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

20 September 2007

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

20 September 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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.  As our guests at the noon briefing today:  Annebeth Rosenboom, Chief of the Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs, together with members from the Secretariat of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Division for the Advancement of Women, will brief you on the upcoming Focus 2007 Treaty Event.

**Security Council

On the Security Council, the Security Council this morning held its periodic meeting on the Middle East.  Consultations on that same topic are currently under way.  In his briefing this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said we are at a very important juncture in the search for peace in the Middle East.  A new push is being made and holds genuine promise, he noted.  But the situation on the ground remains of deep concern.  In that context, he added that it was necessary to take “calculated risks” for peace.

On Gaza, Pascoe said he was particularly concerned by reports of mounting human rights abuses at the hands of paramilitary Hamas forces.  At the same time, he expressed worry over the continued closure of Gaza.  He added that the continued division of the Occupied Palestinian Territory was a matter of deep political, security and socio-economic concern.  Pascoe also noted that no action had been taken to ease obstacles to freedom of movement in the West Bank, and that settlement construction was continuing on both sides of the barrier in the majority of settlements.

On Lebanon, Pascoe said it was paramount that the presidential elections be held in accordance with the time frame and procedures stipulated in the Lebanese Constitution.

Referring to the Middle East-related meetings taking place this weekend here at Headquarters, he said they would only be as useful as the agreements and steps of implementation they helped bring about, and the changes on the ground they helped to catalyse.

Noting that the Secretary-General would impress upon his Quartet colleagues his concerns for the welfare of the Palestinian people, he concluded that now was the time for leaders to put their long-suffering people first, to think of the next generation and to do what needed to be done.

We have Mr. Pascoe’s full remarks upstairs.

Following today’s consultations on the Middle East, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, will brief Council members, under other matters, on his recent consultations in key capitals about that country.  We’ll provide a readout once it is done.

Earlier today, the Security Council unanimously adopted a one-year extension of the UN Mission in Liberia.

And yesterday afternoon, the Council adopted an extension of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for one year.  That extension was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour, with Russia abstaining.

Council members also discussed a draft resolution concerning a possible future UN operation in Chad and in the Central African Republic.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, the Secretary-General, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, expressed his shock at the brutal assassination of Member of Parliament Antoine Ghanem, as well as other civilians, in Beirut that day.  He condemned in the strongest terms this terrorist attack and expressed his sincere condolences to the bereaved families of those killed.

The Secretary-General calls, now more than ever, for continued dialogue among all Lebanese and urges all Lebanese to exercise utmost calm and restraint at this very critical time and to allow judicial procedures to take their course.

That statement is on our counter and on the Web.

The Secretary-General has also received a letter, sent yesterday by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, requesting technical assistance in the effort to investigate Ghanem’s murder.

** Sudan

On Sudan, yesterday afternoon, the latest meeting of troop and police contributors to the AU-UN force in Darfur (UNAMID) was held at UN Headquarters.

Today, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations reports that, with regard to force generation for the military component of UNAMID, they still have not received offers for some essential units, in particular, for the Medium Utility Helicopter units and the Medium Heavy Transportation companies.

In other cases, troop contributors have said that they may be able to provide troops for the hybrid operation, but by their own admission, their contribution would not meet UN standards.  For these reasons, DPKO says it welcomes pledges for all units included in the UNAMID military component.

With respect to police recruitment, DPKO reports that is has received 19 firm offers for the 19 required formed police units and over 2,500 pledges for the 3,772 individual police officers.

**Millennium Development Goals

On the MDGs, now ongoing at UN Headquarters is a closed-door meeting of the Secretary-General’s UN Millennium Development Goals Africa Steering Group.  The meeting is chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro in a follow-up to the Group’s inaugural meeting last week.

Today’s meeting is launching the operational work agenda of the Steering Group and is attended by top-ranking officials of the UN system, the Bretton Woods institutions, African and other multilateral organizations and the 30-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We have upstairs press materials about this meeting.

** Ethiopia - OCHA

The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State has deteriorated substantially in the last few months, according to a recent UN inter-agency mission that visited zones in which military operations are currently under way.

The mission found that the price of food had nearly doubled, owing to Government restrictions on commercial and livestock trade.  Household food reserves are nearly exhausted and food aid operations have been seriously delayed.  The mission fears that the situation could rapidly worsen within two or three months unless more food gets to the population.

We have a press release and copies of the report upstairs.

**DRC – Ebola

We have an update on the disease outbreak in the Western Kasai Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The World Health Organization says it and its partners now have substantial teams in the field.  There will soon be two fully-functioning labs on the ground, which will allow for quicker diagnosis of disease.

