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

23 November 2005

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

23/11/2005
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

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, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Good afternoon.  Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, will be joining us today to launch the Afghan Opium Survey.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General this morning briefed Security Council members during consultations on his recent trip to the Middle East.  The topics he touched upon included:  terrorism; Syria and Lebanon; and the Israeli Palestinian peace process.  In a formal meeting following the consultations, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Ethiopia and Eritrea, by which it deplored Eritrea’s continued restrictions on the movement of UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) personnel and demanded that Eritrea lift its ban on UN helicopter flights.

The Council is also expected to adopt today a presidential statement on Afghanistan and a press statement on the Blue Line.

**Secretary-General/ Liberia

“The Secretary-General welcomes this morning’s announcement by the National Elections Commission of the official results from the Liberian presidential run-off elections.  The results show that Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of the Unity Party received 59.4 per cent and Mr. George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change 40.6 per cent of the total valid votes cast.

“The Secretary-General notes that the National Elections Commission will continue to conduct active and open hearings on the complaints received concerning the conduct of the run-off elections, in accordance with the established legal procedures.  He urges a timely conclusion of this important process in order to allow all Liberians to focus on the urgent tasks of national reconciliation, reconstruction and good governance.  The Secretary-General wishes to assure the newly-elected Government of the continued support of the United Nations, as Liberia lays the foundations for lasting political stability and sustainable economic development.”

And that statement is available upstairs.

**Kosovo

Martti Ahtisaari is today wrapping up his first visit to Kosovo in his role as UN envoy for Kosovo’s future status talks.  Today he met with representatives of the Kosovo Serb community and other minority communities, as well as with Pristina-based representatives of the Kosovo Contact Group.

At a press conference that concluded just moments ago in Pristina, Ahtisaari said that the pace of the status process would depend on the parties, but would ultimately be determined by himself, in consultation with the Secretary-General.  He also noted that he had asked all interlocutors to come forward with position papers detailing their ideas on ways forward.

Mr. Ahtisaari also noted that he would be supporting the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, in the implementation of standards.

Ahtisaari arrived in Kosovo on Monday and will head to Belgrade tomorrow morning.

** Burundi

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Burundi is on the Security Council web page.  In it, he urges the Government, as well as the international community, to adopt a common approach to resolve the armed conflict in that country.

He also recommends the extension of the mandate of the UN Mission there for a further six months, until 31 May 2006.

And we do expect to have the Secretary General’s Special Representative in Burundi, Carolyn McAskie, here some time in the next 10 days to brief you.

** Niger

The World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that unless the international community acted now, Niger would face a second successive year of extreme hardship.

According to WFP’s latest food security assessment, more than 1.2 million people only have enough cereal stocks for the next three months, while a further 2 million are only covered for the next five months.

WFP still requires more than $20 million to fund its current emergency operation until March of next year.  And it says that there could be a break in food deliveries as early as next month if donations are not forthcoming.

And we have details available upstairs.

** Cambodia

As you'll recall, the Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia Concerning the Prosecution under Cambodian Law of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea was signed at Phnom Penh on 6 June 2003.

The Secretary-General is currently in the process of identifying individuals whom he might nominate for appointment to the following positions -- International Judges, International Co-Prosecutor, International Co-Investigating Judge and International Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber.

The shortlist of candidates who will be interviewed in early December has been posted on the UN website.

**Other Announcements

And we have upstairs an embargoed press release from UNICEF on gender gaps in education.

And I do want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving.  Today is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  The Spokesman’s Office will be staffed on Friday, but we do not plan to have a noon briefing unless there is breaking news.  We will post, however, highlights and statements on our web page approximately after 12 noon on Friday.  But if you are here we will be here to answer your calls and queries.

That’s it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Farouk al-Shaara letter, I would like you to answer me.  Did Mr. Annan answer to Farouk al-Shaara regarding the letter?

Spokesman:  No, the letter, I think, was received yesterday.  It is being studied and has not yet been answered.  But I think the Secretary-General in the last couple days, notably on Monday, made his position clear in that his message to the Syrian authorities is that they must cooperate with the Security Council resolutions.  As to the details of the cooperation between Mehlis and the Syrian authorities, as to interviews and location, those discussions will be led by Mr. Mehlis himself.

