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

14 July 2006

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

14 July 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Let me start with the Middle East.

** Middle East

The Secretary-General’s high-level mission to the Middle East, headed by his senior advisor, V.J. Nambiar, has just arrived in Cairo a short while ago.

They are about to meet with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, and that will be followed later in the evening with a meeting with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

**Security Council

Here in New York, in an open meeting, the Security Council received briefings from senior United Nations peacekeeping and political officials about the situation between Israel and Lebanon over the past few days.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno briefed the Council on the fighting by Hizbollah and by the Israeli Defense Forces since Wednesday.  He said that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon is in contact with the parties, urging them to exercise restraint.

Then, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari reported on the high-level UN mission headed by Mr. Nambiar, which I just gave you an update on. 

He said that the United Nations is emphasizing to all parties that a qualitative escalation of the conflict is in no one’s best interests, and the space for diplomatic initiatives is quickly closing.  All parties must do their utmost to ensure that this space remains open.

The open meeting on the Middle East just ended.  The Council has gone into consultations concerning a possible presidential statement on the Middle East.

** Middle East – Humanitarian

Then, speaking to reporters in Geneva, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, said that the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in recent days was the worst that the area had seen in the past decades.  He called the situation on the ground “a recipe for more violence, more extremism and less security for all people in the region”. 

In Gaza, he said, a social crisis was becoming a humanitarian crisis, affecting the 1.4 million people living there.  The United Nations was equally concerned with Lebanese civilians being caught in the same vicious cycle. 

The United Nations, Egeland said, was calling for an end to disproportionate responses, an end to rocket attacks and for all kidnapped individuals to be released.  We have a summary of Egeland’s press briefing upstairs, and we also have a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing her concerns.

**Security Council - Thursday

And then yesterday afternoon, just to recap, the Security Council had a meeting on the Middle East.  They failed to adopt a resolution concerning the situation in Gaza, when the United States exercised its veto.  The Council’s vote on that resolution was 10 in favour, 1 against and 4 abstentions.  And those abstentions were Denmark, Peru, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

The Security Council, yesterday, also adopted a resolution increasing the authorized size of the United Nations Mission in Liberia’s civilian police component by 125, and decreasing the size of its military component by the same number.

It also adopted a presidential statement on Somalia welcoming the agreement reached last month between the Transitional Federal Government and the Islamic Courts.  The Council stated its willingness to consider an African Union request for a peace support mission in Somalia, and to consider as well a limited modification of the arms embargo on that country.

** Haiti

And, turning to Haiti, ahead of the birthday of former Haitian President Aristide this weekend, the UN Stabilization Mission in that country says it plans to have a strong and visible presence on the streets of Port-au-Prince, in case of any violence.

Today, peacekeepers exchanged fire in an encounter with armed people in the suburb of Cité Militaire.  The Mission says that three Brazilian peacekeepers were wounded by gunfire yesterday, in the suburb of Cité Soleil.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And then, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the UN’s continued efforts to support general elections there, planned for 30 July, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for that country, William Swing, yesterday opened a seminar for Congolese media professionals in the capital, Kinshasa.

The seminar aims to explain the principles guiding the actions of the UN Mission in the DRC, while also giving Congolese journalists a progress report on the Mission’s contribution to the electoral process.

Speaking a week after the targeted killing of a Congolese journalist, Mr. Swing said that the freedom of the press is a pillar of a democratic society, and that assassinations of journalists are among the worst things which can happen to such a society.

The seminar is ending with a joint press conference by members of the Independent Electoral Commission, the UN Mission and other agencies.

**Economic and Social Council

And then, on to Geneva, again, in the course of its 2006 Substantive Session, the UN Economic and Social Council opened a segment dedicated to humanitarian affairs.  The segment will continue through 19 July, and includes, among its speakers, Jan Egeland.

Egeland and other participants will reflect on how to strengthen coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance, and how to improve humanitarian response at all levels, including strengthening capacity.

Within that framework, on 17 July, delegates will also take on the issue of violence against women, in particular gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies.  And we will update you on the conclusion of that segment, as well as on the Substantive Session, which is scheduled to close on 28 July.

**WFP – Philippines

And the World Food Programme this week launched an aid operation to support a critical peace initiative in the war-ravaged region of Mindanao in the Philippines.  The $27 million operation will help more than 2 million people living in five of the region’s poorest provinces.  And there’s a press release upstairs on that subject.

**Week Ahead

And we also have the Week Ahead at the United Nations, for your planning purposes for next week.

**Secretary-General

And the Secretary-General, as you know, will be heading to St. Petersburg for the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit.

And that’s all I have for you.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, this is regarding the situation in Lebanon.  A couple of weeks ago, around 25 June, the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Fawzi Salloukh, had tried to approach the UN Security Council about a finding in Lebanon that one of the Lebanese forces confessed that he had been working with the Mossad to assassinate people in Lebanon, and to assassinate Hizbollah members.  And they tried to bring that to the United Nations Security Council, and he claims that it was not raised or that they did not permit it to be raised.  This is now being given as a factor, as one of the reasons why Hizbollah then went in and retaliated, by committing the abduction of Israeli soldiers. 

