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

29 August 2006

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

29 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.

**Guest at Noon

Joining us today will be Kingsley Amaning, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad, and he will be here to discuss the humanitarian situation in that country.

**Secretary-General in Middle East

The Secretary-General began the day today with a meeting with the UN country team in Beirut during which he briefed them on the purpose of his visit and expressed his appreciation for their steadfastness over the past five weeks.

He then flew on to Naquora in southern Lebanon, where he visited the UN Interim Force’s headquarters.  He also was briefed on the situation on the ground by the Head of UNIFIL, Major-General Alain Pellegrini and then took part in a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of peacekeepers killed to date in the line of duty of UNIFIL.

Accompanied by General Pellegrini and the head of the Peacekeeping Department, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Secretary-General then boarded a UN helicopter and toured several UNIFIL positions on the ground. He then flew over Khiyam and saw the site of the flattened bunker where the UNIFIL military observers were killed last month.

Before leaving Naquora, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters.  A transcript of that will be made available to you later today.

He is currently in Jerusalem, where at this moment, he is scheduled to meet with the families of the three Israeli soldiers abducted last month.  After that, the Secretary-General is to meet with the Israeli Defence Minister, Amir Peretz.  Tomorrow, he will with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel.

** Uganda

I now have a statement relating to the cessation of hostilities in northern Uganda:

“The Secretary-General welcomes the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army, under the auspices of the Government of southern Sudan.  The Agreement is a step in the right direction and could pave the way for a comprehensive settlement after decades of violence.

“The Secretary-General encourages the two parties to continue the discussions aimed at finding a lasting and expeditious political settlement to the conflict.  It is hoped that, with the cessation of hostilities, concerted efforts can now be deployed to help improve the deplorable condition of the nearly 2 million internally displaced people in northern Uganda.

“The Secretary-General commends the Government of southern Sudan for facilitating this agreement and calls on both parties to fully implement its provisions.

“The United Nations stands ready to assist in the resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda, and will continue doing its utmost to mobilize resources so that people suffering from the violence can receive much-needed assistance.”

And that statement is upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council, this morning, met on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and adopted a resolution, extending the service of one of its judges.

It then moved into consultations, to take up Cyprus and other matters.  On Cyprus, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari briefed the Security Council members on his July visit to the island and the wider region, as well as on developments in the region since.

He emphasized the importance of full implementation of the so-called 8 July Agreement, signed in his presence by Messrs. Papadopoulos and Talat.  He invited the Security Council members to reinforce that message.

Following consultations, the Ghanaian ambassador, who is the Security Council President for this month, read out a press statement, expressing the Council’s support for the Secretary-General’s continued efforts aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.  The Council also welcomed the 8 July agreement and called for its full implementation without delay.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

From Kinshasa:  the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that it and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, William Lacy Swing, are still trying to get President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean Pierre Bemba to meet face to face.

The Mission says that both parties have agreed on setting up two subcommissions:  one will be in charge of an inquiry into the events in Kinshasa last week; and the second subcommission will work on “new” rules designed to prevent a repeat of violence during the upcoming campaign for the presidential run-off, and also during the post-electoral period.

On the electoral side of things, the Mission says the Independent Electoral Commission continues the publication of partial results of the parliamentary elections.

** Nepal

Lastly, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has sent an assessment mission to western Nepal, following heavy monsoon-related floods there.

For its part, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has pre-positioned relief supplies, including tarpaulins, blankets and oral re-hydration salts, in hard-hit districts.  UNICEF has also sent two trucks with water purification materials, household utensils and other relief supplies in one of the western towns mostly hit by the floods.

And we do have a press release available for you on that.

That is it.  I’ll take some of your questions.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General see any similarities between the way he is dealing with his hosts today in Jerusalem and the way he had to deal with the now defunct regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan?  He made that comparison yesterday when he said that it doesn’t matter whose guns they are, either the Israelis’ or the Taliban’s, you have to talk to them.

Spokesman:  You are putting sentiments into the Secretary-General’s … interpreting things for him.  The point that he meant is that you need to create a gun-free zone in southern Lebanon and that is the aim of resolution 1701 and that is what he was saying.

Question:  No, the aim of 1701 is to create a gun-free zone in southern Lebanon except for the Lebanese Government.  That means no Hizbollah.  He is saying this actually in the context of:  when you have to deliver humanitarian aid to the population, then you have to talk to the people with the guns, whether they are Taliban or Israel.

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General sees no comparison between the rule of the Taliban or the Government of Lebanon or the Government of Israel.  What he is just expressing is the need for the creation of a zone in southern Lebanon where you have one gun, one authority, and that is the authority of the Lebanese Government.

