|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.
Good afternoon, all.
The Secretary-General will be in Washington tomorrow, as you know, where he will meet President Bush at the White House. He will also go to Capitol Hill, where he will have discussions Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning with leaders of both houses of the Congress -- Democrats as well as Republicans.
A public speech, hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Copies of that speech will be available tomorrow.
On Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, expressed regret over the execution in Baghdad today of Awad Hamad Al-Bandar and Barzan Ibrahim Al-Hassan, who had been charged with crimes against civilians in Dujail, Iraq.
The High Commissioner reiterated her concerns about the fairness and impartiality of the trial before the Iraqi High Tribunal and recalled that, under international law, the application of capital punishment was only possible under narrow, strictly regulated circumstances.
Arbour also reiterated that she herself was opposed to capital punishment under all circumstances. We have more on that upstairs.
The Security Council today held consultations on the Central African Republic. General Lamine Cissé, the head of the UN Peacebuilding Office in that country, briefed Council members on the latest developments there. General Cissé just spoke to reporters at the Security Council stakeout.
On Friday afternoon, the Security Council failed to adopt a resolution on Myanmar, due to negative votes by two permanent members: Russia and China. The resolution received 9 votes in favour to 3 against, with South Africa also voting against it, and 3 abstentions, from Indonesia, Qatar and the Republic of the Congo.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, has concluded his first official visit to the Sudan. Last Friday, Eliasson visited El Fasher, the capital of the State of North Darfur, where he met with local government representatives as well as non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement, namely from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army(SLM/A).
His message to the parties was to commit to reduction of violence in order to create an environment conducive to a political settlement.
Meanwhile, the Tripartite Mechanism on the implementation of the UN support to the African Union (AU) force in Darfur, which comprises representatives from AMIS, the UN Mission and the Government of National Unity of the Sudan, held its fourth meeting over the weekend.
The UN Mission informed the group that a second group of 10 military staff officers will be deployed to Darfur to support the African Union mission. This is in addition to the 17 UN military staff officers and 19 UN police advisers who are already in Darfur, as part of the so-called light support package.
Phase two of UN support to the African Union force in Darfur will consist of a heavy support package, including additional staff and equipment. The United Nations and the African Union are in the process of finalizing the heavy support package and will jointly inform the Government of National Unity of the Sudan on its details.
The UN Mission also reports that the security situation in South Darfur continues to be volatile.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, is now out on the racks. In it, he says that the focus of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides seems to have shifted towards enlisting more active external support, rather than addressing each other’s concerns and pursuing their political objectives through mutual accommodation.
The Secretary-General also says that recent acts of violence in the conflict zone are a cause for concern. He condemns them and urges the parties to work together in identifying and bringing to justice those responsible. He also appeals to both sides to engage in dialogue.
On Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, welcomed an Afghan presidential decree confirming the appointment of 40 new police officials to the country's national force as a step towards stability.
Koenigs said, in a statement released in Kabul on Saturday, that all of the officials had been selected based on “merit, integrity and experience”. He expressed confidence that “their skills, experience and commitment to public service will serve them well as they continue the work of cementing much needed peace and stability across Afghanistan”.
On women, the thirty-seventh session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women opened this morning in Conference Room 3.
During this session, which will last until 2 February, the Committee will examine 15 country reports.
This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions, well, one request and a question. Will you be able to give us copies of the CSIS speech?
Spokesperson: Yes. It will be given to you tomorrow under embargo, but before he delivers it.
Question: Can we have it in time for European deadlines, please?
Spokesperson: We’ll do our best.
Question: Now, a question of policy. With regard to the personnel shift now, what is the Secretary-General’s policy going to be on the existing network of Special Representatives? I don’t know if you’ve addressed this before, but is there going to be a refreshing or changing of Special Representatives?
Spokesperson: Well, there is going to be a review of all those posts, yes. As we have said, all the USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] and ASGs [Assistant Secretaries-General] will eventually be reviewed…
Question: Well, this may be a technicality, but are all the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSG), either USGs or ASGs? I’m not sure that they are.
Spokesperson: Most of them are, yes. And all those will be reviewed.
Question: Could you tell us –- I know you mentioned Ms. Arbour’s reaction to the executions today –- could you tell us the Secretary-General’s reaction?
