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

18 June 2007

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

18 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 Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Spokesperson for Secretary-General

Good afternoon all.

**Statement on Rocket Attack on Northern Israel

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General strongly deplores the rocket attack on the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona that was launched from southern Lebanon yesterday.

Noting that this attack represents the most serious violation of the Blue Line since the end of the war in 2006 and an attempt to destabilize the situation in Lebanon, the Secretary-General reiterates the importance of respecting and fully implementing Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and urges all parties to exercise maximum restraint.

He has been assured by UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces that they will do their utmost to apprehend those responsible for this violation and will continue their close cooperation to prevent any further attacks.

**Secretary-General’s Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister

The Secretary-General yesterday met for a working luncheon with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with whom he discussed recent developments in Gaza, Lebanon and the wider Middle East.

He told reporters at a press encounter with the Prime Minister that the deteriorating situation in Gaza and in the region has been a source of great concern, as was what he described as “the failure of the national unity government in Palestine”.

The Secretary-General said that he knows that Israel has legitimate concerns over security, but he mentioned, at the same time, the United Nations humanitarian concerns, with some 80 per cent of Palestinians requiring UN assistance.  He urged all the parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint and to resolve all the pending issues through peaceful means and through dialogue.  The transcript of the press encounter is available upstairs and on the web.

** Gaza - UNRWA

In Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) says its operations in Gaza have returned to the levels from before the current round of fighting.  UNRWA had been forced to suspend temporarily all but its emergency health and food programmes following the killing of two of its workers last week.

At a meeting of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission in Jordan, Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd said the security situation is improving, but threats remain to staff on the ground.  We have more in a press release upstairs.

** Palestine - World Food Programme (WFP)

Still another update, from WFP.  As sporadic violence continued over the weekend, on Saturday, a warehouse containing WFP food and managed by the Ministry of Social Affairs in Nablus was looted by armed militants, and some 25 metric tons of food and equipment worth $16,000 were stolen.  The Palestinian Authority President’s office has now committed to protect WFP warehouses and help WFP to return the stolen food.

All border crossings into Gaza are closed.  The commercial crossing of Karni, Gaza’s economic lifeline, has been closed since 11 June.  WFP appeals to all parties to immediately establish a humanitarian corridor that could assure the safe passage of humanitarian assistance to the exhausted and increasingly desperate population in Gaza.  If the border crossings remain closed, it is expected that within two weeks Gaza will face serious food shortages.

**Statement on Burundi

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement in Dar es Salaam on 17 June between the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, and leader of the Palipehutu-FNL Agathon Rwasa, concerning the implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement.  He hopes that both parties will maintain the momentum created in Dar es Salaam to allow for the earliest recovery and consolidation of peace.

The Secretary-General wishes to express his deep thanks to Tanzania, South Africa and the African Union for their valuable contributions to the peace process and assures the people of Burundi that the United Nations will continue to support their efforts to bring lasting peace to Burundi.

** Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, talks carried out under UN auspices on Western Sahara began today outside of New York, with representatives of the parties and the neighbouring countries in attendance.  The talks are being facilitated by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum.

Attending today’s opening session on behalf of the Secretary-General was the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe.  In his opening remarks, Pascoe said that today marked the beginning of a new phase in the search for a solution on Western Sahara.  He urged the parties to proceed in good faith and to establish an atmosphere of mutual trust, and expressed the firm commitment of the United Nations to assist in the negotiations.

He stressed that the stalemate is becoming intolerable and that the dispute over Western Sahara must be brought to a conclusion through a mutually agreed solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Pascoe said: “The Secretary General, the Security Council and indeed the entire international community are deeply interested in events unfolding here today.  The time has come for a solution.  We wish you the best of luck, and reiterate our commitment to assist this process in every way possible.”

In accordance with Security Council resolution 1754 (2007), the Secretary-General will report to the Security Council by 30 June 2007 with regard to the status and progress of negotiations.

** Sudan

The Security Council delegation in Africa is heading to Abidjan from Accra today on the fourth leg of its mission.  In Côte d’Ivoire, the delegation is scheduled to meet with President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.

