23 October 2006


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokeswoman 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 Gail Bindley Taylor-Sainte, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.

Press Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

** Sudan

Good afternoon.  As you all know, yesterday morning, the Secretary-General received a letter from the Government of Sudan requesting him to withdraw his Special Representative, Jan Pronk, from the Republic of the Sudan.

The Secretary-General is reviewing the letter and has, in the meantime, requested that Mr. Pronk come to New York for consultations.

We understand that he is leaving Sudan tonight and we can expect him at UN headquarters on Wednesday.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, following consultations last week, the members of the Security Council have agreed to elect Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia as the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee dealing with resolution 1718, concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Argentina and Qatar will serve as the Vice Chairs of that Committee.  And a note by the Council President on this is out on the racks today.

And just for your information, there are no consultations or meetings of the Security Council expected for today.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

Available today is the latest report of the Secretary-General on the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire.  In it, the Secretary-General notes that events in that country have taken a negative and disappointing turn over the past three months.  He says that the Prime Minister continues to face constraints in exercising the authority granted him by the Security Council, particularly as it relates to the Defence and Security Forces and public funding for key aspects of the transition.

The Secretary-General also reports that public hearings for a comprehensive identification of the population have ground to a halt in many areas, due to the disruptive activities of the Young Patriots and other supporters of the Ivorian Popular Front of President Laurent Gbabgo.

The report also says that a breakdown in the military dialogue between the Government and rebels has led many combatants to abandon the pre-cantonment sites set up as part of the disarmament program.

** Central African Republic

Also out on the racks today is the interim report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic.  In it, he says that disagreements persist within many of the political parties, because of crises of leadership and reorganization.

The Secretary-General also notes that lack of security continues to be a major concern, especially as deadly violence flares intermittently between Government troops and rebels, a situation that has had a negative impact on the human rights situation as a whole.

The Secretary-General concludes with a request for an extension of the mandate of the UN Office in the Central African Republic, saying that UN commitment remains essential in the consolidation of peace in that country.

** Afghanistan

On Sunday, the Afghan Government and the United Nations appealed for a further $43 million to respond to the humanitarian needs of people affected by Afghanistan’s drought and those families displaced by the recent conflict in southern Afghanistan. 

That is on top of the appeal launched in July for nearly $76.4 million, for an initial six month-period.  Approximately 53 per cent of that appeal has been received so far.

It is now estimated that, due to the drought conditions, 1.9 million people will need food assistance -- 200,000 more than estimated in July. We have a press release with more on that upstairs for your information.

** Iraq

From Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, applauded the declaration agreed to in Mecca on halting the violence in Iraq, and he called it a major step towards healing that country’s wounds.  Qazi applauded Iraq’s religious leaders, who drafted and signed the text of this declaration, and called on Iraqi leaders to commit themselves to the letter and spirit of this declaration.

As the declaration noted, the worsening security situation made it imperative that Iraqi Muslims were united against sectarian violence.  Qazi said that the United Nations stands ready to provide any assistance required to facilitate the implementation of this declaration.  We have a press release and a statement available upstairs.

**Today’s Press Briefings

Press conferences this afternoon: of course, after we hear from Gail, on behalf on the President of the General Assembly, at 1, Vitit Muntabhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, will be here.

And at 3, Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, will also be here.

**UN Day

And for those of you who have forgotten, the UN will be closed tomorrow.  You can come in, but we will not be here.  It’s in observance of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.  It is also UN Day.  In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General says that over the past ten years, we have made some big steps forward in our common struggle for development, security and human rights, yet there is much that needs to be done.  He encourages all leaders to work with his successor to make the UN a stronger and more effective organization.

**Upcoming Press Briefings

And on Wednesday at 10:30, the Permanent Mission of Japan is sponsoring a press conference in this room by the Stop AIDS Organization on the “Africa AIDS Orphan Soccer Project”.

At 2:00, Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, will hold a press conference.  Our guest at Wednesday’s noon briefing will be Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.  That is it for me.  I will take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Jan Pronk, could you tell us whether there is, or the UN now believes there should be, some kind of a policy on senior UN officials writing personal blogs dealing with issues that are in their portfolios?