Question:  On Iran and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] report, can you give us some more detail in what form that comes in, whether there is going to be a presentation and when the Security Council might get on to actually discussing it?

Spokesman:  I will check with the IAEA, but you’ll need to check with the Council presidency on how it plans to proceed as we get closer to the date.  That is up to them.  I have nothing on the calendar.

[The Spokesman later added that the Director-General of the IAEA would issue a report on 31 August, which would simultaneously be transmitted to both the IAEA Board of Governors and the President of the Security Council.  No presentation was currently planned.]

Question:  [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad said in his latest statement that even Kofi Annan’s visit is not going to sway Iran’s intention to continue with its nuclear programme.  What then is the purpose of the Secretary-General’s visit?

Spokesman:  As we’ve said here time and time again, the aim of the Secretary-General’s visit to the region is to see the full implementation of resolution 1701.  And in Iran, if other issues come up in the discussions, they will, but the aim the visit is resolution 1701.

Question:  I just want an update first on Kofi Annan’s efforts to convince Hizbollah to release prisoners and Israel to stop the blockade on Lebanon.  And just one other question:  does the Secretary-General have confidence in the Lebanese Armed Forces that they will be able to stop the transfer of rearmament of Hizbollah along the Syrian border?

Spokesman:  That will be, obviously, the responsibility of the Lebanese forces.  We are doing whatever we can to assist them.  Should they ask, the Lebanese, I understand, have also made some bilateral requests for equipment, especially in the south, for their army and we do hope that they get the assistance they need.  On the issue of the blockade and the issue of the prisoners, those are part of the discussions he is having throughout the trip.  I think he spoke about that yesterday, but I don’t have any further update.

Question:  Just to follow up on the issue of the border, he said we are ready to help if they ask.  Is the Secretary-General recommending that they ask?  Does the Secretary-General think it would be helpful for the Lebanese to ask for international troops to bolster…?

Spokesman:  The whole point of resolution 1701 is to bolster the authority of the Lebanese Government, and it is up to them to decide how to proceed, and we will assist them.

Question:  Is it true that Mr. Stephanides has been appointed Special Representative for Ethiopia and Eritrea and that a letter has already been sent by Kofi Annan?

Spokesman:  I am not aware that he has been appointed Special Representative.

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s position on Iran’s role on creating and supplying arms to Hizbollah?  Does he perhaps view that as sponsoring terror?

Spokesman:  What the Secretary-General has said is that all the countries that can exercise an influence in Lebanon should exercise that influence positively, and that will be part of his discussions.

Question:  We all know that the Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights and the concept sovereignty of nations are the three legs of the United Nations.  We also know that DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated”.  I just discovered on Arab News that a driver was charged with DWF, which is:  “driving while female”.  Does the Secretary-General have any opinion about DWF?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has made it clear in a number of speeches throughout his tenure his strong belief that women should enjoy the same rights as men, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General consider that good progress has been achieved in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the view of Mr. Swing having to establish two subcommittees to deal with the elections and the recent clashes between the two parties and having to continue to press the two parties to meet in dialogue?  Does he consider that a good progress?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General very much supports the work Mr. Swing has been doing and the success he has achieved -- not only him, but obviously with the help of the European Union and other members of the international community -– in defusing what could have been an extremely, extremely violent situation in the aftermath of the publication of the election results.  We did have three days of fighting, but the preparations from the UN side and from the EU proved that everything that was in place actually worked and the forces were able to deploy -– whether the EU force or the UN force.  Mr. Swing is very much pushing on these two gentlemen, Bemba and Kabila, to meet.  We very much hope that they will, but the Secretary-General very much supports and is encouraged by the efforts of Mr. Swing.

Question:  Are there any changes being implemented for the second round of voting in the professionalism of how votes are counted and the transparency of the process?

Spokesman:  Whatever can be refined technically in the process will be refined.  But the constitutional and the legal framework of the elections stands and is not going to change.

Question:  Yesterday, you promised an answer right after the briefing on the staff rules and housing subsidies.

Spokesman:  I do have an answer, which is, first of all, we are in the process of replying to Ambassador Bolton’s letter.  The rules pertaining to rental subsidies and deductions are regulated through administrative instructions issued by the Secretary-General, which we can give you copies of since they are public documents.  They provide that staff members who receive housing assistance, including housing provided by the Organization, a Government or a related institution, either free of charge or substantially lower rates, shall subsequently be subjected to payroll deductions from their salaries.  We are in the process of checking data to determine if those staff members who are in receipt of that assistance are subject to payroll deductions.  These are things that are asked in the financial disclosure forms.  Those forms are currently being examined by the Ethics Office.  Obviously, anything that needs to be flagged will be flagged.