Yesterday, in Khartoum, the co-chairs of the UN Security Council mission to Africa, Ambassadors Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa and Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom, said that they had come away from a series of high-level meetings with Sudanese officials, including President Omer al-Bashir, with the understanding that Sudan unconditionally accepts the deployment of the AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force for Darfur.  Kumalo and Jones Parry also said that Sudan has reiterated its agreement that the United Nations oversee the command and control structure of such a force.

At a press conference, jointly held with Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol, Jones Parry also announced that the UN Security Council would, upon its return to New York, begin work on a draft resolution authorizing the effective deployment of the force.

While in Addis Ababa on Saturday, the Security Council and its African Union counterpart agreed to bolster their collaboration in addressing conflict and building peace.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the UN Mission in Sudan, meanwhile, reports that it conducted a four-day mission to Gereida in South Darfur to follow up on the impact of the Darfur Peace Agreement on the overall security situation, livelihoods and tribal reconciliation.  It said that the security situation in Gereida has not improved and that Janjaweed attacks outside towns were ongoing and women were still subject to rape and harassment.  The daily bulletin from the UN Mission in Sudan is available upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is wrapping up its fifth session in Geneva today.  Delegations are discussing a package of measures put forward by the Council’s President.  The package includes a framework for the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which will review on a periodic basis the fulfilment of the human rights obligations of all Member States.  From what I gather, the session is still going on right now.

** Afghanistan

Chris Alexander, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, today expressed his condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of all those killed by what he said was yesterday’s “outrageous attack against Afghanistan’s police trainers”.

Alexander condemned the attacks, and called on Afghans to speak out against the perpetrators, saying: “These acts are repugnant in the eyes of Afghans and in the eyes of the world.”  We have his statement upstairs, as well as a statement by the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, which talks about the continuing demining efforts in that country despite several recent attacks.

**Security Council

The Security Council is today receiving, in an open meeting, the latest update from the Presidents and Prosecutors of the two International Tribunals on the work that they are doing to complete their work over the coming years, with most trial activity wrapping up during 2008 and 2009.

Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said that it remains a permanent stain on that Tribunal’s work that four suspects, including Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, remain at large.

Her counterpart on the Rwanda Tribunal, Hassan Jallow, told the Council that most of that tribunal’s fugitive suspects are reported to be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We have the statements by the Presidents and the Prosecutors upstairs.

**Security Council on Lebanon

We have out on the racks today a letter from the President of the Security Council to the Secretary-General, which invites the International Independent Investigation Commission to extend appropriate technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in the effort to investigate the murder last week of Member of Parliament Walid Eido.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

On North Korea, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has received a letter from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that asks for an IAEA delegation to visit Pyongyang.  That visit would be to discuss the modalities for verification and monitoring by IAEA of the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

In his letter of reply today, Dr. ElBaradei said that a team headed by IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards, Olli Heinonen, will travel to Pyongyang shortly to discuss and agree on these modalities.  The team is scheduled to visit Pyongyang in the week that starts on 25 June.

**UNICEF Statement on Aid Worker Attacks

UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman is expressing concern over deadly attacks on aid workers in the past week in the Central African Republic, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She called such attacks “unacceptable”, noting that, as a result, aid that is essential to the survival of millions of civilians is often scaled back.  We have the text of her statement upstairs.

**Embargoed Releases

And just to flag for you –- upstairs we have embargoed copies of the 2007 World Economic and Social Survey from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and a press release from the UN refugee agency on worldwide refugee numbers.  We would also like to flag an embargoed press release by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on 2006 Global Trends Report, and that’s where you will find the worldwide refugee numbers.

**Press Conference

José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, will hold a press conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. to launch the World Economic and Social Survey 2007.  Embargoed copies of the survey, as I said earlier, are available upstairs.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Michèle.  I wonder if I could ask you some clarification regarding the meeting that opened this morning on Long Island on Western Sahara.  First of all, I noted that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs has inaugurated the meeting.  I thought it would be Mr. Walsum, the Special Envoy, who would do that.  How do you explain that?