Spokesman:  I think on Mr. Pronk I discussed that issue quite a bit on Friday, whatever policy changes will be made or interpretation of existing staff rules, because there are quite a number of existing rules relating to publications and the press would have to be interpreted to be adapted to this twenty-firstCentury phenomenon.  That will be a process that is going on.  The Secretary-General has fairly liberal rules in terms of the staff being able to write or speak freely, but obviously they need to exercise the proper judgement in doing so.

Question:  The French Defence Minister, Alliot-Marie, said that the Israeli over flights over Lebanon were illegal.  And General Pelligrini said if they continue, UNIFIL will shoot them. The Defence Minister of Israel, Mr. Peretz, reportedly said that it will continue because they prevent shipment of arms to Hezbollah.  How concerned is the Secretary-General about the situation?

Spokesman:  The issue of Israeli over flights and any violations of resolution 1701 are a concern to the Secretary-General.  These issues, as far as the over flights are concerned, will be dealt with primarily on a political and diplomatic level.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General actually communicate to Jan Pronk concerns over what was appearing on his website?

Spokesman:  I’ve answered those questions on Friday. There have been a lot of phone calls back and forth over the last couple of days. We’ve now received this letter from the Sudanese Government we’re taking a look at it very closely in terms of its language.  The Secretary-General has asked Mr. Pronk to come back, and Mr. Pronk will have discussions with the Secretary-General and other senior officials when he’s here.  But what needs to be clearly stated is that he continues to be the Special Representative for the Secretary-General and serving with the full support of the Secretary-General in that capacity.

Question:  I know on Friday you said that there had been previous communications.

Spokesman:  I will not go any further than that.

Question:  In the sense that Mr. Pronk has been made totally ineffective, now that the Sudanese Government is unwilling to accept him, has the Secretary-General (inaudible) after he comes back whether he resigns or is removed or whatever?

Spokesman:  Our commitment to Sudan has remained unchanged, our commitment to seeing the peace agreement in the South being fully implemented, our commitment to the situation in Darfur remains unchanged.  Mr. Pronk remains our Special Representative.  He is on his way to New York.  He will have discussions.  The Secretary-General is keen to hear from him.  And we will take it from there.  But until further notice he remains the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

Question:  What happens to remain engaged?

Spokesman:  We remain engaged with the Sudanese government.

Question:  Any possibility any consideration he might be punished or disciplined for having done something that sort of complicated the UN’s efforts to carry out its mandate there?  And also, any rules on UN officials producing sort of videos?  There’s this case, I think of Norwegian peacekeepers who did a takeoff of the Beach Boys song “ Kokomo” in Kosovo.  You don’t know anything about that? 

Spokesman:  I know it’s one of my favourite songs.  I won’t go into the Beach Boys here, but obviously the Secretary-General will be having discussions with Mr. Pronk and is keen to hear from him directly on his take on the situation on the ground, but I don’t want to prejudge those discussions, and like I’ve said, as far as we are concerned his status is unchanged.

Question:  So you don’t know about the video?  It actually is a real video.

Spokesman:  For once, I’ll be honest.  Yes I’ve seen the video and I’ll try and get you what the status is of disciplinary action that may have been taken by the contingent.

[In a later announcement, the Spokesman said that the peacekeepers in question had been serving with NATO and not the UN.]

Question:  For the record, does the UN believe he’s been expelled or recalled at the moment?

Spokesman:  We recalled him for consultations.  He remains the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. It was the UN’s decision to ask him to come to New York for discussions.  His status is not affected by him coming back to New York for consultations.  We will be having further discussions with the Sudanese Government in the days ahead, including this afternoon.

Question:  So given the whole emphasis on having a transition to a UN peacekeeping force would it be fair to say that the Secretary-General thinks that this whole problem with the website has complicated this?

Spokesman:  The situation in Darfur and the transition has always been delicate.

Question:  I realize I am asking you a question to which there is not yet a definitive answer, or an answer for that matter.  Do you think it might reasonable to expect that Mr. Pronk might come and talk to us after he has whatever meetings with the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  I think your analysis of your question was a correct one.  I am always open to making requests.

Question:  I may have missed this in transit, but have there been any phone calls between Secretary Rice and Kofi Annan today.  She said in Washington she would be talking to him about Mr. Pronk and Darfur?

Spokesman:  No, as of two hours ago, I had not seen a phone call from Secretary Rice.

Question:  He’s considered expelled from Sudan; you are recalling him but…

Spokesman:  We’ve asked him to come back in light of the letter, which we are studying very closely.  The letter did ask him to be withdrawn, but as far as we are concerned, this is a recall.  We are recalling him back temporarily for consultations on these issues.

