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

22 June 2007

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

22 June 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon all.


** Sudan


The Secretary-General is scheduled to attend the high-level meeting of the enlarged International Contact Group on Sudan in Paris on Monday.


Also attending that meeting from the United Nations are the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


** Sudan - UNEP Report


Sudan is unlikely to see a lasting peace unless widespread and rapidly increasing environmental degradation is urgently addressed.  That’s according to an assessment, issued today, by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


Among the most serious concerns are land degradation and desertification, the report said.  It noted that deserts have spread southwards by an average of 100 kilometres over the past four decades. 


The report noted a clearly marked decline in rainfall, especially in Darfur, adding that the scale of climate change as recorded in northern Darfur is almost unprecedented.  Those impacts are closely linked to conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on traditional agricultural and pastoral livelihoods, the report says.  With declining rainfall, crop yields are expected to fall by as much as 70 per cent in the most vulnerable areas.  We have more in a press release upstairs from UNEP.


** Gaza


On Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said that the main crossing points into Gaza remain closed, and it stressed that a reopening of the Karni crossing was crucial to prevent a general food shortage in two weeks’ time.  The Agency said that the refugee poverty rate has now risen to 88 per cent, with UNRWA now providing food aid to 860,000 refugees in Gaza alone.


The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had been able to use one crossing point, at Kerem Shalom, today to transport some 400 tons of food aid to Gaza, and added that more food aid needs to come in, with commercial stocks running low.


UNICEF [the United Nations Children’s Fund], in a press release, said it is delivering emergency medical supplies and vaccines to help prevent outbreaks of measles, tuberculosis and other diseases among children in Gaza.


Tomorrow, UNRWA will start a 10-week programme of games for 192,000 children and youth in Gaza.  We have details in the Geneva briefing notes today.


**Security Council


John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, this morning addressed the Security Council’s open meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and said that he had seen on his travels how hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted from their ordinary lives by conflict.


He highlighted particular concerns about the targeting of civilians, citing recent fighting in Somalia, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Afghanistan and Iraq, among other places.  Holmes also discussed the continuing displacement of civilians, including in Darfur and Sri Lanka, and the need for access and security for humanitarian workers.


If there is one thing we need to do above all, Holmes said, “it is to end the culture of impunity which underlines so many abuses”. 


We have his statement upstairs.  Another 31 speakers are inscribed for today’s meeting.  Mr. Holmes will go to the stakeout when the morning session ends.


After that, sometime this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations to discuss a draft resolution on Kosovo.


**Statement on Bolivia


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bolivia:


The Secretary-General is following with interest the process of change under way in Bolivia.  His Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, visited Bolivia from 29 May to 2 June 2007.  The Secretary-General underscores the exceptional opportunity that Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly represents to establish, through broad national agreement, a democratic society based on ethnic and cultural diversity, inclusion, equal opportunities and social justice.


The Secretary-General notes that resources of the United Nations system are available to support these efforts to strengthen Bolivia’s democracy.


** Somalia - WFP


On Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) appealed today to Kenyan authorities to allow 140 trucks of food assistance to cross into Somalia.  The trucks have been stopped at a north-eastern border crossing since 25 May.


The WFP says that the delays in distributing food this month in the Gedo district, which borders Kenya, risk aggravating the already alarming malnutrition rate.


In all, 290 trucks carrying 8,500 metric tons of food and non-food supplies are presently stuck at the Kenya-Somalia border, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


** Iraq – UNICEF


On Iraq, UNICEF expresses its concern over the welfare of orphans and vulnerable children in Iraq, after the discovery of children in a Baghdad orphanage suffering horrific neglect and abuse.


According to the agency, the ongoing conflict in the country is now a serious threat to their welfare.  UNICEF is urging the Iraqi Government to assess all the country’s orphanages and juvenile centres as soon as possible and to improve the skills of caregivers.


** Afghanistan -- WFP


On Afghanistan, the World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that continuing security problems are hampering operations in some parts of Afghanistan, especially in the west of the country, where food stocks are running short and thousands of the most vulnerable people may soon see critical food supplies curtailed or interrupted.  There is a press release with more information upstairs.


** Timor Leste - FAO


On Timor, one fifth of Timor-Leste’s population is in need of food assistance, according to a report issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme.


The two UN agencies say persistent drought and plagues of locusts have ravaged the country’s harvest this year.  They say 15,000 tons of emergency food assistance will be required in the coming months.


We have also a press release on that upstairs.


