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

9 March 2007

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

9 March 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.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Climate Change Statement

“The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the leaders of the European Union to establish targets for energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources.  In the face of rising greenhouse gas emissions, committing to a substantial decrease for the next decade is ambitious.  But ambition and leadership are just what is needed to respond to climate change, one of the greatest challenges facing humankind.

“The European Union’s moves can help put the world's energy systems on more sustainable footing.  They offer business strong incentives to develop the advanced technologies that the world, and above all the developing world, needs to meet its energy needs while at the same time addressing climate change.

“The European Union decision also raises hopes for further advances in the course of this year.  In particular, the world looks to the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia in December, to launch intensive talks on strengthening international cooperation to reduce emissions.  The Secretary-General calls on all countries to participate in these talks with ambition and creativity.”

And that statement is available upstairs.

** Sudan

Then, in response to numerous questions on the latest developments regarding the letter from Sudan, on 24 January 2007, as you know, the Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konaré, sent identical letters to the President of Sudan, Omer Hassan Ahmed El Bashir, which transmitted details of the United Nations “Heavy Package” of support for the African Union peacekeeping efforts in Darfur. 

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General received a reply from President Bashir, dated 6 March.  The reply from President Bashir contains, or includes a 14 page annex in Arabic, which is being translated and will be reviewed along with the letter.  The Secretary-General will then consult with the Security Council on the next steps.

**Sudan/UNHCR

Today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the planned opening on Saturday of two new repatriation corridors from western Ethiopia to southern Sudan is expected to pave the way home for thousands of refugees.

The new corridors bring to eight the total number of corridors linking Sudan's southern neighbours –- the Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia -– with various locations inside south Sudan. And you can read more about that in UNHCR’s briefing notes from Geneva.

**Security Council

Today, at UN Headquarters, the Security Council just held a meeting on the Great Lakes region of South Africa.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that region, Ibrahima Fall, briefed Council members and he just spoke to reporters at the stake-out.

** Iraq

As you know, the Secretary-General has asked his Special Representative for Iraq, Mr. Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, to attend the preparatory meeting in Baghdad on 10 March 2007 as an observer.

The Secretary-General hopes that the meeting will focus on preparing for the gathering of foreign ministers of neighbouring countries of Iraq.

He believes that such an event should have clear objectives and tangible outcomes, as well as an effective follow-up mechanism, to constructively contribute to the stabilization of that country.

** Cyprus

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Møller, has warmly welcomed last night’s removal in the Cypriot capital of a wall at the southern end of the buffer zone dividing Ledra Street.

He added that the demolition represents a very positive contribution of great symbolic significance.

Once the sides are in agreement as to the way ahead, the UN Mission in Cyprus will immediately move to ensure the area’s overall safety. And we have Michael Moller’s full statement available upstairs.

** Nepal

We have a statement issued in Kathmandu, where the UN Mission in Nepal made public the conclusions of a tripartite report on the first phase of UN registration of arms and combatants of the Maoist army. 

According to the report of the Joint Monitoring Coordinating Committee -- which is composed of representatives of the UN, the Maoist Army and the Nepal Army -- nearly 3,500 weapons were registered as well as more than 31,000 Maoist combatants.

Ian Martin, he’s the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, also called on the two sides to immediately finalize arrangements regarding security of the Maoist leadership so that the UN Mission can put in place full monitoring procedures and thus be able to investigate any reported breaches of the agreements regarding arms. And copies of the full statement are available upstairs.

**Timor-Leste

The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) reports there have been no serious security incidents reported in Dili recently and the situation remains calm.

The situation in the southern city of Same has improved, and UNMIT also reports that a number of International Security Forces (ISF) personnel are now going back to Dili. Responsibility for maintaining law and order in that town is increasingly being handed over by the ISF to UN police.

**CERF

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  There is a press release on that subject and its says that over the past year, more than $376 million from that Fund has been used to provide life-saving humanitarian aid in 40 countries. And as I said, you can read more about that upstairs.

**Week Ahead

And we also have, for your planning purposes, for next week, the Week Ahead at the United Nations. A few things that we wanted to flag.  The Deputy Secretary-General will start her trip to Europe. The stops will include Bonn, Strasbourg and Brussels.  And she departs, or she starts that trip on Monday, which is also when the Human Rights Council in Geneva will begin its fourth session, and it will last three weeks.

And the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Gutierrez, also on Monday, will begin a week-long visit to Ecuador and Colombia.  And that’s all I have for you today. Any questions for me?  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question: I just wanted to ask about more details of the Secretary-General’s reaction to Mr. Bashir’s letter? I know that you are still trying translating, but obviously President Bashir is saying that he would not accept any international troops and he insists only to have African troops?

