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

22 December 2005
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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

22/12/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

The 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.

Briefing by the Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

Our guest today will be the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Christopher Burnham, who’ll be joining us to discuss with you the new whistle-blower protection policy we mentioned to you earlier this week.

**Security Council

The Security Council has no more meetings planned -- scheduled at least -- until the end of this year.  Yesterday, it adopted three resolutions, which extended the mandates of the United Nations Operation in Burundi, the United Nations Disengagement Force in the Golan Heights, and the panel monitoring human rights and other violations in Darfur.  It also adopted a fourth resolution, demanding that foreign fighters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo disarm.

The Council also issued four presidential statements that demanded an end to atrocities by all parties in Darfur, reviewed counter-terrorism mechanisms, commended the Congolese people on their recent referendum, and agreed with the Secretary-General’s view that the Middle East will remain “very tense” until an all-encompassing settlement for the region’s problems can be reached.

The Council also held consultations on Eritrea and Ethiopia, with a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi, as well as on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

**Eritrea-Ethiopia

In fact, from the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), they tell us that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and Adjacent Areas remains tense and potentially volatile.

However, Ethiopian troops have started pulling back in keeping with Security Council resolution 1640, and the pullback is being monitored by peacekeeping patrols.

Nonetheless, the Eritrean Government’s ban on the United Nations Mission helicopters is still in place, and restrictions continue on the movement of peacekeepers inside certain sectors of the Temporary Security Zone.

The Mission says it is still trying to monitor the Zone and Adjacent Areas with these limitations in place, but in the past week, they have conducted some 779 ground patrols.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Mission there reports that United Nations peacekeepers along with Congolese soldiers have been taking part in a joint operation against local armed groups in the north-eastern province of Ituri.  Approximately 300 Nepalese peacekeepers and an Indian-piloted gunship have been providing support for more than 1,000 soldiers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s national army.

In the fire fight this past Monday, in which two Nepalese platoons were participating along with an Indian gunship, seven militia members were reportedly killed, as well as one Congolese soldier.  The operation is aimed at rooting out armed groups in the Nioka area, which is about 75 kilometres north-east of Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province.

** Sudan

The United Nations Mission in the Sudan says that several United Nations agencies are sending personnel to North Darfur where some 8,000 refugees are returning to Sudan from Chad, following attacks by Chadian opposition groups.  And we have more upstairs in a press release from the Mission.

**Israel-Palestine

And the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says it has signed an agreement with the Government of Israel in which the UNDP will be in charge of cleaning and rehabilitating the area of the recently evacuated settlements in the Gaza Strip.  The project, funded with a $25 million grant from the Israeli Government, is aimed at boosting the economy of the Gaza Strip, the agency said.  And we have copies of that press release available upstairs.

** Iraq -- Oil-for-Food

This is regarding the Volcker Panel.  The Secretary-General has written to Paul Volcker, as chair of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) into oil-for-food, to inform him that he has agreed to Mr. Volcker’s request to extend the life-span of the Commission until the end of March 2006.  This extension is exclusively for the purpose of assisting national authorities who wish to follow up on the findings included in the Commission’s reports.  Having fully completed its investigation, the IIC will not retain any investigatory capacity or authority.

Starting 1 January, the follow-up entity will be called the Office of the IIC, headed up by an Executive-Director, who will be Reid Morden, who, as you know, served as Mr. Volcker’s Chief of Staff.  The three commissioners, Mr. Volcker, Mr. Pieth and Mr. Goldstone, will remain on board on an advisory capacity only.

The Permanent Representative of Iraq had also written to the Secretary-General supporting this request, and the Secretary-General has informed the presidency of the Security Council of this new set-up.

** Iraq --IAMB

Also on Iraq, the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) for the Iraq Development Fund will be holding one of its periodic meetings next week.  This will be held at United Nations Headquarters on 28 and 29 December.  We do expect the members of the Board to hold an actual live press conference here in 226 for your benefit on 29 December.

As you know, the Board, which operates under a Security Council resolution, is made up of representatives of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development.

**Tsunami

And lastly today, at 1 p.m. there will be a press conference in this room to mark the one-year anniversary of last year’s devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean. 

The key actors in the recovery effort will take stock of progress achieved and highlight existing challenges, and a report by the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former United States President Bill Clinton, will be released.

The speakers will include Eric Schwartz, the Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery; Margareta Wahlstrom, the Assistant Humanitarian Affairs Chief; as well as representatives from the World Bank, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Rescue Committee.

And on a related note, we have press releases available upstairs from the United Nations Population Fund detailing its work to restore reproductive health facilities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives, as well as press releases on the recovery efforts from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

That is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Volcker extension, is there any budgetary implications (inaudible)?

Spokesman:  That extension will cost about $1.25 million.

Question:  It will come out from oil-for-food?

Spokesman:  It will come out from what remains the 2.2 account.

Question:  As a follow-up to yesterday’s press conference and one non-answered question asked by my colleague, Mr. Roth, does the Secretary-General feel that in order to answer the question about the car that he partially bought, and that was bought in his name, he has to be a spokesman, or a lawyer for someone who happens to be his son?

Spokesman:  I think I will not engage in any Monday morning quarterbacking about yesterday’s press conference.  The Secretary-General was here for close to an hour.  He spoke to you at length, and his answers stand.  And I have absolutely nothing to add.

Question:  I wondered if you had any comments on an article written in the current issue of Harper’s magazine sent to United Nations correspondents, and the thrust of which that the United Nations is not reformable under present conditions, and that the only person who can save it is former President Bill Clinton.

Spokesman:  I have not yet read the article.  It’s long.  It’s on my desk.

Question:  On the budget, do you have any update?