Question:  So he’s not really expelled?

Spokesman:  As far as we are concerned, his status remains unchanged.

Question:  If his status does change and the Secretary-General decides it makes sense for him to step down or accept a resignation from Mr. Pronk, how quickly does the Secretary-General want to ensure that there is someone in that position? The reason I’m asking is that when the North Korea envoy [Maurice Strong] resigned, that position remains vacant.

Spokesman:  I think Strong and Pronk are two different issues.  Sudan and DPRK are two different issues.  So I’m not going to answer the hypothetical in that one.

Question:  One thing on the DPRK.  This report that cites human rights abuses in North Korea.  Has the Secretary-General read that report and what are his feelings about it?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General has always been concerned about the humanitarian and the human rights issues in the DPRK and the report itself, I think, paints a very dramatic picture of that situation.

Question:  But does he agree with the findings?

Spokesman:  You know, I think as with all these Special Rapporteurs, it is not for him to agree or disagree.  These are independent Rapporteurs, but he is as well extremely concerned about the situation.

Question:  Pronk seems to have got himself in trouble for describing the military operations that are not going very well.  Is that in the UN’s view something that is outside his mandate?  Could you perhaps give an update on how the general situation, the humanitarian situation, the violence is?

Spokesman:  We update you regularly on incidents that are taking place in Darfur. The Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed his concern about the military build-up in Darfur.  The UN’s position and the Secretary-General’s position is the one that remains expressed through his official statements and through the regular reporting that is done to the Security Council.

Question:  Do you share the view that things are going very badly for the Sudanese…?

Spokesman:  I think in terms of our views Mr. Pronk’s blog that was something that wasaddressed

Question:  In your view, you guys do analysis on these conflicts, these things.  Are things going particularly badly for the Sudanese Government?  Have they suffered major reverses?

Spokesman:  That particular question I’m not able to answer, though we have repeatedly expressed our concern about the growing number of violence and incidents in Darfur.

Question:  Is there a plan to recall, beyond calling him back to headquarters, is there a plan to recall Mr. Pronk and exchange him for someone else?

Spokesman:  I answered what the plan is at this point.  It’s that we received this letter, we requested him to come back to take part in the discussions about the letter and take part in the study of the letter.  That’s where we are.  Mr. Pronk is here on Wednesday.  I don’t want to prejudge any of the discussions that will take place between now and Wednesday.

Question:  May his job be possible?

Spokesman:  I am not going to go that way.

Question:  Can you give us an update on the sending of UN advisers to help the African Union forces there?  Where does that stand?

Spokesman:  Yes, that is moving ahead.  We have more than a dozen police and military advisors that have now already been dispatched to AMIS.  More will be on their way and the plan to strengthen the African Union Mission is continuing. And the cooperation with the Government of Sudan in the implementing of that plan is also continuing.

Question:  The New York Times today basically confirms what Pronk wrote on his weblog.  Is it something that you can confirm that what Mr. Pronk has written is chaos in the Sudanese Army, plus confirmed by pictures?  Can you confirm that situation?

Spokesman:  We have done regular reporting on Darfur and what we have said from this podium, if you look at the reports, paints a very grim picture.  If you are asking me to answer this question about the morale of the Sudanese forces, it is not a question I can answer from here.

Question:  So why is he describing it on his website?

Spokesman:  His weblog is his personal weblog, which I will not comment on.

Question:  Who covers for Pronk when he is not there?

Spokesman:  There is an Acting Deputy.  As in any Mission, the Deputy will cover for him.

Question:  And are you aware of any issues between the Deputy and the Government of Khartoum.  Are the problems to your knowledge limited to Mr. Pronk?

Spokesman:  I think you would have to ask the Sudanese Government that question.

Question:  Is Pronk going to speak with the Security Council while he is here?  Or is the Secretary-General conferring with the Security Council?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General will inform the Security Council of the latest situation and of the letter.  Whether or not Mr. Pronk will brief the Council, I’m not aware of it.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General seek the Council’s views prior to the decision?

Spokesman:  The only decision that the Secretary-General has taken for this time, is asking his Special Representative to return for consultations, and that is within his purview to do that on his own. He will, however, inform the Security Council on what has happened with the Sudanese Government and the UN.

