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

13 February 2007

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

13 February 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m late.  We have four statements and I’m still waiting for one more.

** Korean Peninsula Statement

I will start with a statement on the Korean peninsula.

The Secretary-General strongly welcomes the accord reached at the six-party talks in Beijing on initial actions to implement the 2005 Joint Statement on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  The Secretary-General is encouraged that this constructive effort by the international community can eventually result in strengthening the global non-proliferation regime, as well as in contributing to durable peace, security and prosperity in the region.  This agreement represents the first practical stage towards a non-nuclear peninsula.

The Secretary-General also welcomes the commitment by all participants to move expeditiously towards the next stage of this process.  In this regard, the establishment in the immediate future of five working groups should allow the participants to address the wide ranges of issues relating to the region in a comprehensive way.

The Secretary-General urges the participants to make every effort to sustain the current positive momentum and ensure that this accord is implemented as agreed.

** Lebanon Statement

And, just a little while ago, we issued a statement on Lebanon, in which the Secretary-General condemns the callous terrorist attack on innocent civilians that took place this morning in Lebanon.  He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Lebanon.

This crime comes the day before the second anniversary of the attack that took the life of former Premier Rafik Hariri and 22 others, which itself preceded a string of assassinations and terrorist actions in Lebanon.

The United Nations strongly rejects attempts to secure political objectives through violence and the killing of innocent civilians.  The Secretary-General stresses that there must be an end to impunity and appeals to all Lebanese to maintain national unity in the face of such attempts to undermine the country’s stability.

** Lebanon

And, on Lebanon: Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon, today also condemned the attacks in that country, reiterating the Secretary-General’s position that these actions do not have any place in a tolerant and democratic culture such as Lebanon’s.  And we have the full statement of Mr. Pedersen upstairs.

** Guinea Statement

And the statement we are waiting for has just come to me.  It is a statement on Guinea.  The Secretary-General reiterates his grave concern over the worsening political and security situation in Guinea, and deplores the continued loss of lives and the wanton destruction of property.

The Secretary-General regrets the failure to implement the agreement reached on 27 January, which has triggered the resumption of the crisis and threatens to plunge the country into generalized instability.  He calls on the Government and the labour leaders to resume dialogue and implement, in good faith, the agreement reached last month.

The Secretary-General, once again, strongly urges the Government and the security forces to exercise maximum restraint and to scrupulously uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The Secretary-General also urges the labour leaders to refrain from inciting violence and the destruction of property.

The Secretary-General reaffirms the readiness of the United Nations to work closely with all segments of the society, and with Guinea’s other partners, to help end the current crisis and restore sustainable stability and development.

** Guinea - Human Rights

We also have a statement from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, condemning the killings of civilians in Guinea.  And that statement has just come in.  That’s available upstairs, as is a statement from the World Food Programme (WFP), which condemns the looting of three food warehouses in Guinea over the weekend, where nearly 450 tons of food, which had been set aside for schoolchildren and the poorest communities, were stolen.  And, we have that press release available upstairs. 

** Iraq Statement

And, we also have a statement on Iraq that has just come in, in which the Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the continuing violence in Iraq, which was accentuated yesterday by the death of more than 100 people throughout the country, including in the coordinated bombing of a crowded market in Baghdad.  These brutal crimes came on the anniversary of the heinous bombing of the Holy Shrine in Samarra, which was also aimed at escalating sectarian violence.

The Secretary-General calls on the Iraqi authorities and the Iraqi people to resist attempts to foment sectarian violence.

** Sudan

Turning to Sudan, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, the Special Envoys for Darfur for the United Nations and African Union, respectively, have been holding a series of meetings in Khartoum with Sudanese Government officials and signatories of the Declaration of Commitment to the Darfur Peace Agreement.

The two Envoys met yesterday with Foreign Minister Lam Akol and Nafie Ali Nafie, Assistant to the President.  The two Envoys met today other Government officials including Minni Minawi, Senior Assistant to the President and Chairman of the SLM/A faction signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement, and Majzoub al-Khalifa, Presidential Adviser.

The two officials are scheduled to leave tomorrow to Darfur, and they will hold meetings mainly with non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement tomorrow and the following day.  And they will hold a joint press conference on their joint mission on the 15th. 

Meanwhile, the acting Special Representative for Sudan, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, who represented the United Nations in the AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa on the relations between Chad and Sudan, presented an update on recent political, security and humanitarian developments in Chad and the Central African Republic, particularly in borders areas between those three countries.  And, there are more details on his briefing in the briefing notes from UNMIS that are available upstairs.  But, just to let you know, Mr. Zerihoun did inform the African Union Peace and Security Council that the United Nations has recently concluded a second assessment mission to Chad and the Central African Republic.

