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

20 February 2006

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

20/02/2006
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 Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Trip to Qatar

To emphasize his concern over the violent reactions to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, the Secretary-General has decided to attend in person the meeting of the High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations, to be held in Doha, Qatar, this coming weekend.

He hopes on that occasion to meet with a number of leaders from Europe and from the Islamic world, and to discuss with them ways of calming the situation and allowing a constructive dialogue between people of different faiths and traditions based on mutual understanding and respect.

Panellists at the meeting will be discussing, among other issues, which population sectors need to be engaged to try to bridge differences and combat extremism, particularly in youth and immigrant populations.

** Iran

Going back to Friday afternoon, as you know, we issued a statement concerning the talks that Iran is holding today in Moscow on the Russian proposal on uranium enrichment.

The statement said that the Secretary-General trusts that Iran will use the talks in Moscow and the period between now and early March to take the necessary steps to rebuild confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.  And that statement was made available late Friday.

**Haitian Elections

Also late Friday, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General welcoming the results of the Haitian elections.

** Haiti

Turning to Haiti, the Secretary-General has appointed Larry Rossin of the United States as his Principal Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Mission in that country.

Mr. Rossin is currently serving as Principal Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Kosovo.  And he will leave his position in Kosovo on 23 February and assume his new post in Haiti at the beginning of March.

** Philippines

Turning now to the recent landslides in the Philippines, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has raised about $100,000 for immediate response activities.  That is in addition to last week’s emergency cash grant from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

For its part, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided health kits and essential medicines for about 10,000 survivors.

According to OCHA, concerns that helicopter activity could trigger more landslides have led to flight restrictions, which have further complicated access to the site.  In addition, the landslides have blocked tributaries of a major river, which could cause flooding in nearby areas.  And we do have a press release with more information on that upstairs.

**Horn of Africa

The Secretary-General’s new Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Magne Bondevik, arrives in Nairobi on his first field visit tomorrow.

While in Kenya, he’ll meet with United Nations, Kenyan and Somali officials, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations.  Bondevik will also fly to Turkana, one of the worst drought-hit areas in Kenya.

**UNRWA

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East -- or UNRWA, for short -- informs us that, since early Sunday morning, an Israeli operation in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank town of Nablus has been hindering its work.

Yesterday, Israeli forces occupied two schools run by the Relief and Works Agency.  Today, the Israeli forces left one of the schools, which is used for girls, but they continue to occupy a boys’ school.  Meanwhile, UNRWA tells us that the Israelis are currently blocking one health clinic, preventing the patients or staff from that building from leaving.

** Afghanistan

And today in Kabul, Afghanistan, the United Nations is organizing a landmark meeting of female members of both houses of the Afghan Parliament.  Dozens of participants are to share their experiences, with all 68 female members of the lower house and 17 women of the upper house invited to attend.  The event is organized jointly by UNDP and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

And we’ll have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which are available upstairs.

** Sudan - Polio

The United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization today announced that they, and the Government of Sudan, have launched the first round of a campaign to immunize some 8.1 million Sudanese children against polio.

The first effort will be directed at those living in the poorest communities or those intermittently cut off by conflict.  The agency said immunizing these children is crucial to stopping the spread of the disease.

**Press Conference

And tomorrow at 3 p.m., Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa, the Chairman of the “Group of 77” developing nations and China, will be here to brief you on G77 issues.

And before I turn to Pragati, I’ll take some of your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, the wires are reporting that Alvaro de Soto today, speaking for the United Nations and as a member of the Quartet, criticized the Israeli Government’s decision to withhold tax funds, tax revenues from the Palestinians.  My question is, is he speaking for the United Nations?  And secondly, will the Secretary-General make a statement on this subject?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General, along with the other members of the Quartet, spoke this morning by phone for about 45 minutes.  They took note of the Israeli statement concerning the withholding of transfer of funds from the VAT.  And they all agreed that the Quartet should continue to support the Interim Palestinian Government.

I think Mr. de Soto’s statement should be seen in line with previous Quartet statement, where the Quartet urged measures to facilitate the work of the care-taker Government and to stabilize public finances.

Question:  The United States Mission is sort of laying down the gauntlet on the Sudan issue.  John Bolton this morning essentially accused the Secretary-General of prodding the United States, but not really going after other countries and asking them for commitments.  He said he wants the Secretary-General to go to the African Union and the Arab League, and in fact even talking to his own peacekeepers about the importance of moving ahead.  They think the movement is too slow on Sudan.  What are the Secretary-General’s views on this?

Spokesman:  You know, the Secretary-General and the Secretariat are well aware of the situation in Darfur and the need to plan quickly and thoroughly for this mission.  And it is going ahead.  We have teams talking to the African Union in Darfur -- I’m sorry -- the African Union in Addis Ababa, to work on the transition.  That’s being done by Mr. Pronk.  And here at Headquarters, the planning process is moving full steam ahead.

Question:  Apart from the Secretary-General and the members of the Alliance for Civilization, who else will be attending the Doha meeting?

Spokesman:  It is the 19 other members of the High-Level Group.  And I have the list upstairs for you.

Question:  I know that the Secretary-General is not bound by Staff Rules, but since he laid down that rule that, from now on, he cannot take gifts for $10,000 year, but $250 only, is it setting a good example for him to take a half a million dollar prize from the Government of Dubai?

Spokesman:  You know, I think if you read the, first of all, if you take a look at the Secretary-General’s speech, he said that the money would be used for a foundation he will be setting up to deal with two issues that are very close to his heart in Africa, the one is agriculture and the other is girls’ education.