Question:  Do you have an update on the Jerome Ackerman/Dileep Nair investigation?

Spokesman:  No, but I will be happy to get you one after the briefing.

Question:  Because I mean there was that (inaudible)

Spokesman:  I will get you something.

Question:  The other question I had was -- you know there’s a lot of talk right now about the impending budget crisis.  Can you say what would happen if the UN did not have a budget in place by 31 December?  I mean, presumably it has some sort of liquid reserve where it could fund programmes for a little while, but would the building essentially have to shut down?  Would people not get their paycheques, and the UN sort of just have to stop operating until a budget was approved?

Spokesman:  It’s a question I’m not really able to answer on the mechanics of it, as to what would happen.  The Secretary-General, when he spoke on Monday, said obviously it would make it very difficult for us to operate and plan without a budget.  So we very much hope there will be an agreement by the Member States on the budget before the end of the year.

Question:  There is a Reuters story out of Beirut saying that when Kofi Annan called President Assad, they reached an agreement on the location where Mehlis could question the officials, and, they write, Mehlis ultimately rejected the compromise proposed by Assad and Annan.  Did they discuss that?  And did they offer the compromise?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of the content of those phone calls.  I think there were two calls to President Assad last week.  But as I said, the issue of the mechanics of the interviews -– where they will take place –- that is Mr. Mehlis’s decision and his only.

Question:  So Kofi Annan didn’t offer any mediation (inaudible)?

Spokesman:  No, he is not negotiating for Mr. Mehlis.

Question:  Mr. Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, is in China these days visiting Chinese detention centres.  Does he intend to also go to Iraq to investigate what happened in Iraq recently, torture of Iraqis by the Iraqi Government, apparently, and Abu Ghraib prison?

Spokesman:  As you know, the Special Rapporteurs are independent, but we’d be happy to check with his office as soon as we’re done to see what his travel plans are.

[The Spokesman later informed the journalist that there were no requests or plans for a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture to Iraq.]

Question:  Ms. Carina Perelli, who’s involved with the Iraqi elections, will she be coming here to brief us?

Spokesman:  We are working to get a briefing for you... probably by Mr. Gambari on the Iraqi elections and his recent trip to the Middle East.

Question:  A follow-up on this request, can we see Ms. Carina Perelli?  I mean she was in Iraq; we have specific questions to ask her.  Could we be briefed by her as opposed to Mr. Gambari?

Spokesman:  Well, I think you know the Electoral Assistance Unit reports to the Department of Political Affairs, and Mr. Gambari will provide you with a full…when he comes down, he’ll provide you with a full briefing and, I’m sure, answer all your questions.

Question:  With regard to Syria, when was the last time the SG spoke to the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.  Was it last week?

Spokesman:  It was last week, that’s correct.

Question:  Has he spoken to the US Secretary State recently with regard to this issue?

Spokesman:  I will have to check on when the last time he spoke to Ms. Rice was.

[The Spokesman later added that the Secretary-General and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have not spoken by phone in the last two weeks.]

Question:  Finally, did Mehlis get the date from the Syrians as to when they will respond by, on the issue of interviews?

Spokesman:  No, I have no information from here on the details of Mr. Mehlis’s discussions, but he does have a spokesperson in Beirut, who you can get in touch with.

Question:  There are a lot of pings here, a lot of suggestions that the Secretary-General is more involved in this then he’s willing to say.  I mean the conversations with Assad, a possible letter telling him to back off.  I mean it seems like there’s a lot more here going on than you’re really willing to say beyond just the deference to Mehlis.  What is the Secretary-General’s role here?  Is he working behind the scenes?  Is it with Mehlis’s blessing?  What’s he doing in this situation?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s role is to get the Syrians to cooperate, and that is the message he has given them in all the conversations and contacts he’s had with them.

Question:  I mean is he cutting side deals with them?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mehlis is the chief investigator, and he will be the one who will decide how these interviews are conducted and where they are conducted.

Question:  Has he asked the Secretary-General to approach Assad and try to cut some deal with him?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General is not negotiating on behalf of Mr. Mehlis.

Question:  Has the UN however put at the disposal of Mr. Mehlis the potential use of its Vienna or Geneva headquarters, for instance?

