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

26 March 2007

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

26 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.

**Kosovo

Good afternoon.  As you know, a short while ago we issued a statement on Kosovo, attributable to the Spokesperson, and I will read it for the record:

This morning, the Secretary-General conveyed to the President of the Security Council the report on Kosovo’s future status and the comprehensive proposal for the Kosovo status settlement, prepared by his Special Envoy for the Kosovo future status process, Martti Ahtisaari.

In doing so, the Secretary-General expressed his full support for Special Envoy Ahtisaari’s report and settlement proposal.

With the handing over of the report and settlement proposal to the Security Council, the process designed to lead to a determination of Kosovo’s future status has reached a decisive phase.  The Security Council has been presented with a plan, which that the Secretary-General believes contains all of the right elements for a fair and sustainable solution to Kosovo’s future status.

The Secretary-General wishes to express his gratitude to Special Envoy Ahtisaari and to his team for their ongoing efforts to facilitate bringing the Kosovo future status process to conclusion.

And we have the report by Mr. Ahtisaari, as well as the addendum on a comprehensive proposal for the Kosovo status settlement, available on the racks and on the website.  In the report, Mr. Ahtisaari says that, upon careful consideration of Kosovo’s recent history and the realities of Kosovo today, and taking into account the negotiations with the parties, he has come to the conclusion that the only viable option for Kosovo is independence, to be supervised for an initial period by the international community.  He says that the comprehensive proposal provides the foundations for a future independent Kosovo that is viable, sustainable and stable, and in which all communities and their members can live a peaceful and dignified existence.

**Secretary-General in Israel

Turning to the Secretary-General.  At a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today, the Secretary-General stressed once more his conviction that the long-term safety and security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State go hand in hand.

In his remarks to the press, he encouraged all Israelis to assess carefully the opportunity that may be emerging, saying that “we must use the weeks and months ahead to advance the political dialogue, since the alternative is renewed stagnation, which only means more extremism and violence”.  The Secretary-General also stressed the need to give the new Palestinian unity Government some “political space”.

In his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, the Secretary-General also discussed the Iranian nuclear issue, the situation in Lebanon and the importance of making progress on the Palestinian issue.

**Secretary-General’s Meeting with the Palestinian Authority President

Yesterday in Ramallah, the Secretary-General met with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.  During a press conference on Sunday, the Secretary General stressed that “achieving peace will require all parties to go further than they have before.  But it can and must be done.”  And his message to Israel and to the world from here in Ramallah is that he is convinced that President Abbas is ready.

**Secretary-General’s Meeting with the President of Egypt

On Saturday, he arrived in Israel after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.  In a press conference after that meeting, he said that he had explained to the Egyptian President all that has been discussed between the United Nations and the Government of Sudan on Darfur, including the deployment of hybrid peacekeeping operations and the humanitarian situation there.  He added that he expects that President Mubarak and other leaders in the region will take the time and look at this issue more seriously to help the efforts of the United Nations and the African Union to address this issue as soon as possible. 

We have the transcripts of the Secretary-General’s recent press encounters upstairs and on the website.

** Sudan

On Darfur, the Under-Secretary–General for Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, completed his five-day mission to Sudan today, returning from Darfur to Khartoum, where he met with Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and Senior Assistant to the President Minni Minnawi, as well as with representatives of the donor community.

Mr. Holmes said the talks focused on issues of humanitarian access, the need for security guarantees so aid workers can operate safely, accountability for crimes when they happen and addressing the significant bureaucratic impediments that affect the aid community.  Summarizing the impressions of his visit to Sudan, Mr. Holmes noted the extraordinary humanitarian achievements that have been made, given the massive scale of the problems faced.  However, the one major concern was how long such a massive humanitarian response could continue, as large populations have been displaced for several years and ever more newly displaced people continue to flow into existing camps.

A planned visit on Saturday to a camp housing displaced persons in Darfur had to be abandoned, but Mr. Holmes noted it was due to communication problems, and was not a deliberate attempt to exclude him from the camp.  “But, if this can happen to a senior United Nations official, you can imagine the effect on an ordinary humanitarian worker,” he said.  “We need to see a return to the commitments made and actual implementation on the ground.”

There’s a press release that we’re expecting from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Mr. Holmes’ visit to the region.  And he travels to eastern Chad tomorrow.

**Security Council -- Iran

And here, at the Security Council, there are no meetings or consultations scheduled today.  But, on Saturday afternoon, for those of you who were here, the Security Council unanimously approved resolution 1747, which includes an annex adding 13 entities and 15 individuals to the list of those affected by sanctions measures.  It calls upon all States to report to the Council’s sanctions committee within 60 days on the steps they have taken to implement the resolution’s steps.

