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

25 June 2007

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

25 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on the Attack on Lebanon Peacekeepers

I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Lebanon attack on United Nations peacekeepers, which was issued earlier today:

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by and condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack on a United Nations patrol in south Lebanon yesterday, which killed six and injured two other United Nations peacekeepers belonging to the Spanish and Colombian armies.  He calls for a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and hopes that the Government of Lebanon will succeed in its efforts to bring to justice those responsible.

The Secretary-General notes the fragility of the situation in Lebanon and reiterates the importance of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon’s (UNIFIL) mandate for stability in the area.  Targeting of UNIFIL in Lebanon is in fact an attempt to undermine peace and security in the region and, in particular, the Lebanese and international efforts to stabilise the situation in southern Lebanon within the framework of United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).

The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers and to the Governments of Spain and Colombia.  He reiterates his support to the UNIFIL troops in their unwavering commitment to fulfil their mandate under United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) in close collaboration with the army and authorities of Lebanon. 

And the statement was, as I mentioned, issued earlier in Paris, where the Secretary-General is today.  And I’ll have an update on that in a second.

Just to elaborate a little bit more on this incident.  Peacekeepers from the Spanish contingent in UNIFIL were on a patrol in the Khiam area when the explosion occurred.  UNIFIL has an investigation under way to determine the circumstances.  Initial findings show that the attack involved the remote-controlled detonation of a car bomb along a main road between Khiam and Marjayoun, where the Spanish contingent is headquartered.

The UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Claudio Graziano, said: “This is the most serious incident since the end of the war last summer.”  He stressed that all UNIFIL troops remain committed more a ever to its mission and resolve to implement the tasks mandated by the Security Council.  We have his statement upstairs.

The Security Council, as you know, a short while ago, just received a briefing on the attack from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi.  It then adopted a presidential statement condemning the attack in the strongest terms, and appealing to all parties concerned to abide scrupulously by their obligation to respect the safety of UNIFIL and other UN personnel.

**Secretary-General at a high-level meeting on Darfur in Paris

And, as I mentioned, the Secretary-General is in Paris today, and he attended the high-level meeting of the expanded contact group on Darfur to discuss the way forward in addressing the situation there.

At a press conference a short while ago, the Secretary-General said that he believes today’s meeting has helped generate additional momentum and has confirmed the concrete steps that key international stakeholders should take to move cohesively towards the common objective of ending the suffering of the people of Darfur.

As for the United Nations, the Secretary-General said it is maintaining its focus on four distinct tracks, which are: the political process:  peacekeeping; humanitarian assistance; and reconstruction and development in Darfur.  He noted considerable progress with respect to the hybrid operation, as well as in reinvigorating political dialogue among the parties.  The special envoys of the African Union and the United Nations, as you know, have developed a road map to negotiations, with the objective of restarting peace talks by the end of the summer. That three-phased road map was distributed at the meeting in Paris, and is available for you upstairs.

While in Paris, the Secretary-General also attended a luncheon hosted by the Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner.  And on the sidelines of the meeting, he met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  He also has had meetings scheduled with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and President Nicolas Sarkozy before flying back to New York.  He is expected back at Headquarters tomorrow.  The list of delegations attending the meeting is also available for you upstairs, and we hope to have the transcript of the press conference he had a short while ago.

And as we mentioned to you on Friday, also attending the Darfur meeting in Paris from the United Nations side is Jan Eliasson, the Special Envoy for Darfur, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

** Darfur

Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in Sudan, in Khartoum, reports that the Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy for Darfur, Pekka Haavisto, visited Sudan from 20 to 24 June.  And during his visit, he held extensive consultations with various stakeholders on the status of implementation of the road map, to which I just referred.  And the Mission continues also to report, in its daily bulletin, violent attacks on civilians and aid workers and convoys in Darfur, a serious concern that the Secretary-General also raised in the Paris meeting earlier today.

** Gaza

Now, turning to Gaza, Kevin Kennedy, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, condemned today’s rocket attacks on the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, which directly led to the closure of that crossing.  Such attacks, he said, are completely unacceptable and endanger the provision of vital humanitarian assistance to the civilian population of Gaza.  He called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law.  Mr. Kennedy continues to work with all parties to ensure appropriate security and access conditions for the passage of humanitarian goods at key crossing points into Gaza.

