|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon and welcome to all those who just came back from that long trip and are with us today.
The Secretary-General, in an informal meeting this morning, told the Member States about the need for restructuring to enhance UN efforts in the fundamental areas of peace operations and disarmament.
For peace operations, he said, the number of operations is at an all-time high, and there is a need to deal with the surge in demand. He proposed the creation of a new Department of Field Support that can support field operations more effectively, coherently and responsively, and establish a clear point of responsibility and accountability for field support.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General also emphasized the need for sustained and determined leadership to deal with disarmament issues and, therefore, proposes that the Department for Disarmament Affairs be constituted as an Office with a direct line to him to ensure access and more frequent interaction.
And, he promises that he continues to listen to Member States and has adjusted his proposals in accordance with their concerns. He also briefed the Member States on his recent travels to Europe and Africa, his first major trip since assuming office. You’ll have more a little later.
**Secretary-General/ Deputy Secretary-General Press Encounter
In a press encounter this morning, the Secretary-General introduced the new Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, who had just signed a declaration pledging to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience, the functions entrusted to her, with only the interest of the United Nations in view.
The Deputy Secretary-General said that she will strive to bring about a more integrated United Nations in all that she does, and added of her first days on the job, “I have had a hectic but very interesting beginning indeed.”
The Secretary-General was also asked some questions, and, in response to a question on the Middle East, said that he fully supports a planned trilateral meeting among the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israeli leaders. He added his hope that the trilateral meeting would be followed up by another Quartet meeting soon. We have the full transcript upstairs.
On climate change, the Secretary-General today stressed that it is the poor -– in Africa, small island developing states and elsewhere -– who will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming. That was part of his message to the UN Environment Programme’s Governing Council, which is meeting in Nairobi today.
He also said that, despite our best intentions and some admirable efforts to date, degradation of the global environment continues unabated. We have the Secretary-General’s full message upstairs.
On Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, over the weekend condemned in the strongest terms the upsurge in violence in Iraq, which targeted innocent civilians in popular markets and universities.
Qazi called on Iraqi leaders and citizens to exhibit fresh thinking in the face of the violence that is tearing their society to pieces. He welcomed Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s statement calling on all to remember the fundamental unity of Islam and the need to close ranks in defence of civilized values and the future of the country. We have his full statement upstairs.
**Assistance to Palestinians
The Secretary-General, in a message to a UN seminar in Qatar today on assistance to the Palestinian people, says that he is very alarmed by the precarious state of the Palestinian economy and the serious humanitarian emergency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
He notes that Israel’s recent release of some withheld tax revenues was a welcome step, and he urges Israel to take further steps in this direction, without delay. He also calls for the Palestinians to take firm steps to cease rocket fire and other indiscriminate attacks against Israeli civilians. We have copies of that message, also upstairs.
In a joint statement, the UN agencies working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, on Saturday, expressed their alarm at the deteriorating security situation in Gaza.
The upsurge of violence, which has taken the lives of innocent civilians, is also putting UN workers on the ground at serious risk, the agencies said, making it extremely difficult to fulfil their humanitarian mandates to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. Yet, the agencies asserted that they remain determined to continue with their humanitarian work.
The UN agencies jointly call for an immediate end to the violence and respect by all parties for the human rights of the population in Gaza, and they condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of women, children and other unarmed civilians.
They appeal to the parties to refrain from any action which endangers civilian life and which prevents the United Nations from fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities.
On the Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan continues to report violence in the form of fighting and attacks in Darfur.
Meanwhile, despite strong appeals from United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations operating in Darfur, threats against the world’s largest relief operation have become even more severe, warned Margareta Wahlström, the Acting Emergency Relief Coordinator.
“ Darfur was already one of the most dangerous areas for relief workers in 2005, but security incidents involving relief workers surged by another 67 per cent in 2006,” she said. “Even more disturbing is that security incidents involving internally displaced people have more than tripled. All parties have to act now to stop these attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice.” And, there is a press release with more details, upstairs.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two United Nations multi-agency teams are investigating the circumstances around last week’s violence in Matadi and its humanitarian and security implications in the Bas-Congo province, where more than 70 were reported dead in the aftermath of local elections.