Spokesman:  Let me just add -- we do believe this Organization is reformable.

Question:  Do you have any update on the budget that’s going down to the wire?

Spokesman:  Down to the wire -- yes -- minute before midnight.  The discussions are extensive and exhaustive, and we do very much hope the Member States will agree on an outcome.

Question:  I need to clarify a point you made on Monday in your answer to questions relating to the interview Mr. Mehlis gave to Asharq al-Awsat, which was published last Saturday.  At one point -– it has led to some confusion -- at one point you talk about Mr. Mehlis being misquoted.  Could you clarify please if you meant that he was misquoted by the newspaper, by the interviewer, or in some excerpts that were picked up by some wire services?  You had said that some were the quotes that were identified as Mr. Mehlis’ in some of the wire copy were, in fact, erroneous, but it’s being misinterpreted.  Can you please clarify?

Spokesman:  We have absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of the interview as it was transcribed on the English language Website of Asharq al-Awsat, no reason to doubt the veracity as it appeared in the newspaper.  What I was referring to was some of the rewrites done on the interview out of Beirut by other news outlets, which I think misquoted and misinterpreted what Mr. Mehlis had said.

Question:  Can you specify which quote?

Spokesman:  It was especially the quote relating to the demand by some countries, as some of the rewrites had stated, which was not mentioned in the actual interview.

Question:  (Inaudible) ... actually quoted him verbally saying that he said someone was asking for the report to be rewritten.  Just for the record.

Spokesman:  That’s correct.

Question:  This new Deputy Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General.  Was she recommended by Maurice Strong?  Just want to know. 

Spokesman:  Not aware at all of her recommendation by Mr. Strong.  She is a very strong candidate having worked in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and she will start off in February.  We look forward to having her on board.

We’ll have Pragati and then Mr. Burnham.  Thank you.

**Briefing by Spokesperson for Assembly President

Good afternoon.  The informal consultations on the Human Rights Council concluded work for the year yesterday morning with a positive atmosphere.  It was agreed to resume intensive negotiations on 11 January, when most delegates will be back in New York, with the aim of finalizing an agreement.  The consensus among delegations was that, because of time pressures caused by the adoption of the Peacebuilding Commission later than expected, as well as by the holidays and the budget talks, it would be more productive to reconvene in January at a time when delegates could focus and achieve a quality result, rather than to rush through an agreement at a busy period.

Intensive talks on the budget for 2006-2007 are continuing today in informal sessions, seeking to bridge positions put forward by different groups.  There has been some progress, although there is more work to do.  The General Assembly President is deeply engaged in finding a solution.  He has set the deadline for tomorrow and is still working on that expectation, and, therefore, a plenary meeting is being scheduled for tomorrow to take action on the budget. 

The Assembly is meeting in plenary this morning to take action on a number of draft resolutions forwarded by the Second Committee on various development issues.

And later today, the President will be sending out a year-end letter to all Member States, reporting on the status of all the Summit follow-up negotiations.  And we will circulate that to you as soon as it has been distributed.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you define Human Rights Council negotiations a bit more?  From what I hear, they’re far apart, which is the reason it was delayed, and that in Geneva the spokesman for the Human Rights Commission said he expected to have another session of the discredited one this spring.

The way you described it now, it looked like they were reaching some kind of agreement, which they may on the budget, that seems to be moving, but not the Council.  Can you give us any more information?

Spokesperson:  I was told that the atmosphere was very positive yesterday, that they’re bridging positions, even though there are still disagreements, but they’re working them out.

I was also told that there’s been an emerging expectation over the last month or two that the Commission on Human Rights would have to meet again in March-April, even if it’s just to finish up business, and make a proper transition to the Council.  So there’s expectation of that.

Question:  But the expectation after the Summit was that that thing was dead.  And now because they can’t agree on it, it’s going to meet again.  No?

Spokesperson:  That’s not the position that the President’s point person for the Human Rights Council is taking.

Question:  What’s the scenario for the plenary of the General Assembly tomorrow?  Is it going to be held at five minutes to midnight?

Spokesperson:  They haven’t set a time -- morning, afternoon, night.  It’s definitely down to the wire.

Question:  How firm is that deadline concept?  Is tomorrow "do or die", and is there at least a time given as to when they would want to wrap up when the deadline is, is a specific time given?

Spokesperson:  They haven’t set a time for the plenary, and that’s as much as I know.  They’re quite firm, the President’s quite firm about trying to meet that deadline, partly because it would be more productive.  Many delegations won’t have staff here next week, or the proper staff to reach an appropriate political agreement.  So he’s pushing hard to get the political agreement this week -– to get the best agreement.

Question:  What time is President Eliasson’s trip to Stockholm tomorrow?

Question:  Has he cancelled it?

Spokesperson:  No, he still has a ticket for tomorrow night.  I think he has several tickets, maybe one for Saturday, as well.

Question:  On the Human Rights Council, does the main sticking point continue to be whether [election for] membership to the Council should be by two thirds or by simple majority?  Is that the sticking point?

Spokesperson:  There are a number of points that still need to be bridged –- the selection of the members of the Council, the arrangements for universal review of human rights records of all the countries, the procedures for country-specific resolutions and how they would be handled.  There are quite a few issues, but that was expected.  Everyone knew that there were different positions, and it’s been going well, from what I’m told by the President’s Office.  And it’s not a case at all that it’s broken down or stalled.

Question:  Has the President been assured that most of the delegates will be back by 11 January at the ambassadorial level, in other words, at the decision-making level?

Spokesperson:  The consensus from his talks with delegations is that they’ll be back in business -- the tenth is a holiday and on the eleventh people should be back.

Great.  Thank you.

* *** *

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