The Secretary-General has initiated the necessary steps to deploy an advance mission, and that would prepare for the possible multi-dimensional presence foreshadowed in the January presidential statement by the Council – the Security Council, here.  And that report of the assessment mission, which will include detailed proposals on the size, scope and mandate of a possible multidimensional presence is to be submitted to the Council in the coming days.  And, the Council will then discuss that report.

**Security Council

And today here in the Council, they are meeting in an open debate on the Middle East, where Alvaro de Soto, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process began by noting the important step taken last week with the agreement by the Palestinians to form a National Unity Government.

De Soto said that a newly active Quartet, a more closely involved Arab world, a Palestinian national unity Government and the beginning of potential dialogue between the parties have the potential to help restore calm and re-energize efforts to achieve a two-State solution.

He noted next week’s trilateral meeting, bringing together the Palestinian Authority President, the Israeli Prime Minister and the US Secretary of State. Expectations should not be excessive; expectations should not be placed on one such meeting, he said, but we hope that it will be the beginning of a genuine dialogue.  And, his statement in full is available upstairs.  The open debate is expected to go on into the afternoon, but Alvaro de Soto says he will speak to you at the stakeout as soon as the morning portion is ended.  So, all other questions on the Middle East should be addressed to him, and we will let you know when he is on his way to the stakeout.

** Haiti

And on Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission there reports that a police operation launched Friday in two neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince was completed yesterday with the seizure of a number of weapons, including assault rifles, bipods for automatic weaponry, more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition, sabres, daggers, knives, telescopes and portable radio communications equipment.

The Mission says that 31 presumed gang members were arrested over the weekend, along with seven others in the neighbourhood of Cite Soleil. And, UN police continue to patrol these neighbourhoods.  And, we are hoping to get somebody from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to brief you on Haiti.  As soon as we do, we will let you know.

** Somalia

On Somalia, UNICEF says that efforts continue to respond to the needs of people affected by an outbreak of watery diarrhoea in central Somalia as a consequence of recent flooding in that area. And, there are more details of the efforts being undertaken by UNICEF.

** Bolivia

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is beginning a three-day visit to Bolivia. She is expected to sign an agreement to establish a UN human rights office in that country. Yesterday, in Panama, she signed an agreement to establish a similar office for Central America.  In addition to meeting with representatives of the Bolivian Government and civil society, she plans to visit an Aymara indigenous community outside of La Paz.  And there’s more information on her travels upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office. 

**UNHCR

Two more things:  The UN refugee agency -- I draw your attention to their briefing notes today; there are a number of issues that may be of interest -- they are seeking $62 million to help hundreds of thousands of people displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries.  In related information, the agency says that the number of Iraqis wanting to register with UNHCR in Syria and Jordan has dramatically increased over the past few days.

And, UNHCR also notes that the organized return of internally displaced people in south-eastern Sudan back to their home villages is gathering momentum. And, finally, they are also concerned about the dramatic increase in people smuggling from Somalia.

** Liberia

There is also a message to the Liberia Partners’ Forum, which is meeting in Washington today.  The Secretary-General said that the Liberian Government’s Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy outlines priority areas needing urgent assistance. He describes these projects, and that message, which was being delivered by Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, is available upstairs. 

**Press Conferences

For tomorrow, two press conferences:  the Mission of Canada to the United Nations is sponsoring a press conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. in this room, on the prevention of genocide.  Representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy will be here to brief you.

And then, at 12:30, Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of UN Development Programme will be here with tennis star Maria Sharapova, which will be appointed as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador.  That’s what I have for you.  Let’s start with Mark.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just two questions.  Could you explain what the UN is doing in Guinea in terms of involvement in whatever’s happening -- political process, dialogue and blah, blah, blah?  And, the other one was -- does the Secretary-General believe, with reference to his statement on Iraq, that it’s time for US troops to leave, or does he support an increase of US troops in Iraq?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On your first question, I think the Secretary-General expresses and reaffirms his readiness and the United Nations readiness to work closely with all segments of society there and with Guinea’s partners to help end the crisis.  In terms of what the UN is doing, I read to you right now that the World Food Programme and other humanitarian agencies are obviously working there and they’ve drawn attention to the looting of food stocks.  But, again, of course, the Secretary-General is available if his services are required, but this is to – anyway, the four points in his statement speak for themselves.