And second, what kind of style is being followed there?  Is it bilateral negotiations, is it triangular negotiations or is it shuttle diplomacy?  And also, some of our colleagues, I understand, this morning, have gone there to cover the meeting.  Do you know what kind of reception they have received from the officials or from the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll take your last question first.  This meeting is closed.  And, of course, reporters are not allowed.  I don’t think they were allowed on the premises.  I do know that some went, but I don’t have any last minute information about what they got.  We had said earlier that it would be a closed meeting.

Your other question about the fact it was opened by the Under-Secretary-General.  Mr. Walsum is there and he’s the one who’s leading the negotiations.  As for the format of the negotiations, I don’t have the details.  I’ll try to get them for you.

Question:  This meeting yesterday between the Prime Minister of Israel and Mr. Ban Ki-moon, why couldn’t it be held at the United Nations?  Why was it held outside?  Was it at the request of the Israeli Prime Minister or was it at the request of the Israeli Ambassador?  What’s the thinking there?

Spokesperson:  It was a luncheon hosted by the Israeli Ambassador.  And Mr. Olmert and the Secretary-General were invited at that luncheon.  So that’s why it took place there.

Question:  It took place over there, but, usually, if such a thing happens, he’s supposed to come to the United Nations to meet with the Secretary-General.  And obviously [inaudible].  On this Afghanistan thing, a representative issued a very strong statement against the killing by the Taliban.  And what about this attack that killed eight children by the United States coalition?  Is there a comment on that also?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have that… I don’t have that with me, but I know there is a comment on that, and I’ll get it for you.

[The Spokesperson later noted that, in an answer to a question, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General had expressed concern about “civilian casualties, whatever their causes”, and had pointed out cases where military justice had been served, but he had added on the latest attack that “we do not have full account of what took place”.]

Question:  The Israeli Prime Minister Olmert proposed to the Secretary-General to expand UNIFIL’s mandate, to include arms shipment from Syria to Lebanon.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I do not.  At any rate, if he expressed that, it would be something that cannot be decided on by the Secretary-General.  Of course not.  So it’s something that should be a discussion with the Security Council.

Question:  On the same subject, do you have anything on the assessment mission in Lebanon?  Did this mission come back to New York?  When will the report be presented to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get on update on that.  I don’t have anything for today.

[The Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the assessment mission was expected to report to the Security Council by the end of the month.]

Question:  Can you confirm that Brammertz has resigned from his post at the International Criminal Court to become the next prosecutor?

Spokesperson:  He has not.  He has not.

Question:  He has not?

Spokesperson:  No.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that Mr. Brammertz has resigned from the International Criminal Court

Question:  Did Mr. Ban Ki-moon discuss with Mr. Olmert the overflights over Lebanon, why they are continuing?  They never stopped since 1701 was issued.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if that was discussed, but I can get more information for you on whether that was discussed or not.

Question:  He made a statement, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, regarding the two missiles on Kiryat Shmona.  But, on a daily basis, the Israelis are… they never ceased overflying Lebanon.  Why don’t we hear such statements from him regarding that?

Spokesperson:  Well, you have regular reports by UNIFIL on those violations and every time there is a violation it is recorded and it is said.

Question:  But we don’t have SG reports on that.  On another matter, Shebaa Farms, I understand that we have finished typography surveys of the area.  Can we have a map or any indication where the borderlines are right in Shebaa Farms?

Spokesperson:  Well, whenever the report is ready, is going to be given to the Security Council.

Question:  Some months ago, we heard that there will be withdrawing from Al Ghajar.  And still, it seems that this issue has been ignored or forgotten.

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it has been forgotten.  It’s still in the works.  I’ll get more information for you on where we are, on an update on this.

Question:  Don’t you think when an unprecedented meeting like the one with the Israeli Prime Minister, all those who cover the UN on a regular basis, for instance myself, we were never told that this meeting was about to take place, or the meeting was flagged.  Usually, if that was the case, or when you might miss a meeting at the United Nations on Sunday, you’re told.  Why wasn’t that?

Spokesperson:  Well, there was no emergency meeting at the United Nations.  It was something that was organized by the Israeli Mission, and the Israeli Mission… and from what I gather, several reporters were there.

