|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.
A number of you have been asking us about potential travel by the Secretary-General, so I wanted to let you know that he will, at the end of this week, begin a series of travels intended to strengthen the situation in Lebanon and Israel, following the cessation of hostilities and the passage of Security Council resolution 1701. On Friday, the Secretary-General will be in Brussels to participate in the meeting of European Union foreign ministers, to encourage contributions of troops to the expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). From there, he will make stops in Lebanon and Israel to meet with senior officials in those two countries and encourage them to implement, fully, resolution 1701.
The Secretary-General will also meet with officials of the Palestinian Authority. He will also travel to Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and, also likely, Syria and Iran. The sequence of those stops following Lebanon and Israel is still being worked out, as are the exact dates of those stops. He will stop in those countries, but the order of those stops has not yet been fully decided.
**Nambiar, Roed-Larsen Mission
Meanwhile, the delegation sent by the Secretary-General to the Middle East to follow up on 1701 arrived today to Berlin after wrapping up their visit to Lebanon and Israel. Messrs. Roed-Larsen and Nambiar had talks with the Foreign Minister of Germany and other senior officials, in which, among other things, they thanked the German authorities for their help during the trip. The team’s senior members Vijay Nambiar and Terje Roed-Larsen ended their work yesterday in Israel with a press conference in Tel Aviv, the transcript of which we have upstairs.
Mr. Roed-Larsen said that the mission has reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism, with its optimism predominately grounded on the fact that, by and large, the cessation of hostilities has been honoured. Also, he noted the Lebanese Army now is in the process of deploying its forces to the south of Lebanon -- at its borders, at the airport and also at seaports. However, he added, the reason for pessimism is that, until the full deployment of an international force takes place, there will, up to a point, be a security vacuum in Lebanon.
**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
Meanwhile, that Force, UNIFIL, says that the cessation of hostilities was generally maintained in the past 24 hours, but that it also recorded two Lebanese air violations by Israeli helicopters. The deployment of the Lebanese Army inside areas vacated by the Israel Defense Forces continued, with the Lebanese side consolidating its forward positions in those areas in close coordination with the United Nations peacekeepers. The United Nations peacekeepers say that a team of the Mine Action Coordination Centre continued its controlled demolition of unexploded ordnance, and that the United Nations ground force and air patrolling of its area of operations has been able to proceed unhindered. The United Nations Force also distributed some 29,000 litres of drinking water to villagers in the south.
And, as we had told you yesterday, the Secretary-General would now, daily, send incident reports to the Security Council. Early this morning, he sent a report covering 21 August, on the compliance by the parties on the cessation of hostilities. In it, he notes that United Nations peacekeepers received a letter yesterday from the Lebanese Army stating that the Israel Defense Forces, on nine occasions, violated Lebanese air space. And, we do have the full report on that upstairs.
**Humanitarian Efforts in Lebanon
Also, on the humanitarian front, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that five convoys were dispatched today, carrying such goods as water, wheat, flour, canned meat, lentils and high-energy biscuits. In addition, two planes arrived in Beirut from Amman carrying supplies from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The refugee agency also notes that it has begun an extensive returnee monitoring process in southern Lebanon. Regarding the $165 million Lebanon Flash Appeal, so far a little over $93 million has been committed. That means that 57 per cent of requirements have been met. We have more information from OCHA upstairs.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Turning now to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Mission in that country says that, the situation in the capital is now calm and that businesses and offices have reopened, after three days of gun violence between the Republican Guards of President Joseph Kabila and the security detail of Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. The two, as you know, will face a runoff in the 29 October elections.
At a briefing earlier today, the head of the United Nations Mission, Ambassador William Lacy Swing, commended the European Union forces and United Nations peacekeepers for helping to stop the violence, and he assured the Independent Electoral Commission of the support of the international community for the runoff election. Mr. Swing also reaffirmed the United Nations commitment to ensure that the electoral process leads, as planned, to the inauguration of new State institutions.
And earlier this morning, we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, in which he urged President Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba to meet as quickly as possible to ease tensions, and he also called on the Congolese parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to continue to demonstrate the calm and sense of responsibility that they have shown in this historic electoral process.
Yesterday, the Security Council met in the afternoon to receive an update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi. In a briefing afterward, the Council President, the Permanent Representative of Ghana, said that Council members demanded that the Congolese political leadership exercise restraint and immediately implement the ceasefire agreed between their forces and, henceforth, refrain from any threats or use of force or intimidation against political opponents or their supporters. Council members also appealed to the political leaders to respect the electoral calendar as established by the Independent Electoral Commission.