Over the weekend, the Mission reinforced its presence in the region by deploying a 35-strong additional UN police unit. The Mission also deplored the fact that local police appeared to misinform the public that UN troops are responsible for the violence. Some unfounded charges have led to the stoning by angry youth of two UN vehicles earlier today, the Mission says.
Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, William Lacy Swing, said he was gravely concerned about mounting evidence of serious human rights abuses by the Congolese security forces.
The Security Council this morning heard in its closed consultations a briefing by Tom Koenigs, head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, on recent developments in that country.
On Timor-Leste, in his latest report to the Security Council on the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General says that the overall situation has improved, but the security situation remains volatile and the political climate fluid.
The Secretary-General also reiterates that the UN Mission stands ready to assist in strengthening Timor-Leste’s judicial sector, a key component of the rule of law, which remains weak in a number of areas. The full report is out on the racks.
And, in response to last week’s bird flu outbreak in the United Kingdom, David Nabarro, the UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, said the chances of human infection as a result of that outbreak were very small.
At the same time, however, he warned that the world needs to remain vigilant for up to a decade to ensure the virus’s eradication. Nabarro is currently en route to Geneva from Indonesia.
This is all I have for you. In a few minutes, we have Freh with the General Assembly. Any questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, can you clarify to us the statements by the Secretary-General on Lebanon? What’s the letter he received and what’s the next step? What does he mean by the United Nations certifying, and then the Lebanese certifying…
Spokesperson: I will ask for clarification on that letter for you. Yes?
[She later sad that neither the Department of Political Affairs nor the Office of Legal Affairs has received the letter.]
Question: You told us about what the Secretary-General told the United Nations Member States about restructuring. But what was the response from the developing countries?
Spokesperson: Well, actually the consultations are still on right now, so it’s very difficult for me to give you the reaction of the Member States, and I’m sure Freh will address this issue. I have to say, this is just the beginning of consultations with the larger membership. As you know, there have been consultations before on a smaller scale, and this is going to go on. It’s an ongoing process; the Secretary-General is to provide the membership with additional and more complete information on each one of his proposals. Yes?
Question: Just to follow up on the question -- is the Secretary-General satisfied with all responses from the Member States? Is he unsatisfied with some of the responses, with some of the diplomats or so, and what did he say to you?
Spokesperson: Well, he’s still down there, so I don’t know. At this point, they are still talking
Question: On the trip, there were some, I would say rather diplomatically dissonant problems and…
Spokesperson: Yes, but I think right now all the membership, they’re there, they’re expressing -– the room is packed, I can tell you; there is not a seat available down there. And, all I think, are generally answering the Secretary-General’s request for exchanges on the issues, you know, as you know, essentially, on the restructuring of DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and DDA -- the Department for Disarmament Affairs.
Question: [inaudible] is the Secretary-General planning to call any of the leaders of Kosovo talks in Belgrade and Pristina and to urge them to find, sooner rather than later, the compromise that is asked by Mr. Ahtisaari?
Spokesperson: I think he’s waiting for Mr. Ahtisaari to pursue his talks on the ground before the Secretary-General intervenes directly. Yes?
Question: Has there been any change in the mandate of the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) in South Lebanon, recent changes?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Because they have been moving the border deep into Lebanon in two positions -- [inaudible] and near Shebaa Farms, and although the farmers there protested, there was no coordination with the Lebanese army in moving the border into Lebanon, at least 60 meters [inaudible]. And, the Lebanese have been raising this issue; the Lebanese army even protested about that. I would like to know what’s the UNIFIL position on this? Why are they moving the border inside Lebanon?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know that the information that you give me, that I can confirm it in any way. I have to talk to people in UNIFIL. I know that their mandate has not been changed.