Of roughly 400 cases of illness and 170 deaths since April, so far nine cases of ebola, five cases of typhoid and one case of shigella have been confirmed.  Test results from 45 further samples are still pending.

**WHO

It has now been one year since the establishment of UNITAID, the international drug purchase facility hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO).  During the past year, UNITAID has reduced the price of HIV treatments for children by almost 40 per cent, and is on course to meet the needs of 100,000 children by the end of this year.

In other health-related news, author Anna Cataldi, who served as a UN Messenger of Peace from 1998 to 2007, has just been appointed by the WHO-hosted Stop Tuberculosis Partnership as an Ambassador in the fight against that disease.

We have more information on these items in my Office.

**UNESCO – Biosphere Reserve

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has added 23 new biosphere reserves in 18 countries to its Man and Biosphere Programme.  Such sites are examples of innovative approaches to combining conservation and sustainable development.

We have the full list available of the new sites upstairs.

** Rwanda Tribunal

Out as a document today is a report by the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to the sixty-second session of the General Assembly and to the Security Council.  In it, the Tribunal describes its activities between July 2006 and June 2007 and gives an update on its efforts to meet the deadline of its completion strategy.

The report notes that during the reporting period, the Tribunal’s three trial chambers rendered 5 judgements in 5 cases before it involving 5 suspects, bringing the total of cases completed in the first instance to 27 and the number of individuals tried to 33.  Trials involving 22 accused in 9 different cases are now in progress.  Meanwhile, one case was transferred to the Netherlands, while another 30 were transferred to the national jurisdiction of Rwanda.

Among the report’s recommendations, Tribunal officials appeal for more funding to continue the vital work of bringing to justice the architects of the Rwandan genocide.

Press Briefings

The press conferences coming up.  Today first, at 3:15 p.m. Sara Dareshori from Human Rights Watch, Dismas Nkunda from the Darfur Consortium and International Refugee Rights Initiative, and Niemat Ahmadi of the Darfuri Leaders Network will brief you on the situation in Darfur.  This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein.

There are several press conferences scheduled for tomorrow.  At 9 a.m. there will be a press conference by Olav Kjørven of UNDP on the upcoming high-level event on climate change.  This press conference will take place at UNDP itself and there is more information available upstairs on how you can attend that meeting.

At 10 a.m., members of the World Peace Tour for Children will brief on a concert series in support of projects providing security, health care and education to children around the world.  This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Germany.  That’s at 10:00, members of the World Peace Tour for Children.

And in commemoration of the International Day of Peace, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. to announce the Secretary-General’s latest Messengers of Peace. He will be joined by current Messengers, namely Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall and Elie Wiesel.

Our guest at the noon briefing will be Tom Koenigs, Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, who will update you on the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

It is a lot.  You can have more information on these different press conferences later on upstairs.  This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, did Mr. Ban Ki-moon meet Mr. [Terje Roed-]Larsen recently regarding his remarks?  And is there any follow-up on what he said?

Spokesperson:  No there is no follow-up.  Things are the same as they were.

Question:  Did they have a meeting and did they discuss this?

Spokesperson:  No, they have not met since.  Yes, Mr. Masood?

Question:  Michèle, I just wanted to find about this on Iraq, the Blackwater controversy has by mistake killed Iraqis without having the authority to do so.  The United States and the Iraqi Prime Minister are discussing that.  Has the Secretary General’s envoy, who is there, submitted any report about what happened and as to how this situation came to pass?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  Yes, back there.

Question:  Yes this is about Burma.  A lot of the monks are protesting in Burma.  Is the UN aware about it and is something being done to prevent large-scale action being taken by the Burmese military junta?

Spokesperson:  Well, as we’re speaking right now, Mr. Gambari, who is the Special Envoy, is speaking to the Council and I think this will be raised at the Council.  Yes?

Question:  Is the fact that the Council’s scheduled debate … was that pushed by Mr. Gambari or did Mr. Gambari just answer the call from Member States?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, but Mr. Gambari has been very willing to come and talk.  He talked to you the other day and he has been very willing to be available on that subject and, as you know, he’s been preparing a trip to the region.  Just a second, Masood.  Yes?

Question:  The last Security Council resolution on Somalia asked Mr. Ban Ki-moon to develop plans to send forces there to ensure stability.  Would you please update us on what has been done so far regarding this?

