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

25 January 2006

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

25/01/2006
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 the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

** Lebanon

I will start off with a statement on Lebanon:

“The Secretary-General has requested the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Nicolas Michel, to travel to Beirut this week.  Mr. Michel will meet with Lebanese officials to discuss the process for helping the Lebanese authorities to identify the nature and scope of the international assistance needed for those charged with the killing of former Prime Minister Hariri and others when they are to tried by a tribunal of an international character in keeping with resolution 1644, which was passed last December. ”

**Security Council

The Security Council today held closed consultations on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to discuss the latest report by the Secretary-General on that mission, which recommended a six-month extension for the peacekeepers. The Council was briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi.

After that discussion, Council members have now moved into an open meeting to adopt a presidential statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They will now go into a formal meeting to adopt that statement and I think they are doing that right now, as a matter of fact.

**Secretary-General in Davos

Turning to the Secretary-General, who, as you know, is in Davos, where he attended the opening media lunch at the World Economic Forum, on “The Impact of Sports in the World”. He talked about sports as a powerful tool for fostering understanding, tolerance and peace, noting that the United Nations is drawing increasingly on the potential of sport in its work around the world.

The Secretary-General said he believed the period of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, is long enough for people who are destroying their own countries and killing each other to pause for a moment, look around them and see the damage they are doing. He added, “Hopefully some of them will not pick up the weapons again and realize there is another way.”

The Secretary-General also held a number of meetings with the leaders from the business and political world and opinion makers gathered at Davos. Among them, he met with Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. Tomorrow evening, the Secretary-General will address the plenary discussion on “A New Mindset for the UN”.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, has called on all parties in Darfur -- and in particular the rebel movements there -- to exercise restraint and to allow humanitarian workers free passage. His calls follow an attack Monday by the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) on an 80-truck convoy in North Darfur, in which around 20 Government police officers escorting the vehicles were killed.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) says that one of its helicopters crashed shortly after take-off today in the village of Dyalla near Golo in the Jebel Marra area, in West Darfur. The helicopter had been carrying 3 crew members and 13 staff members from non-governmental organizations.

The latest information from the Mission is that one of the passengers is missing and that the rest survived unharmed.  The helicopter had been sent to Dyalla to evacuate NGO staff members due to fighting in the area between the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

** China

From China: China’s AIDS epidemic shows no signs of abating, according to a report released today by the Chinese Ministry of Health, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report shows that an estimated 70,000 new HIV infections occurred in China in 2005, and that 650,000 people are now living with the virus there.

UNAIDS and WHO commend the Chinese Government’s work on improving its surveillance systems and data collection, but also urge it to support further work on HIV prevention, treatment and care throughout the country.

We have a press release available upstairs with more information on that.

** Uganda

Also from the World Health Organization (WHO), it says that more than 200,000 vaccine doses and syringes are needed to immunize approximately 133,000 Ugandans, following a meningitis outbreak in that country. The majority of the 175 cases, which include 11 fatalities, have been reported in western Uganda, but four cases have been confirmed in neighbouring Kenya as well.

So far, WHO and its partner Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) have provided enough medicine to treat between 800 and 1,000 patients. WHO is also working with UNICEF and the Ugandan Ministry of Health to alert communities, increase awareness, and bring about quick referrals of suspected cases to designated health facilities. And we have a press release available on that upstairs.

** Kenya

Turning now to northern and eastern Kenya, which has been plagued by drought, the World Food Programme (WFP) today said that it would run out of food aid within weeks for 2.5 million people there, unless new donations were received immediately.

Warning that a “humanitarian disaster” was brewing, the agency said it didn’t even have enough for the 1.2 million people it was currently feeding, let alone for the expected increase to 2.5 million next month. And we also have a press release on that upstairs.

** Iraq Monitoring Board

And a quick note on the IAMB: the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for Iraq met this week in Paris. We wanted to alert you that its next press release could be out on the IAMB website as early as Friday, but more likely early next week. 

**ILO

And the International Labour Organization (ILO) today said the world is facing an “unprecedented global jobs crisis of mammoth proportions”.  In a statement issued at the World Economic Forum in Davos, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said the number of people out of work, worldwide, is at its highest point ever and continues to rise.

He said about half of the unemployed are young people. Mr. Somavia urged delegates to make decent, sustainable work a top priority in development planning, and to promote training.  And a press release is available on that.

**UNIFEM

I have a couple of events I want to flag for you for tomorrow: The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is kicking off its 30th anniversary year with the appointment of actress Nicole Kidman as its new Goodwill Ambassador.

The Fund will hold a press conference tomorrow in this room, where Ms. Kidman will be introduced by UNIFEM’s Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer. In her new role, Ms. Kidman will work with UNIFEM to advance women’s rights and gender equality around the world, focusing special attention on critical gender concerns, such as ending violence against women.