In a statement issued yesterday in New York, the Secretary-General noted with satisfaction the Security Council’s unanimity in adopting that resolution, and he calls on Iran to fully implement the resolution’s provisions and to take, urgently, the necessary steps to restore the international community’s trust that its nuclear programme is peaceful in nature.  The Secretary-General believes that a negotiated solution would strengthen the international non-proliferation regime and hopes that dialogue will resume on this issue of paramount importance.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the situation is reported to be relatively calm in Kinshasa after days of deadly gun battles between the Congolese Armed Forces and the security detail of Senator Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Vice-President, who is reported to have taken refuge at the South African embassy.  Some 96 members of Bemba’s security detail have, for their part, surrendered to United Nations peacekeepers and remain at the United Nations compound in the capital.

Over the weekend, also, the Secretary-General placed a call to Congolese President Joseph Kabila, during which he expressed concern over the latest escalation of violence and urged the President to ensure an immediate cessation of hostilities and resolve the situation through dialogue.

** Somalia

And also on Saturday, we had issued a statement on Somalia, which you can pick up upstairs, regarding the latest fighting there, and the Security Council also issued a similar statement last Friday evening, I believe.

**Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery

And today, the United Nations is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro this morning addressed the General Assembly, saying that today, we celebrate the fact that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Yet around the world, millions of people are still deprived of their most fundamental human rights and freedoms.  There should be no place in the twenty-first century for trafficking, forced labour or sexual exploitation, she added.

And we have copies of her statement upstairs.

**Press Conferences

Following this briefing, at 12:45, there will a press conference on this commemoration with the Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, the Permanent Representatives to the United Nations from Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago, Professor Rex Nettleford and the Director of the Department of Public Information’s Outreach Division.  And that’s here at 12:45.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council is continuing this week with its current session due to conclude this Friday.  Today, it has held a special event focusing on people living with disabilities in light of the recently adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which will be opened for signature here at Headquarters this Friday, 30 March.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour addressed the Council's special meeting on the rights of persons with disabilities, reminding delegates that States remain the key actors in ensuring improved respect and protection for these rights.

And you can get more information upstairs, and we will have a press release on the day’s Council activities later in the day.

** Yemen

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reports that at least 29 people are confirmed dead and 71 others reported missing after smugglers forced some 450 Somalis and Ethiopians into stormy seas off the coast of Yemen.  The incident occurred last Thursday, UNHCR reports.  Some of the survivors say the smugglers forced the passengers overboard when they were still far from shore.  Those who resisted were stabbed and beaten with wooden and steel clubs, then overthrown, where some were attacked by sharks, they say.  The survivors were taken to a UNHCR reception centre, where they received medical assistance and other aid.  There’s a press release on that upstairs.

** Angola

UNHCR also reports that nearly 410,000 Angolan refugees who had fled their country during 30 years of civil war have returned home from neighbouring countries.  The High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, will attend a ceremony tomorrow to officially mark the successful conclusion of what has been the largest repatriation of refugees in Africa this decade.  And there’s a press release on that, as well.

**United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime -- Human Trafficking

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime today launched a global initiative to fight human trafficking, at the House of Lords in London.  Some 2.5 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking at any given time, the experts say.

**International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

We also have a press release from the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which says that scientists and advisors from 29 specialized United Nations bodies are gathering in Bonn, Germany, for discussions on how a people-centred early-warning system could be implemented around the world.  And there’s more information on that, as well.

And that’s what I have for you today.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Any question about whether the Secretary-General has a comment on the seizure of the British sailors and marines by Iran over the weekend, and whether he has a statement or any remark on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he doesn’t.  He has not commented.  He did have a roundtable with the travelling journalists last Friday.  He has a brief remark on that.  But no, he does not.

Question:  Any idea when the Security Council plans to discuss the Secretary-General’s report on Kosovo?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I think I mentioned last Friday, the discussions on the Secretary-General’s report have not yet been scheduled.  The Security Council President for the month of March has indicated that it would happen in the following month, which would then place it under the United Kingdom presidency, so, I think you would have to check with the incoming president to see when the discussion will be scheduled.  Today, the report has come out as a document.

Question:  I asked you because the report was presented today, so I thought there would be some scheduling of the meeting.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The meeting has not yet been officially scheduled.  But Mr. Ahtisaari -- I think this is a response to a question that Erol had earlier -- will be here to present the report when the meeting is scheduled.

Question:  A follow up on this.  Now that Mr. Ahtisaari has really finished his job -- and he deserves nothing but congratulations for his persistence and diplomatic skills, and for putting the dot on the “i” of the final chapter of the Yugoslav crisis -- what is left for him?  What is he going to be?  Is his job really finished?  Is his mandate over?  And what is he doing now, in this, if I can say, “limbo”, between the Secretary-General’s report and expectations of the Security Council meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Ahtisaari is expected to come to United Nations Headquarters shortly to present the report to the Security Council.

Question:  But is he still officially Special Representative, or is his job finished?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He will be here shortly, as I mentioned, to present the report that he just wrote in his capacity as Special Envoy.