Spokesperson:  Well the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are both working on the issue so I don’t have any update at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Also on Somalia, there’s this UN, I guess mission of people travelling there, Eric LaRoche and this guy Ghanim Alnajjar, who’s the human rights expert.  So it’s reported that the Transitional Federal Government actually barred him from entry initially; they tried to fly him by Doha and told him he’d actually have to fly back to Kenya.  So can you confirm that the UN’s human rights guy for Somalia was turned away?

Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm this at this point, I have to check with them.

Question:  Okay.  I’m sorry to add this, I’ll ask this, you may or may not answer it, but this controversy about the President of Iran -- now that he’s visiting -- seeking to lay a wreath at Ground Zero here in New York.  Does the UN have any -- just in terms of host country relations or international relations -- have any view on whether he should be allowed to do that?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment on this.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Also a follow-up in a sense.  The rhetoric between Iran and Israel is now going up again.  It seems to be again there’s a war.  Is the Secretary-General taking notice of the situation and will he talk to the Iranian leader when he comes here?

Spokesperson:  Yes he’s scheduled to meet…

Question:  …and the Israeli leaders about the situation in the Middle East?

Spokesperson:  Well, they will meet and they will certainly speak.  I cannot tell you in advance what they will say.

Question:  No, I don’t want you to tell me in advance.  I just want to know is he cognizant of the fact, especially, will he talk to the Israelis about the situation that’s going on in Israel now?

Spokesperson:  I told you.  I just answered your question, Masood.  I cannot in advance tell you what they are going to say.  I will repeat that.  Okay.  Yes, in back there?

Question:  Do you have anything more on the situation in Ogaden, in Ethiopian Ogaden, about the human rights violations and the new recommendations for a panel to investigate this?

Spokesperson:  Well, what we have that we have put out today is the report on the humanitarian situation.  I know there is a human rights report but it is not out.  Okay?  Yes, Mr. Baris?

Question:  The accusation of the USA about North Korea, that you know it’s helping for the nuclear [programme] to Syria.  Does the SG have anything about that?  Anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  About the…?

Question:  That North Korea is helping Syria about the nuclear arms?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comments at this point.  As you know, there are discussions being held elsewhere on this issue.  Okay, we are a little short on time because we have first Janos, then we have our guests at the noon briefing to come, so if you don’t mind we’ll just stop here and, Janos?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.  I don’t have much but I still want to flag a couple of things for you.

**Informal Meeting on Financing for Development

Today, as I mentioned yesterday, there was an informal meeting on financing for development.  President Srgjan Kerim of the General Assembly chaired this meeting.  It was on the status of preparations for the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development which is set for the 23rd and 24th of October.  The intention of this morning’s meeting was to intensify the preparations for that high-level meeting.  The President has already reappointed the two facilitators -- they are Ambassador Maged A. Abdelaziz, the Permanent Representative of Egypt, and Ambassador Johan L. Løvald, the Permanent Representative of Norway -- to continue their efforts to take the consultative process further.  The High-Level Dialogue that is set for October is intended to give further impetus to the preparations for next year’s meeting in Doha, which is intended to review the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus.

**Meeting with Secretary-General

I did mention yesterday in my briefing that the President of the Assembly had a working lunch with the Secretary-General.  That did happen.  The two agreed to continue to have close working relations.  The topics discussed included:  how to take forward the climate change issue based on the outcome of the high-level meeting and the general debate; also the MDGs; management reform was on the agenda, including the so-called Four Nations Initiative of Chile, South Africa, Sweden and Thailand; also budgetary questions, as well as the issue of the Ethics Office; and also an update on the Capital Master Plan.

That’s all I have.  Please…

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Ethics Office, is there anything more you can say about what was actually discussed in terms of whether there will be a vote in the GA or what the next step is on having the Ethics Office cover UNDP and other agencies?

Spokesperson:  All I can say is that they both agreed to move on this issue forward and they’re both looking for a system-wide code of ethics.

Question:  But a code or like coverage?  Meaning, could UNDP whistle-blowers, could they come to the UN Ethics Office or just be subject to the same principles?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details on that.

Question:  Can you tell me where are we at in the various Committees discussing the Human Rights Council?

Spokesperson:  Meaning?

Question:  Meaning the Human Rights Council’s…

Spokesperson:  The Human Rights Council’s report?

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  Right.  It was discussed yesterday in the General Committee and the dis…

Question:  In which Committee?

Spokesperson:  The General Committee.  The General Committee, which decides on the draft agenda items or the agenda items for the session, as well as the allocation of the items.  Now the General Committee did look at the Human Rights Council’s report and decided to defer action on it.  So at a later stage they will look at it.

Question:  You mean…?