That press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. in this room.

**Holocaust Remembrance

As you know, this week is Holocaust remembrance week, and tomorrow morning, from 10 a.m. until noon, the Department of Public Information’s Non-Governmental Organizations Section will hold a briefing on that topic in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium. Dan Gillerman, Permanent Representative of Israel, and Judea Pearl of the Daniel Pearl Foundation will speak.

Also tomorrow, a candlelight vigil will be held in the Visitors’ Lobby from 6 to 7 p.m., with Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Shashi Tharoor introducing six Holocaust survivors, who will each light a candle representing the 6 million Jews who died and read excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And on Friday, in addition to the main event -- which will be held in the General Assembly -- in Zurich, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with Auschwitz survivors and young people to mark the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

And that’s it for me. Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Do you have the names of the NGO’s involved in the Sudan copter crash?

Spokesman: I do not, but I can find out for you after the briefing.

Question: I have a number of questions about the Mercedes. William Taylor, Kojo Annan’s lawyer, told reporters that the car is no longer owned by Kofi Annan. So I’d like the Secretary-General’s explanation of the transfer of ownership. How did it take place and when? Who was the ownership transferred to?

Spokesman: Do you want to give me all your questions?

Correspondent: I’ll wait for your response.

Spokesman: You know, I think you have the lawyer’s number and I would encourage you to call him and discuss these issues with him. The vehicle is, at this point, Kojo Annan’s business, and we have nothing to add.

Question: Can you confirm that the Secretary-General no longer owns the car?

Spokesman: I have nothing to add concerning the car.

Question: On the documents that were provided by Mr. Taylor, it was clear that, when the car was imported into Ghana, it was owned by Kofi Annan. Can you confirm that?

Spokesman: I think that the whole saga of the vehicle is explained in Mr. Volcker’s report, which made it clear that the Secretary-General was not aware of what his son had been doing in his name. The Secretary-General has pressed his son to settle the issue of compensation with the Ghanaian authorities, and that is happening.

Question: How was the Secretary-General not aware of his son’s purchase, when the Secretary-General himself provided $15,000 towards the price?  

Spokesman: I think if you read the report, it says clearly that the Secretary-General provided money to his son to purchase a car and was not aware that the vehicle was being purchased in his own name. 

Question: Well then how did he ultimately get a diplomatic discount on the car? Why did Mercedes think that the car was being purchased for the Secretary-General? Does the UN have any explanation?

Spokesman: You would have to ask Mercedes.  The Secretary-General’s involvement with the vehicle is laid out in the Volcker report, pages 230 to 235. Now, hold on a second and let me share the wealth a bit, and I’ll come back to you, James.  

Question: On the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) procurement inquiry, Andrew Toh, one of the officials who has been sidelined with pay, has been quoted in the press as saying that there is discrimination going on or some kind of vendetta. Can you respond to that charge?  

Spokesman:  No. Mr. [Under-Secretary-General for Management, Christopher] Burnham explained to you that there were a number of people put on “special leave”, which is an administrative rather than disciplinary issue. We will not speak about specific names or cases from here.

Question: What is the status of [Jerome] Ackerman’s inquiry into [former Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services] Dileep Nair, which, at this point, you said is open-ended. Is there a timeline for his…

Spokesman: As soon as I am able to provide you more information on that I will.

Question: What is the status of the release to missions of the OIOS inquiry report? Has it been withdrawn for revisions or deletions as some have alleged? 

Spokesman: The OIOS audits are in the process of being made available to interested Member States from the OIOS office.

Question: Is it two reports or one?

Spokesman: There is an OIOS audit which will go out to Member States and that process is underway.

Question: So is it two versions of the same report?

Spokesman: All I know is that the version that OIOS is putting out is their version.

Question: Why is Kojo Annan paying back the money and not the UN? As I understand the situation, the car was imported to Ghana in the name of the Secretary-General. So the diplomatic exemption was given to the United Nations, because it was purchased as a diplomatic vehicle. The United Nations or the Secretary-General owned the car, so why is the Secretary-General not paying back the $14,103 customs duty?

Spokesman: As Mr. Volcker said, and as we’ve said, the car was purchased in the Secretary-General’s name without his knowledge. This is now a matter between Mr. Kojo Annan, his lawyers and the Ghanaian authorities. The Secretary-General very much hopes that his son will be able to settle this matter and do the right thing.

Question: According to the lawyer, the car was involved in a serious accident in November, about the time that I started asking questions in this room. I understand that it is now no longer usable. Given that Kofi Annan had paid $15,000 towards the purchase of the vehicle and it was, at some point, in his name as the legal owner, was the Secretary-General aware of this accident and why did you not tell us about it?   

Spokesman: The issue of the car is Kojo Annan’s issue. I will come back to you if you have more questions, but there are other people in the room.