Question:  Two questions.  There’s a report that Ban Ki-moon had a press conference with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, at which he, Ban Ki-moon, said that Egypt should play a more active role in getting [President] al-Bashir to allow the United Nations into Sudan, and that the Foreign Minister of Egypt said pressure is not the point at this time.  Is that accurate as to what had taken place there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me just...  I think what you’re referring to is, on Saturday, the Secretary-General met with President Mubarak.  I just gave you a recount of his account of the conversation that he had with the President of Egypt.  And in it, the Secretary-General, just to reiterate, said he explained to the Egyptian President the discussions between the United Nations and the Government of Sudan on Darfur, including the deployment of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation and the humanitarian situation.  And he added that he expects that President Mubarak and other leaders in the region will take the time to take a look at the issue more seriously, to help the efforts of the United Nations and the African Union to address this issue as soon as possible. 

The Egyptian President and the Secretary-General, as I mentioned, discussed this request.  And I think there’s no question that they did not reject his request to get involved in the process.  And I think the Secretary-General will be bringing -- pushing -- the Darfur issue in his coming days of talks, especially at the League of Arabs States Summit in Riyadh.

Question:  Also, do you have any update on the status of Guido Bertucci from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs?  There’s some word in the building that he may have been suspended -- could you confirm any of that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he has not been suspended.  I have nothing else further.

Question:  Before I get to my real question, what do we have to learn from the fact that, while in the region, the Secretary-General does not have any substantial statement on probably the most important crisis right now, with the Iranians hijacking the Brits?  I mean, is it an oversight?  Does he have no opinion on that?  Does he not want…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  At this point, he does not have anything publicly to say about this incident.

Question:  So, basically that’s all we know -- that he’s not commenting on that?  And that he’s staying away from the whole thing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s it.  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  The second thing is, when we were briefed by Alicia Bárcena, we were told that not all of the people who were asked actually filled in the disclosure forms.  Since then, some time has passed.  Have those people been dealt with?  What’s the deal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll find out for you.  I also followed up on Erol’s request to have Ms. Bárcena come to talk to you further, so you can probably discuss it with her further.

Question:  And the second question is: how many people, if at all, are being urged to do what the Secretary-General has done, which is to make those statements public?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think what the Secretary-General says is that he hopes that he will set an example, and that it’s a voluntary process.

Question:  The question is: how many people have been doing that?  Has anybody done this thing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Since it’s voluntary, I’m not sure we’ll be giving out the information.  But if I do have…

Question:  You won’t be giving out the information about making public?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If I have further information to give you, I’ll get it for you after the briefing.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that those who have not yet filled out their financial disclosure forms were being referred to the Joint Disciplinary Committee.]

Question:  With reference to the Secretary-General’s reticence to comment on the seizure of the British sailors and marines, is this a case of “he does not wish to comment because of delicate ongoing negotiations”?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  Yes.

Question:  That is the only reason, then?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  To follow up on this thing.  If the Secretary-General does not have a comment, does he have any information on whether this was a trespass by British soldiers into Iranian waters?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now the matter is between the countries involved.  So, no, he does not have any further information.

Question:  Marie, is the United Nations, in any capacity, involved with those negotiations between the Iranians and the Brits, or no?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  There are no other questions?

Question:  I just had two more, I’m sorry.  On this thing that came up on Friday, of the Romanian “blue helmets” that left the country during the investigation of the death of two civilians in Kosovo, has the United Nations heard anything back about whether those soldiers will be made available for the investigation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, it’s up to the national authorities to pursue the investigation.

Question:  But I thought the United Nations was doing its own inquiry into these people killed by rubber bullets in Kosovo.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations would be.  But the investigation at home can only be done by the troop-contributing country, in terms of any legal…

Question:  And the other thing is: I noticed on the Deputy Secretary-General’s meeting with Ad Melkert of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this afternoon... I guess I want to know the purpose of that, and whether we could speak to either or both of them before or after, given the North Korea-UNDP situation, and we also have a question for the UNDP about some hiring by Mr. Melkert.  So, it would be very timely if you could at least put in a request for a brief stakeout.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Please, did you have a scheduled date for the discussion of [resolution] 1701 at the Security Council?  Is it going to be postponed to next month, or 27 March?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just looked at the Security Council programme before I came down here and I did not see anything for the month of March, I believe.

Question:  It was supposed to be 27 March.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, that has been off the programme for a while.  I don’t think there’s anything in the Council for the next couple of days.  So, we’ll have to see, again, if it’s something that will be placed on the programme officially by the incoming presidency.

Question:  Marie, on the Middle East conflict.  There’s some indication that Saudi Arabia, in order to advance the peace process, may be contemplating establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.  Do you have any information on that?  Has the Secretary-General been encouraging this process, this trend, during his recent visit, or current visit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that specific question as of now.  But he is still, as you know, in Israel today.  He will be giving a second press conference shortly after his meeting with, I believe, the Foreign Minister.

There are no other questions?  Have a good afternoon.

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