Then, yesterday, in the press in Israel, they came out with a statement marking the Secretary-General of Hizbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as marked for death.  And I’m just wondering what would be the role of the UN in this kind of thing, if this would be something that the UNwould take up in the future or what would be the venue for resolving this part of the crisis that is going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you just mentioned that this was a letter, a request for the Security Council to take it up, so really it is up to the Security Council to decide whether to take up this matter or not.  I am not aware of such a letter coming to the Secretary-General. 

But, on the point of the Middle East and the current escalation there, again, I want to emphasize how involved the Secretary-General is personally in trying to defuse the situation there.  And that’s why we mentioned that he had sent this high-level mission to the region, and that they are about to begin their consultations immediately. 

Question:  Something a little different.  On Côte d’Ivoire, when the Secretary-General was in Banjul, he said that there might be a brief delay from 30 October on the election, but that it would definitely be done by the end of the year.  Since then, the ID process that was supposed to begin has not begun.  So, I’m wondering if either the Secretary-General or someone in the Secretariat has a comment on that… has some guidance for the Ivorian Popular Front or whoever’s supposed to be running it, and whether Mr. Gbagbo, whether the United Nations view is that he would remain in power, even if the election is not held by the end of the year.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t actually have anything beyond the Banjul… well, he had a meeting in Banjul and then he travelled to Côte d’Ivoire and had a mini-summit there, which I think served as a useful gathering.  But, since then, I have not seen anything, but our office will look into it and answer your questions after the briefing.

Question:  I’m not sure if I missed this, but I had a question about the delegation in the Middle East.  What is their location at the moment and where will they be travelling to?  Do you have a schedule for them?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I mentioned to you at the beginning of the briefing is that Mr. Nambiar, who heads the delegation, has arrived in Cairo, as have Terje Roed-Larsen and I believe Alvaro de Soto, both envoys of the Secretary-General in the region.  Mr. Alvaro de Soto was about to arrive in Cairo.  So they’re in Cairo now and we mentioned to you yesterday that from there, they are expecting to travel to a number of places, including Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lebanon and Syria.  And other stops will be added, as needed. 

Question:  Are delegations travelling together?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes they are.

Question:  And, one more question, was this delegation Secretary Rice’s idea? 

Deputy Spokesman:  The idea for this high-level mission grew out of the numerous telephone calls that the Secretary-General has been having over the past days with leaders in the region, as well as leaders in the rest of the world, who have influence over the situation.  And, obviously, in response to the escalating situation there.

Question:  Hi, yes [inaudible] again from Muslims Weekly.  The United States has been saying that they are going to the Middle East, and doing their behaviours for the sake of freedom and democracy and, yet, we’ve seen a series of situations where the press has been specifically targeted, like in the case of Al-Jazeera, before that [inaudible] television.  When I was in Iraq, there were people in the press corps that were more afraid of the troops -– the coalition troops -– than of the insurgents.  Yesterday, the offices of Al-Anwar were bombed, television station.  This seems to be an escalating pattern.  And I’m wondering if there is anything, such as a statement on this by the Secretary-General, or what are the options to protect freedom of the press and free speech, operating in various war zones?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General, as well as his special representatives as far as in the DRC, has been a proponent of freedom of the press.  In particular in Iraq, I know that our Mission has been involved in some training efforts.  But, let me look into it some more, because I haven’t seen anything new, in terms of work we are doing on the ground there.

Question:  The power plant that Jan Egeland mentioned when he was here, in Gaza that was bombed, and the insurance company and contract on it.  Do we know who the insurance company was?  In the briefing that Jan Egeland gave he mentioned this power plant, the one that was bombed, and that there’s an outstanding insurance contract on it that may not be paid because of the sanctions against the Hamas Government.  I’m trying to find out more about that.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think our Office has tried to find out for you.  The information may not be with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  But, if they find out something, they can relay to you, they will let you know.

Question:  Can I just add, I’ve appreciated your assistance in getting comment from the Secretariat on the UNHCR situation.  Thank you very much.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, thank you.  And, on that positive note… well, not yet.  Yes?

Question:  As a follow-up to my prior question on the process, the United Nations was proposing a voluntary code of ethics for journalists that would ban interviews with terrorists, and it would discourage press reports that generate sympathy for terrorist causes.  I’m wondering how that would work, as far as free speech and freedom of the press?  My job is to cover Muslim issues and Arab issues, and I have extensive contacts with groups that the Americans would call terrorist groups, including the TV station I referred to earlier.  What is the progress on this code and where I can get further information on it?  Because it was done in closed door sessions.  The Secretary-General had attended.  It was a 32-page report.  If I could get follow-up information on this…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’ll certainly follow-up.  I don’t have anything for you right now, but we’ll follow-up, and we’ll let you know who the best person to talk to on that would be.

Have a good weekend everybody.

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