Spokesperson: To the executions? Ok. He has spoken twice on the subject as you know. He regrets that, despite pleas from both himself and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to spare the lives of the two co-defendants, they were both executed. That is all I have to say.
Question: Is he going to contact the Iraqi Government about this? Or is he going to follow this subject up, that they disregarded his call for restraint?
Spokesperson: No. He has already called for restraint. I don’t think there will be further discussions on this issue with the Government.
Question: On the Secretary-General’s trip to Washington. Will he be having any press availability there? Will you have a more complete schedule so we can notify our people if they are following the visit?
Spokesperson: For the time being we don’t yet have his press availability outside the different meeting rooms. I’ll find out for you if there will be possibilities.
Question: Did the Secretary-General have any reaction to the voting against the US-sponsored resolution on Myanmar this past Friday?
Spokesperson: He regrets there was no unity in the Security Council on Myanmar.
Question: Do you keep records of how many times Ban Ki-moon, in his previous capacity, visited Washington and met with President Bush?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have the exact count, but I can tell you that he is going this time as Secretary-General, which is a new…
Question: But before that, how many times did he go there?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information.
Question: Can you find out for us?
Spokesperson: Yes, sure. No problem.
[Shortly after the briefing, the Spokesperson’s Office announced that as Secretary-General-designate, Mr. Ban Ki-moon had met once with President Bush.]
Question: On the Secretary-General’s talks on Washington with President Bush, could you tell us the topics on the agenda?
Spokesperson: We don’t have the exact agenda. You know that a statement had been issued on President Bush’s side, and I think there will be other subjects that will be introduced by the Secretary-General. We don’t have that right now; at this point, we don’t know what the topics will be. But we will inform you as soon as he meets with President Bush, and as soon as we have some reading of the exchange between the two.
Question: Two questions. One, can you tell us who is going on the Washington trip with Mr. Ban?
Spokesperson: I will have a complete list tonight and will give it to you.
Question: You don’t have it now?
Spokesperson: No. I don’t have it currently.
Question: Secondly, since you mentioned General Lamine Cissé, what about the other, what about the other Lamin Sise? Is he still on the thirty-eighth floor? Will he continue to advise Ban Ki-moon as he did Kofi Annan?
Spokesperson: Yes, presently he is working on the thirty-eighth floor.
Question: Is he staying or is he…?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. We don’t have that information.
Correspondent: The thirty-eighth floor isn’t like the rest of the building, which, you know…I mean anybody on the thirty-eighth floor is either a USG or an ASG and anybody up there, we need to know who they are and what their status is.
Question: Last week, the Secretary-General said he was looking forward to a future meeting of the Quartet. However, United States Secretary of State Rice announced that there was going to be a tripartite meeting with both sides this spring, so I just wanted to know the Secretary-General’s reaction to that. Also, does he think that there is no need for a Quartet meeting, because the two sides were meeting separately? Is he going to send anyone on the sidelines to speak to both parties?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General still insists that there be a meeting of the Quartet, probably in early February –- remember? He announced it at his press conference. And he spoke several times to Secretary Rice on the issue before she left on her trip. So he is very well informed on what the American initiative is on that count.
Question: Is the other meeting still going to go on?
Spokesperson: It is going to go on and the Quartet is still going to meet.
Question: Forgive me, I may have missed it. I came in a little bit late. You said there is a projected Quartet meeting in early February. Is it going to be here or is it likely to be in another location?
Spokesperson: Well, it was already scheduled, as you probably know, to be held in Paris, but because of scheduling problems, we could not get all the parties to meet at that time. So it was postponed and will now be held, as we said in early February -– when everyone would be available. I don’t have an exact date yet.
Question: I’m not talking about dates, I’m talking about venue.
Spokesperson: We don’t know yet what the venue will be. That depends on the availability of the different people.
Question: So it might be here or it might be in Paris, as it was last May?
Question: Regarding the issue of the American attack on the Iranian Consulate in northern Iraq, have there been any talks or consultations with the United Nations and the parties concerned regarding the release of these diplomats?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to discuss this or raise the issue in his meetings in Washington?
Spokesperson: He is aware of it, but I don’t know what further steps will be taken.
