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

31 January 2006

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

31/01/2006
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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General

The Secretary-General opened the London Conference on Afghanistan this morning, which he co-chaired along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In his opening statement, the Secretary-General said that we can be justifiably proud of Afghanistan’s progress in recent years.  But we cannot be complacent.  He warned that “recent violence has served as a sad reminder of the fragile state of peace in the country.   Afghanistan today”, he said, “remains an insecure environment.”

The Secretary-General also noted the launching today of the Afghanistan Compact, which he called “a result-oriented action plan for Afghanistan’s future”.

On the sidelines of the conference, the Secretary-General had a number of bilateral meetings, including with Prime Minister Blair and President Karzai.  He also met with the Foreign Ministers of China, Denmark, Germany, Iran and Norway, as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan.

** Middle East Quartet

Following their meeting in London yesterday evening, the Quartet on the Middle East -- which, as you know, brings together the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation -- issued a joint communiqué, which was read out by the Secretary-General at a press conference.  In the communiqué, the Quartet congratulated the Palestinian people on an electoral process that was free, fair and secure.

The Quartet, in that statement, concluded that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new Government would be reviewed by donors against that Government’s commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the “Road Map”.  Speaking to reporters afterward, the Secretary-General said that, if Hamas accepts those principles and transforms itself from an armed movement into a political party respecting the rules of the game and representing its people, “the international community should be able to work with them”.  We put out the communiqué, as well as the transcript from the press conference yesterday evening.

**Security Council

Just a bit earlier today, the Security Council was briefed in an open meeting on the Middle East about last night’s Quartet meeting in London, as well as on the recent Palestinian elections.  And that briefing was delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane, in which she noted the new Palestinian Government had yet to be formed.

She also informed the Security Council that a visit to Lebanon by Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel last Thursday and Friday had been constructive and fruitful, with Michel reporting a broad basis of support in Lebanon for the establishment of a tribunal of an international character.  And that is, of course, concerning the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as a number of other people.

The Council followed the open briefing with consultations on the Middle East.  In their consultations, Council members also discussed the renewal of the mandates for the United Nations Missions in Lebanon and in Georgia.  And the Council is intending to vote right now on both those mandates.

The Council also began its work this morning by unanimously extending the mandate of the expert panel on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And that extension runs through July of this year.

**Kosovo

Despite welcoming the preparations for the future status process of Kosovo, the Secretary-General says in his lasted report he is seriously concerned about delays or setbacks in most areas of standards implementation in the province.

In his latest report on the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, the Secretary-General also says that Serbian authorities need to encourage and not discourage Kosovo Serb leaders to take part in Kosovo’s institutions, such as local government.

The Secretary-General also expresses concern about the increase in serious security incidents.

And you can read more about this in his report, which is out on the racks today, as is the Secretary-General’s report on the preparations for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

** Pakistan

Turning to news from Pakistan, Larry Hollingworth, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, told reporters in Geneva today that a lot has been achieved for the victims of the earthquake.  He said about 800,000 tents, 240,000 shelters and 5 million blankets, and 5 million sheets of corrugated iron have now been provided to people displaced by the quake in Pakistan.  There has been no major health crisis, he added.

At the same time, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that it is still short some $200 million from its initial appeal.

**Bird Flu

And the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that the Iraqi Ministry of Health had confirmed that the 15-year-old girl who had died on 17 January in Iraq had been diagnosed with bird flu.

A WHO team will leave tomorrow for Suliamaniya in northern Iraq, where the girl, her uncle and a third suspected case have also been found.

As for the situation in Turkey, the WHO collaborating laboratory in the United Kingdom has confirmed that 12 of the 21 cases that were suspected from Turkey were, indeed, bird flu.  And four of those people have died.  And we do have more upstairs on that.

**World Food Programme in Afghanistan

And the World Food Programme (WFP) today said that although the number of persons suffering from hunger in Afghanistan had dropped by some 2.5 million in the last few years, outside assistance is still needed to feed some 6.5 million people daily in that country.

The agency launched a hunger appeal for $360 million at the beginning of this month, but has, so far, received about 11 per cent of that sum.

**Press Conferences

And a couple of press conferences to flag for you, one for this afternoon.  The Permanent Mission of Oman will be sponsoring a press conference on the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will be held in Oman in April of this year.

And at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Ambassador Adamia of Georgia will be here to brief you on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.

And at 1 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Slovenia will sponsor a press conference on the topic, “Tsunami Response:  A Human Rights Assessment”.

**Mukhtar Mai

And I have a couple of answers to questions that were raised, I think, by you and others, Masoud.  One on Mukhtar Mai.  I can confirm that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ (DESA) Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Section has been in touch with the Virtue Foundation, which was the organization which first sponsored Mukhtar Mai’s visit to the United Nations.  And we’re trying to find an appropriate date with them to bring her back here.  And we do expect that to happen in the near future.  And as soon as a date had been agreed upon, I will let you know.