Question: Does the Secretary-General have a position regarding the Russian offer to transfer Iran’s uranium enrichment programme to Russian territory? 

Spokesman: The Secretary-General and the UN are very closely watching the discussion between the Iranians and the Russians, which appear to be encouraging.

Question: There is a report that the Secretary-General has received a letter from 600 or so Iranian academics. Can you tell us anything about that?

Spokesman: No, this is the first I’ve heard of it, but I’ll be happy to check for you.

Question: Did the Secretary-General have any reaction to [French President] Jacques Chirac’s statement that nuclear weapons might be a good idea to use at some point? How might that affect the Iranian situation?

Spokesman: You know, the Secretary-General has often talked about the importance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has made it clear that Member States need to demonstrate their seriousness in dealing with issues of non-proliferation and disarmament. He very much believes that all nations need to show their commitment to the NPT and take concrete measures to ensure that nuclear weapons will neither be tested nor used.

Question: So he was not pleased by Chirac’s comments?

Spokesman: I have the statement I’ve just given you.

Question: Could we have some comment on reported statements by the Secretary-General that the special session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not likely to refer the Iranian situation to the Security Council. Does he favour the issue not being referred to the Council at this stage?

Spokesman: That referral will be up to Member States. I think the Secretary-General has always looked for continued discussion within the IAEA framework and he has also appealed to the Iranians not to escalate and to forgo their nuclear fuel research. The Secretary-General is currently meeting with [IAEA Director General] Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, so maybe I’ll be able to get more on that for you afterwards.

Question: Maybe you could explain what indications the Secretary-General had that caused him to say that the matter was not likely to be referred to the Council?

Spokesman: I’ll try to get you something.

Question: Can you put on the record the latest on why [Mukhtar Mai of Pakistan] was not allowed to speak here on Friday. Was it a mistake?

Spokesman: It was a very unfortunate incident. The decision to cancel the event was taken within the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Senior management was unaware of the event, and it’s a pity that we weren’t, so that we could have found a forum at an appropriate date to speak in this house. She should be able to speak in this house.

Let me add that, following a phone call this morning between the Chief of Staff and the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Munir Akram, we will now be contacting the NGO which had sponsored her visit to New York, and see how we can bring her back here to give here a platform from which to speak in this house. And form what I understand, that would be an event co-sponsored by both the UN and the Pakistani Mission.

Question: So it’s not as some have been quoted as saying, look the Member States control everything…

Spokesman: It’s clear that Ms. Mai should have a platform to speak. Her story is an important one. The Pakistani Prime Minister has expressed support for her and we will now make an effort to bring her back here.

Question: On the role of Abdoulie Janneh in the purchase of the Mercedes, it’s clear from the documents released by the lawyers, it is clear that he was seeking to import the car in Kofi Annan’s name and also that he wanted regular license plates. Is that normal for a Secretary-General to purchase a car for his personal use and request regular license plates? Can you explain why a UN official was applying for a car with normal licence plates?   

Spokesman: I have absolutely nothing further to add to what is in the Volcker report regarding Mr. Janneh’s…

Question: But these documents have just come out…

Spokesman: This issue of the car is being dealt with by Mr. Kojo Annan, his lawyers and the Ghanaian authorities. Kojo Annan is, at the urging of his father, trying to do the right thing by repaying the Ghanaian authorities.

Question: But the fact remains that after months of questioning about how the car was purchased with a diplomatic discount in the first place. There was a memo on the Secretary-General’s Personal Assistant’s computer, asking his legal advisor whether he should right a letter to Mercedes. Now nobody can remember what happened and the memo has disappeared. Now, do you have an explanation about how this car was purchased?

Spokesman: You should put those questions to Mr. Kojo Annan’s lawyer.

Question: Why would Kojo Annan’s lawyer know that?

Spokesman: I have nothing to add to that, thank you.

Question:  It would be great this kind of persistence getting to the bottom of the Niger forgeries. I’m reading the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) draft, and one of the points is on support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon. I have recently done a series of interviews with Lebanese Americans who are working covertly with the American Government to try and destabilize the situation there. What is the UN’s position on this type of thing? 

Spokesman: I don’t have the details of exactly what you are referring to, but the Secretary-General is working very hard with the Lebanese Government and his Special Envoy, Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen on exactly the integrity of Lebanon.

Question: Is there any position on doing a census, which has not been done since 1932, so that every faction can be represented statistically?

Spokesman: I think that would be up to the Lebanese authorities.

Question: On the mission that’s headed to Lebanon, does the UN at this point have any ideas or recommendations about the possibility of expanding the investigation? What about follow-up?

Spokesman: Well, there are two tracks here. Mr. Michel is working on bringing ideas about what the international character of any eventual tribunal could be. As for the expansion of the investigation, that is something that Serge Brammertz is working on the ground directly with the Lebanese Government.

