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

6 November 2007

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

6 November 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who will brief you on the Secretary-General’s proposal to strengthen the Department of Political Affairs.  He should be here to start at 12:30 on the dot.

**Gambari

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, continued his consultations today with senior officials in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital.  This morning, he met with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Authoritative Team members, composed of various ministers including those of Foreign Affairs, Information, Culture, and Labour.

Mr. Gambari and his counterparts had very frank and extensive exchanges on all of the issues being addressed in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices.  This includes, in particular, the need for a dialogue to start without delay between the SPDC leadership and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the lifting of restrictions on all political detainees as the necessary steps to that end.

In the afternoon, Mr. Gambari met with the Minister for Planning and Economic Development to discuss future cooperation between the Government and the UN country team in Myanmar.  He also met with the Minister for Religious Affairs to discuss the Government’s response to the participation of monks in recent demonstrations.

During the remainder of his visit, Mr Gambari is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Lieutenant General Thein Sein among others and will also brief the diplomatic corps on his mission so far.

In Yangon, he is expected to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy, officials of the National Unity Party, and other relevant interlocutors, as well as the UN country team and the International Committee for the Red Cross.

**Pinheiro – Myanmar Visit

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has been invited by the authorities of Myanmar to visit the country from 11 to 15 November.

Mr. Pinheiro welcomes this invitation and notes that this sends a positive indication of Myanmar’s willingness to cooperate with his mandate and the Human Rights Council.

**Security Council

This morning in the Security Council, the Secretary-General told members, in an open meeting on regional and subregional organizations, that UN partnerships with such organizations are stronger and more active than ever.  He noted the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force and political mediation in Darfur, and the cooperation with the European Union in the protection of civilians in Chad and the Central African Republic, as well as the work of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Myanmar, among other partnerships that have taken place this year.

The United Nations, the Secretary-General added, is committed to helping build up the capacity of regional and subregional organizations to undertake conflict-prevention, peacemaking and peacekeeping tasks in their respective regions.  We have his remarks upstairs.

Today’s open meeting is being chaired by the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, who will also host a luncheon for the participants following the morning session.  The Secretary-General plans to speak to you at the Council stakeout following the lunch.  The open debate is expected to continue this afternoon.  We expect the Secretary-General at the stakeout around 3 p.m.

**Security Council Mission

The Security Council has decided to send a mission to Timor-Leste, from 24 to 30 November.  The mission will be headed by Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa.  It intends to commend the people of Timor-Leste for their successful elections and to encourage all the groups in the country to continue to work together and engage in political dialogue.  The composition and terms of reference of this mission are out as a document on the racks today.

** Sudan

From Sirte, Libya, the site of the Darfur peace talks, our team reports that negotiations continue with workshops on wealth-sharing presentations.

Consultations are also continuing in Juba, as well as in Darfur, with those groups that are not present in Sirte.

Meanwhile, at UN Headquarters, Sudan’s First Vice-President and President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, will be here and has agreed to speak to you also at the Security Council stakeout microphone, following his meeting with the Secretary-General.  That should be around 4 p.m.  So, 3 p.m. Secretary-General; 4 p.m. Salva Kiir.

** Nepal

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, today stressed that there is still very strong commitment on the part of United Nations, both the Secretary-General and the Security Council, to support Nepal’s peace process.

Adding that the challenges to the process must not be underestimated, Martin urged the need for a clear assessment of why the two dates for the Constituent Assembly elections have not been kept, and what now is a realistic road map.

Speaking to the press on the future mandate of the UN Mission in that country, he also said much discussion has taken place on areas in which the UN Mission is ready to be of assistance to that process, but reiterated that this is still a Nepali process.  He urged that it is for the Nepalese to decide what role they want the United Nations and the international community as a whole to play.

** Iraq

On his way to Baghdad to assume his newly-appointed duties as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura spoke to some media experts, broadcasters, representatives of the judiciary and parliamentarians within the context of a UN-sponsored workshop on media law in Amman, Jordan.