** Iraq

And on Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned the suicide attack in Al-Mansour Melia Hotel, which killed and injured dozens of Iraqi civilians.  Mr. Qazi described the attack, which targeted a meeting of Iraqi tribal leaders seeking to resolve differences and chart a path to reconciliation, as a deplorable crime aimed at sabotaging efforts to promote a peaceful resolution.  He called on the Iraqi authorities to pursue the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

We also have that statement upstairs, as well as one in which the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) commends the Review Committee for the Constitution on the delivery of its draft report to the Council of Representatives.

**Security Council

And here, the Security Council today is holding an open debate on natural resources and conflict, which is being chaired by the Belgian Foreign Minister, who I think, spoke to you at the stakeout just a short while ago.

Mr. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Council that, in too many cases, the illegal exploitation of natural resources has triggered, exacerbated and prolonged armed conflict.  He pointed to such cases as the fight over food and water in Somalia, the role played by conflict diamonds in Liberia, the illegal exploitation of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the drug economy in Afghanistan.

Mr. Pascoe said that neither sanctions nor peacekeeping alone can produce sustainable solutions to the problem.  What is required is a commitment on the part of all stakeholders to equitable sharing of natural resources and to good governance, accountability and transparency.  We have his remarks upstairs.

And there are 34 speakers inscribed, including the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

A couple more items: The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has taken new measures to improve assistance to the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in their efforts to restore security and public safety in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu.  That’s according to the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which adds that United Nations peacekeepers there have also conducted some 600 patrols in the two provinces in recent weeks, including some 330 in the course of last week alone, in cooperation with the Congolese Army.  United Nations peacekeeping naval units have also stepped up patrols on Lake Kivu to stop illegal traffic of firearms between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the neighbouring countries.

** Iran meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

And on Iran: Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, flew to Vienna on Sunday evening -- that’s last night -- to meet with IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.  Mr. Larijani invited the IAEA to send a team to Tehran and to develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues related to Iran’s past nuclear programmes.  The IAEA intends to send a team as early as practicable.  And there’s more information on that upstairs for you.

** Nepal

And turning to Nepal, the Constituent Assembly election will be held on 22 November.  The United Nations Mission in Nepal welcomed this announcement, saying it was a critical step in the peace process, and indicated the strong commitment of the political parties to work together to form a democratically elected Assembly.  And you can read more on that in the press release from the United Nations Mission there.

** Afghanistan

And tomorrow is the international day against drug abuse and drug trafficking, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will mark the day by publishing a report on the narcotics situation in the world.

Today, UNODC presented some of its findings on Afghanistan in a press briefing in Kabul, in which it said that drugs are a security issue for the country, with close links between the criminal networks dealing in drugs and the insurgents.  And there’s a transcript of the Kabul briefing upstairs, and there’s an embargoed press release concerning tomorrow’s world drug report.

** Tokyo Seminar on the situation in the Middle East

And in Tokyo, the United Nations is organizing a two-day media seminar to address the latest situation in the Middle East and discuss ways to re-engage the Israelis and Palestinians in the search for a comprehensive and lasting settlement.  The event will gather some 100 participants.   Japan’s Foreign Minister will address the opening session and the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, will deliver a message from the Secretary-General.

**Press conference today

And here at United Nations Headquarters, at 3 p.m. today, in Room 226, Georg Kell, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, and Anthony Ling, Managing Director of Goldman Sachs International, will brief you on the upcoming United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit to be held on the 5th and 6th of July in Geneva.   

And that’s what I have for you today.  Let’s start with Mr. Abbadi, and we’ll go backwards.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, the Darfur meeting in Paris is being boycotted by Sudan and the African Union, including South Africa.  Would this complicate efforts aimed at establishing a hybrid force?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you the synopsis of what the Secretary-General said at the press encounter.  I think he had similar remarks at the working luncheon he had there.  The Secretary-General has highlighted the momentum that has been created by the agreement between Sudan and the United Nations and the African Union on moving ahead with this hybrid operation.  He is in Paris.  He attended this meeting, along with the head of peacekeeping operations and with Jan Eliasson to galvanize efforts, and to make all the players work towards one goal -- which is to bring about a solution to this problem in Darfur as soon as possible.

