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

4 December 2007

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

4 December 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

**Security Council

The Security Council, in its first consultations this morning under Italy’s Council presidency, approved its programme of work for the month of December.  Immediately after the briefing, at about 12:30, the Council President, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy, will brief you in this room about the Council’s work over the coming month.

**Climate Change

We have an update on the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Bali, Indonesia.  Framework Convention Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer is hailing as an “encouraging signal” the creation by Member States of a contact group, which will prepare a decision on the launch of negotiations on a post-2012 climate change regime for consideration at next week’s high-level segment.  As you know, the Secretary-General will be there.

Participants have also agreed on a mechanism that could speed the transfer of technology that developing countries consider essential for addressing climate change.  Discussions also moved forward today on deforestation, which is estimated to cause up to 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

We have more information upstairs on this, and also on a report launched today by the UN Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility, on ways vulnerable communities and countries can “climate proof” their economies in the years to come.

** Iran

On Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei received with great interest the new US National Intelligence Estimate about Iran's nuclear programme, and he noted in particular that the Estimate tallies with the Agency’s consistent statements over the last few years that it has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons programme or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.

The Director General believes that this new assessment by the US should help to defuse the current crisis.  At the same time, it should prompt Iran to work actively with the IAEA to clarify specific aspects of its past and present nuclear programme, as outlined in the work plan and through the implementation of the Additional Protocol. 

We have a press release from the IAEA upstairs with more details.

** Sudan –- Comprehensive Peace Agreement

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, is travelling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he will represent the United Nations at a ministerial meeting on Sudan.

The meeting tomorrow is being convened by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the parties, as well as with the regional partners and senior representatives of the African Union and United Nations.

Meanwhile, tribal problems sparked by cattle thefts in the eastern region of South Sudan have forced the UN Refugee Agency to temporarily suspend the repatriation of Sudanese refugees, mainly from Kenya, to the area.  The situation remains tense, with fears that the revenge attacks could spread to other parts of the major return area for refugees and internally displaced persons.

** Sudan -- Darfur

Regarding Darfur, as part of the United Nations and African Union joint mediation to expedite preparations for direct negotiations between the Darfur Peace Agreement parties and non-signatory movements, Special Envoy Jan Eliasson is arriving in Sudan tomorrow.  While in Sudan, Eliasson will hold a series of extensive consultations in Darfur, Juba and Khartoum with all stakeholders concerned.

He will be arriving in Khartoum from Egypt, which is hosting a meeting today in Sharm el-Sheikh between the AU and UN Special Envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, with regional partners of the Darfur peace process.

From Sharm el-Sheikh today, Eliasson told UN Radio that he “cannot hide that we are in a difficult situation”, noting the “certain negative developments in the level of violence both inside Darfur, but above all in Chad”.  He also emphasized that it was very important now that the movements and the Government itself do everything to facilitate a political process.

** Chad

On Chad, the UN refugee agency is gravely concerned about the worsening security environment in eastern Chad.  The agency says that 10 days of gun violence between the army and rebel forces has limited their access to refugee camps.

The fighting is taking place around Abeche, where UNHCR’s main operational base is located.  Refugees in camps near Abeche, an estimated 212,000 people, now fear that the already volatile situation may worsen still, and they have reported feeling extremely vulnerable and insecure.

In related news, some 130 humanitarian workers from various organizations who, since 24 November, were prevented from leaving a town near Farchana because of heavy fighting were finally relocated yesterday.  They are now safe in Abeche.

Together with its partners, UNHCR in eastern Chad is assisting a total of 240,000 refugees from Darfur and 180,000 displaced Chadians.

** Iraq

The UN Mission in Iraq says it will assist the Iraqi Government, at the Government’s request, in its efforts to organize and implement the voluntary return of Iraqis.  The Mission and the Iraqi Government today launched a Rapid Response Plan for those Iraqis who wish to return home.

This plan aims to assist approximately 30,000 people with an immediate relief package, which will be delivered through the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.

The United Nations does not encourage or promote the return of refugees or internally displaced persons, given the prevailing security environment, but we are taking active measures to support the Iraqi authorities in meeting the assistance needs of those returnees and in preparing for organized movements. 

We have more information upstairs.

**United Nations Disengagement Observer Force

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights, or UNDOF, is now out on the racks.  In it, he says that, during the past six months, the Israel-Syria sector has remained relatively quiet.  Nevertheless, he adds, the situation in the Middle East is tense and will likely remain so unless a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem is reached.

