|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
Our guest today is José Antonio Ocampo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who will be here to launch the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2007, the UN’s assessment of the state of the world’s economy. And we have the full report and press materials from Ocampo’s office upstairs. You might also find some copies right here on the table. We’ll have Mr. Ocampo in a few minutes.
On the Sudan, Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, who is visiting the Sudan within the context of the revival of the political process with the different parties, met today with the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lam Akol, and with Presidential Advisers Majzoub Al-Khalifa and Mustafa Osman Ismail. He also held a meeting with Minni Minawi, the Chairman of the SLM/A wing that signed the Darfur Peace Agreement and Senior Assistant to the President. In these meetings, Mr. Eliasson discussed with his interlocutors ways to reenergize the political process. Mr. Eliasson described his meeting with the Sudanese officials as “fruitful” and “constructive”. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow with President Omar Al-Bashir and other Sudanese high-ranking officials, before he proceeds on Friday to El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur State.
The Security Council met this morning and heard from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi about the recent report about the work of the UN team that examined the situation in the border area between Chad and the Sudan. Once that is done, Council members will hear an update on the situation in Somalia from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari. After consultations end, the Security Council intends to hold a formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire.
Yesterday afternoon, in consultations, Council members received copies of draft resolutions on Myanmar (from the United States) and on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question (from Indonesia).
The Secretary-General this morning urged the Group of 77 coalition of developing nations to remain a driving force as the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development takes place this year. He warned that, despite some welcome advances on official development assistance and debt relief, the global economy remains an uneven playing field. He also called on the Group to support him as he pushes for further reform of the UN system.
The Secretary-General welcomed Pakistan’s chairmanship of the Group of 77 in the coming year and thanked South Africa for its sound stewardship of the coalition over the past year. We have copies of his remarks upstairs.
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the UNA-USA Business Council for the United Nations and the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) at a breakfast. He thanked the people of New York and Mayor Bloomberg for support of the United Nations, particularly the renovation of the Headquarters building. He also asked for their understanding of the possible disruptions to the neighbourhood and commuters from the major construction process.
The Secretary-General also said that the situation in Darfur is most worrisome and is firmly committed to resolve this issue as soon as possible to prevent further sufferings of innocent people in Darfur.
On Nepal, in a report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General recommends that a UN Mission in Nepal should be established, to support the timely implementation of that country’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, monitor the management of arms and armed forces and provide support for the conduct of free and fair Constituent Assembly elections, among other tasks. The Secretary-General says that the UN Mission in Nepal is expected to be a focused mission of limited duration, which he recommends be set up for a period of 12 months. It will include an arms monitoring component consisting of up to 186 active and former military officers, an electoral component including electoral advisers and a police advisory team, and units dealing with civil and political affairs.
**Secretary-General’s Press Conference
And a reminder that the Secretary-General will be holding a press conference at 11 a.m. in Conference Room 1, tomorrow. Therefore, there will be no noon briefing tomorrow.
That is all I have for you. Any questions, before we have our guest?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Could you clarify the status and the retirement date for James Morris, the head of the World Food Programme? He was supposed to be stepping down -- sorry, his term expires in the beginning of April, but he apparently wants to step down earlier, and there is a farewell ceremony for him next week.
Spokesperson: I will check on the exact date of his departure.
[The Spokesperson later announced that James Morris was planning to step down on 4 April 2007. 5 April 2007 would be the first day for his successor, Josette Sheeran.]
Question: This afternoon, the Secretary-General is meeting with Japan’s Minister of Finance. Would you explain why this meeting is taking place? Does it have anything to do with the reports of plans of possible restructuring of the higher offices in the Secretariat?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the exact reading on that meeting. As soon as it takes place, I will let you know.
Question: Michèle, my special congratulations, especially as we worked together at UN Radio. My question is this: the resumed emergency special session of the General Assembly wanted the Secretary-General to come up with a fact-finding mission about the Beit Hanoun massacres and the violence in Gaza. What is the status of that?
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything on that yet.
Question: Do you know when you might have an update?
Spokesperson: I can try to find out for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that the former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, had reported to the General Assembly last month that under the present conditions, he was unable to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun. The situation remains unchanged.]
Question: The United States has said that they have the right to carry out more raids inside Somalia, despite the expressions of concern from the Secretary-General yesterday. Any reaction by Mr. Ban Ki-moon on that?