Late yesterday evening, we also issued a statement from the Secretary-General on Burundi, in which he expressed his deep concern about recent developments in that country, in particular the reports about a possible coup plot and the subsequent arrest of a number of individuals, including former President Domitien Ndayizeye. The Secretary-General urged the Government of Burundi to pursue due process and respect the rights of the detained individuals in addressing the delicate issue. He also called on the Government and the Forces Nationales de Libération to expedite the conclusion of the ongoing negotiations on a comprehensive ceasefire agreement. In this regard, he welcomed the planned convening of the 25th Summit of the Regional Initiative on Burundi, which is scheduled to take place later this month.
From Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Sukehiro Hasegawa, called today for renewed commitment to respecting and enhancing the integrity of the Timorese judiciary. With the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste’s mandate coming to an end, all international judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers and court clerks recruited by the United Nations are now completing their assignments. The United Nations Development Programme is working to ensure that the public prosecution service and the courts will continue to function.
Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also tell us they are releasing $30,000 in emergency cash grants for immediate relief needs in Ecuador, following the recent volcanic eruption in that country. The World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the Pan-American Health Organization are also helping out. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, meanwhile, is helping Ecuador to prepare for potential volcano-induced mudflows.
**International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Lastly, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today expressed her support for the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on which you have been briefed two days ago and which is currently being considered by the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee here in New York. Ms. Arbour said the existing human rights standards and mechanisms have not been sufficiently effective in offering genuine protection to persons with disabilities. As a result, 10 per cent of the world’s population is exposed to the most extreme forms of denial and violation, she said. We do have her statement available upstairs.
That is it for me.
**Question and Answers
Question: Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to visit Lebanon and Israel this weekend. Does he need to have clearance from Israel before landing, as had the French Minister?
Spokesman: That’s a very minor detail. The Secretary-General is going there, as always, at the invitation of both countries. No doubt both countries will ensure his safety during the trip.
Question: On the blockade, do you know when it will be raised?
Spokesman: That is an issue, obviously, that will be raised by the Secretary-General. It is important that Lebanon be able to reuse freely its ports and airports to restart its commercial activity. Obviously, the monitoring of that is the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon and we will work with them, as dictated by the resolution, to assist that. But, it is important that the blockade be lifted.
Question: Is the blockade still hindering things, and to what extent?
Spokesman: As far as the United Nations operation, the humanitarian operation, we are getting our goods in. The airport, we understand, is partially open to commercial traffic, to passenger traffic. But, obviously, the sooner commercial activity and regular passenger activity can resume at the seaports and airports, the quicker Lebanon’s economy can start rebuilding.
Question: The Secretary-General is now taking a trip to the Middle East. In view of the fact that the so called Middle East peace process is virtually dead, will he now be using this opportunity to organize, or to jump-start, or to make some other effort, to have the Middle East peace process restarted? Especially asking all the other nations to come on board? Has he any new ideas? Does he also have any plans to do that when he goes to meet all the Heads of State and Government?
Spokesman: Of course, as the Secretary-General said in his statements and as the resolution states, we very much hope the full implementation of 1701 will be a catalyst to address the larger issues in the Middle East peace process. Those issues will likely come up in his discussions. The focus of the Secretary-General’s trip will be the implementation of 1701.
Question: My question is, does he have a plan? Because at the root of it all, there has been the Middle East peace process breaking down and the Palestinian question. That’s how it started. So, does he have a plan at all at this point in time?
Spokesman: It is clear that one of the lessons learned from the past six weeks is that these problems need to be addressed politically. As I said, this will be part of his conversations with the leaders in the region.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the cartoon contest in Tehran on the Holocaust, since he had such strong words about the cartoons in the Danish newspapers?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has been very clear, and on record, to say that anyone who would try to deny the truth of the Holocaust, or make false claims concerning the Holocaust, are bigots. That is clearly his position, as he said -- and as we said from this podium -- during the Danish cartoon issue. It’s clear that the Secretary-General respects and reaffirms the universal right of expression, though as he does so, he appeals to everyone to exercise that right responsibly and not use it as a pretext for incitement for hatred or for insult, to anyone or any community. That is clearly his position.
Question: Does the Secretary-General’s upcoming trip to Tehran have anything to do with his failure to denounce the Holocaust jokes?
Spokesman: Whose failure to denounce the Holocaust?