As for Iraq, he was -- this was a statement in response to the continuing levels of violence there, and he was, again, making a strong appeal on humanitarian grounds to resist this sort of violence, to address matters there.

Question:  Again, does he think it’s time for American troops to start drawing down, or does he support an increase in American troops in Iraq?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think he has an opinion on what the United States should or should not do in terms of their military presence in Iraq.  As for the Secretary-General and the United Nations, obviously he stands ready to try to do whatever the UN can to help support the people of Iraq.  Yes?

Question:  What is the UN doing to facilitate negotiations with Iran?  Because Condoleezza Rice just had a speech telling us that Iran should follow the example of North Korea.

Deputy Spokesperson:  One of the statements we did not have was a statement today on Iran.  I think, as far as the Secretary-General and Iran, there is no change in his positions in the past as far about the need for a negotiated settlement. Yes?

Question:  The Quartet had three conditions for negotiating with the Palestinian Authority.  Does the Secretary-General believe after this agreement that these three conditions still have to be met before such negotiations [inaudible]…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if he has a specific answer to that question, but I would like you to talk to Alvaro de Soto when he goes to the stakeout today about details of the upcoming Quartet meeting, which, as you know, is now next week in Berlin.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, the situation in Guinea is extremely serious.  The President has just declared a curfew there, over 100 people have already died, and the Secretary-General is concerned, as you have indicated, about the stability of the country.  Is he also concerned about the peace, security and stability of the surrounding States to Guinea?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course he is, and that’s why I think the statement draws attention to the fact that he remains, he and the United Nations, is ready to work, not only with the society inside Guinea, but with other partners in the region.

Question:  Just one follow-up on Guinea.  Could we, the US has told its personnel, at least its families, to leave the country.  What’s the status of UN personnel in the country, and could we maybe, from here, get an overview of which agencies here -- whether it’s UNDP or others -- are actually [talkover]… and what they’re doing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you saw, the World Food Programme and other agencies are working in the country.  When we do have situations where insecurity does prompt relocation of staff.  We generally do not comment until such an evacuation is complete, so I can’t comment further at this point, but obviously the situation is very grave, otherwise we would not have three statements issued by three very active people on this subject.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, do you have a readout on the SG’s meeting with Julian Harston this morning on Western Sahara?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t yet, but I’m told he is available to speak with those members of the press who are interested in speaking to him.  So, contact our office and we can put you in touch. 

[The Spokesperson later added that the meeting was a courtesy call.]

Question:  Another one of his appointments -- he’s meeting with Kemal Derviş at 3 -- UNDP has told us that, while this North Korea audit is pending, they won’t answer any questions about North Korea, or can’t.  I’m wondering if, whether North Korea or otherwise, it’s possible to have Mr. Derviş take some questions while he’s here in the building?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We can certainly ask him.  We can try to get you a readout of the meeting.

Question:  A question concerning a follow-up on the WMO scandal.  We were told by a spokesperson from your office that OIOS Under-Secretary-General would be meeting with the Secretary-General to discuss the case of Maria Veiga, who’s the chief auditor who got fired.  I just wanted to check if that meeting is actually taking place?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me look into that for you.  I don’t have information on that right now.

Question:  In the Central African Republic, there are these reports of peace deals being signed by the President and these exiled rebel leaders.  Does this… one, can this be confirmed, and does this bring it any closer to maybe a UN force of some kind going into the Central African Republic?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just mentioned to you today’s bulletin from the Mission in Sudan does have a rather extensive note on Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, who is the Acting Special Representative for Sudan, who gives an update in Chad and the Central African Republic to an AU Peace and Security meeting.  He does go into quite a lot of detail, so I refer you to that statement.  And as for the force, that was also referred to -- that the recent assessment mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, initiated by DPKO at the request of the Secretary-General – that report should be coming up very shortly.  And, I think it’s already scheduled to be discussed in the Security Council later this week.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday, I asked whether the Secretary-General had any thoughts or reflection about the security conference in Munich.  Any thoughts so far?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into it for you.  I don’t have anything.

Question:  Whether he’s intending, or whether he’s ready to reinforce the strong statement by Secretary Gates that one more cold war is enough since this Organization and this building was the arena of that cold war?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on this today, so if you asked yesterday about it, we’ll follow up.  Yes?

Question:  What does the Secretary-General [talkover]… the tension between the United States and Iran?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I answered that question earlier, but in terms of Iran, as you know, it’s a matter that the Security Council is dealing with.  As far as the Secretary-General, I think the statements that he’s made on the need for a negotiated settlement is his position.  If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon, and we’ll let you know when Alvaro de Soto will go to the stakeout.  Thank you.

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