DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

11 June 2007

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

11 June 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon all.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today is David Morrison, the United Nations Development Programme’s Communications Director who will be briefing you on UNDP’s work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

**Secretary-General’s Press Comments

The Secretary-General spoke to reporters this morning upon his return from his trip to Panama, Spain and Germany, which included his participation in the G-8 Summit.  On that summit, he said he was very much encouraged by the leaders’ agreement to take early and strong action to address climate change issues.

He was asked about reports on the misuse of UNDP money in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and said he was concerned about any such possible misuse of funds.  The Secretary-General said he was asking the External Board of Auditors dealing with the issue to consider sending auditors to the DPRK.

Asked about Kosovo, he said that he would like the Security Council to exercise “fair and sound judgment” and move forward without wasting time.

We will have the full transcript of his remarks shortly.

He then went on to address the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

**Secretary-General Statement on Serge Brammertz

A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the extension of the appointment of Serge Brammertz:

“The Secretary-General sent on Friday, 8 June, a letter to the President of the Security Council informing the Council of his intention to extend until 31 December 2007, the appointment of Serge Brammertz of Belgium as the Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

He wishes to thank Mr. Brammertz for his leadership in advancing the investigation and for his commitment to providing continuity in the Commission’s work.”

Today at 3 p.m. in Room 226 there will be a background briefing on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon by a senior UN official.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, today condemned the attempt made yesterday on the life of President Hamid Karzai.  “This is an outrage, and I condemn it utterly,” he said.

Koenigs added that he was deeply saddened by the murders during the past two weeks of the journalists Zakia Zaki and Shakiba Sanga Amaj.  “Whatever the motives of these murders, these were two prominent and respected women and their deaths are a great loss to Afghanistan,” Koenigs said.  He added that such attacks must stop, women must be protected and their roles in society respected.

We have the transcript of his press conference upstairs.

** Security Council

The members of the Security Council today received briefings in closed consultations about several major UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, days before the Council sends a mission to visit those areas.  Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno briefed the Council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while Assistant Secretary-General Hédi Annabi briefed them on Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

At 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the implementation of resolution 1559, will brief the Council on the latest developments in implementing that resolution.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in Iraq, which is out on the racks today, says that the situation in that country remains precarious, with insurgent attacks persisting and civilian casualties continuing to mount.

The Secretary-General says that the political process in Iraq is entering an exceptionally sensitive phase, adding that contentious issues, such as the referendum on Kirkuk and other disputed areas, must be approached carefully, with solutions found through sustained national dialogue.

He says that, circumstances permitting, he would consider an expanded UN role and presence in Iraq where possible, and added that, for this, clear direction from the Security Council and the Government of Iraq would be essential.

Also, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, yesterday met with the Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and discussed recent developments in Iraq and the role of neighbouring countries in bringing peace and stability.

We have a press release from the UN Mission in Iraq with more details.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

International Atomic Energy Agency Chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, today briefed the IAEA Board of Governors on a range of nuclear issues, including IAEA safeguards in Iran, nuclear plant safety and budget concerns.

The nuclear Chief said it is incumbent on Iran to work urgently with the IAEA on verification of its nuclear programme, under a policy of full transparency and active cooperation, in order for the agency to give assurance on the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities.

**Horn of Africa Visit

In Addis Ababa today, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, concluded a week-long visit to the Horn of Africa aimed at shoring up efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia.  He held meetings in the Ethiopian capital today with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and with Said Djinnit, the African Union’s Commissioner for Peace and Security.

Addressing a news conference in Addis today before departing for New York, Pascoe said that many of the people he spoke with believe the current moment is the best opportunity Somalia has had in many years to move toward peace and reconciliation. 

He praised the work of the African Union force, AMISOM [African Union Mission to Somalia], which is working to provide security on the ground, and also expressed hope that a National Reconciliation Conference planned for the coming days in Mogadishu will be an important step in a long process of rebuilding a ‘shattered’ society.  Pascoe said, however, that more troops were needed to provide security so that Ethiopian forces could withdraw without leaving a vacuum.