Spokesman:  We will do whatever we need to do to facilitate Mr. Mehlis’ work, and whatever he will ask of us.  And I’m sure once a decision or a deal is struck between Mr. Mehlis and the Syrians, he will announce it out of Beirut and we will do whatever we can to support him.

Question:  So just to follow up on that, has Mr. Mehlis approached you for the potential use of any European locations?  What locations are being discussed?

Spokesman:  You know, that’s a logistical detail… can you let me finish my answer please?  I said that’s a logistical detail.  We will make available whatever UN facility we need to make available to Mr. Mehlis so he can conduct his work.  The important thing for him is to reach an agreement with the Syrian authorities.

Question:  Just to follow up on that, has Mr. Mehlis approached you for any European sites?

Spokesman:  As I said, whatever location we need to make available to him, we’ll make available to him.

Question:  But has he asked you?

Spokesman:  I have nothing further to add to that.

Question:  Can you go back to the Secretary-General and check with him whether they did discuss with President Assad the use of the Golan Heights UN offices for interviews?  Since you say that he’s not involved in details of the negotiations, can you go back and give us the assurance that he did not discuss that with President Assad?

Spokesman:  I’ve said all I have to say.  If I have anything to add as the day goes along, I will.

Question:  When Secretary Annan called President Assad, did he ask him to perform the interrogation in UNIFIL in South Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mehlis will decide with the Syrians where to hold these interviews, and whatever facilities we need to make available to him, we will make available to him.

Question:  I have another question regarding the tract from the Israeli plane.  They sent it into Beirut.  Do you think… do you have any reaction from the Secretary-General on this particular subject?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General has in his statements condemned the violations of the Blue Line, and has called once again on both sides to respect it.

Question:  A follow-up on the question of the budget crisis.  Of course this is going to create a major problem for you.  Will you be briefing us on this and give us an update as to what are the ramifications of such a...?

Spokesman:  We can get you more details.

Question:  Specifically, could the UN address the difficulties that might be encountered with doing just a three-month budget?

Spokesman:  We can get you more details.  Obviously having a three-month budget blocks us from planning anything for the long term, and limits our ability to work, and that’s why I think, in his statement two days ago, the Secretary-General encouraged them to pass a budget, and if we would need to, we would come back with supplementary spending requests.

Question:  I’m just wondering also if you might spell out, at least there’s a certain sense, the way the budget works now, because the U.S. and maybe Japan pay later in the year; the Europeans pay earlier.  You use the Europeans’ entire budget to fund things up front, to fund things in the first half as it were, and the US later (inaudible) you would only have three months of European money?

Spokesman:  We can see if we can get you a bit more on the mechanics.

Pragati.

Spokesperson for General Assembly President

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson held a press conference this morning in Geneva, following two days of consultations on the Human Rights Council and other Summit follow-up issues.  He said that intensive negotiations on the Human Rights Council would begin next week in New York on the basis of a paper, which will be influenced also by the talks he had held in Geneva.  He noted that there are widely different views on the size of the Council -- some countries suggesting 30 members; others 70 or 80 –- and also different views on whether members should be elected by two-thirds majority or a simple majority.  He said, “We know that this is a complicated negotiation, but it is important that we try to finalize it together before the end of the year”, to ensure a smooth transition between the current Human Rights Commission and the new Council.

The Assembly met in plenary this morning and adopted a number of reports forwarded from the main committees, including appointments for various bodies and financing of the UN operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti.  It also adopted without a vote a draft resolution on the report of the International Criminal Court.

The Third Committee is wrapping up its work today, and is expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions, including on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and also in the Sudan.  Yesterday the Committee approved a draft resolution on the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.  By that resolution, the Assembly would strongly call on the Uzbek Government to cooperate with UN human rights officials and grant permission for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the incident that took place in Andijan last May, in which street protests erupted into deadly violence.  That was approved by a vote of 73 in favour to 38 against, with 58 abstentions, after a “no-action motion” was voted down.

There will be no meetings of the General Assembly on Friday, and I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to find out, now that the President of the ACABQ has been released from prison, is he going to be back on the job, or is the ACABQ going to select somebody else for the position?

Spokesperson:  The ACABQ has elected new members and they were actually approved by the plenary this morning.  That was one of the actions that was taken.  So one of the Vice-Chairs will be functioning as Chair until the end of the year and they will elect a new Chair.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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