**WHO - Tuberculosis Plan


And today in Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Stop TB Partnership launched a two-year, $2 billion plan to combat drug-resistant tuberculosis.  The plan aims to achieve a 10-fold increase in detection and treatment of such strains of tuberculosis, including by increasing the number of fully equipped TB labs in countries with high levels of the disease.


The plan is part of an effort to reach a 2015 goal of providing access to drugs and diagnostic tests to all patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis, thereby saving potentially more than a million lives.  We have more in a press release upstairs also.


**Resignation of United Nations Official


A statement attributable to the Spokesperson:


The Secretary-General has accepted the resignation of Mr. Hama Arba Diallo as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) effective 19 June 2007.  Mr. Diallo was recently elected as a member of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso and, accordingly, had tendered his resignation effective that date, in accordance with applicable UN Rules and Regulations.


The Secretary-General has accepted Mr. Diallo’s resignation effective 19 June 2007 and, pending the selection of his successor, has designed his Deputy, Mr. Grégoire de Kalbermatten, as Officer-in-Charge.


The Secretary-General has expressed to Mr. Diallo his appreciation for the valuable service he has rendered to the Organization and for his leadership role in steering the Convention process.  The Secretary-General intends to initiate the search process in order to identify a suitable successor shortly.  This will be done in consultation with the Bureau of the Conference of Parties through its President with a view to completing the process before the next Conference of Parties, which will be held in Madrid from 3 to 14 September 2007.


**Press Conference


And then, on Monday at 3 -– heads up -- Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, will brief you on the upcoming UN Global Compact leaders summit to be held on the 5th and 6th of July in Geneva.


This is all I have for you today.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just to follow up on the letter of the two-member Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Secretary-General.  Any reaction or so?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Not yet on that.  I have requested from upstairs to have a reaction on it.  We don’t have anything yet.


Question:  I was just wondering if a new date has been set for the Quartet meeting, which the Secretary-General was supposed to attend, on the Middle East.


Spokesperson:  They are consulting about it.  The members of the Quartet are consulting about it, and the envoys for the Quartet are to meet next week on it.


Question:  Is there any comment by Mr. Ban Ki-moon on Egypt organizing a summit meeting this next Tuesday between the Palestinian President and Ehud Olmert and the King of Jordan?


Spokesperson:  Well, this is a process, as you know, the Secretary-General has always encouraged.  He was in Sharm el-Sheikh when the first meetings took place with different parties of the Arab Peace Initiative, and this is certainly a process that he supports.


Question:  I wanted to ask you, do you have a more complete readout about the Secretary-General’s visit to Washington, D.C., and how those discussions influenced yesterday’s passage in the House of Representatives on the UNDP funds from the United States?


Spokesperson:  No, I gave you all the information I had on what the discussions were about.  And I gave you some of the names of the people they met.  Whether it had an influence on decisions taken, I cannot say.  I mean, this is for the people who actually took the decisions to say so.  But the Secretary-General was quite satisfied with his trip to Washington.


Question:  And that subject of UNDP didn’t come up at all?


Spokesperson:  The subject of UNDP?


Question:  Of UNDP funds from the United States for the UN?


Spokesperson:  Well, different aspects of US funding came into discussion, yes.


Question:  Just now, you referred to various UN activities in Afghanistan.  You offered no comment on the serious development today, the NATO strike on civilians in Afghanistan.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on that?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has expressed his comments about the situation in Afghanistan, and I think it was quite at length -- on the violence that he’s been concerned about, and he has expressed his views on that.  Yes?


Correspondent:  That was about the police academy…


Spokesperson:  No, it was also about other events that took place during the whole week.


Question:  There will be a meeting in Paris -– Mr. Ban Ki-moon will be in Paris.  Is there a scheduled meeting between Ban Ki-moon and [Lebanese] Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora in Paris?


Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of.  Not that I’m aware of.  He’s going for the meeting on Darfur and he’s going to meet President [Nicolas] Sarkozy.  He’s not scheduled to meet any other officials who are present there for the Middle East discussions.


Question:  Have there been any more appointments in the Secretary-General’s office since the last one?


Spokesperson:  Once the 38th floor is fully staffed you’re going to get a complete list.  I mean a complete list of the higher, the senior officials.


Question:  The ACABQ, in the first week of June, had sent a letter to the Secretary-General asking him to clearly define the role of the Deputy Secretary-General and it expressed dissatisfaction with what it has been told so far.  And it said that the role of the Deputy Secretary-General in the affairs of the United Nations should be explicitly spelled out.  Has the Secretary-General responded as yet to the ACABQ, or not?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the views of the Secretary-General and the specific responsibilities of the DSG were given to the ACABQ.


Question:  When?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact date, but I can check for you when that was done.