** Sudan

On Sudan, humanitarian workers will be able to keep flying to remote locations in Darfur, thanks to a hefty $18 million package of new contributions from several donors that will allow the United Nations World Food Programme’s Humanitarian Air Service to keep operating until October.

The volatile security situation and lack of infrastructure, plus the coming rainy season –- which is beginning now and will run until October –- means that helicopter travel is often the only way that humanitarian workers from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations can reach people affected by the Darfur conflict.

We have more details in a press release from WFP [World for Food Programme].

Also in Darfur, UNICEF reports that the Sudan Liberation Movement signed an agreement today to begin handing over children associated with its armed groups.  UNICEF said this was only the start of the process.  It hopes that other groups will now agree to hand over children that may be attached to their own forces.  According to the agency’s estimates, at least 7,000 children could be linked to armed groups in the region.

We have a press release on the UNICEF report, and we also have a press release from the UN Mission in Sudan saying that, following a detailed investigation by the independent UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), there was no evidence of an incident of sexual abuse in Wau.

**Human Rights Council Opens Fifth Session

Today in Geneva, the Human Rights Council opened its fifth session.  During the next week, the one-year-old body is expected to decide on its institution-building mechanisms and future working methods.

During today’s meeting, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, urged the Council to continue to draw on the system of Special Rapporteurs.  She also stressed the importance of the Universal Periodic Review, which will allow the Council to scrutinize the human rights records of all countries in a regular, rotating manner.

On Wednesday, the Council is to hold discussions on reports from its special sessions.  The report on the human rights situation in Darfur was just made available this morning.  It can be accessed from the Human Rights Council’s website, as can a press summary of today’s proceedings.  Upstairs, we also have a background press release complete with the timetable for the current session.

** Congo – Protection of Children

The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that UN peacekeepers and Congolese police will, this week, launch a joint six-month law-enforcement and sensitization campaign to improve the protection of children.  The campaign is scheduled to coincide with the commemoration of the Sixteenth International Day of the African Child on Thursday.

The Mission says the campaign will aim to increase Congolese police awareness of children’s rights through specialized law-enforcement units and to elevate the protection of children to a matter of priority in a country where armed conflict, poverty and other woes have seriously undermined and endangered the situation of children.  We have a press release from the mission upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

Turning to Sri Lanka, the United Nations and its partners on the ground are condemning the forcible removal of Tamil residents from Colombo.  The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which is made up of more than a dozen UN agencies and NGO’s, says there is an urgent need to ensure respect for basic liberties and security, as well as freedom of movement in the country.

The Committee welcomes the granting of an interim order by the country’s Supreme Court to stop the evictions.  It appeals, in the strongest possible terms, to the Government in Sri Lanka to uphold its legal obligations.  We have more information on this upstairs.

** Ethiopia Polio Vaccination Campaign

Ethiopia’s Health Ministry, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), is conducting a four-day, house-to-house polio immunization campaign.  The project, which began on Friday, is targeting more than 14 million children under the age of five.

Press Conference Tomorrow

At 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Jacob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, following his meeting with the Secretary-General.

This is all I have for you today.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two things. The first one, about the Sudanese letter that the Secretary-General referred to at the stakeout, could you tell us about the contents to that letter?  What does that letter say?  That’s the first thing.  And the second thing is about that committee on the MDG’s in Africa….

Spokesperson:  The Steering Committee?

Question:  Yes.  He mentioned who was going to be in it or what entities, but is it going to conduct meetings?  Who’s going to pay for it?  Is it going to be stationed in New York or in Geneva or somewhere else?  Are they going to write a report and present it to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Ok.  For the Steering Committee we don’t have all the information yet, but as soon as I get it you can have it.  As for the letter from [Sudanese] President Bashir –- it is the letter he received before his trip -- the Secretary-General thinks it is a positive letter.

