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

24 August 2006

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

24 August 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.  Welcome to our guests, who I believe are from Syria.  Welcome to the United Nations.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

As we said yesterday, the Secretary-General will be in Brussels tomorrow to participate in the meeting of European foreign ministers, to encourage contributions of troops to the expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  That visit, to Brussels, kicks off the Secretary-General’s travels to Europe and the Middle East, which are intended to strengthen the situation in Lebanon and Israel following the cessation of hostilities and the passage of Security Council resolution 1701.

**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

Meanwhile, from the ground, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon reports that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have withdrawn from the general area of Bint Jbeil this afternoon, and handed over control of that area to the United Nations peacekeepers.  Those United Nations troops set up a number of checkpoints and are conducting intensive patrolling to verify IDF withdrawal.  The United Nations troops are to hand over the area to the Lebanese Army tomorrow.

The United Nations Mission reports that the cessation of hostilities was maintained, in general, in the past 24 hours.  No incidents and breaches of the cessation of hostilities or air violations were recorded.  UNIFIL also distributed 92,000 litres of drinking water to seven villages in southern Lebanon and provided medical assistance to the local population.

We have more details on that in a press release upstairs.

**Humanitarian Efforts in Lebanon

Continuing on the humanitarian activities, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that four United Nations convoys left Beirut today and headed south, carrying food to those who need it.  In addition, the United Nations refugee agency dispatched trucks carrying tents, blankets, mattresses, lamps and other supplies.  On the water supply front, the United Nations children’s agency is working on getting generators for Lebanon’s South Water Authority.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also dispatching 50,000 litres of bottled water per day to southern Lebanon.  From next week, deliveries will rise to 100,000 litres per day.

Regarding education, UNICEF is working with the Lebanese Ministry of Education to ensure that 350,000 schoolchildren will receive school bags containing notebooks, pencils and other materials before they are scheduled to start classes on 9 October.  UNICEF is also supporting the rehabilitation of over 150 schools in Beirut and other areas, where the displaced were housed during the conflict.  For its part, the World Food Programme has distributed nearly 3,000 tons of food to 530,000 people since the start of the conflict.  And, the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre says 13 new mine clearance teams are expected to arrive in Lebanon by the end of the week.

We have more information on that upstairs.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council just held consultations on Sudan to consider a letter from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir concerning the timing of Security Council action on the situation in Darfur.  The letter is available on the racks, and so is a letter by the Secretary-General that transmits to the Security Council the Government of Sudan’s plan for the restoration of stability and the protection of civilians in Darfur.  The Council is scheduled to meet on Sudan on Monday, I’m told.

** Sudan

Also, on a related note, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Sudanese Ministry of Finance and the World Bank have launched a large programme designed to improve the capacity of an independent judiciary in Sudan.  UNDP said that recovery and reconstruction cannot progress without basic human security and strong national institutions that uphold the rule of law and bring justice to all the citizens of the country.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that the joint verification missions to monitor the effectiveness of the United Nations-brokered truce between the parties in the recent violence continue in the central and western parts of Kinshasa.  The patrolling units included United Nations, European Union, and Congolese troops, as well as members of the security details of both President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, the two candidates in a runoff election planned for 29 October.

Following the joint patrol today, participants in the verification team agreed to a document specifying the modalities of their cooperation.  The parties will, thus, jointly respond to perceived violations of the agreement and investigate reported incidents in coordination with the United Nations.

** Ethiopia

Turning now to the continuing flood situation in Ethiopia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, it is planning to issue an emergency grant of $50,000 for the humanitarian response.  The United Nations Development Programme, meanwhile, is providing $200,000.  OCHA says that new floods continue to be reported across Ethiopia as heavy rains continue.  But, helicopter rescues have stopped in the South Omo area since the people who are still surrounded by water are reluctant to leave their livestock behind.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow, at 1:15 p.m., Don MacKay, Chairman of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee that is drafting the first convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, will brief you on the outcome of the Committee’s eighth session, which concludes tomorrow.

That is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Department of Political Affairs’ Head of Africa I Division is reported to be in Juba, attending the talks between Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  Meanwhile, Joseph Kony has applied for asylum in the Central African Republic.  I guess, I’m wondering, with the Department of Political Affairs now, at least, monitoring -- not involved in -- the talks, what is the United Nations position on the International Criminal Court, on the indictment of Mr. Kony and on his request for asylum in the Central African Republic?  And, what is the mandate of the Department of Political Affairs official that’s in Juba?