Question:  Is there any chance of getting a copy of the Sudanese letter to the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  Not from our end. .At this point, you may want to ask the Sudanese if they feel like sharing it with you.

Question:  You mentioned consultations this afternoon with the Sudanese Government.  Do you know who?

Spokesman:  The peacekeeping department has asked to meet with the Sudanese Government and that will take place this afternoon.

Question:  Where is the meeting happening with the peacekeepers and the Sudanese ambassadors?

Spokesman:  It will happen in this building.

Question:  Is it something that UN TV might have?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  What is the purpose of the meetings?

Spokesman:  We’ve asked to see the Sudanese ambassador about the discussions we are planning to have with the Sudanese Government onthis letter

Question:  So it is not procedural?

Spokesman:  That would be fair to say.

Question:  How is the transition going between Mr. Ban’s administration and the representatives of the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  The transition is just starting, and is, as far as we can tell, going well. The Secretary-General is determined to have an effective transition and a team is being formed with representatives of both current serving officials and people working with the Secretary-General designate.

Question:  Do you have any names?

Spokesman:  From our end, the people who will lead on that issue are the Chef de Cabinet, Alicia Bárcena Ibarra; and Robert Orr, the Secretary-General’s Director of Strategic Planning.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have full confidence in Jan Pronk?

Spokesman:  Yes, he does.

Question:  On the Secretary-General’s report on the Ivory Coast since it’s come out, the new forces in Ivory Coast have called on the UN to not get behind any transitional mechanism that would leave Gbagbo in place after October 30. They said they won’t respect any mechanism.  Does the Secretary-General or DPA have any recommendation on that for the Council?

Spokesman:  The Council will be discussing that this week if I get my calendar right, and that is following the decisions by the AU and ECOWAS.  We very much hope that any decisions being made are taken by the Security Council, reflecting both the AU and the ECOWAS positions, that they will be heeded by all the parties in Côte d’Ivoire.

Question:  Is he going to get some kind of an update to this report?

Spokesman: I’m sure if the Council asks they will get an update.

Question:  There was an incident earlier this month about Chinese shooting at Tibetans.  I asked you about it.  You referred me to the UNHCR and they said they are looking into it.  There has now been a call by groups to look into the 32 people that are missing.  It says they’ve called on the UN.  Are you aware of this request?

Spokesman:  No I’m not but we can look into it afterwards. I will look at what we have.

Question:  You said Jan Pronk is leaving tonight.  Does that mean he will be arriving in New York tonight and will be at work tomorrow?

Spokesman:  We expect to see him in the building on Wednesday. As far as I understand, the Secretary-General will not meet with him until Wednesday and he has no official meetings until then. If that changes we will let you know.

Question:  You are going to ask if he can possibly meet with the press if he finishes with all his official duties and responsibilities?

Spokesman:  I’d be happy to ask and I look forward to hearing the answer.

Question:  If you can’t, Ambassador Blog will do so.

Spokesman:  On that note, Gail they are all yours.

Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly

The plenary of the General Assembly is not meeting today, however its main Committees are all holding meetings.  The First Committee [Disarmament and International Security] is taking action today on some fifty-five draft resolutions submitted under disarmament and international security.

The Second Committee [Economic and Financial] is holding a panel discussion this morning on the theme “innovative finance to combat climate change”, while this afternoon they will discuss globalization and interdependence, and under that rubric will look at other issues including international migration and development, culture and development, preventing and combating corrupt practices, and other issues pertaining to the UN Convention against Corruption, and integration of the economies in transition into the world economy.

In the Third Committee [Social, Humanitarian and Cultural], discussion will focus on the promotion and protection of human rights.  As usual under this agenda item, there will be the issue of human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.  Today there will be introductory statements and opportunities for dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Nina Jilani; the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir; and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy.  And all of those meetings are in fact open, in case you want to go and listen to what’s happening.

The Fourth Committee [Special Political and Decolonization] is considering today the issue of international cooperation on the peaceful uses of outer space and will have a draft resolution on this matter as well as on a United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response.  The Committee will also continue its comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.

In the Fifth Committee, discussion continues on follow-up to the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related field, as well as follow-up to the Millennium Summit among others.

In the Sixth Committee [Legal], discussion will focus on the report of the International Law Commission, which is a rather lengthy report with several issues that will be taken up by the Committee.