De Mistura stressed that impartial and factual information is essential for the reconciliation process in Iraq.  “We count on the media to provide a platform for open debate, and that the public remains well informed,” he said.  There’s a press release with more details on that upstairs.

** Somalia

A UN humanitarian team has travelled to the town of Afgooye, west of Mogadishu, to assess conditions for Somalis displaced by the recent violence in Mogadishu.  The team found that the displaced Somalis are living in extremely harsh conditions and that 15 new makeshift camps have been erected on the road to Mogadishu.  UNHCR says that there are now 50 such spontaneous camps along that road.  The agency said that the population of these settlements has more than doubled, putting further strain on available resources.

The agency also confirmed that the fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu has now displaced 90,000 people, more than half of whom fled to Afgooye.  Another 17,000 people have fled parts of Mogadishu that were considered safe and free of gun violence.  There’s more information from the UNHCR briefing notes in Geneva.

** Latin America -- Floods

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is sending a Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team to the Mexican state of Tabasco, roughly 80 per cent of which was under water in recent days.  Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes says the United Nations stands ready to assist in any way it can.  In the meantime, UNICEF is appealing for more than $3 million to respond to the immediate needs of children, adolescents and women affected by the recent flooding in Mexico, Central America and across the Caribbean.  We have more information on that upstairs.

** Haiti

In cooperation with international partners, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, WHO, UNICEF and the Government of Haiti have begun a countrywide immunization campaign, which is expected to reach some 5.7 million people or nearly 60 per cent of Haiti’s population.  You can read more about that upstairs as well.

**Statement on Protocol II Weapons

We have a message to a conference today in which the Secretary-General says that landmines and booby-traps are among the most distressing and pernicious armaments used both during and after armed conflicts.  The Secretary-General says that these weapons not only aggravate but prolong the heavy economic and human toll of war and the developmental and humanitarian impact on post-conflict societies threatens future generations.  You can get a copy of this upstairs as well.  Just one more announcement.

**UNMOVIC

The fact-finding panel constituted to look into UNMOVIC’s discovery of items on UN premises last August has completed its work.  The items have been confirmed as non-hazardous after testing by US authorities.  No chemical warfare agents or related compounds were identified in the samples analysed.  The panel has made a number of recommendations to ensure that policies and procedures are improved, so as to prevent similar incidents.

That’s all I have for you.  We have the General Assembly spokesman here before Mr. Pascoe.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Just to let you know our guest tomorrow at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), who will update you on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Okay, that’s what I have for you.  We’ll start over there.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In Afghanistan more than a hundred people have died in a suicide attack, including six members of Parliament and one Government Minister also.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say on that?

Spokesperson:  We are certainly aware of that and we are expecting a statement.  If it comes during this briefing, I will read it out for you.

[The Spokesperson read out the following statement at the end of the briefing:

“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn about the deplorable suicide attack that occurred earlier today in the town of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan, which has reportedly resulted in more than 40 civilian deaths and even larger number of injured.

“Noting that today’s attack is one of the deadliest Afghanistan has seen in recent years, the Secretary-General once again expresses his continuing anxiety regarding the unstable security situation throughout Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns this heinous attack and sends his profound condolences to the bereaved families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of Afghanistan.”]

Question:  Yes, please.  I just wanted to check this report concerning the Pakistani Ambassador presenting a protest on the statement issued by the Secretary-General yesterday on Pakistan.  If you can confirm that, if there is any reaction about that statement.

Spokesperson:  We have not received any protest note, if that’s your question.

Question:  But there was no meeting yesterday between the Pakistan Ambassador and the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, we have not received any letter of protest.  Yes.

Question:  Do you think, because in the headlines we distributed there is mention of a meeting that took place yesterday between the Ambassador and…

Spokesperson:  Well, it was not on the programme that we had; otherwise, you would have had it.  Yes.