Question:  There are reports that have come out in the last day or so about widespread corruption in the Afghan Government and some concern being expressed by the United Nations.  I’m wondering if you could articulate what the concerns of the UN, and what is the UN planning to do to fix this problem? 

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll get more information on that for you.  I don’t have any information about corruption in the Afghan police force, but I can get it for you as soon as I go upstairs.

Question:  With regard to the Congo, can we get someone from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to come and brief us about these new allegations about Bangladeshi…

Spokesperson:  This is not a new investigation.  It is not a new allegation.  This is something going back to 2005, as you know.  There have been a number of investigations around that specific case already.  I think the Secretary-General mentioned today that an investigation had been launched by SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General William Lacy] Swing, who last week asked the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] to conduct a full investigation into all detainees held by MONUC’s [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] Ituri Brigade in 2005.  So, this is not a new investigation into a specific case, it a continuing investigation.

Question:  So, then a “renewed” investigation.  Can we have someone come and tell us about the developments and what’s being done to stop future incidents and so on and so forth?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, subsequent information was provided to DPKO by Ms. Arbour last week and that will be provided to OIOS as part of the ongoing investigation.  I’ll try to find someone who could come and brief you on this once the investigation is completed.  At this point, DPKO has vigorously pressed the Government to take the appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible. As you know, in a case of that sort, it is the country whose nationals have committed the alleged crimes that is supposed to pursue the final phase of punishing whoever has been convicted

Question:  Mr. Brammertz’s mission had been extended to 31 December.  Do you know if Mr. Brammertz is willing to continue his mandate?  There have been some reports…

Spokesperson:  Well, he has certainly been consulted; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been…

Question:  There have been reports that he was unwilling to continue on…

Spokesperson:  Apparently, those reports were wrong.  He is continuing.

Question:  On Sudan.  I mean, we’ve been through this for years, even before Mr. Ban.  I didn’t get a chance to ask him, I know he took a Sudan question.  But you say the letter from the Sudanese President is ‘positive.’  We are now entering the sixth month of the Ban administration.  The alleged genocide, depending on your view, is still going on.  How much longer is the Secretary-General going to let this process continue before it becomes an albatross around his neck as the Secretary-General who let it continue when he had the chance to step in with a different attitude after Kofi Annan?

Spokesperson:  Well, he feels that some positive steps have been taken.  We are at a point now where we were not six months ago, in terms of first getting the Sudanese Government to accept the Hybrid Force, in terms of getting also help for the second phase with African troops on the ground.  Those are positive steps being taken.  Will that be done overnight?  No, it will not be done overnight?  It’s obvious.

Question:  But on the ground, there aren’t as many changes.  All this is still in the planning stages –- the heavy package, getting UN forces…

Spokesperson:  You also have a political agenda which is taking place.  The week before last we had [Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Darfur] Jan Eliasson come here to explain the different steps taking place on the political front, like getting the rebel groups and the Government together, and this is moving ahead.

Question:  There have been reports of major Israeli and American military exercises and (inaudible) similar threats from Israel that they would attack Iran.  We haven’t heard any comments from the Secretary-General regarding these exercises or threats.  Even today when he was asked about it, he talked about Gaza.  Is he deliberately ignoring what’s happening there, or did he not get the question right?

Spokesperson:  Well, first, we don’t comment on threats.

Comment:  But the Secretary-General has commented and made a statement regarding alleged threats by the Iranian President regarding Israel.  But whenever Israel is threatening Iran, and they do that regularly, we don’t have any reaction from him.

Spokesperson:  What is your question?

Question:  My question is, do we have any reaction from the Secretary-General regarding this threat to international peace and security, especially in a very sensitive area like the Gulf, where oil supplies could be threatened if a war breaks out?  We have heard from Shaul Mofaz himself recently talking about 100 Tomahawks launched against Iran.  Is the Secretary-General not concerned about this?

Spokesperson:  He is certainly concerned.  He is following the situation.

Question:  Can we expect a statement on it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point. I will let you know.