Spokesman:  I was just informed right before I left that, my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs had promised me some guidance, which, obviously, is not here yet.  As soon as I have something I will share it with you.  Our position on Mr. Kony and the indictment is one we’ve stated repeatedly -- it’s that he, and those indicted, need to face justice and that, impunity should not stand.  I will get you the guidance on the specific role of the Department of Political Affairs.

[The Spokesman later added that Welile Nhlapo of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs is attending the Juba peace talks between the LRA and the Government of Uganda as an observer.  The indicted leadership of the LRA is not attending the talks and, as such, Mr. Nhlapo’s presence does not contradict the Secretary-General and the United Nations system’s stated position that there should be no impunity for the most heinous abuses of human rights and humanitarian laws.  During his time there, Mr. Nhlapo will assess how the United Nations can be of assistance to the process and the type of political support that the United Nations could offer to the designated mediator, Riek Machar.]

Question:  On the Ivory Coast, there are stories that the Secretary-General’s envoy there has now said that the elections won’t be able to take place by 31 October.  Did he just say that in an interview, or is that, now, the position?

Spokesman:  He did say that, it is clear that the elections cannot take place until the identification process, as well as the voter registration process, are completed.  There will be a meeting in New York, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, and that meeting will take stock of the progress of the benchmarks that were agreed on in Yamoussoukro last month, at the meeting with all the parties.  And, it will also review the election timetable and agree on any further measures that are needed to expedite the implementation of these issues.

Question:  Assuming that most of the time of the Secretary-General is consumed by the crisis of the Middle East, and Lebanon in particular, how much is he informed on what’s going on in the negotiation on Kosovo?  And at which stage, to the best of your knowledge, are those negotiations?

Spokesman:  Those negotiations -- discussions -- are being led by Mr. Ahtisaari and the Secretary-General is being regularly briefed directly by Mr. Ahtisaari.  So, despite what is going on in the Middle East and other places, he remains fully updated on those talks.

Question:  Just a quick one.  Sorry, I might have missed it yesterday.  Is the Secretary-General going to meet [President] Ahmadinejad, if he goes to Tehran?

Spokesman:  As I said, we’ll announce who he meets as these things become clear.  But he’s expected to meet the senior leadership in almost all the stops.

Question:  Yesterday, I asked the same question, but I’m going to frame it differently.  About this Middle East process, which most of the countries, including Arabs and others, are saying is dead -- they want the Security Council, of course, to begin anew that particular process.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of this demand, this position, that the Arabs…

Spokesman:  I answered that question yesterday.

Question:  My question is:  what has happened?

Spokesman:  I think, I really feel, I answered that question yesterday.

Question:  You said that the meeting on Sudan is probably going to go ahead on Monday.  But, don’t the Sudanese want a postponement?

Spokesman:  I think you need to check with the Council members.  That was the information we got from the Presidency.  But these things may shift.

Question:  I think you addressed this yesterday.  I just want to clarify in light of some newspaper headlines today, is the Secretary-General going to Tehran with the understanding and support of the United States and other Council members?  Or is he going and then he tells them?

Spokesman:  He is going to Tehran.  As I said yesterday, Security Council members should not be surprised by his itinerary.  As you know, he spoke to President Bush yesterday.  They discussed his trip, they discussed mostly the issue of UNIFIL troop generation and they discussed his trip to the Middle East, including Iran.  And, they also talked about Darfur, which both agree, is a situation that should not be forgotten, despite the events in the Middle East.

Question:  Regarding the present 2,000 members of UNIFIL -- now, I understand that Ghana has 650.  It will be adding 200.  But, as Defence Minister of India, Pranab Mukherjee, has announced, 775 Indians will be leaving UNIFIL.  That means the present 2,000 will be deficient by 500.  Do you have any answer to that?

Spokesman:  My answer is that, as I understand, there has been no official announcement made on the issue of Indian troops.  We very much would look forward to the continuing presence of Indian troops in UNIFIL.  We’re talking -- as I’ve been saying for the past week -- we’re talking bilaterally to a large number of countries about troop contribution, deployment timetable and all sorts of technical issues.

Question:  Has the issue of the Italian troops leading -- and also Israeli position that they will not allow Muslim countries that do not have relations with Israel to be part of the troop contributors -- been resolved?

Spokesman:  Those discussions are continuing.  What is clear is that General Pellegrini -- Alain Pellegrini -- leads UNIFIL.  He will continue to do so with the very strong support of the Secretary-General.  The issue of the make-up of the Force -- I think, as I’ve said here before, and others have said, we’re looking for a force that is both politically and militarily legitimate and that will include European and non-Europeans and, no doubt, soldiers of a large number of different faiths.

Question:  Just to follow up on Richard’s question.  Can you tell us a little more about the conversation between Bush and Annan as far as the trip to Iran?  Did he alert the Secretary-General to any problems of the Americans or vice versa?  Did he say that the Americans bless him and hope that he will achieve a lot of things there?