Question: Secretary-General Annan’s failure to denounce the cartoons on the holocaust, which are sanctioned by the Government that is now holding the contest.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General’s position on these cartoons is clear. He condemns all forms of anti-Semitism.
Question: Unlike in the case of the Danish cartoons, where he initiated a statement, in this case I had to listen to a very lukewarm denunciation from you.
Spokesman: I think “lukewarm” is your misinterpretation of what I’m saying. The Secretary-General’s position is clear -- anyone who tries to deny the truth of the Holocaust, or make false claims about it, is a bigot. He said that publicly, and that is his position. And he has clearly and consistently condemned all forms of anti-Semitism.
Question: Two questions. As a follow-up to Masood’s question, the Arab League has asked for a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss a new initiative on the Mideast peace process during the General Assembly. Is this an initiative the Secretary-General supports, and is it something that he will be discussing during this trip? And then I have a Congo question.
Spokesman: This is an initiative that is obviously being done by the Arab League. We’re in talks with them, in discussion with them on this issue. We’re studying their ideas at this point. As I said to Masood, the purpose of the trip is the full implementation of resolution 1701, but, of course, the issue of the greater Middle East peace process will clearly come up during those discussions.
Question: On Congo, could you tell us about Mr. Swing’s success or lack of success, at least until now, to get talks initiated between President Kabila and Vice-President Bemba?
Spokesman: According to the last update that I had, those discussions had not yet taken place, face-to-face meetings. But I think one has to take a step back and look over the last three days at how the United Nations, the European Union and the international community managed to defuse what could have been a very, very serious situation. We had always known that the period after the election, after the first round, would be very volatile and potentially dangerous. Arrangements had been made to have sufficient numbers of peacekeepers in place. Arrangements had been made with the European Union, and those arrangements worked. We are now pushing hard, Mr. Swing is pushing hard, to get Mr. Bemba and Mr. Kabila to meet face to face, and for both of them to agree to honour the electoral calendar and the constitutional process.
Question: You have been reporting on an almost daily basis on Israel’s violations of Lebanese territory. When UNIFIL is expanded with a robust mandate, will it be mandated to shoot down such air violations?
Spokesman: No, that will not be in UNIFIL’s mandate. UNIFIL will continue to monitor the cessation of hostilities.
Question: The new Force, the new Force.
Spokesman: That’s what I’m referring to. Obviously, we very much hope that these incidents will stop. We keep encouraging the dialogue between both the Lebanese and the Israeli militaries on that front.
Question: What is the Secretary-General hoping to get out of the visit to Iran? Have the Americans raised any objection to it?
Spokesman: The visit to Iran, as to the other places, is to make sure that all those who have an influence in the implementation of 1701 use that influence positively. The Iranians need to be part of that dialogue, and that’s the spirit in which the Secretary-General is going.
Question: And the Americans?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General, in setting his trip, has the mandate of the Security Council.
Question: Just to follow up on that -- so, what is the influence that the Secretary-General believes Iran has over the situation in Lebanon?
Spokesman: It is clear that most of the countries in the region have a role to play, one way or another, in Lebanon politically. And, one would hope...
Question: What is the role that the Secretary-General believes Iran has been playing vis-à-vis Lebanon throughout this?
Spokesman: It is clear that Iran has an influence on certain parts of Lebanese society. We would hope they use that influence positively.
Question: Sorry. What does “certain parts of Lebanese society” mean?
Spokesman: I won’t go any further, Mark.
Question: Has the Secretary-General had an opportunity to look through the Iranian response on the nuclear issue? If he has, is he encouraged? If he hasn’t... You know, when are we likely to actually hear some sort of response to the details?
Spokesman: The response was made to the EU 3, plus the other 3 [permanent] members of the [Security] Council. You should look for them to respond first.
Question: You’ve cast the Secretary-General’s trip to Tehran as one to talk about Lebanese issues on 1701, but will he not be talking about their response to the Security Council?
Spokesman: The focus on the trip will be on 1701. If other issues come up, they will come up.
Question: Yesterday, I watched on TV the presentation by Syria. Today, on the Internet, I find things like, “‘No United Nations troops on Lebanon-Syria Border’, says Assad”, and that’s reported by Reuters from Damascus. The Daily Star from Beirut writes, “In Bashar Assad’s Syria, Growing Passion for War”. The same newspaper...
Spokesman: I’ve read the newspapers. I’d be happy to take your question.