Spokesperson: Well, as I said, attached to the letter is a 14-page annex that I think we have mustered all of the Arabic translators in the building to translate as we speak. What I can tell you at this point, that the letter itself, because as you know, the annex is longer than the letter, the letter contains some positive elements, including a strong expression of support for the joint African Union-UN efforts to reenergize the political process and some insurances with regard to humanitarian assistance to the people of Darfur. But it also contains some elements which seem to challenge the agreements reached last November in Addis Ababa and Abuja on peacekeeping in Darfur.

Question:  Mr. Ban had said, just now in Conference Room 1, that he’s going to speak with President Bashir on Saturday. Is that call set up? Is there a time? What was the basis of that statement?

Spokesperson: We can confirm the call once it happens.

Question: OK, that’s what he said.

Spokesperson: We can only confirm when it happens.  Yes? The gentleman.  Can I start in the back there?

Question:  Just a follow-up to the same issue. What’s the expected step to be taken after receiving the letter from El Bashir?

Spokesperson: Well, as I just mentioned initially, we have to first look at the letter, analyze it before we can tell you what the next steps are. But the Secretary-General says that he will consult with the Security Council on the next steps. 

Question: In tomorrow’s regional meeting on Iraq, in Baghdad, what is it that the UN team will do in that conference? Is there any initiative they are planning?

Spokesperson: I just mentioned to you, maybe you missed it.  The Secretary-General has asked his Special Representative to participate as an observer and I had a few more details that I can give you afterwards, since I just read out the statement. Erol?

Question: Thank you Marie. There is a certain characterization that this stage of the talks with North Korea is of historic significance.  Now, I wonder, what is the view of the Secretary-General since he is the one obviously who has the utmost expertise on that? And what is the view in general of the UN of that characterization?

Spokesperson: Well, I brought for you, Erol, all the statements that the Secretary-General has issued on this subject of the six-party talks. As you know, he has welcomed these talks, and he encourages the constructive effort being made, so I can refer you to his past remarks. And as you know, when he was recently in Vienna, he had a joint press counter with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will be heading to the country. And as you know, he was greatly encouraged by that effort as well.

Question:  Thank you very much for that, although it’s very good to have a spokesperson for the programme of radio and TV, since we are preparing the TV programme at the end of this week and we would like to have you on this programme. But anyhow, is there any, how would you respond to those then who are objecting that the pressure that is put through the investigation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in North Korea, somehow is connected or is not connected? I just need your answer -- with the pressure put on Pyongyang to accept the conditions of these talks, or to move forward to these talks.

Spokesperson: I think that’s comparing apples to oranges. There’s no connection.  What you’re talking about is a political process undertaken by the six parties and the other is a UN matter regarding audits across the board, which include North Korea, so no connection.

Question: Just for my, if I may, what is the role of the UN now in these talks? Is there any significance that the two U.S. officials met the Secretary-General in two days?  What is the significance of that?

Spokesperson: The UN has always been very closely monitoring the six-party talks and the Secretary-General himself has been saying that he has been following them very closely and if there’s any role he can play to facilitate, he’s available to do so. Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  This draft resolution on the restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations sent by Portugal and Uruguay to Member States, simply imply that it’s going to take a long time to affect (inaudible) this restructuring.  Is the Secretary-General satisfied, disappointed or surprised by this draft resolution (inaudible)?

Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General is closely monitoring what’s going on at this point. The matter is now with the Member States. And I think if the General Assembly Spokesperson were here, he or she would have been the person to give you a sense of where it’s going in the General Assembly.

Question: I’d like to go back to Erol’s, the issue he was raising, because there was a letter of 15 February, an official document, a letter dated 13 February 2007 from the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, addressed to the Secretary-General. And I wondered if the Secretary-General answered that. In the letter, the representative said that the purposes of the audit had to do with hostile maneuvers of the United States against the Democratic People’s Republic and talked about some of the situation of politicizing the situation of international aid. And there is a history of there being activities going on that do politicize things, just at the time there are agreements. So, I wondered if the Secretary-General has looked at this issue and then if he’s answered this particular letter?

Spokesperson: Yes, he has and the Spokeswoman earlier this week already mentioned the contents of the letter and I can give you what she said upstairs. 

Question: Is that a 28 February letter?

Spokesperson: There is a letter that was sent in response.

Question: Is there a copy? Because I saw the news report on 6 March, but I didn’t see the letter itself.

Spokesperson: Come up to the office afterwards and we’ll share that with you.

Question: A few questions, one is a follow-up to Erol’s. But first, I wanted to ask you if there are these reports that the US in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia has hired, I don’t know if you call them mercenaries, or private military contractors from (inaudible), I don’t know, I heard Mr. Ban earlier today say that he anticipates that becoming a UN force in Somalia. Does the UN have any view, of in these peacekeeping missions, whether it’s in this case AU, or later UN, the use of paid, private military firms like (inaudible), in peacekeeping?

Spokesperson: Well, it is an issue that I know has come up in the past. As for the UN’s operation in Somalia, as you know, I think we are still at a point where a lot of work will have to go into whether the UN is going to be involved there or not. So, there’s a lot more discussion on that to be held. But no, we do not have a direct comment on your question involving the AU.