[The Spokesperson later said that the Permanent Representative of Pakistan had met the Secretary-General late Monday.]

Question:  Is Mr. Gambari thinking of stopping in Islamabad on the way back, have the same conversations with the Pakistani officials as those he’s having with those in Myanmar, since the situations are starting to look very similar to one another?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari is right now pretty occupied in Myanmar.  I have no other information on…

Question:  Excuse me.  Are you thinking of sending an envoy to Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  The Spokeswoman told you yesterday she did not have any information on that.  Yes.

Question:  Can I follow up?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  In light of the human rights situation in Pakistan, the people that are being arrested, all this harassment of opposition figures, don’t you think that… or the SG doesn’t think it warrants his interference in any way or the other?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General issued a statement yesterday and that’s where it stands now.  We have the top political official coming here shortly.  Perhaps you can pose that question to him.  Yes.

Question:  This is…  I didn’t realize that Karen AbuZayd is going to come in tomorrow, but in anticipation of that and perhaps to take the Secretariat take on this…  There was footage last week of mortars being shot directly from the UNRWA School in Gaza into Israel.  Does the Secretary-General condone such use of UN facilities as military posts?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the footage that you’re referring to, but we can look into it once it’s…

Question:  I can send it to you.  I have the footage in my back pocket.

[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that UNRWA condemns armed interference in its facilities by militants or during military incursions.  Such interference endangers the lives of UNRWA teachers and the children in UNRWA schools, and heavily disrupts the education programme.  Sound education is a basic building block of Palestinian society and is a necessity for the success of the two-State solution.]

Spokesperson:  Matthew?

Question:  Two questions.  One is about Liberia and that helicopter crash.  The Russian media now says that the helicopter may have been shot down.  Do you have any information on that?

Spokesperson:  We do.  What is your second question?

Question:  It has to do with that sole-source Lockheed contract for the Darfur peacekeeping mission.  Previously, it had been said that it had to be done without competition because of the Security Council resolution in July, but now it appears that there was a request by DFS, Jane Holl Lute, in April, to do a sole-source contract with Lockheed, so I’m wondering how…  It doesn’t seem consistent with what’s been said here before, that it was done without bidding out because it had to be done after July.  It began in April.  Can you somehow explain why, if they began in April looking at a sole-source contract five months later there still were no other bidders?

Spokesperson:  Let me go back to your first question.  This is about a Russian press report regarding a recent helicopter crash.  The UN Mission in Liberia is aware of the Novosti report that the UNMIL cargo helicopter which crashed near Ganta on Friday was hit by gunfire.  The Mission has no evidence that any foul play was involved.  An extensive investigation which the UN Mission is working with civilian authorities is currently under way.  Until the findings of that investigation are made known it is too early to speculate on the causes of the crash.  In the meantime the UN Envoy in Liberia, Mr. Alan Doss, has offered the UN’s full support and assistance in all arrangements for repatriation of the bodies of the three crew members to Russia.

Regarding your question about the procurement issue, again, that, as we’ve stated many times, this was done because of the exigencies of the situation.  In July, the resolution was passed.  The UN was asked to set up shop by the end of October on the ground and it turned to a company that had a track record on the ground and was considered the only company that could fulfil this task.  That was a procurement decision and as you know the action was taken by the procurement department.  You’re referring to something from another department.  I’m not aware of that.

Question:  Maybe you’ll get back to it.  There seems to be an authenticated document from Jane Holl Lute to Warren Sach, dated 19 April, saying, quote, “We request your approval for sole-source contract, with the same company, PAE.”

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, this was a decision taken by procurement and not by the department that you mentioned, so the information that we have is that our procurement operation went ahead with this decision based on all the reasonings that we’ve given you up to this date.  I have nothing further than that.  Yes.  You know what, let’s go to somebody who hasn’t asked a question.  Yes, sir.

