security Council, and his candidature was vetted, and he even filled out a financial disclosure in accordance with regulations and nothing irregular was found.  As for Mr. Ruperez’s comments, I would like to get those words for you.  I would like to get back to you with that.

Question:  So my question was whether the United Nations had actually conducted any investigation and reached its own conclusions, beyond obviously speaking to Mr. Ruperez and the fact that he filled out a financial disclosure form?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Ruperez’s name did not come up in the Volcker Report.  There was no need for the United Nations to look into it any further based on some Spanish media allegations.  And according to Mr. Ruperez, I think he took a legal action against those publications and they retracted those allegations.

Question:  In response to the letter by the US Ambassador, where he expressed concern, has the Secretary responded to him that the documents would be safeguarded, and that they will not be shredded.  I mean he had expressed (inaudible) So has the Secretary responded to him?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of a letter, I don’t know, let me find out about that.

Question:  His name does not appear, but the name of the party that he has headed was noted in that report, and he is the only one with the name so similar that appeared in the Arabic lists (inaudible).  So the United Nations is not even trying to figure out what went down?

Deputy Spokesman:  The United Nations does not see any reason to do so for the reasons I just mentioned.

Question:  Can the UN assure Member States that the guy fighting terrorism for the Organization has not received oil on occasion from the “oil-for-food” program?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Ruperez’s name does not appear in the Volcker Report, and, therefore, there is no reason for the United Nations to believe otherwise.

Question:  I know that.  Have you contacted the Spanish Government and asked them?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you may want to follow up with Mr. Ruperez.  But Mr. Ruperez says that his candidature was nominated by two subsequent Governments, and that he himself has been willing to disclose any financial information that was deemed necessary and that, as I just mentioned to James, I think he sued the publications and they retracted their allegations.

Question:  I don’t think they retracted.  Did Mr. Ruperez notify the United Nations that he was having a legal proceeding, oil-for-food related, when he was appointed?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have an answer to that specific question, but I know that his candidacy was vetted thoroughly, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Question:  You say that his candidacy was vetted thoroughly.  You seem to be basing it on the fact that the Secretary-General recommended him and he was approved by the Security Council.  Was this information in the Volcker Report available at the time that he was vetted by the Security Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  His name has never come up in the Volcker Report.

Question:  There’s an ambiguity about the name.  Let’s not pretend that his name hasn’t come up.  A name that is similar in Arabic transliteration has come up linked to a party that is the same party.   Now what we want to figure out is, is this the same guy, and what we’re asking you is, can you assure us that it is not the same guy?

Deputy Spokesman:  There is no reason for us to believe that he is the same person.  He has not been named and, therefore, we have nothing further on this subject.

Question:  We asked a couple of questions about Mr. Janneh, the person who obtained the $14,000 customs exemption for the Mercedes purchased in the name of the Secretary-General by the Secretary-General’s son.  We asked who the people were on the board, (inaudible) three USGs on the board, who decided on the promotion?  You were going to find out who they were?  And also, what was the timing of that meeting to approve the promotion?

Deputy Spokesman:  I mentioned to you, I believe it was in July, but let me dig up the dates from here.  The three people on the board I believe were the Under-Secretaries-General for Political Affairs, for Peacekeeping Operations, and Legal Affairs.

Question:  Given that the decision to promote him was taken in July, it wasn’t actually announced until September 19th.  Can you explain the delay?  And the second question is, given that subsequent information came to light in the Volcker Report, that he had in fact obtained a $14,000 tax exemption, was there any effort to revisit the board decision in light of new information contained in the September Volcker Report?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further on Mr. Janneh’s appointment.  As I mentioned earlier, he was appointed to this position based on his record at UNDP.

Question:  Mr. Janneh’s biography says that after he had his time in Ghana, during which he made this deal to make this tax exemption, he was then the next year... he became Mark Malloch Brown’s... leader of his transition team when Brown took over UNDP.  And then quite quickly after that, he was appointed to Assistant Secretary-General.  I was wondering what rank Mr. Janneh was when he was serving as the UNDP (inaudible) rep in Ghana?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think that is something UNDP can get back to you on right away.

Question:  The monies for the extension given to the Volcker Committee, is it fair to understand that it will come from oil-for-food again, the money?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I mentioned, what is likely to happen will probably follow along the lines of the previous arrangement.