Question:  On the second manner that arose yesterday, on the Compass Group…

Spokesman:  I have nothing new to add to that.

Question:  Will the Secretary-General have talks with the Israelis about reviving the Middle East peace process?

Spokesman:  The aim of the trip, as we’ve said, is obviously resolution 1701, which we very much hope will lead to a renewed effort in the Middle East peace process.  These are issues that he will be discussing with the Israeli leadership, with the Palestinian leadership, as well as with other Arab countries he’ll visit in the region.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General back the Arab League plan that is being floated?

Spokesman:  I think that question has been asked and we have answered.  That is obviously something that is being studied and discussed at this point.

Question:  Regarding the upcoming visit of [former President of Iran Mohammad] Khatami for the 10 years of Dialogue of Civilizations, is he a guest of the United Nations and does the United Nations recommend that the US offers him a visa?

Spokesman:  He is here to participate in the events of the Alliance of Civilizations as a member of that group.  We very much hope he will get his visa to attend the meetings which are scheduled here for next week.

Question:  I understand that there are some problems with the State Department…

Spokesman:  We very much hope that he will given a visa to do his business at the UN as any other person who is coming here to do business at the UN.

Question: Will the meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations next week be open?

Spokesman:  We can find out.  It is a working meeting before their report is finalized, but we have talked to them about possible media events.

Question: Is he coming here as an official of the Government or is he not official?

Spokesman:  He is coming here in his capacity as a member of the Alliance of Civilizations.

Question:  But he is not an Iranian Government official?

Spokesman:  He is coming here to do his business in his capacity as a member of the Alliance of Civilization.

Question:  Just to follow up.  I don’t quite understand your response, but is your office, or is anybody within the UN, pressuring the State Department or encouraging the State Department to…

Spokesman:  I will try to get information, but my understanding is we are just following the regular procedures on that and we very much hope he will be given a visa to attend the meeting.

Question:  In the past, the Secretary-General has been quite outspoken about the crisis in Darfur, at one point calling it “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time”.  As of late, there has been very little coming out of him…

Spokesman:  I beg to differ.  He has been extremely outspoken.  In a letter to the Security Council that was made public, he stated that the situation was as bleak as it could be.  He made his points very clear on the need for members of the Security Council and other Member States to help convince the Sudanese Government of the need for transition to the UN.  His Deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, spoke publicly on that just a few days ago in equally bleak terms.  It is not at all an issue that has been forgotten.

Question:  While in Israel, will the Secretary-General ask the Prime Minister for the release of the Palestinian leadership arrested recently?

Spokesman:  No doubt that is an issue that will also come up in their discussions, but they have not yet happened.

Question:  Can you give us a bit more on what this Alliance of Civilizations meeting is about?

Spokesman:  It is a working meeting.  They have had three this year and this is the last working meeting before they are scheduled to hand in their report and make recommendations to the Secretary-General based on their terms of reference, which were announced over a year ago.

Question:  How many people are coming and…

Spokesman:  I’ll get you the details. It is a working meeting.  They have had a number of working meetings in Qatar, in Spain, in Dakar and now they are having one in New York.  We have asked them to see what sort of press events we can get.

Question:  At that briefing, could we also find out how much it costs to run…?

Spokesman:  I’ll get you a briefing and you can ask your questions.

Question:  Now we have the man who launched the Dialogue amongst Civilizations to participate in a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations.  Could you explain to me why we made the name change?

Spokesman:  This is an initiative of the Secretary-General.  Anyone who has been following what has been going on in the world will see that it is a very important avenue to pursue in these days.

Question: But why the change from “Dialogue” into “ Alliance”?

Spokesman:  Once you start talking, then you can start aligning.

Question:  Back to the visit of the Secretary-General in Beirut.  We know he met with Nabih Berri, who represents the concept of a “greater Syria”.  Did he meet somebody from the entourage of Nasrallah?

Spokesman:  He met with the Energy Minister, who is the Hizbollah representative in the Government.

Question:  Do you have his name?

Spokesman:  His name is…  I will not say his name here because I will probably not pronounce it correctly, but I will give you the name.  But it is a very publicly available name which you can find out.

Question:  On Zimbabwe, the South African publication Business Day reports that Mr. Mkapa never committed to be the mediator, although President Mugabe said to Kofi Annan not to mediate because Mkapa is the mediator.  Is his decision to back off from becoming more involved in the issue now subject to revision as there is not a mediator?

Spokesman:  I have not seen these reports.  Let me take a look at them and get back to you.

* *** *

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