Question: What about the overflights in Lebanon? Has UNIFIL reported any recent developments?
Spokesperson: Well, UNIFIL has not informed us of any.
Question: Not recently?
Spokesperson: Not recently.
Question: Last week I asked you about the UN appeal to support displaced Iraqis. Do you have any information on this? Who is responsible for this initiative? What has been accomplished?
Spokesperson: No. I don’t have any additional information on that.
[The Spokesperson later reminded the journalist that, as she had previously announced, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was responsible for this particular appeal.]
Question: I understand that the Secretary-General will be seeing Mr. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change, at 5:00. Is it possible for you to arrange a press conference for tomorrow, since he will be here for several days and it would be good for us to have a chance to talk to him?
Spokesperson: We’ll try to arrange that.
Question: In Uganda, during these peace talks, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) said they now want to return to Uganda. They said they would shoot their way in, the army said it would shoot back at them. Does the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Joaquim Chissano, have anything to say on that? What is his status?
Spokesperson: We will ask about it. We don’t have a reaction yet.
[The Spokesperson later added that Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano was in the region consulting with the parties, including Vice-President Machar of Southern Sudan, the facilitator, on how to move the process forward speedily, taking into account the yearning of the people of northern Uganda for peace and reconciliation.]
Question: Also, with all that’s going on in Bangladesh, it seems like the UN Resident Coordinator has made a number of statements about what would constitute legitimate elections and what should take place. Is there some thought of the Secretariat sending an envoy there? Is the Resident Coordinator checking with the Secretariat before she makes these statements?
Spokesperson: I’m sure they are aware of what is happening and of what is being said over there.
Question: Also, Ban Ki-moon met with James Morris on Friday I think. It was on his schedule. Do you know what that meeting was about or what they discussed?
Spokesperson: They of course discussed the World Food Programme. As you know, Mr. Morris is supposed to leave in early April and to be replaced on 5 April. So it was just a visit to talk about the World Food Programme and his own concerns.
Question: To follow up on my question from Friday, did any Member State ask the Secretary-General not to send the team to Beit Hanoun as required by the General Assembly resolution, or was there some other reason? And considering the Secretary-General’s commitment to transparency, why has it taken several weeks to even acknowledge that he is not sending the team?
Spokesperson: Well, we don’t have that information yet. You have to realize that the Secretary-General started ten days ago, on reorganizing the UN system and trying to become acquainted with different issues. So, I think it would be fair to give him the time to get into specific areas. But he is fully informed of all those issues.
Question: Some strategic questions or questions of style. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had a tendency to comment on world events almost daily, or in some cases, three or four times a day. Has Ban Ki-moon taken the decision to comment considerably less often on world political events? Are we going to get less of a running commentary or opinion on what is going on from the Secretary-General under Ban Ki-moon?
Spokesperson: Well, let’s give it a few days and we’ll find out.
Question: So this hasn’t been discussed as a matter of strategy?
Spokesperson: No. Not that I know of. It’s not a strategy, no.
Question: On Somalia: there has been a state of emergency in that country for three months. Is there any comment from the United Nations on the humanitarian situation there? Are you going to follow up with the Government on the state of emergency?
Spokesperson: Well, we had an update for you Friday and we are going to continue to update you on the situation. Yes, Evelyn?
Correspondent: Just a point of information. The former Secretary-General made public his comments on not sending the team to Beit Hanoun weeks ago. His reason for not sending the team has been published as a letter to the General Assembly. There’s no secret about it.
Spokesperson: No, there is no secret about it. And on whether Secretary-General Ban will follow suit, for the time being, well, yes.
Question: Just as a follow-up to this. Has Secretary-General Ban had a chance to talk to the former Secretary-General in the past few weeks? Does he know where the former Secretary-General is now? Do you? Are you in contact with him?
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll make sure to get that information for you. I don’t have it personally, but I will get it for you.
Question: Did he talk to Mr. Ban, or…?
Spokesperson: Well, he saw Mr. Ban right before he left. I don’t know if they have had any further conversations since. But he came to see Mr. Ban in his hotel, before he left for his trip. I will let you know if there have been any other contacts between the two.