Question:  The other day you said that the issue of the Mercedes is right now not a United Nations matter, is that still the same?  Are you sticking by that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further to say than what I said the other day.

Question:  I had asked about the problem we have, if the Secretary-General is saying that it is not a United Nations matter, you might be seen to be saying to the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], which is meant to investigate things, that it was not something within their competence to investigate?  When you say it’s not a United Nations matter, you’re speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General presumably, not speaking on behalf of OIOS?  Can we get a view from OIOS of whether a United Nations staff member seeking and getting a tax exemption at the behest of somebody who is not a United Nations staff member, would be considered a worthy investigation, and would be considered a United Nations issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further to add…

Question:  I’m asking you, since you’re the only spokesperson we have, to go to OIOS and get a statement from them on whether they consider it a United Nations issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  You are free to consult with OIOS, but from the information I have given you, I have nothing further to say on this matter.

Question:  Does OIOS have a press liaison person?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think if you call them you can find that out.  I will try to find out for you if they have a liaison person, but I think if you call them they will talk to you.

Question:  Somewhere out there is a Mercedes which was registered, last we knew of it, in the name of the Secretary-General.  The Volcker Report did not follow up on that aspect.  But it would seem to me to be of some concern to the United Nations, especially since previous cases involving fraud have been listed pertaining to false customs declaration.  Should we understand that the Secretary-General has zero interest in pursuing this matter of what happened to this car in his name?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have nothing further comments on the issue of this car and that’s what I have to leave it at.

Question:  In Claudia’s piece in the National Review the other day, she quoted Mr. Janneh as saying that he did not, and was not, required to consult anybody at the United Nations when he sought and obtained the $14,000 tax exemption.  Is it correct, in general, that a United Nations official can seek and obtain a $14,000 tax exemption at the behest of an outsider who is not employed by the organization, without seeking any authority from somebody in the organization? 

Deputy Spokesman:  James, I have nothing further on Mr. Janneh.

Question:  The question was broader than that though.  Can a United Nations official acting in his or her official capacity seek a tax exemption from somebody who is not employed by the United Nations, without seeking approval from somebody higher up at the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll look into that for you.

Question:  When the first allegations came out saying that Benon Sevan was involved in the oil-for-food scheme, the United Nations defended him and we took initially your word for granted.  Why would we now take your word for truth?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s up to you.

Question:  Of course it’s up to us, but why should we believe, and why doesn’t the United Nations want to pursue it when there’s a pattern of officials covering their acts and allegedly telling something to the Organization until things are discovered by other means?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I mentioned in the beginning on this case, there was no reason to believe.  Mr. Ruperez’s name was not cited in the Volcker Report, and his candidature was vetted, and he filled out the financial disclosure, and he himself has brought a suit against those media reports that claimed this association, and he says that those allegations had been retracted, and he is willing, he says, to open up his financial records to anyone who has asked him to do so.

Question:  I’d like to ask him to open up his financial records to me, that would be very nice, if that’s what you mean.  I’d also like to ask, given that Mr. Sevan’s name was originally misspelled on the list and was rendered, Sifan, does the United Nations now accept that the Mr. Sifan spelled, Sifan, is Mr. Sevan, spelled Sevan who was the head of the oil-for-food programme?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have no comment right now on the Volcker Report, but I could look into that for you.

Question:  I asked a couple days ago to get for us the rules about high-level United Nations officials serving simultaneously on boards of outside organizations.  Did you manage to do that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I thought we looked into that for you, but if we haven’t, let me get back to you because I know we looked into that for you.

Question:  It sounds like you’re in an awkward spot with this Mercedes.  Someone has told you that you should simply say that you have nothing further to say.  Who is it that gave you that instruction?  Does it come from the Secretary-General, from Shashi Tharoor, from, in other words, at what level has somebody made the decision that the United Nations is absolutely unwilling to comment on this car in the name of the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  I am the official Spokesman for the United Nations and I take my guidance from the Secretary-General ultimately.

Question:  The Secretary-General is not in town, so should we assume this is Mark Malloch Brown?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think I answered your question.

Are there any other questions?  If not, the Capital Master Plan briefing is at 1:15.

Thank you.

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