Question: The question is, if that border between Lebanon and Syria is not sealed to transfer of reinforcement to the Hizbollah, we may be facing a much bigger war, which is going to be Israel-Syria. Does the Secretary-General look into this aspect, especially as he’s going, also, now to Brussels? I understand that Qatar is trying to pull him into going to Damascus in order to try to get some kind of delineation of the relationship between Syria and Lebanon. All of this, which involves Syria now -- what can you answer me on that?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General will go to Damascus to discuss the implementation of 1701. The implementation of 1701 includes the delineation of the border between ... the Lebanese border along the Lebanese-Syria border. The Secretary-General will report back to the Council on how he can help. The resolution also calls on Lebanon to secure its own borders, which obviously includes those borders with Syria. UNIFIL will help in that regard. I think my answer is the same as the answer I gave to Mark on Iran, which is that we need to talk to all those countries that have a role and an influence on the situation in Lebanon, to act positively in the implementation of the resolution.
Question: How does he answer Assad’s assertion? Assad says this is going to be a loss of Lebanese sovereignty if they allow UNIFIL on that border.
Spokesman: My answer to you is what I gave to you, and the answer is also in the resolution.
Question: There is a letter written by the Sudanese President, [Omar] Al-Bashir, to the President of the Security Council, in which he says he requests the Security Council to be patient and to give Sudan sufficient time to resolve the situation in Darfur. I’m sure the Secretary-General has seen this. Does he have any comment on this?
Spokesman: We haven’t seen, I’ve not seen, that specific letter. But, it is clear the situation in Darfur needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly, especially the clear indications from the Government of Sudan that they do not accept the transition to a United Nations force. On that, the Secretary-General and his staff have had numerous consultations with President Bashir and his staff -- I think five missions -- clearly, and unfortunately, without much success. We really look towards the members of the Security Council and all those Member States who have some sort of influence over the Government of Sudan to help us with the possible, probable, transition to a United Nations force.
Question: On the Sudan question -- how alarmed then is the Secretary-General by reports and statements out of Khartoum that President Bashir would like to use the Sudanese Army troops instead of a United Nations peacekeeping force to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement?
Spokesman: I think the Darfur Peace Agreement is fairly clear on that -- that it looks towards an international force, a United Nations force. We now have an AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) force currently. That force needs to be strengthened both financially and militarily and we’re working with them on that.
Question: So, how alarmed is he by this?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has written to the Council on that issue and I think as you said, he has raised the alarm as to what the situation in Darfur is and what the plan of the Government of Sudan is.
Question: I was going to ask, do you feel that he’s done enough? Because he could go out on more of a spotlight instead of throwing it to the Council. I swear we’ve gone through this two years ago -- the same questions on Sudan, genocide on his home continent. He only has a few more months in office.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has not given up and we continue to press the Government of Sudan in our contacts. I think one can only see how many times he has gone to Sudan, how many missions we have sent. It is clear that those countries that have an influence in Sudan need to use that influence to get that process moving.
Question: I just wondered, with regards to the list of countries that you’ve announced he will be visiting -- do you have any details as to who he will be meeting in those countries?
Spokesman: He will be meeting with senior leadership in all those countries. We don’t have the exact...
Question: Specifically on Iran and Syria -- will he be meeting the Presidents of those two countries?
Spokesman: As I said, I don’t have the exact details of who exactly he’ll be meeting.
Question: Have you got an itinerary, a full one?
Spokesman: Not more than what I said, but we can talk after the briefing.
Question: Does he have invitations from all those countries?
Spokesman: Yes, clearly.
Question: About the delineation of the border, as in 1701 -- in the past, Secretary-General Annan made clear that the Shebaa issue has already been delineated by cartographers of the United Nations. If Syria and Lebanon want to change that, they need to sign an agreement. Do you foresee any different tune coming out of this, because he’s invited to do...?
Spokesman: Paragraph 10 of the resolution calls on the Secretary-General to report back to the Council within 30 days on a number of issues, including that. So, we have to wait for his report?
Question: Let me follow up on this, though, because he has reported on this issue already. Any different position would now be changing his prior position.
Spokesman: His position, as you said, has been stated. The Council has asked the Secretary-General to work with the parties on the issue of the border, and he will report back to them.
Question: Just one more question on the visit to Iran -- why isn’t it that the “hot” issue, so to speak, of the nuclear dossier is not on his itinerary as much as Lebanon-Israel?
Spokesman: I didn’t say that it wasn’t. I said the focus of the trip would be on 1701, and it is very likely that other issues will arise.
Question: I came in late. May I assume that you might have some kind of handout with some of the details you already possess about the Secretary-General’s trip to the Middle East?