Question:  On this proposed split of DPKO, I was told yesterday by a senior Japanese official that the proposal to move procurement into the Department of Field Services is dead -- is no longer part of the negotiations.  So I’m wondering, is that the Secretariat’s understanding, that that part of it is no longer…?


Spokesperson:  We will not comment on the discussions that are taking place right now in the Fifth Committee.  When they will be finished, then you will have some comments on it.  But, at this point, we will not comment on ongoing work by the Fifth Committee.


Question:  On that letter by the Committee to Protect Journalists about accreditation.  Is there now a response by the Secretariat as to whether journalists from all over the world, whether or not from a country accredited by the General Assembly, should be allowed to cover the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  As I said to many of you before, the letter refers to a specific issue and the CPJ letter, and the decision that was taken by the General Assembly on the “One-China” policy is a decision that holds.  And the fact that it was a decision taken also that no journalist coming from a country that is not accredited at the UN -– that is not a Member of the United Nations –- would be accredited here.


Question:  So the argument they make that human rights conventions saying that everyone has the right to freedom of information and to cover, he rejects that human rights argument?


Spokesperson:  He does not reject that argument, but we are an association of Member States.  And that you have to remember.  The Secretariat has limited functions and the Secretariat cannot go against the will of the majority of the General Assembly.


Question:  If I might go back to Lebanon.  The announcement that Mr. [Serge] Brammertz resigned from the International Criminal Court, does this mean that he might be appointed as the Prosecutor for the Tribunal, or we can check that with Mr. Michel’s Office?


Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t know that at this point.  First he’s finishing his investigative work.  He has to finish that first.


Question:  So we don’t expect an announcement of him being appointed soon as Prosecutor?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that.  And I don’t have that in the pipeline.


Question:  Just as a follow-up on another prosecutor issue.  Who is going to be the next Prosecutor after Ms. Carla Del Ponte?  Any hints from the Secretariat?  It has to come, according to Ms. Carla Del Ponte, from the Secretary-General’s Office.


Spokesperson:  Yes, we don’t have anything yet on that.


Question:  The important negotiations at Potsdam yesterday between the US, the European Union, India and Brazil were not successful.  Does the Secretary-General have any concern about the impacts of the situation on future WTO negotiations?


Spokesperson:  Well, he’s very concerned about this.  You know, this is a development, the Doha talks were of particular interest to him.  The fact that that specific negotiation failed, I think, is a disappointment.  However, I’m sure he hopes that there will be further talks -- and I think there are some scheduled in Geneva -- there will be further talks on that issue.


Question:  A quick question, the briefing with Mr. Kell on the Global Compact on Monday.  Is that at the noon briefing?


Spokesperson:  Yes, it is at the noon briefing.


Question:  I thought I saw that it was later in the afternoon.


Spokesperson:  I can check.  No, I’m sorry.  It’s not at the noon briefing, it’s at 3 p.m.


Question:  Today?


Spokesperson:  No, on Monday, at 3 p.m.


Question:  In view of the difficulty of Council Agreement on Kosovo, does the Secretary-General still support the Ahtisaari Plan?


Spokesperson:  Now that the Security Council has been presented with a new draft resolution, there is a need to bring forward the process, as you know, to define Kosovo’s future status.  The momentum should be kept up and, of course, maintaining the current status quo is not a viable solution.


The Secretary-General’s view is that the determination of Kosovo’s future status should, therefore, remain a priority for the Security Council and for the international community as a whole.  The proposal for a settlement of Kosovo’s status prepared by the Special Envoy has the Secretary-General’s full support.  It includes all the right elements for a fair and sustainable solution to Kosovo’s status.  Sustaining and consolidating the progress made by Kosovo under the interim administration of the United Nations will require concrete prospects for the conclusion of the future status process and the active and constructive cooperation of all involved.  I hope this answers your question.


Question:  You mentioned Jan Egeland went to Bolivia.  Has he engaged in other missions for the Secretary-General since taking the post, because that’s the first that I heard of it?


Spokesperson:  Yes, well, probably it is the first one, but I’ll check for you whether there are others planned for him.  [The Spokesperson later confirmed that this was Mr. Egeland’s first visit.]


Question:  Are UN staff members are allowed to campaign for national parliaments while keeping UN posts, as Mr. Diallo did?  He must be campaigning for the post… for a seat in the Burkina Faso parliament while being a UN official.  Is that allowed?


Spokesperson:  I will check the specific conditions, whether he was on leave, or whether this position took place in that specific situation.  [The Spokesperson later said that Mr. Diallo took home leave to campaign for the seat.]


Thank you very much.


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