Question: On Sudan, do you have a firm date for the visit of Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim to Khartoum and Darfur?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: When do you expect that?
Spokesperson: I assume we should know within the next two or three days. We should have a specific date on when they are going to do. Okay, yes, Mark?
Question: Two questions just to follow up on the Sudan threats. There have been reports from the US that there are now specific threats against Western targets and now UN targets, so I was wondering if you could give any clarification on that? Just one other thing -- your explanation of Mr. Ban going to the membership saying he had made some changes to his restructuring proposals? So are we talking about, are there new changes now today that he’s actually proposing to them?
Spokesperson: No, no, there are more clarifications, not changes, just clarification. He had a speech this morning to the membership…
Question: [inaudible]… the speech, by the way… what are the clarifications?
Spokesperson: Well, you can see for yourself, what he gave in terms of clarifications.
Question: And on the Sudan?
Spokesperson: On the Sudan, you have upstairs more details about that, about the position of the different agencies on that. And, I don’t have any additional information from what they gave me. Yes?
Question: Michèle, the Secretary-General is proposing to turn the Disarmament Department into an Office with a Special Representative, which I presume would be smaller since an Office is usually smaller than a Department. The Disarmament Affairs was constituted as a Division many years ago within the Political Affairs Department, and now we’re going back again to create an Office. What would happen to the staff of Disarmament Affairs?
Spokesperson: Well, we’re not at this point yet. At this point, we are just discussing -- the Secretary-General is discussing with the general membership on his proposal, which they might accept or they might not accept, or they might make suggestions about. So, it’s a little early to talk about what would become of the staff. At this point, it’s all a question of what is going to come out of those consultations, which, as I said, are ongoing. Yes?
Question: Michèle, when Ms. Migiro spoke to us today, she said that her main task will be reform of the Organization. So what is Ms. Bárcena going to do?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m sure there’s a clear line between the two, and we’ll try to get more specific information for you on this, on what her exact role will be and what Ms. Bárcena’s role will be. Yes?
Question: Two questions. The Kenyan Environmental Minister has said there’s a move afoot to either move UNEP out of Kenya to Paris or on this creation of a new United Nations environmental organization that France seems to be asking to create. Does the Secretary-General have any position on maintaining UNEP in Kenya, and also on the possible creation of another environmental organization?
Spokesperson: Well, the possible creation was a suggestion to bring together the different organizations dealing with the environment within one roof or one heading. This does not necessarily mean it would be out of Nairobi, away from Nairobi. We don’t have -- I think it’s a little bit too early for us to know whether this organization is going to be created. As you know, it does not depend on the Secretary-General strictly to make such a decision.
Question: Thanks, and also, referring to a letter by the NGO “Action Contre la Faim” to Eric Laroche, the Somali representative of the UN, basically criticizing Mr. Laroche for siding too clearly with the Ethiopian incursion and sort of taking almost a US side. I want to know if there’s any response to that analysis and if it can be confirmed that the letter was received, and what response is being sent?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm this at this point. I don’t have any information on that.
Question: Can you get confirmation on that?
Question: To the point on an environment organization, is there any talk of putting the Commission of Sustainable Development or any kind of a function of sustainable development together with the environment?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said, I think it’s a little too early to say because, as you know, this proposal was made of a larger environment organization bringing together all the different areas within the UN system dealing with environment and climate change. At this point, this is not a reality yet; this is a proposal that is being talked about. Yes?
Question: Talking about restructuring, I’d like to know whether it was in fact the case that the Secretary-General was planning to relocate DDA under DPA (Department of Political Affairs) and then he changed his mind? Was this actually the sequence of events? Was he trying to bring DDA under DPA?
Spokesperson: Well, this was one of the many suggestions made, and right now, he has come up with something more concrete, where this proposal is not included.
Question: What is responsible for his change of mind? What led him to want him to make DDA an Office now and no longer under DPA?