Spokesman:  I have no…  There is nothing more for me to share with you on the conversation, unfortunately.

Question:  Every day we just have to check in because it’s a fluid situation.  And, I know the President of France is speaking later, but, you are the broadcast face of the United Nations.

Spokesman:  Our standards are falling, yes.

Question:  Well, there’s always hi-definition.  The question is:  is the United Nations, today, August... whatever we are, happy with the number of troops it has?  How many does it need?  Currently, where do we stand?

Spokesman:  We’re still in a state of... a process of a lot of discussions at many different levels, from the Secretary-General on down.  At the military level, we’re very much looking forward to the meeting in Brussels tomorrow.  We’ve some commitments from our European friends and, as I said, we’re also talking to a number of non-European nations.  But we remain confident that we will get that bulkhead force in there sooner rather than later.

Question:  Two questions.  One, now it seems like the Italian offer to lead the Force appears to be shaping up.  I don’t know if the decision has been taken on the United Nations level -- perhaps you could update us on that?  I mean, it looks like it’s going to happen.  Would it make sense to say that the Italians are in charge of the Force, but to keep a French general in charge of the Force?

Correspondent:  (inaudible)

Spokesman:  Excuse me, Benny.  You can answer after I have.  The question... let’s try this again.

Question:  Shall I ask it again?  Has the United Nations in any way now accepted the Italian offer of leadership of this Force and, if it has -- or if he is going to lead this Force -- would you need an Italian leader?

Spokesman:  The leadership of the Force is a United Nations... is a general that is on loan from a country that belongs to the United Nations.  As I told Masood a few minutes ago, General Pellegrini is our Force Commander.  He will continue to be the Force Commander.  We are still in discussion with a number of countries as to who would provide the bulkhead and the major participation of the Force, but General Pellegrini will continue as Force Commander.

Question:  One other question, if I may.  I just wanted to get my history right on this.  When President Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the map, did Kofi Annan consider that a threat to international peace and security?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General expressed his opinion in a very clearly worded statement at that time.

Question:  Is that considered to be a threat?

Spokesman:  I’ll just refer you back to the statement.

Question:  Just to clarify, you mentioned the contributors should be from the “politically” -- and what was the second? -- “legitimate” countries?

Spokesman:  We would want a Force that is both politically legitimate and militarily legitimate.

Question:  And when you say “politically legitimate”, what do you mean by that?

Spokesman:  Well, a Force that is broadly representative of the United Nations.  And that includes Europeans, non-Europeans, Africans, Asians.

Question:  This Syrian position that they will not allow the United Nations troops on the border between Lebanon and Syria -- has that position been resolved as yet, or is it still a stand-off?

Spokesman:  Again, I answered this question yesterday.  The resolution is clear.  It is the responsibility of the Lebanese Government to secure its borders.  They may, and they may choose so, to ask the United Nations to help in that regard, and we would do so at their request.

Question:  There’s a lot of criticism lately, especially from France and some other Europeans -- Germany, et cetera -- on the mandate, which France was instrumental in writing, and on the rules of engagement, which I don’t quite understand the criticism.  Anyway, the question is -- in light of this, have the rules of engagement been amended?  Have there been suggestions?  Have there been criticisms on that?

Spokesman:  There hasn’t.  You know, the rules of engagement were sent out to the Member States last Friday.  We never got any criticism or response to the rules.  The discussions we’ve been having with Member States -- the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been having -- have really focused more on a deployment timetable, whether or not they’re self-deployed, load capacity issues.  The issue of the rules of engagement, I think everyone agrees as to what they are and they are willing to go along with them.

Question:  Is this the final, then?

Spokesman:  It will remain a draft until the Force is fully completed.  At some point, one or two contributors may have an issue with it.  But, they will broadly remain the same.

Question:  As you noted yesterday in the press release, the General Assembly passed a resolution on Holocaust denial.  Does the Secretary-General consider Ahmadinejad organizing an event meant to question the Holocaust a violation of that resolution?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position on this exhibit I went through yesterday.  The General Assembly resolution calls on the Secretary-General to put forward a programme of Holocaust education.  We are in the process of doing that.  We’ve also reported on those activities.

Question:  I asked specifically about Ahmadinejad organizing it.

Spokesman:  That’s the answer I will give you, Benny.

Question:  So, you will not denounce someone who clearly does that?

Spokesman:  Benny, those are your words.  We have clearly denounced the exhibit.  The Secretary-General has clearly stated that anyone who tries to deny the Holocaust, deny its truth, is a bigot.  That is his position.