Question:  During the last week, the Non-Aligned Movement country has passed a bond resolution for non-proliferation and disarmament in nuclear issue.  Iraq has said, but of course.  What’s your comment about this?

Spokesperson:  Where is this resolution?

Question:  In First Committee.  In First Committee.

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of this.  Perhaps you can ask the General Assembly Spokesperson for further elaboration on that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Marie, today the King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, is visiting the Pope in the Vatican in a historic meeting, the first of its kind.  Presumably, they will discuss issues of Christianity and Islam.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this in the context of the Alliance of Civilizations?

Spokesperson:  I think you’ve answered the question yourself.  The Secretary-General, as you know, has been very supportive and trying to advance the reasons why there is this Alliance of Civilizations and, in that context, I’m sure that he would welcome any moves to further those goals.

Okay.  Mr. Pascoe is here, but since he said 12:30 he has three minutes, so the GA Spokesperson, Janos, will come up for three minutes.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you.  Very quickly, on the GA aspects, although there are a couple of things that will interest you.

**General Assembly Plenary

First of all there was no plenary meeting today.  There’s none tomorrow.  There’s going to be one on Thursday that will grab your attention.  It has to do with electing 18 members to the 54 member ECOSOC.

Yesterday, there was a plenary meeting.  It had two items.  One of them had to deal with support by the UN system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies.  As you may know, there was no action taken on a related draft, simply for the reason that the Assembly has not received any indication of what are the programme budget implications for that draft resolution.  That’s why that was deferred to a later date.

The other item was Afghanistan on which the Assembly did take action.  It’s a very comprehensive 63-paragraph text that was approved without a vote.

Let me flag something else for you that you’re all interested in, or at least some of you were interested in, and that’s the report of the Security Council to the Assembly which is out on the racks -- A/62/2 -- you can pick it up.  That item is going to be up for the Assembly plenary on Monday, along with the issue of Security Council reform.

**Main Committees

The Second Committee is going to take up eradication of poverty this afternoon.

Third Committee is something you’re all interested in.  Yesterday, it began discussion on the report of the Human Rights Council.  It had about 20 speakers on that item.  Today it continued that item again with about another 20 speakers, so all together, 40 speakers.  The report is out along with a related draft resolution -- L.32 -- which is available from the documents section.  That’s something that’s going to be discussed in relation to the report of the Human Rights Council.  That’s the institution-building part, so that might be something that interests you.

The Fourth Committee finalized its discussions on peacekeeping issues.  It will take up the issue of “assistance in mine action”.

Fifth Committee -- is holding informal consultations today on one of the issues that, again, was something that had interest for many of you, that’s the Capital Master Plan and then also on various other elements of the 2008-2009 budget.

The Sixth Committee is continuing and will probably wrap up its discussions on the report of the International Law Commission.  In the afternoon, it will hold informal consultations on two key issues on its agenda.  One is the criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission and the other is administration of justice at the UN.  If you remember, administration of justice is also on the agenda of the Fifth Committee, but from the aspect of funding and administration, while here it’s the legal aspects that are discussed.

That’s all I have.  Any questions on any of those items before…  Please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  When do you expect the vote on the resolution concerning the Human Rights Council?

Spokesperson:  There is some rumour that the issue may even be put to a vote by the end of this week.  As you know, the reason for that would be so that the item can go to the Fifth Committee and see what are the budgetary implications for the institution-building package.  Matthew.

Question:  This may play into our next speaker, but on this proposal for the strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs, could you just give a… there was a document that was put out yesterday…  It doesn’t have a number yet on it.  What’s your understanding of the process from here?  Is there going to be an ACABQ report, and how…

Spokesperson:  That document is in front of the ACABQ.  It is being discussed.  When it, the ACABQ report, comes out in all the six languages it will be taken up by the Fifth Committee.

Question:  And what… Do you have any idea…?

Spokesperson:  The report and the ACABQ comment… I don’t know when that will happen.  In the next couple of weeks.  Mr. Pascoe may know more.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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