Yes?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General received any indication lately that the situation in southern Lebanon was being affected by the events in the north, one way or another?  Was he being, you know, briefed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), about the situation in the South?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sure that he was briefed.  I mean, as you know, he’s in Paris today.  He had to fly out of New York to get there yesterday.  But he was very much on top of the situation yesterday.  That’s all I can tell you.  And he is, as I just mentioned to you, meeting with [President Fouad] Siniora in Paris, so I can tell you a little bit more about that.  Specifically, what he’s been briefed on by his advisors on the situation, I cannot tell you.

Question:  But previous to the attack, was he aware that the situation in southern Lebanon was becoming, perhaps, more tense or was in any way being affected by the developments?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would not be able to tell you that.  What I can tell you is that he has been following developments on the ground very closely, and has been in touch with all the players regarding this issue.  So, all I can tell you is he has been as briefed as he can be on the situation.

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?  Because, basically, I think what he’s saying is, there were reports in the press that Fatah al-Islam threatened they were going to attack UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon.  One question may be: Why didn’t UNFIL troops increase their security to avoid such a thing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s a security matter.  I can’t go into too many details.  But what I can tell you is that, especially, fragile areas, United Nations security is constantly monitoring.  It’s a twenty-hour operation.  And as far as both security and the United Nations peacekeeping operations go, they’re always mindful of all kinds of reports.  And I think, in this case, if the question is, “Was security aware?”.  Security is always aware.  They do inform the Secretary-General.  And I think the peacekeepers, if they found a security situation warranted, for example, they would act accordingly.  So that’s what I can tell you.

Question:  You mentioned that Mr. Larijani and Mr. ElBaradei are meeting in Vienna to discuss Iran’s -- I’m quoting you now -- “past nuclear programmes”.  Does that mean that the world’s interest in the current nuclear programme for peaceful purposes is not on the agenda?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s look at their press release.  The meeting took place yesterday.  The main thrust of the press release, I think, is the upcoming visit.  So we’ll see when the International Atomic Energy Agency goes in there and see what they come up with.

Question:  I had two questions.  One: there was a report over the weekend about something Mr. ElBaradei had said at the meeting they’re having at the International Atomic Energy Agency, that there’s a problem with funding for the Agency, and that he has to contract out some of the work; and that the funding problem can jeopardize the work that’s being done by the Agency.  Do you have anything further on that?  Is there anything the Secretary-General is doing to try to help that situation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the International Atomic Energy Agency, as you know, is a specialized agency.  So its budget… is separate from the United Nations regular budget.  But I think you should talk to the IAEA.  They’ll probably be able to give you more.  Or look on their website.

[The Deputy Spokesperson also later drew the reporter’s attention to a speech by the IAEA Director-General to the Board of Governors earlier this month on this topic.]

Question:  The second question is: when we had the briefing here about the humanitarian situation in Palestine, there was some discussion about the issue of whether there would be some funds returned to the Palestinians -- to Abbas -- and whether that would be done to inflame the situation, or it would be to calm the situation.  Then there was some report that Israel has said something about the fact that none of the funds can go to Hamas.  Is there something being done to look into this a bit?  Because the situation is already inflamed by the bid, and if something further inflames it, it’s not going to be helpful.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I haven’t heard anything new.

Question:  Marie, is there any intention to send Mr. Guéhenno or any of the other top peacekeeping officials to Lebanon at this point?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard.  But Mr. Guéhenno is in Paris, so we can give him a quick call to see what his trip schedule is after the Darfur meeting.

[She later confirmed to the correspondent that Mr. Guéhenno did not have plans to travel to Lebanon.]

Question:  Marie, in the backdrop of what we’ve been discussing over here about the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funding for North Korea, I just want to read this item printed yesterday in the Washington Post that is basically saying that the United States has funnelled millions and even billions of United States dollars to North Korea over the past decade.  It also notes that the Bush Administration has repeatedly criticized UNDP for channelling millions of dollars of hard currency into North Korea to finance agencies and programmes, warning that the money might be diverted to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.  However, now that the Washington Post contends that the United States itself for various reasons wants to get the remains of the soldiers from North Korea back, they have been giving them billions of dollars.  So what do you have to say to that?  I mean, basically, at this point in time…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing to say.  I’m sure Colum must be delighted that you’re promoting his story in the briefing.  No, I have nothing to add.