Correspondent:  Yes, I understand that, and [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  It was not our call, because it was not being done here at the United Nations premises.

Question:  Because some of the reporters were informed.  Why weren’t we informed?  Was there exclusivity in this?

Spokesperson:  There was no exclusivity.  Anyone who came and asked, we referred them to the Mission and they spoke to the Mission and made their own arrangements.

[The correspondent was later informed that the meeting had been mentioned at the noon briefing on Friday.]

Question:  I was busy so I don’t know if you addressed it, but, on Darfur, Sudan, I know the Secretary-General last week called it a milestone.  There is an agreement.  What does this mean for the UN and is there a trust that this one holds.  Why is this different?

Spokesperson:  Well, so far, we’ve had assurances directly from President al-Bashir.  We have had assurances to the Security Council by President al-Bashir and by other members of the Sudanese Government.  Those assurances were given to the mission that went there -– the Security Council mission -– so I think you have a number of reasons to think that this one might hold.

Question:  What does it mean for the UN regarding peacekeeping, going forward?  What does Darfur represent now, a chance for more credibility if you can help bring some peace there?  How significant is this operation?

Spokesperson:  Very significant.  I think the UN, as you know, from the start, the Secretary-General stressed Darfur as one of his priorities, and he has been working very hard on getting that hybrid force in.  And, as we know, it has been approved and so we have reached, really, a milestone.  We’re not sure that this agreement will hold, but we have some guarantees, at least some signs, that this one might hold.

Question:  You may have mentioned this earlier, but there’s a report that two of Bosnia’s Presidents have written to Ban Ki-moon asking that he get involved to, I guess, bring the country back together.  Has he received a letter and what’s his response?

Spokesperson:  Well, I asked this morning.  I heard about it, but I don’t have an answer yet on whether the letter was received by the Secretariat upstairs.  As soon as we have confirmation that it is received, we’ll let you know.

Question:  On the Human Rights Council, it’s reported that there’s this package presentation by the Germans saying that the rapporteurs would continue, but as to Belarus and Cuba, they would be dropped.  And there’s a proposal by China to require a two-third vote in the future to have any country put on the special rapporteur process.  Has the Secretary-General had any views, has he provided any guidance on this or does anyone in the Secretariat have a view of how this…?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the affairs of the Human Rights Council, the representative of the Secretariat there is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Arbour, who has already spoken out on the issue.  Right now, they are meeting, at this hour, and they are probably going to meet way into the night tonight.  So I don’t have the results yet, I don’t know whether the two-third vote asked for was passed, and I don’t what has happened because it hasn’t happened yet.  So let’s just wait for it.

Question:  We know that some months ago there was an explosion in [inaudible] in Lebanon near Bithia.  And of course this lies under the jurisdiction of the Security Council and the investigation committee led by Mr. Brammertz.  Now we know that the four suspects who confessed to the Lebanese authorities who were arrested from the terrorist group, Fatah al-Islam, were released by the Lebanese authorities without an explanation.  Is Mr. Brammertz going to follow up on that?  Why were they released and then they rushed back and are now fighting, the same people?  Why were they released after confessing that they conducted that explosion in [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well it’s not Mr. Brammertz decision to release them.  I think you should be asking that to the Lebanese authorities.  In terms of Mr. Brammertz position, I can ask Mr. Brammertz position on this, but I can tell you that it is a decision by the Lebanese Government, not by the United Nations.

Question:  Mr. Brammertz is [inaudible] in other investigation, including this investigation on [inaudible].  And they unilaterally released the suspects who confessed.  How is the United Nations going to carry on helping a Government which really helped terrorists?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is an editorial comment.  If you have a real question let’s just go to it.

Question:  [inaudible] Mr. Eido to the same investigation.  And so many investigations, and it seems there’s not someone who’s really conducting this professionally and impartially.

Spokesperson:  The investigation, as you know, is not a public matter.  Mr. Brammertz’ investigation, as long as it’s not finished, is not going to be, you know, an instructing judge is not going to give you information about an instruction, and an investigation.

Question:  Can we have some explanation on this point…?