Spokesperson:  Meaning where to allocate the item.

Question:  But when the Human Rights Council was established last year, wasn’t there supposed to be a review at the General Assembly of its performance?

Spokesperson:  That is correct.  I think, if I remember correctly, there were several elements of the report and part of that was discussed within the sixty-first and part of that is supposed to be carried over.  But I’ll get you the details on that, but the point here is that it did come up in the General Committee in the framework of where to allocate the item.  But the members of the Committee did not take a decision; they deferred that.  So the General Committee will discuss at a later stage where exactly they want to discuss this:  in which Committee or in the plenary or maybe both as was the case in the sixty-first session.  If you remember, it was a split decision to discuss it also in the plenary and in the Third Committee.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, I understand that somebody also wants to bring it (inaudible).

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Correspondent:  Somebody wants to reopen the whole structure.  There are Member States who want to reopen the whole Human Rights Council structure.

Spokesperson:  That could well be the case.  Depending on where it is, actually, it doesn’t really matter where it is discussed, Member States are at their liberty to review this issue depending on, or irrespective actually of, whether this is the Third Committee or the plenary.  It can be reopened, yes.  Masood?

Question:  On the Capital Master Plan, what’s the update?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an update on that.  I just know that this was one of the topics discussed between the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly.  But I don’t have the details on that.

Question:  So in regards to securing enough loans and money and when it’s going to start, no update on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an update on that.  I’ll look into it and I’ll get back to you, that I can promise.

Question:  One thing from yesterday, about the General Committee meeting yesterday.  Do we know who, the fact that it was a closed meeting, which, when we asked around, generally in the past few years…

Spokesperson:  Yes.  There was no vote taken on that.  In the preparations, in the consultation process for that General Committee meeting, it was decided by the members of the Committee to hold it as a closed meeting.  If we look at the procedures and the rules and regulations of the General Assembly, if you look at Rule 60 it clearly says that all meetings are supposed to be open except if there are other circumstances calling for it to be a closed meeting.  In this case and as I mentioned yesterday, it is up to the Member States to decide and in this case that is what they decided.  Nobody has to give a reason on that.  Why?  They just agreed on a consensual basis in the preparations leading up to the meeting that they will have it in the form of a closed session.  That’s simply what happened.

Question:  Not to be too, too … just if the President of the GA is the Chair of the Committee, can you say what his position on this was?  Did he want this to be closed?  Did he support that?  I mean, he’s a part of the Committee, it’s not like … what was his position?

Spokesperson:  That is correct.  He’s part of the Committee.  He’s basically driven by the wishes of the Member States on this.

Question:  So is -- did he want it to be open?  Did they want it to be closed?  I mean, not to make too fine a point of it.

Spokesperson:  I don’t seem to remember that there was any kind of a debate on this.  It was simply a consensual decision by the members of the General Committee to hold it as a closed session.  And if that is what they want, then the President is going to go along with it.

Question:  Well if “he” is a part of “they” or…

Spokesperson:  Of course he’s part of them in the sense that he’s a facilitator.  Please?

Question:  I’m sorry, I feel I’m not quite clear about the Committee with representatives of Egyptian and Norway Ambassadors.  Is it a committee for developing and aid?  Would you give us some more details about it?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  This is a consultative process for the Member States leading up to a meeting next year in Doha, Qatar, sometime most likely in the latter part of the year, reviewing the so-called Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development for the Millennium Development Goals.  This process, this consultative process, is nudged along by two facilitators who have acted on this in the previous session -- so during the sixty-first session -- and these two facilitators, the two Ambassadors that I mentioned, the Ambassador of Egypt and the Ambassador of Norway, they are reappointed by the current President, President Srgjan Kerim of the sixty-second session, to continue their consultative work.

One of the high points in that consultative process is what I mentioned:  the 23-24 October meeting, the high-level meeting on Financing for Development.  This will be on a Ministerial level; what you will see is plenary meetings, round-table meetings, and it’ll come right after the Annual Summit Meeting of the Bretton Woods institutions.  So basically you will see Finance Ministers, Ministers of Development, Ministers of Aid et cetera coming here.  I don’t have numbers at the moment but that’s the intention.

Question:  Has there been an agreement on the 0.7 per cent contribution?  Or there is no agreement, is there?  That’s what they’re going to talk about?

Spokesperson:  Amongst others, yes.  They’re going to look at how this issue is faring and what can be done, and what can be done on some of the other commitments made:  how can those funds…  How can there be recommitments made, how can those commitments made at Monterrey be secured and what exactly is their status?

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