Spokesperson: Well, he doesn’t want, at this point, he wanted to make clear this morning, and I think, when he spoke to the group, to the Assembly today, he made it clear he does not want to downgrade disarmament. He wanted to have a more dynamic disarmament body, and that’s what is being discussed. As I said, all this is going to be modified by those consultations taking place right now. Yes?
Question: Once again, can you give us some more reading into the Quartet meeting other than all of them supporting another meeting between Abbas and Olmert? What was discussed?
Spokesperson: You have the statement that came out -- did you get a chance to see it?
Question: I mean, other than saying that they support the meeting sometime, another Quartet meeting, what were the concrete steps they plan to take?
Spokesperson: Well, this was the only thing that came out publicly during the press conference, and you have a readout of that press conference, when there were some questions answered, and there was really nothing more elaborate except for what you mentioned. Yes?
Question: Over the weekend, the High Commissioner expressed grave concern over the legislation in the Afghan Parliament giving amnesty to warlords who are accused of human rights violations. Does the Secretary-General also have some thoughts on this issue?
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that today.
Question: Is the letter by Mr. Siniora circulated among the Security Council members? The letter sent by Mr. Siniora signed by [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I would have to check if it has been circulated. If it had been circulated, you would probably have it as a document. As far as I know, it hasn’t been circulated yet. Yes?
Question: Regarding the restructuring, is it still the plan of the Secretary-General to sell, to present his restructuring plan along with new appointments, or is that now…?
Spokesperson: No, it was presented this morning in informal consultation without any talk of appointments, specific appointments, except that, without an additional readout on this -- with Freh when she comes in with the General Assembly meeting.
Question: When will the appointments be expected… [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet, Benny. As soon as I know, you’ll find out.
Question: I’m not sure I understood your explanation on the Disarmament Department. Right now, it’s a separate department with a USG (Under-Secretary-General, and it can easily report to the Secretary-General’s Office, as USG’s do. It seems to me that by calling it -- it’s a small Department anyway, the smallest one in the UN -- so by calling it an Office, it is somehow downgrading it -- and, it’s pretty clear without his saying so that it won’t be headed by a USG but an ASG (Assistant Secretary-General) so he frees a USG for a peacekeeping [inaudible]. Am I correct?
Spokesperson: All I can say is the proposal made was that the Office would be directly under his stewardship, the Secretary-General’s, but I’m pretty sure that after the consultations today -- and I’m asking you to be patient and listen to what is going to come out of those consultations, which are not just one-shot affairs but which are going to go on certainly in the next two, three, four days or certainly more, and the point of view of the Member States expressed today and being expressed now because they are still meeting -- we should know more about how they received the idea and how they react to it. And, the Secretary-General said he would follow the legislative process, which means that he will listen to the Member States on that.
Question: No, but my question is: is he not going to make this an ASG level regardless of whether…?
Spokesperson: He hasn’t mentioned at what level it would be.
Question: …because otherwise why change it?
Spokesperson: He hasn’t mentioned at what level it will be. He talked about the Special Representative.
Question: I know, but they could be USG or ASG.
Spokesperson: You’re right. The level hasn’t been mentioned in his statement this morning. Was not mentioned in his statement this morning.
Question: But, he mentioned that there’ll be no budget ramifications [talk-over]…then something’s got to give, and it seems that, for everyone, where he would maintain zero budget [talk-over]…
Spokesperson: Let’s wait on that, and see what comes out of it. Yes?
Question: On global warming, we haven’t seen any study of the United Nations or any other organizations regarding impact of war and explosions on the environment itself. Obviously, there is tremendous consumption of energy there…
Spokesperson: Yes, but you have a very big report on climate change two days ago. I tried to bring constant attention on climate change.
Question: Yes, but there’s not much about the impact of wars, which are very common these days.
Spokesperson: Thank you. I will convey that. Freh?