Spokesperson: Well, you know, the Secretary-General takes note that the Transitional Government has welcomed the involvement of both Ethiopia and the United States, but he still believes that it is in the best interests of all to avoid escalation and go back to a politically-negotiated process in line with the Security Council resolution, resolution 1715. And he is following the situation closely. He reiterates his appeal for all international actors to help Somalia reach stability and peace. And he is concerned, still, with civilian casualties resulting from recent developments. He believes that all foreign troops should withdraw and peace negotiations resume quickly.
Question: Will the Secretary-General, perhaps, broaden his agenda, when he goes to Addis Ababa to include travel to Somalia, or some of the neighbouring countries, to really put his attention to the current crisis there?
Spokesperson: I don’t think that is being considered at the moment, because he will be discussing the Darfur issue, as you know, with the AU.
Question: Speaking of that trip, is there any decision yet as to whether… if there is a Quartet meeting, if there is [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: He will probably attend the donor meeting in Lebanon. As for the Quartet, we are still expecting an answer, to find out whether or not it will be held and when it will be held.
Question: The Secretary-General said this morning that he will visit Washington D.C. to meet President Bush. Do you know what kind of agenda will be discussed?
Spokesperson: We don’t have a specific agenda yet. It is courtesy call to the host country and to the President of that host country. We will have more details for you after the meeting in Washington.
Question: When is that?
Spokesperson: It is supposed to be next week. We’ll have the exact day for you next week.
Spokesperson: Since he became Secretary-General, yes.
Question: The AP has quoted President Al-Bashir of the Sudan that “our experience with UN operations in the world is not encouraging” and in terms of now, again, saying ‘do not take UN forces in’? I wonder if the Secretary-General has any response to that. And whether that report to the Sudanese Government from UNMIS has -- what it says and… -- is a copy of that available upstairs?
Spokesperson: We can get that for you. We have seen the press reports, also. What we can refer you to is the Sudanese President’s letter of last month, in which he responded positively to the three-phase approach presented by the United Nations and the African Union as a package. As you know, Jan Eliasson is now in Khartoum to follow up on those assurances, expressed by President Bashir in that letter. So that’s where we are at.
Question: Also, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Chissano -– is he headed to Uganda to look into the Lord’s Resistance Army and the conflict in northern Uganda? The Government of Uganda has said that it would like the indictments of the International Criminal Court dropped. And Judge Goldstone, who was on the Volcker Commission as a UN kind of character, has said that would fatally harm the ICC. Does Ban Ki-moon have any view on whether these first indictments of the International Criminal Court should definitely be enforced, prosecuted, or whether they should be dropped?
Spokesperson: Well, the process is a judicial process. It’s taking place, it’s going to continue to take place, and the Secretary-General will not interfere with the process of the Court. So we should not expect the Secretary-General to get involved in the proceedings of the Court.
Question: Is the Secretary-General calling for withdrawal of foreign troops from Somalia? Is he calling for immediate withdrawal, even before any African Union force arrives?
Spokesperson: No, I did not say that. What I did say was that he wanted a negotiated solution, a political solution, and he was encouraging that solution to take place. As you know, there is a deployment of IGAD forces being considered, and the UN has approved that force.
Question: Michèle, can I ask you a question I asked on Monday? How many USGs and ASGs have submitted their resignation voluntarily and is there a list of them?
Spokesperson: Well, there is no list at this point. As you know, they have until the 15th to submit their resignations, so we won’t have a definite number and definite information for you until that process is finished. So let’s wait for the 15th.
Question: Michèle, Israel is contending that Hizbollah has nearly rearmed since the war of last summer and that UN peacekeepers are doing little to prevent illegal arms from coming in from Iran and Syria. Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General? And also, what is the latest peacekeeping report regarding illegal weapons going into Lebanon?
Spokesperson: We’ll get the latest report for you. I don’t have it today. The last one you know about. We’ll try to get some more information for you from the field on what the report is on the situation.
Question: Yesterday you said that you would ask the Secretary-General about extrajudicial killings and position of the UN on that. Have you gotten to do that and could you let us know what that position is?
[She later added that UNIFIL had been working to fulfil its mandate in its area of operations, and had on repeated occasions worked with the Lebanese Armed Forces to find proscribed weapons and have them removed or destroyed.]
Spokesperson: OK, the question of extrajudicial killings is… if you were referring yesterday to what happened in Somalia, we cannot use that term. We don’t know, we don’t have enough information at this point to be able to say so. And as soon as we get more information, you’ll have reaction on that.
Question: One more on the resignation of USGs and ASGs. Is there any plan, if not many of them will resign, to enforce their resignation?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know if there is a plan B, but for the time being we are expecting… We are going to respect that date of the 15th and the Secretary-General will act from there.
OK –- I am not going to keep you any longer. Mr. Ocampo will come and join us.
* *** *