Spokesman: I can give you what I read out in the beginning, which you did miss.
Question: Okay. If I can follow up on my colleague’s comments about the Holocaust cartoon exhibition -- none of us are suggesting that the Secretary-General... We know as a matter of long-standing fact that he is on record on this issue. What I would like to suggest is that there’s a certain kind of manifestation of denial that requires an immediate comment in response. I’m sure this is not the first, second or third thing. But, could we reasonably expect that he would bring this up in discussion with President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?
Spokesman: I don’t want to prejudge what will be discussed. The Secretary-General has made himself clear on these issues of the Holocaust. In the past, he has brought it up with Iranian officials.
Question: One simple question and one a little more involved -- on the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, last week you gave the numbers for the Congo Mission sexual abuse and exploitation complaints. The numbers for other missions still haven’t been provided.
Spokesman: We’ll work with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to get you those numbers.
Question: Thanks. On Somalia, I’m sorry to ask this again, but, there are now reports from Baidoa, by Associated Press, of Ethiopian troops. There are also reports of militia camps being opened by the Islamic Courts with Eritrean trainers. Mr. [François Lonseny] Fall’s office says it has no monitoring mission in Somalia. The Department of Political Affairs yesterday, and your office, sent me an e-mail saying that the Department of Political Affairs relies on Mr. Fall’s office for its information on Somalia. How is the United Nations tracking, as the country is moving towards a proxy war in Somalia...? Who in the United Nations system either: one, has facts; and two, is receiving information other than an office that said it has no monitoring mission?
Spokesman: I have no guidance on this particular issue, but we can try to get something.
Question: On the question of the cartoons -- it took the United Nations 60 years to recognize the Holocaust. I don’t care about, or have a problem with, Ahmadinejad having an exhibit with the cartoons. My problem is: is the Secretary-General going to ask Ahmadinejad what he thinks about wiping off the map living Jews today by finishing off Israel? He made these kinds of statements. Is that what the Secretary-General is going to talk about with Ahmadinejad? I don’t care about cartoons.
Spokesman: He has expressed his very strong opinion, and his rejection, of the statements made by Mr. Ahmadinejad a few months back about wiping Israel off the map, and that, obviously, clearly remains his position.
Question: Is he going to ask that, specifically?
Spokesman: As I said, he has made his position clear to Iranian officials in the past. But, we will have to wait to see what the discussions are in Iran -- I don’t want to prejudge him. But the Secretary-General’s position is unambiguous on this matter.
Question: I just want to ask a follow-up question on Iran. Obviously, at this point in time, without implying anything, I just want to ask -- has the Secretary-General talked with Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, on his forthcoming visit to Iran, as to what kind of message he could bring to Iran from the international community? Because this is probably going to be one of the main issues to discuss.
Spokesman: I really cannot go into more detail as to the visit. The visit should be of no surprise to the members of the Security Council. He will focus on 1701, and if we have more details as to what is discussed in the outcome of those discussions afterwards, I will share them with you.
Question: A minor little thing -- is it possible to get to Tehran before 31 August? Do we know that?
Spokesman: We do not know that.
Question: Something that is more housekeeping, but maybe more sinister -- walking through the Visitors Lobby yesterday, among the gallery of portraits of the Secretaries-General, Kofi Annan’s portrait was missing. Is it being cleaned? Is it an indication of symbolic early departure? When he travels, does the picture also travel? And also, I know it’s a long shot, but could we get the Secretary-General on his own downtime to come here tomorrow to discuss the trip? It would be good for the large journalistic corps.
Question: Actually, it has been missing for the last two weeks.
Question: It’s a gift from Iran.
Spokesman: Well, I think no one should try to read anything into the missing portrait.
Question: Do you know that? Or are you guessing?
Spokesman: No, I know that -- okay? I will be happy to go on rug duty and check for you what the situation is.
Question: There are rumours that something happened to it and that it was taken to be cleaned.
Spokesman: I will see as to who has been taken to the cleaners, and why.
Question: If I may just suggest, I believe that the picture was mounted there with no end-of-term date, and I had assumed that it was sent back to the factory, or to someone who can sew it on manually, so it would have the end-of-term date “2006” put on.
Spokesman: On that note, if you are right, you are doing the briefing tomorrow.
[The Spokesman later confirmed that the portrait had been temporarily returned to the Permanent Mission of Iran, who had requested that it be able to add to it the end-year of the Secretary-General’s tenure.]
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