Question:  Can you expand a little on what you termed a ‘positive’ letter from President Bashir.  Has he accepted the AU-UN plan for a hybrid force?  Is it an unequivocal acceptance?  What kind of language is in that letter that would address that particular issue?

Spokesperson:  It is certainly an acceptance.  I cannot give you the contents of the letter, because, as I told you earlier, the letter, itself if it is to be released, is going to be released by the Sudanese Government, not by us.  But it’s positive to the extent that it does accept a hybrid force.

Question:  Does it accept the hybrid force, or does it accept the AU-UN outline, now revised slightly, for the force?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes, he does.

Question:  Is it unequivocal or does he say that there should be more talks or something like that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is.

Question:  It’s unequivocal?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I would say that.

Question:  Just to confirm whether the United Nations is going to use its right for immunity in the case of the suit involving the NGO Mothers of Srebrenica against the United Nations?  And also, I wonder whether this was an omission or semantics that the word genocide in a statement last week was not mentioned, although was reaffirmed by the ruling of the International Court of Justice on 26 February?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can check on that for you.  On whether or not the UN is going to use its immunity, I don’t have anything further than what you had last week.

Question:  What about on the word “genocide”?  Whenever Srebrenica was mentioned, the statement did not mention “genocide”, only a word like “massacre”.  Is this an intentional change in semantics by the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  No.  The point of view expressed by the Court holds.

And I have a statement here attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1757:

“The Secretary-General has begun, pursuant to resolution 1757 (2007), to undertake the steps and measures necessary to establish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in a timely manner.  As of 10 June, since the United Nations had not been notified in writing by the Government of Lebanon that the legal requirements for entry into force had been complied with, the document annexed to resolution 1757 (2007), has entered into force.  In establishing the Tribunal, the Secretary-General will work in coordination with the Government of Lebanon wherever appropriate.  He will report to the Security Council within 90 days of the adoption of the resolution on its implementation.  The Secretary-General believes that the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will make an important contribution towards ending impunity for the crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal.”

This is the statement that I have for you.  And, apparently I have another one:

“Secretary-General deplores the killing of two workers of the Lebanon Red Cross, and the wounding of a member of a delegation of clerics at the Nahr al-Bared camp, and offers his condolences to their families.  He hopes the Lebanese authorities will fully investigate the matter.

The Secretary-General is also deeply concerned about the security of some 3,000 civilians remaining in the camp and reminds all parties to do their utmost to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict.”

That also was a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Question:  Will the Secretary-General ask the Lebanese Government who has been supplying and financing the Fatah al-Islam group?

Spokesperson:  Pardon me?

Question:  Will the Secretary-General ask the Lebanese Government who has been financing and supplying them with weapons, this Fatah al-Islam group?

Spokesperson:  We have no indication of that.

Question:  There are so many independent reports that say the Siniora Government is financing them…

Spokesperson:  You asked me the same question two weeks ago and I answered the same way…

Question:  I know.  But there are so many reports…

Spokesperson:  There are no reports that the UN has received on that matter that are, to the UN, credible.

Question:  Perhaps, your mission in Beirut is not reporting everything that is written.

Spokesperson:  I think our mission in Beirut is doing a very good job.

Question:  On one issue of Darfur and the letter.  Has President Bashir accepted the concept of UNMIS’ overall command of the force?  That was a big sticking point.  Also, there are some issues of chain of command that not resolved in the agreement between the UN and the AU.  What happens now?  Where do they go forward in addressing that?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the details are being worked out this week.

Question:  No, I don’t know.  I’m sorry.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  There will be a discussion on the actual details of the force this week.  I’ll get you the additional information.

Question:  Ok. But I’m talking about the letter.

Spokesperson:  In the letter, no.  The letter does not go into specifics.  It accepts the terms of what was sent to the Security Council –- the amended version that you read.

Question:  We were told last week by a senior DPKO person that that there are letters, which he didn’t show us, that are exactly what you are saying now is still to be worked out.  I thought all this had already been worked out because there are letters of agreement…

Spokesperson:  I was asked about the letter from Mr. Bashir.  I was answering that question.  There are detailed agreements being worked out, yes.