Question: To follow up Erol’s question on North Korea, I’m sorry, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea..earlier this week, I tried to ask your office for a number of when Mr. Ban was the Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister for South Korea, how much aid came through that department, through the UN agencies, to North Korea, I was referred to the South Korean Mission and I have received no answer from them. So, I’m…

Spokesperson: That is a question that should be addressed to the South Korean Government.

Question: I guess I’m saying, the reason I’m asking is not that there’s any, just as a journalistic matter, it seems like if he’s ordering the audit and some of the things that will be found in the audit, not to say that there’s anything wrong with it, will be in fact, funding that he signed off on…it seems to me like a legitimate question. Or maybe your office can help get an answer.  What I was told from the South Korean Mission is that the Ambassador who works on that is now back in Korea and we don’t know when he’s coming back. Mr. (inaudible)…the one I was referred to…

Spokesperson: I’m sure the South Korean Government has a spokesperson that you could probably address those questions to.

Question: Does the issue of financial incentives, came up during the meeting with the U.S. officials with the Secretary-General on North Korea?  When they talked on North Korea?

Spokesperson: What meeting are you talking about?

Question: Did they talk about any financial –- meetings with two US officials -– when they talked, and they mentioned North Korea, did they talk about any financial issues, incentives or so..? 

Spokesperson: If you’re talking about the meeting that he had with Christopher Hill, that was about a briefing on the six-party talks.

Question: Nothing else but that?

Spokesperson: That’s what my understanding is, yes. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question: The North Korean-Japanese talks have failed after two days of meeting. Is the Secretary-General (inaudible), surprised or discouraged by this?

Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as I said, hopes for the constructive progress in the talks. I don’t think he has a specific comment about every step along the way.

Question: You mentioned there are some challenging points in the reply coming from President Bashir to the Secretary-General. Would you please give us some more details about this?

Spokesperson: Well, if I had them, I would. This is, as I said, there was a letter that was received and the annex, which is being translated, which provides probably a lot more detail, is much longer than the letter. So, this is an initial reaction in response to many questions that we’ve been getting on the letter itself.

Question: Sports -- I know UNICEF has done it. The World Cricket Cup is opening in West Indies on Sunday. It’s a major sporting event.  Does the Secretary-General plan on sending a message to this tournament?

Spokesperson: I certainly will look into that for you.  I don’t have a clue, so I will let you know.  We’ll rotate between the three of you..

Question: The Rwandan Army has said that it’s contacted the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) to ask for a greater presence in eastern Congo, because there are bombs that are traveling from Congolese territory into Rwanda…so I’m wondering, is MONUC actually going to –- what’s MONUC’s response to that?

Spokesperson: I have not seen a reaction, but we can look into that for you. 

[The spokesperson later added that MONUC shares Rwanda’s concern about such incidents and is encouraging the two countries to discuss this issue on a bilateral basis. She also noted that MONUC has launched strong patrols in the area in question.]

Question: What is the status at the present time of the senior officials who have submitted their resignations and who are still here?

Spokesperson: Well, it depends on the senior officials. Some, as you know, have already been re-assigned, some will be moving onto their next assignments, when the new appointments start. I mean they are coming as you know in staggered starting dates, so there is no blanket answer for your question.

Question: When will there be any announcement about the new appointments?

Spokesperson: As they come along.  At this point, the Secretary-General made his through Mr. Nambiar, the Chief of Staff, the initial announcements and the rest of the announcements will come along as they come up.

Question: With regard to the UNDP and David Morrison -– if you ask him for something and he says he’ll send it to you and then he doesn’t, and he doesn’t respond to email, or he says he’ll have someone get in touch with you and he doesn’t, what’s the procedure for how to pursue that? Because the UNDP is under, is connected, to the Secretary-General in some way. So, is there a line of authority that you can go through so that you can get some response when you’re promised and it doesn’t, they don’t come through..

Spokesperson: Well, we can certainly follow up for you.

Question: And also, if you can follow up, we did invite here during the press conference Mrs. Alicia Bárcena, Under-Secretary-General for Management, and she promised the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) that should would come and brief the correspondents since the briefing was not more than 15 minutes.  I sent her an email, on behalf of UNCA, we do not have a response yet. So you can follow up?

Spokesperson: I know that Ms. Bárcena was very positive about coming back to speaking to UNCA, so let me follow up on that as well.

Question: Actually, I have one, it’s a substantive question that I posed to Ms. Bárcena but don’t have an answer on.  I’m not saying, I know she’s busy, so I’m going to ask you and maybe from her office you can get an answer?  We’re told that…

Spokesperson: Why don’t we just follow up the question later, ok? Because I’m not going to have an answer if you addressed it to Ms. Bárcena.

Question: Alright, but I want to make sure that I get an answer.

Spokesperson: OK. We’ll try. OK? No more questions? Have a good afternoon. Have a good weekend. 

* *** *

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