In that regard, he recommends that the Security Council extend UNDOF’s mandate for a further six months.  At the same time, he draws attention to UNDOF’s funding shortfall, saying that troop-contributing countries are owed around $24 million. 

** Gaza Strip

On Gaza, according to the United Nations latest humanitarian fact sheet on Gaza, roughly 75 per cent of Gaza’s population receives food aid.  But while regular humanitarian aid is continuing, import restrictions have led to the suspension of more than $200 million worth of programming, including shelter and re-housing projects for 27,000 refugees and construction at three major hospitals.  Also, 17 water and sanitation projects are unable to proceed since UN agencies can’t get building materials, such as cement and piping, through the crossings.

The fact sheet also shows that the unemployment rate in Gaza has soared past 32 per cent.  At the same time, food prices have shot up.  The price of wheat flour, for example, has gone up by 46 per cent.

Regarding health, deaths among hospitalized newborns in three surveyed Gaza hospitals are 20 per cent higher this year than in 2006, and nearly 50 per cent of the incubators in paediatric hospitals are in need of urgent maintenance. 

The fact sheet is available in my office.

**International Criminal Court

At its session now under way here at UN Headquarters, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, after four rounds of balloting, elected three new international lawyers to fill judicial vacancies.  The three include Bruno Cotte of France, Daniel David Ntanda Nsereko of Uganda and Mrs. Fumiko Saiga of Japan.

Judge Saiga’s term will end in March 2009, while Judges Cotte and Nsereko will serve until March 2012.  The three will be sworn in mid-January 2008.

In related news, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said, in a speech made public today, that he will open two new cases in the Security Council-mandated investigation he has been conducting in Darfur.  The Prosecutor did not identify new potential suspects but said that the new cases will relate to attacks on humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, such as the Haskanita incident.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Ambassador Baki Ilkin of Turkey; Ambassador Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay; and Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, who will brief you on the outcome of the informal General Assembly review on implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  I’m sure Janos will have more to say about this.

**Following Noon Briefing

Following the noon briefing tomorrow, at 1:15 p.m., Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will brief you, after his meeting with the Security Council on the Court’s report on Darfur. 

**Secretary-General Statement on Cluster Munitions

I just received now a statement attributable to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the occasion of the Vienna meeting on cluster munitions, which is from the 5th to the 7th of December:

I am watching closely the international community’s efforts to address the issue of cluster munitions.  I have on several occasions made known my views that the inhumane impact of these weapons requires urgent action.  I have urged Member States to prohibit cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and to take domestic measures to freeze the use and transfer of all cluster munitions until a new legal instrument is adopted.

I very much hope that all efforts to deal decisively with this issue will intensify over the year ahead.  Member States gathering in Vienna at the beginning of December will have an opportunity to give further impetus towards the success of these efforts, and I wish them well.  These are high humanitarian, human rights and developmental stakes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What is the response of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to the American report on Iran’s nuclear programme, and does he believe that Iran still violates the Security Council resolutions on that or not?

Spokesperson:  I just read to you the reaction from the IAEA.  We do not have any direct statement from the Secretary-General at this point.

Question:  Does he believe Iran, whether it violates the previous Security Council resolutions, or…

Spokesperson:  Well, this is a matter for the Security Council to examine, not for the Secretary-General.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Do you know anything about the meeting between Mr. Brammertz and Mr. Ban Ki-moon this morning?  Maybe a readout on this meeting?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any readout on this.  No, not at this point.

Question:  But the meeting took place this morning?

Spokesperson:  Yes. 

[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that there would be no readout of the meeting, as it was an internal one between the Secretary-General and another official within the United Nations system.  She added that Mr. Brammertz is in New York to present his final report concerning the work of the International Independent Investigation Commission to the Security Council.  Following his briefing to the Council tomorrow afternoon, Mr. Brammertz is expected to address the media.]

Question:  In Myanmar, the Government has announced that they don’t need any outside participation, including by the National League for Democracy, of their constitution process.  This is viewed as sort of a slap in the face of the…either Mr. Gambari or of the UN’s efforts.  Does the UN have any response to or guidance on this announcement?

Spokesperson:  Well, we should hear shortly from Mr. Gambari.  As you know, he is in New York right now, and he should be meeting shortly for consultations, certainly with the Secretary-General, and he will be meeting also with the General Assembly, as far as I know, and with the Security Council.  I don’t know when.