Question:  But he said that they were already agreed on, that all sides including the Security Council, the AU and, I presume, Bashir, but maybe you can tell us otherwise, got those details already. 

Spokesperson:  Well, there are several layers to how you move troops on the ground, and how you get troops from different participating countries.

Question:  Maybe we could hear more about chain of command issues, like exactly who will do what?

Spokesperson:  Ok.

Question:  This whole Darfur thing…are there any concrete things that Ban Ki-moon will be doing now to fast-track things to actually get the ball rolling.  Are there concrete steps underway?  Is he going to meet again with President Bashir?

Spokesperson:  Well, you have steps on the political front, and you were briefed on them by Jan Eliasson.  You have steps on the humanitarian front.  I just talked about the fact that they are speeding the transfer of food to Darfur by helicopters.  There are also some steps being taken on security grounds, to the extent that AMIS forces are receiving more help than they were before.  So there are several levels, and those three levels are being acted upon.  Maybe not as fast as the Secretary-General might wish, but…

Question:  But is he going to actually get involved?  I know you have these different tracks, but the iron seems to be a little hot right now.  Is he going to set up a meeting, maybe another summit with Bashir, something just to push things a long little more speedily, and put a little more “oomph” into the process?

Spokesperson:  Well, during his trip to Germany, he certainly talked to several people, including Mr. Konaré, whom he met in Berlin, where they discussed specific ways to push the project ahead and of getting the whole agreement to move forward.  He had a one-hour conversation with Mr. Konaré specifically on the Darfur issue.

Question:  One thing that we have seen in the past is that he has met with Bashir and the expectations were one thing and they ended up unravelling and becoming something different.  Is there any concrete step that he will take at this point to actually have a tête-à-tête with Bashir to make sure they’re both on the same page, rather than inferences and letters that make promises that never pan out?

Spokesperson:  It is making sure not only that the Secretary-General and President Bashir are on the same wavelength, but also to make sure that all the other countries in the region and all the parties can be engaged in the process.  I think this is the reason why the Secretary-General spoke to so many people on the Darfur issue while he was in Berlin.  That was one of the priorities on his agenda.  In every single meeting, Darfur was raised as one of the top priorities.

Question:  Small procedural question: When Mr. Roed-Larsen reports on implementation of resolution 1559, would it be reasonable to expect that he would come and speak to us at the stakeout thereafter?

Spokesperson:  We can ask.

Question:  There’s something called the Sudanese Media Centre, which has reported that Mr. Bashir has again said that this was an attempt by Western countries to re-colonize Sudan.  Is this the type of thing that he says to the Secretary-General?  Is there any response from the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  No the Secretary-General was not aware of that.  This is a media report and this is not the tone of the conversations that the Secretary-General has had in the past with Mr. Bashir.

 Question:  I see that you had a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal today, and I’m wondering if the reports over the weekend changed…you said that UNDP’s position had been substantiated, that is, was a small amount of money and that none of its was misused.  The reports over the weekend seem to speak differently.  Does that change, the letter…

Spokesperson:  Well, before I wrote that letter, I was not aware of the new allegations that surfaced, and you’ll get the answers to a number of your questions from David Morrison when he comes in a few minutes, after Ashraf gives his briefing.

Question:  The Secretary-General is meeting with the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions], then the Fifth Committee, at 12 p.m.  Was the North Korea-UNDP issue one of the topics?

Spokesperson:  No.  The essential topic is the reform proposal, and then the discussion by the ACABQ of that reform proposal.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good Afternoon.  This may be my shortest briefing ever.

**Peacekeeping reform

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) has worked over the weekend into the small hours of the morning and they are very close to reaching agreement.  It was gavelled in “informal-informals”, which I explained on Friday, I think, and they have just one point remaining.  Hopefully, in the very near future, maybe tomorrow, we’ll have some good news for you.

Question:  What’s the one point?

Spokesman:  The financing of the proposed new USG post.

* *** *

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