Question:  Colum, I know, is my friend.  But I’m just saying: Do you have a reaction to this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.

Question:  At all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  On the Darfur meeting in Paris: What’s the reaction of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to President Bashir [al-Assad]’s remarks, in which he rejected the deployment of non-African troops in the hybrid force?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry?  Mr. Bashir’s remarks...?

Question:  He announced yesterday or the day before yesterday that he rejects the deployment of any non-African troops in the hybrid force.  So how about the reaction on this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the United Nations reaction has always been the same, as has been spelled out in the reports and in the various public statements.  The Secretary-General, you know, has secured an agreement with the African Union and with Sudan.  And the emphasis will always be on trying to get the maximum African troops as possible, but the emphasis is also on trying to get a force on the ground that is going to make a difference for the people on the ground.

Question:  Marie, I want to state this: Whether Colum is delighted or not, I don’t care.  What I’m saying is, there are United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea.  They’re being violated, and in this case apparently by the United States.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Then you should take it up with the Security Council sanctions committee on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Question:  I don’t know if you referred to that earlier, but there’s a press report today that tomorrow the Quartet is going to announce Tony Blair as their main man.  Is there any United Nations comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can confirm is that the envoys of the Quartet -- not the principals, but the envoys of the Quartet -- are meeting in the region tomorrow.  So we’ll have to wait.

Question:  Does the United Nations support Tony Blair’s candidacy?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I have nothing beyond what the Spokesperson told you last week, when the subject came up.

Question:  Has Ban Ki-moon spoken to Tony Blair in the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Twenty-four to forty-eight hours, I don’t think so.  But he has spoken to him towards the end of last week.

Question:  End of last week?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is Guido Bertucci attending the Department of Economic and Social Affairs-sponsored seventh Global Forum on Building Trust in Government, which is taking place in Vienna this week?  And is he also under investigation [in connection with an allegation by his Division], and have any charges been made against him either in regard to this, or in regard to the Thessaloniki Centre or its investigation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re talking about a staff member of the United Nations.  There is a meeting this week -- I am not aware, but I can look into that for you, whether he will be attending.  I think you’re referring to the conference in Vienna that is sponsored by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  So let me check into whether he will be attending.  I’ll get back to you on the other questions as soon as I have answers for them.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that Mr. Bertucci will attend the conference.]

Question:  Is there an investigation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I said I’ll get back to you as soon as I have some answers for you.

Question:  Fox has contacted Mr. Bertucci over the weekend, and asked about the Thessaloniki audit.  He said it’s yet to be finalized.  Can you tell us if that’s correct? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that audit is concerned, what I can tell you is that the final report on that audit was issued on 23 February.  The Department has subsequently discussed the report with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and provided further comments and clarifications.  These will be taken into account in the formal outcome of the audit, which will be presented in a report to the General Assembly.

And with respect to the findings and recommendations in the audit, and contrary to allegations lodged in the press, the Department has emphasized strongly that there was no indication that the funds had been used for non-project activities.  The recommendations centred largely on identifying factors, which impeded the achievement of the projects’ objectives, in the name of improving management practices.  That will strengthen implementation of the Department’s technical cooperation programme.  That’s all I have for you on that.

Question:  On Mr. Blair, can you say this: Is he being actively considered by the Secretary-General to become the next Envoy?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I have nothing beyond what Michèle mentioned to you last week.

Question:  But do you have anything more to add?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  No, I don’t.  As Benny mentioned, the Quartet envoys are meeting tomorrow.  So let’s see what they… if and what they come up with, from that.

Question:  Depending on the conversation that took place late last week, like you mentioned, what’s Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s understanding of the role that Mr. Blair might play?  A political role?  Help Palestinian institutions?  He must have some vision.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further.  As you know, it’s not the Secretary-General’s appointment to make.

Question:  But he has a say.

Deputy Spokesperson:  He is a member of the Quartet, but it is not his…

Question:  What’s his vision of what an Envoy should do?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Why don’t we see if and when something is concrete, and then we can revisit that question again, okay?

On that note, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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