Question:  At the Security Council hearings, the Syrian ambassador called Israel “a demonic State”; “ Israel is the father of international terrorism”.  He compared Zionism to fascism and Nazism.  These are words of war, not of reconciliation.  Is Syria being factored into this resolution of the Lebanese problem as it should be?  Because with this type of language, peace is not possible in Lebanon.

Spokesman:  I don’t understand exactly what your question is.

Question:  Where is Syria being factored into the Lebanese situation?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General will go to Syria, as he will to a number of other countries, and impress on the leadership of all the countries in the region that they should play a positive role in the implementation of 1701 -- the restoration of peace and security, and the strengthening of Lebanon.

Question:  I have something odd, it’s called a question.  Is the Secretary-General going to be in Tehran on a certain day?  Can you give us any guidance on that day?  I know with security and all that...  Can you firm it up just a little?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t, because the exact itinerary and the dates are still being worked out.

Question:  I don’t know if you answered this earlier, but on the Sudan and preparations for a peacekeeping force to Sudan -- are there countries that have indicated their willingness to contribute to a force?  Where are we in that process?

Spokesman:  The planning is going on.  We’ve reported to the Council on what the different options are.  They’ve put together a draft resolution, looking at what the force should look like.  We’re obviously in informal discussions with a number of Member States, which I can’t go into detail on.  But the bigger, overriding issue is the political willingness of the Government of Sudan to accept a transition to the United Nations and we are pushing that along.  For that we need the help of the members of the Security Council who have influence with Sudan and the Sudanese Government.

Question:  If the peacekeeping force is assembled for Sudan, it might take the number of United Nations peacekeepers to over 100,000, I think.  Is there an upper limit to the number of peacekeepers the United Nations could credibly have?

Spokesman:  It will be an issue -- and it is currently an issue -- how much Member States can provide.  We do very much hope that, once the Security Council passes a resolution, those Member States assist us in getting the troops.

Question:  Events in Senegal -- they’ve given rise to refugees into Gambia.  It’s in your press notes for today.  There’s a clash and conflict there.  So I guess the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has spoken about refugees leaving Senegal.  But what is the United Nations system...  Does it have any presence, providing any guidance or doing anything about this situation in Senegal at all?

Spokesman:  I’ll see if there’s anyone in the United Nations system beyond UNHCR talking about this.

Question:  On the preparation of the UNIFIL force -- there was some talk about setting up some kind of new command structure, some strategic command, here at the United Nations.  I was wondering where we were in those kinds of preparations?

Spokesman:  That is clearly addressed in the Secretary-General’s report, I think, in paragraph 38 or 39.  When this force is created, we would have to find some ways to beef up the existing resources of the Military Division in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which may be augmented by officers of key contributing countries, which would really look at strategic issues.

Question:  What exactly is being envisaged?  Is this something that would be housed in the Secretariat?  Would there have to be, sort of, real-time battle-field data put on maps?  What sort of command structure?

Spokesman:  I don’t know how much, beyond what’s in the report.  It would be a strategic cell to help support the work of UNIFIL.  We already have -- in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations -- a 24-hour Situation Centre, which follows, in real time, what happens in our peacekeeping missions.  Obviously this would be a very large and delicate mission, and we would want to provide it with the strategic help that it needs.

Question:  Do you have access to, sort of, satellite data?  I’ve seen a few of these big “US Command” -- whatever -- “Screen Centres” in Afghanistan, or whatever.  Are we looking at, as the United Nations has over 120,000 troops in 20 countries, some kind of serious new capacity to actually...?

Spokesman:  We will try to put in place the best system possible to support the troops, given the budgetary restraints that we face.

Question:  Does the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have access to satellite images?

Spokesman:  I think I’d have to check.  We do have -- the United Nations has -- access to commercial satellite images when it needs.  But what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is exactly doing, I’ll have to check.

Question:  This is just a housekeeping question.  Most of the members of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) are complaining about the mail, you know.

Spokesman:  The what?

Question:  The mail.  I talked about it two weeks ago, or three weeks ago.  Mail is not being delivered.

Spokesman:  I’m happy to put these things on record, but those are issues really best dealt with outside the briefing, with Gary Fowlie’s office or the Mail Department.

Question:  Can you tell us if the Secretary-General is expected in the building today?

Spokesman:  No, he’s not.

Question:  And also, in regard to the 31 August deadline on Iran -- first off, has the Secretary-General also been sent Iran’s official reply?  And do you expect that there’ll be any other correspondence from Iran to the Secretary-General before that deadline?

Spokesman:  He has not been sent the official response, which was given to the P-3 plus the other 3, and I don’t expect anything official on that front.

Thank you.

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