Over the past, the Secretary-General has been given prize money, including from the Nobel Prize Committee, and if you look at -- I don’t have the exact page in front of me -- the latest Volcker report, it is very clear that he has given every penny that he’s received to charity, including the $487,000 and change he got from the Nobel Peace Committee to a fund to help the children of slain United Nations peacekeepers.

Question:  The fund is not yet set, so currently the money is technically taken by the Secretary-General.

Spokesman:  Benny, I’m not going to go down this road.  The Secretary-General is often given prize money.  He has given every penny to charity, and he intends to do the same with this money.

Question:  You said that there are measures, Israeli measures against UNRWA.  What are you doing about it?  And then I have another question, but what exactly ...

Spokesman:  UNRWA has protested to the Israeli authorities and they’re dealing with it locally.

Question:  Why?

Spokesman:  Why what?

Question:  Why don’t you feel that you need to support UNRWA here from Headquarters?

Spokesman:  We are supporting -- we’re flagging the issue.  It is an operational measure.  UNRWA has been working in that environment for a long time.  They’re dealing with this issue, and we’ll support them in every way we can.

Question:  Did they ask for further help on that?

Spokesman:  We were just briefed on this issue this morning.  No doubt if UNRWA requires the help of other people of the Secretariat they will do so.

Question:  And still on the same subject of Israel withholding the tax money for the Palestinians.  Is this, from the United Nations point of view, a legal act? 

Spokesman:  We’re not going to get into the legality.  I would refer you to what I said earlier, that the Quartet at the end of this meeting this morning agreed that they should continue to support the interim Palestinian Government.  And you could look at the past Quartet statement, which also calls for stabilizing of public finances of the interim government.

Question:  Could you just simplify this for me, does the United Nations feel that withholding the tax money of the Palestinians --

Spokesman:  I’ve answered --

Question:  You just give me the answer beating around, just tell me --

Spokesman:  I’m sorry if my answer doesn’t -- I’ve answered in the way that I can answer.

Question:  Just to get you one more time on Sudan, there does appear to be a little bit of a rift here.  The United States was very upset that Kofi went before the media a week or so ago and said he would ask for commitments from the United States.  Then apparently he did not do so in his meeting with President Bush.  And then today, you have Bolton accusing the Secretary-General of prodding the United States and not doing that to anybody else.  So saying that he’s aware and he wants this pace to go ahead is one thing, but how does he address this apparent disconnect with the United States on how to proceed in the Sudan?

Spokesman:  As far as we are concerned, the planning is going ahead.  We’re talking to the African Union.  Once, obviously, we know what this force will look like, and we will be presenting options to the Security Council, we will then go back to those countries that have the capacity and resources to help put that force together.  And in the meantime, there should be continued support for the African Union force on the ground.

Question:  Does he like the NATO idea?

Spokesman:  NATO is currently supporting the African Union force, but no one is talking about a NATO force on the ground in Darfur.  What we’re talking about is NATO bringing support to a -- it would be a United Nations-led force on the ground.

Question:  So is that misleading for President, well, President Bush --

Spokesman:  I can’t comment on what others say.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask you just to clarify on the Secretary-General’s upcoming Qatar trip with the Alliance of Civilizations.  When the whole cartoon thing came out, I spoke to the people at Alliance of Civilizations and they said that to speak on the cartoons was not part of their mandate, because their mandate is to offer suggestions on how to bridge conversations with different civilizations apparently, but they didn’t want to make any sort of comment.  So now has the mandate expanded?

Spokesman:  I don’t think the mandate itself has changed, but the Secretary-General wants to seize this opportunity of bringing these people together to address this issue in a public way.

Question:  So he’s going to speak about it specifically?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Apart from the members of the High-Level Group and the Secretary-General, are you aware of anybody else attending the Doha meeting?

Spokesman:  There may be another side event going on, but we’re not yet ready to announce that.

Question:  I have a question on this de Soto business.  There was a statement by the Quartet previously about several conditions that Hamas will have to agree before it will be recognized, and so far, Hamas has very blatantly refused to take those.  So, how does that jive with the Quartet?  Now we have like a new Hamas government, Hamas-led government -– not government yet, but...

Spokesman:  That’s the point.  You do not have a government yet.  The government –-

Question:  But this is Parliament --

Spokesman:  The government -– the Executive, the Prime Minister -- it’s still an interim Prime Minister, and that is our main conduit of contact.  So the new government hasn’t been formed yet.

Question:  So the bottom line is that this would be legitimate once the government is --

Spokesman:  You can speculate on what your bottom line is.  I’m telling you what the situation is.

Question:  If what you’re saying now, is that this is not legitimate for this month until the government is formed, but it might be in the future once Hamas --

Spokesman:  I’m not going to speculate what would be legitimate or not legitimate.  The fact is there is government for the time being.  There is an interim government.  And what is clear is that any future Palestinian Government should be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements.  Thank you.

Question:  If not then, then it would be --

Spokesman:  Then we will be back here and we’ll answer the question.

Pragati.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

On the Human Rights Council, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is in the very final stages of consultations.  He is continuing to seek a solution on the amendments proposed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and a few

other key issues, including the majority required for election of members and the language addressing quality of membership.

Among his consultations today, he was to meet at noon with the heads of all the regional groups.  President Eliasson is still aiming to come back to the membership during the middle of this week.

And also today, informal consultations of the plenary on development follow-up and ECOSOC reform are being held all day today.  The Co-Chairs are hoping to conclude a second reading of the two draft resolutions, with the aim of producing a new text soon.

Any questions?  OK.  Thank you very much.

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