Briefing by the Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon. I will be very brief. As Michèle mentioned, the General Assembly is holding an informal plenary meeting this morning, chaired by the President of the Assembly, at which the Secretary-General briefed the membership on his recent trip to Europe, Africa and Washington and where he also presented the new Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, to Member States. He also elaborated on his proposals to restructure parts of the Secretariat. The meeting, as we mentioned before, was convened by the General Assembly President following her wide-ranging consultations with chairs of the main negotiating groups, as well as individual Member States, on 25 and 29 January.
In his statement, the Secretary-General thanked the President for her personal contribution in carrying forward the consultations with Member States. He stated that he had sought to adjust his proposals in accordance with the concerns of Member States. He also indicated that he would move forward to fill existing posts as soon as possible, and that decisions about appointments for any new entities would be taken at a later date.
Several speakers, following the statement by the Secretary-General, expressed their commitment to support him in his efforts to strengthen and reform the Secretariat. They also indicated that more time, as well as more information and details, would be needed by Member States for their in-depth consideration of the proposals. They also highlighted the need to follow established intergovernmental procedures for considering proposals that have budgetary and administrative implications.
On other items going on in the Assembly this week -- as mentioned by Ashraf on Friday -- tomorrow morning, at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall, there will be a plenary meeting to discuss progress made in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission.
And on Thursday at 10 a.m., the Assembly’s open-ended working group on Security Council reform will be meeting.
To address a couple of questions raised last week: On how much of a priority the environment is for the General Assembly -- it is a major priority. In fact, the 2005 Summit called for improving the system-wide coordination of work on the environment. There are two co-Chairs leading consultations on this issue -- the Ambassadors of Mexico and Switzerland, Ambassador Enrique Berruga and Ambassador Peter Maurer. They held the first informal consultations last month, and I’m sure these will continue soon.
Mr. Abadi had a question on capital punishment. I understand that an initiative has been endorsed by the European Union recently to propose a resolution for adoption by the General Assembly on the subject. That has not been tabled yet, but when and if it is tabled, the President will, of course, be ready to facilitate consultations for its adoption by consensus.
**Questions and Answers
Special Assistant: Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you for your answer. I have a question and, actually, perhaps Michèle could answer this. I didn’t have the opportunity to ask that question. As you indicated just a few seconds ago, the Secretary-General seems to make a distinction between the appointment of senior officials and the appointment of officials of the newly created, or to be created, entities. As far as the new entities are concerned, he said he would turn to a transparent process of consultation. Does this mean, Michèle, that, as far as senior officials are concerned, there will be no consultations prior to the appointment?
Spokesperson for Secretary-General: No, it doesn’t mean that.
Question: Why does he make this distinction?
Spokesperson: The distinction is because, on restructuring, the General Assembly has to make decisions. Because it implies, as you know, budgetary matters. On the others, it is his discretion -- he could do it. But I know he’s consulting people. He could do it on his own. He has the authority to do it.
Question: So, as far as the appointment of senior officials -- not the new entities -- the Secretary-General can do it without consultations?
Spokesperson: But he’s not working without consultations.
Question: So which one is it going to be?
Spokesperson: He could do it. He has the right to do it. However, he has been consulting people on his proposal for different posts.
Question: Excuse me, may I just read what he said? “For senior appointments, I will be moving forward to fill existing posts as soon as possible. Decisions about appointments for any new entities would be taken at a later date, and would be done through an open, consultative process.” It seems to me, and my interpretation could be wrong, that he’s making an opposition here. For the new entities there will be a process of open consultations, while for the senior officials he will be moving fast and appoint whomever.
Spokesperson: Well, it’s a sequential difference. Simply that he will move faster on the ones that… Whenever they become available, then he can move on the departments where restructuring is supposed to take place or where he has proposed that restructuring take place.
Question: Do you agree, or does the President of the General Assembly agree, with the assessment that there needs to be no consultation over appointments by the Secretary-General in existing posts?
Special Assistant: I would have to check on that. But my understanding is that it is the Secretary-General’s prerogative to appoint senior officials of the Secretariat.
Question: If there’s any change, let us know.
Spokesperson: Thank you.
* *** *