Question: And Mr. Ban Ki-moon is now in his official residence, isn’t he?
Spokesperson: No. The residence, as you know, is being repaired. The General Assembly approved funds to repair it. It is really in a state of disarray. It is really extremely dangerous at this point since it has equipment -- boilers and other such things -- that dates back some fifty years and has since become a fire hazard. It had been decided that the building needed to undergo basic repairs.
Question: Since he has taken office, has Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoken to any world leaders?
Spokesperson: Well, you get his schedule everyday and you know that he has spoken on the phone to several of them. I just mentioned that he had spoken to United States Secretary of State Rice about the Middle East issue, and he has spoken to several others.
Spokesperson: Yes, Presidents also.
Question: [Deputy Secretary-General-designate] Mrs. Asha-Rose Mtengeti Migiro is in town today?
Spokesperson: Yes, she is. She is meeting the Secretary-General today. She will be taking up her functions as Deputy Secretary-General, we hope, in early February. She has, of course, just arrived, and, for the time being, she will be getting acquainted with the responsibilities she will have and what they will entail.
Question: But what is she doing today, though?
Spokesperson: Today she is just meeting staff -– meeting with people in her own office…
Question: Will, she meet us?
Spokesperson: I’ll ask her. She has told me she would be willing to meet with you, but we are waiting for her to fully take office before she speaks to the press. And she is willing to do it. She wants to.
Correspondent: She’s here. We want to talk to her.
Spokesperson: Yes, but give her time. She just landed. She has just arrived.
Question: When you were asked last week or the week before if the UN had dropped its procedure of transparent shortlists, you said that the UN had not abandoned that procedure. I’m wondering where those shortlists are and can we see them? And further, with regard to the restructuring of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and other departments, I understand that this would have to be sent to the General Assembly. But will we get the proposals for those changes in some form or another? How is the process going to work? When will the changes go to the Assembly?
Spokesperson: Well, the project has not been finalized yet. It is still the object of consultations. It is being discussed by the Secretary-General. Once the project is finished and a draft is ready, of course, it will go to the General Assembly and of course to the Committee that deals with the financial implications…
Question: Can you give us a particular date?
Spokesperson: I will get a date for you, but I don’t think they will have it now. They will not give me a date immediately because I don’t know if they are ready for that.
Question: Well then, can you give us the shortlist?
Spokesperson: The shortlists apply to professionals being hired within this building. However, I don’t think we will have a shortlist available for the USG posts or other top posts.
Question: So just to clarify: the UN has now stopped that practice. Is that correct?
Spokesperson: Well, we can ask. We can ask.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the policy for making public the shortlists of senior appointments had not changed. As had been the case in the past, for appointments of officials who required General Assembly approval, the UN would continue to make the shortlists public. Shortlists were not made public for internal appointments made solely under the Secretary-General’s authority.]
Question: If you as the Spokesperson and your office cannot answer my questions about the UN support for displaced Iraqis, then where can I go to get that information?
Spokesperson: We can try to get back to the people in charge of refugees and internally displaced persons. I can try to find out for you. We’ll try to find out as soon as we can.
Correspondent: You said last week that you would find out as soon as you could and you have not, and now I’m under pressure to get an answer.
Spokesperson: I’m sorry about that. Very well, come to my office and we’ll track down that information for you.
Question: Just a follow-up to what Mark said: Please let us know when these proposals go to the General Assembly.
Spokesperson: Definitely. You will know before they go.
Question: How many of the new posts have to be approved by the General Assembly? Is there an attempt to not add to the number of USG posts so the Assembly will not have to approve extra funds?
Spokesperson: Well, restructuring initiatives have to go through the General Assembly. But there are some specific areas where the Secretary-General does not need approval from the General Assembly for nominations and appointments.
Question: Well, in an imaginary scenario, let’s just say that DPKO would be split into two departments. Would that have to be approved by the General Assembly, because it would require another USG?
Spokesperson: No, the General Assembly would have to approve the actual restructuring, not the nominations.
Question: The General Assembly would also have to approve the budget for that?
Spokesperson: And the budget, yes.
Question: So the Secretary-General has the power like a “general manager” to pick his…?
Question:…to appoint his top posts, yes.
That’s all? Thank you very much.
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