In news of the election of the fifth non-permanent member of the Security Council -- the General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa has been holding consultations with Member States on the way forward and has been able to secure a commitment that the elections will take place in such a way that it will allow the Assembly to continue with its normal schedule of work.  This week elections will be held on Wednesday afternoon in Conference Room 3 and Thursday morning in Conference Room 1.  We will keep you posted as things develop.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  President Chavez seemed to suggest that Venezuela might be bending.  If you read the comments he made, he said that Venezuela has achieved its objective in this race in standing up to a superpower. Do you know of any discussions, besides those on the procedure of the vote, that would suggest there might be a resolution in sight?

Spokeswoman:  We haven’t heard anything -- officially or unofficially, for that matter -- on what is happening.  We do know that the end result to some extent lies within the regional group.  I am sure that they are talking among themselves; they were last week and I expect that they will continue.  I don’t expect that they will want to come back to a deadlocked situation, but we will have to wait and see what happens on Wednesday.

Question:  There has been no breakthrough on that yet?

Spokeswoman:  Not that we have heard.  

Question:  How has the President managed that the work doesn’t take over whatever [other things the General Assembly has on its agenda], because now you are going to have two more meetings, it could go on.  What is she saying, what has she really worked out?

Spokeswoman:  What she has worked out is that the General Assembly will not meet every day on this matter.  She has suggested meeting twice a week for the next couple of weeks and they’ve worked out a schedule.

Question:  But there is already an expectation that it could go on for weeks?

Spokeswoman:  No, this is just a precautionary measure, and so the schedule reflects for at least another three.

Question:  What is the schedule can you tell us?

Spokeswoman:  I can give you that at a later time because I think we want to finish with this week, and see how this week goes.  My suspicion is that the hope is for something to happen this week, so we would like to just see what happens this week before we announce other meetings. 

Question:  So it’s Wednesday and Thursday at the moment?

Spokeswoman:  It’s Wednesday and Thursday at the moment.

Question:  They will meet in the General Assembly Hall or they will meet elsewhere?

Spokeswoman:  They will meet in the conference rooms because as you know on UN day we have this huge concert sponsored by the Greek Mission.

Question:  But does that mean the meetings will not be conducted by permanent representatives but lower level?

Spokeswoman:  It depends, I think up to last week you had one higher level representative on one side but on the other side it was the head of the mission.

Question:  No, but what I’m saying is, are we moving from the heads of missions to lower levels even within the missions?

Spokeswoman:  I think that really is up to the missions, and I am sure they are going to be in touch with their capitals.

Question:  You indicated that this afternoon the Assembly will take up several items including an item on culture and development.  Are there any specific proposals on that item?

Spokeswoman:  That is the Second Committee that is looking at that. They didn’t specify what they will be talking about under that rubric but I can certainly find out for you.

Question:  In talking to the various parties in the race for the Security Council seat, what was the impression on talking with the Venezuela side about how long they are ready to continue this process?

Spokeswoman:  I don’t think that from the feedback I received from her that there was any detail on that.  I think the main thing was to first of all make sure that there was a schedule that we could stick to that didn’t throw the Assembly’s work off.  The rest of the discussions, if there were any, I was not privy to.

Question:  Last week, someone I believe from the Guatemalan Mission had mentioned that it’s costing about $25,000 a day to maintain the lights and all the other stuff inside the General Assembly Hall?  Is that figure accurate?

Spokeswoman:  I will have to check on whether that figure is accurate.  I also heard the same figure.

Question:  With respect to the consultations, can you tell us whether she has met with Ambassador Cordovez from Ecuador and whether she has had any back and forth with him as what he can do within his group?

Spokeswoman:  I can certainly get back to you on whether she has specifically spoken with him on that subject.

Question: You mentioned that there was a little suspicion on developments on Wednesday and Thursday.  Can you elaborate?

Spokeswoman:  The President felt that not having elections every day would give space and allow the group to sit and work out whatever difficulties they need to work out among themselves.  Because any shift in position has to come from the group, it can’t be imposed on them.  So they have to come to the conclusion that they need to move this forward and to find a way to do that within the group.

Question:  Is there a planned GRULAC meeting either today or Wednesday?

Spokeswoman:  Not that I know of.

Question:  There is no compromise expected at this point?

Spokeswoman:  I don’t want to say that there isn’t.  I mean the fact that we don’t know about it doesn’t mean that they are not talking; because I think it is a matter of concern.

* *** *

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