Spokesperson:  You won’t get an explanation from the UN, you’ll get it from the Lebanese Government…

Correspondent:  …from Mr. Brammertz, because he’s in charge as well over there.

Spokesperson:  Well, I have to ask him… he’s just a judge, he’s not in charge of actually releasing suspects or trying suspects.  He’s not.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have an intention to speak with President al-Bashir soon or has he spoken very recently to make sure that whatever seems to be -– the momentum holds and moves forward.  And secondly, what is the Secretary-General’s position on UNMOVIC and what to do with it? 

Spokesperson:  On the first question, he spoke with the President at 8 on Saturday morning. 

Question:  Is there a readout?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a specific readout.  The Secretary-General did tell me that they discussed, of course, the agreement, the hybrid force, and he had further reassurance from Mr. al-Bashir that the hybrid force will go forward.

Question:  Do they have plans of some sort of meeting in the weeks ahead?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  UNMOVIC?

Spokesperson:  On UNMOVIC, I don’t have anything in terms of the Secretary-General’s position.  As you know, it is being discussed at the Security Council.

Question:  Do you think that maybe you could get some sort of sense…?

Spokesperson:  I could ask.

So I’ll leave my seat to Freh.

Briefing by Special Assistant to Spokesperson for General Assembly President

** Doha Meeting

The Assembly President chaired yesterday and today in Doha, Qatar, an informal meeting on “Financing Development to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.

A follow-up to last November’s informal thematic debate of the Assembly on “Partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development goals: Taking stock, moving forward”, this meeting was attended by representatives of developing and donor countries, multilateral financial institutions, the UN’s regional commissions, civil society and the private sector.

It featured a frank exchange of views, especially on multilateral and bilateral aid, as well as on domestic resource mobilization by least developed countries and new and emerging donors.  Discussions also focused on successful examples of scaling up aid for the MDGs in the areas of agriculture, primary education, water and sanitation and the millennium villages.

In opening the meeting, the Assembly President stated that: “When poverty is so immediate and the suffering so intense, the world has a moral and strategic obligation to address the concerns of the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly in Africa.  Each of us has a responsibility for delivering their share of the commitments we have promised, or holding others to account.”

Noting that in terms of development financing, aid had dropped from $106 billion in 2005, to $104 billion in 2006, which represents a drop in real terms of 5.1 per cent, the President also pointed out that “if developing countries adopt comprehensive national strategies -- and implement them for the benefit of all citizens -- then developed countries and emerging donors must deliver on commitments to provide additional resources to enable these strategies to succeed. Donors need to accelerate their plans to scale up assistance, to maintain the credibility of their 2005 pledge to double aid, in particular to Africa by 2010.”

And she emphasized: “Our ability to deliver on our promises –- partner and donor countries -– is a reflection of our commitment to effective multilateralism, and building greater trust among the global community.”  We have copies of her statement upstairs.

**Visit to China

After Doha, the President will travel to China for a three-day visit, starting tomorrow, at the invitation of the Government of China.

**Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Matthew, you had a question last week about the status of discussions on the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.  The President earlier this month appointed the Permanent Representatives of the Philippines, Ambassador Hilario Davide Jr. to conduct consultations.  And she has asked him to report to her by mid-July at the latest.

That’s all I have.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  How many countries were attending the Doha meeting?

Special Assistant:  There were over 90 participants.

Question:  Were there any financial pledges made so far?

Special Assistant:  No, at this meeting they didn’t make pledges.  It was to take stock.

Question:  How many countries?

Special Assistant:  There were over 90 participants.  I can get you details upstairs.

Question:  On the pending restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, some are now saying that what the Fifth Committee approved is different from what the Secretary-General proposed in terms of the number of posts.

Special Assistant:  The Fifth Committee is still holding informal informals.  So we’ll just have to wait for them to come to a decision.

The report of the ACABQ on the Secretary-General’s proposals is a public document.  You can look at that report. That’s what the Fifth Committee is considering.

Question:  I remember the time-frame…

Special Assistant:  I have no idea.  The Fifth Committee is still discussing the item in informal informals.  We have to wait for them.  Thank you.

* *** *

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