**Outsourcing

And also on the issue of outsourcing, which I think you, Masoud, had raised a number of times, the Department of General Assembly Services and Conference Management (DGACM) says that the study on outsourcing of conference services was undertaken by external consultants from Epstein and Fass Associates, as well as Faulkner and Associates upon the request of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.  It was conducted in the larger context of management reform, but specifically to address budgetary and space concerns and the need to put the Organization in the forefront of technological innovation.  The study focused on translation and printing.  It should be noted that currently, under the reform process, 20 to 25 per cent of the translation workload is already being outsourced.

The consultants are examining possible options and/or scenarios to further outsourcing, against the four goals of conference services, which are namely, timeliness, quality, quantity and cost-effectiveness.

And the Associates’ report will be submitted on 10 February of this year.  So, maybe we could get a little more detail from them after they’ve submitted their report.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wondered, if representations of these reports have been made to the Secretary-General and the Secretariat on the issue of these cartoons representing Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper. I was wondering if the Secretary-General had a view in this case:  which principle should be applied more rigorously, freedom of speech or not insulting another religion.

Spokesman:  There have been no specific démarches made to the Secretary-General specifically on that issue.  I know the Organization for the Islamic Conference did write to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to bring it to her attention.  And she said she would bring it to the attention of the Special Rapporteurs on racism and freedom of religion.  The United Nations Secretary-General would want to see all religions being respected.  But I think the freedom of the press and respect for religion is not an either/or principle.

Question:  Can I follow through on this?  In this case, it does seem to be presented as an either/or principle.  Either there was a right to challenge these published cartoons or (inaudible) because of the principle of freedom of religion.  People are looking for guidance on this.  It’s a very heated issue, as you know.  Is there a view that the Secretary-General would be willing to take on this?  Or is it something that the Secretary-General is trying to avoid and not address head on because it’s too controversial?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think we would want to see all religions being respected, but we don’t feel it’s an either/or case.  Both can be respected.

Question:  So both sides are correct in this?

Spokesman:  As I said, this has not been specifically brought to the attention of the Secretary-General.  You’ve asked for an opinion.  I’ve given it.

Question:  I just want to be clear on Iran.  In London, when the Quartet met they also talked about Iran.  It has been reported that Russia and China are also now saying the case should be brought to the Security Council.  Now, I just want to know, does the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) still have to recommend action?

Spokesman:  There were two separate meetings.  There was a Quartet meeting, in which the Secretary-General participated.  There was then a P-5 ( China, France, United Kingdom, United States and Russia) plus Germany meeting, in which the Secretary-General did not participate.  They did issue a statement on that.  But as for the mechanics of what that means in terms of the IAEA board, I would ask you to call the IAEA office here.

Question:  But what is your understanding?  Does the IAEA still have to recommend?

Spokesman:  My understanding is there will be an IAEA board meeting this week.

Question:  I just want to follow up on the thing about outsourcing that you just elaborated on.  I heard there was a meeting in Mr. Chen’s Office, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Is it true that everything is on the table to be outsourced, not only to companies in the United States but to companies in India and China and Russia?  Is that right?

Spokesman:  I’ve given you what I received from Mr. Chen’s Office.  The report is not yet finalized.  But maybe we could get somebody from his Office to come down and brief you once the report is done.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you about the experts who are going to Iraq to investigate that bird flu death.  What’s the next step after that, and are they going to be in touch with neighbouring countries regarding stemming the flow of the bird flu?

Spokesman:  We’ll get in touch with the World Health Organization for you after the briefing.  I’ll let you know.

Question:  The Iraq bird flu case came through Turkey.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  The short answer is I don’t know, but it’s obviously something WHO will be looking at.

Question:  I was just wondering, given the outcry over the “oil-for-food” programme, whether there is any reaction from the Secretary-General to reports in The New York Times -- and there have been elsewhere -- of misuse, loss, wastage of Iraqi funds in the reconstruction efforts in that country?  And the fact that some of the large companies involved are actually having to return money?  Halliburton is one of them, I think.

Spokesman:  The United Nations is part of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, the auditing board which is looking at the development fund for Iraq.  So, obviously it audits some of their products.  But I think it underscores the difficulties in working in that kind of environment.

Question:  On Nepal, it would be great if we could actually have a briefing from (the Department of) Political Affairs or somebody just on Nepal.  Does the United Nations have monitors there at the moment?  Does it view that there is any chance that the elections might be -- I don’t know whether the terms “free” and “fair” are used anymore.  I just read that they’re called something else.  Just what is the position on what is happening in Nepal right now?

Spokesman:  I’ll try to get you someone to come down here.

Question:  On the procurement report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which is now, I think, available to all Member States.  But yesterday one of the Member States, which I think was the Ambassador of Singapore, said that it seemed that the Secretariat was deliberately leaking these reports to The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Financial Times.  And he went on to say, “May I remind the Secretariat that these are not Member States?”

Spokesman:  We are aware that these are not Member States.  OIOS, as I said, is, I believe, making these reports available as of now to the membership.  You are aware, as I was aware, that there have been leaks to the press, as well as to Member States.  It is something that is unfortunate, but inasmuch as we try, it is difficult to guard against such leaks, although we do try hard.  The report is being made available today.  That is what OIOS told me.

Thank you.

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