Question: What are the ideas that Mr. Michel is…

Spokesman: This is a first mission. And it’s a bit of a listening tour as well. He will see senior Lebanese Government officials to hear their ideas and see what we can bring to the table. It’s the beginning of a dialogue.

Question: Are there any countries which have offered their national territories as a possible place to host a tribunal?

Spokesman: I think we first have to get a feel for what the Lebanese Government and people want. It’s the beginning of a process, and I think it’s a little early to discuss whether a tribunal would be held inside or outside Lebanon.

Question: Does the UN continue to caution against the expansion of the investigation?

Spokesman: As I said, Mr. Brammertz is working on that with the Lebanese authorities within the resources that he has.

Question: But does the UN have a position on this?

Spokesman: The position is that we are working with the Lebanese authorities and Government to see what is best for Lebanon.

Question: Has Mr. Janneh taken up his position yet as the Under-Secretary-General of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)?

Spokesman: To the best of my knowledge, he has.

Question: For the record, did Kofi Annan authorize the use of his name for the obtaining of diplomatic discounts in the purchase of a Mercedes?

Spokesman: The purchase of the car in the Secretary-General’s name was done without his knowledge. That is what comes out of the Volcker report and that is what the Secretary-General has said.

Question: Is there a length of time for switching from a UN job to the private sector for those in the procurement department. Are there any rules and regulations?

Spokesman: I don’t believe there are regulations on the books having to do with that. But that is one of the issues the new ethics office would look at.

Question: On the OIOS procurement report. You said it is available today?

Spokesman: The report is making arrangements to make it available to Member States.

Question: So it’s not available yet?

Spokesman: We would have to check with OIOS. It’s a mechanical thing, and we know that they are preparing to give it to them.

Question: This is for Member States who request it?

Spokesman: Right.

Question: You mean the rest of the Member States? The ones that don’t have it already?

Spokesman: The General Assembly resolution passed last year says these audits are available to Member States upon request.

Question: Well, the United States is not going to get their copy after Togo and they have theirs already…

Spokesman: I speak neither for the United States nor for Togo.

Question: Is there a deadline for the financial disclosure forms to be completed?

Spokesman: Off the top of my head, I believe it is March 15, but I’m happy to check that for you.

Question: Is Maurice Strong in any way coming back to the UN?

Spokesman: As far as I know, his status is unchanged from what we have said previously.

Question: The OIOS reports will not be made available to us, right? Only the Member States?

Spokesman: That is something we are taking under advisement.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

Assembly President Jan Eliasson is in Vienna today, where he has been holding meetings with UN officials and with the Federal President of Austria, Heinz Fischer. We have available a summary of the press briefing he gave there yesterday, summarizing the status of the negotiations on UN reform. Tomorrow, he will be travelling to Sweden, where he will be receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala.

This morning, the informal consultations of the plenary on management and Secretariat reform are meeting for the first time in the New Year, to consider the review of mandates requested in the World Summit Outcome. Assistant Secretary-General Bob Orr briefed the Member States on the status of the Secretariat’s work in this area, emphasizing the sheer magnitude of the task, but that they are on track to issue their report at the end of February, as scheduled. He presented the template they propose to use in providing the data, and comments and suggestions were then being made by delegations. 

Consultations on the Human Rights Council were held yesterday, chaired by Ambassador {Ricardo Alberto] Arias of Panama.  Delegations were invited to comment on the non-bold portions of the negotiating text, that is, the issues that have not been the main focus thus far. These comments were completed, and delegations agreed on the timetable proposed by the President, that the Co-Chairs will table a new text on the 1st or 2nd of February. Ambassador Arias will continue to hold bilaterals for the remainder of this week. And we have available upstairs a transcript of the recent stake-out by the President and Co-Chairs on the Human Rights Council, if you wanted to use any of those comments.

On the negotiations on development and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) reform, consultations among groups have been going on informally, and a revised text from the Co-Chairs is expected by the end of tomorrow. Informal consultations of the plenary are being scheduled for early next week, with the hope of finalizing the two draft resolutions in mid-February.

And that all I have.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Other than the Holocaust remembrance, are there any other special scheduled remembrances of mass murder and mayhem on the UN calendar?

Spokesperson: They do hold remembrances and observances, like the Rwanda genocide, but I’m not sure what the official status of those would be.

Question: Could you investigate and get back to us?

Spokesperson: Sure.

Question: On the Human Rights Council: The next text will be roughly around February 1. There was some thought that there might be a vote on that sometime in mid-February. Does that target date still hold?

Spokesperson: Yes. They are expecting to have an intensive round of informal consultations of the plenary. to negotiate the new text, probably in the second week of February, with the hope of reaching an agreement around that time.

* *** *

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