Question:  And…we’ll have some kind of a press…

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  And also on the DRC, Laurent Nkunda has been quoted that he wrote to MONUC and he wrote to William Lacy Swing asking them to either appoint a mediator or somehow play, he would say, a more neutral role than is being played.  Did the United Nations receive that request, and, and why is…why is the UN, I guess, from his perspective, so clearly siding with what’s described as an offensive against a particular area of the Congo?

Spokesperson:  Well, MONUC troops are not engaged in fighting directly.  They have been engaged, as you know, it was said yesterday, I think at the briefing, that they were transporting munitions, mostly for the Government.  And it is in accordance with their mandate.  As far as Mr. Nkunda’s letter, I am not aware of it yet.  We will try to reach MONUC and try to get more information on it.

[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations had received no such letter from Mr. Nkunda.]

Question:  It just, I don’t mean to, it made me think, ’cause I’ve heard Mr. Swing say we have to back up the Government.  You know, it’s the Government’s decision to attack and if they attack, we support them.  It made me think, how would it be different necessarily, let’s say in Sudan or in other countries?  Who at the UN decides when to support a Government military initiative?

Spokesperson:  The Security Council decides.  The Security Council, and the mandate that is given to every peacekeeping mission, the Security Council decides what the parameters are.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Michèle, is the Secretary-General pleased by the fact that the Global Accountability Report has identified the UNDP as the top performer?

Spokesperson:  He is pleased.  Yes, he is.  That’s all I can say, at this point.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General plan to get involved in the diplomacy with Iran, such as with a trip to Iran?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  I’ll be sure to tell you as soon as I find out.  Yes?

Question:  In Myanmar, have we found or identified a new country representative in Rangoon?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  And in Malaysia, ethnic Indians have been protesting for the last few weeks, alleging discrimination against them.  Has the UN read about it, and something like that, in Malaysia?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  About what you asked earlier, about Mr. Petrie, as you know he is leaving Myanmar today, as planned.  As agreed with the Myanmar authorities, a senior member of the UN country team will take his place for the time being, and will take the functions of the UN Resident Coordinator, in an acting capacity, until we have Mr. Petrie’s replacement.

Question:  What’s his name?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Dan Baker, UNFPA representative.  He has been designated to replace Mr. Petrie as Officer-in-Charge, for the time being.

Question:  And can you tell us if the UN is taking note of developments in Malaysia, where Indians have been protesting? 

Spokesperson:  I can try to find out for you, from Malaysia.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thanks, Michèle.  Good afternoon.  Good to see you.  I haven’t been with you for a couple of days.  Very quickly, some things Michèle mentioned already, so I’ll come back to those as well.

**General Assembly Informal Review of Counter-Terrorism Strategy

The General Assembly is holding an informal plenary meeting this morning to review the implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The Strategy was adopted by Member States in September 2006.  And this is the first time that such a universal, comprehensive and practical instrument has been adopted by Member States.  The Strategy contains close to 50 action points for Member States to take forward, either on their own or collectively, and with support from the UN system.  The action points are grouped into four areas, so-called four pillars of the Strategy:

-- measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism;

-- measures to prevent and combat terrorism;

-- measures to build State capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and strengthen the role of the UN system in this regard; and, finally,

-- measures to ensure the respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.

The reason why I’ve detailed those pillars is because the meeting that is going on today in Conference Room 1 –- which is, by the way, open to all in spite of the fact that the Journal erroneously wrote closed.  So, the meeting that is going on today, the informal plenary in Conference Room 1, is structured around those four pillars.

When adopting the Strategy last year, Member States also agreed that they will have a formal review on the implementation in two years’ time.  But today’s meeting was called for by the President of the Assembly as an informal midterm review to facilitate implementation.

And apart from the actions, efforts and needs of Member States, the meeting today will also hear updates from representatives of the Secretary-General’s Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force –- which is a coordinating body chaired by the Office of the Secretary-General, and it brings together UN system actors  -- and this was established in July 2005.

In the opening to this informal review meeting, Srgjan Kerim, the President of the General Assembly, stressed that terrorism represented one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, adding that countering terrorism was a daunting challenge that could only be overcome by working together in partnership.  He reminded Member States that the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy marked a historic achievement.

He also urged Member States to make use of the opportunity to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Strategy.  He said this was an exercise that required a sustained, long-term commitment that would have an impact, especially by the members of the Assembly, as they are the driving force in implementing the Strategy.

He called on Member States to use the informal review meeting to give an update, among other issues, on the following:

-- the various measures they had undertaken to raise awareness in their country and in their own region of the Strategy;

-- initiatives and actions taken by Member States that they have already embarked on to initiate implementation of the Strategy;

-- partnerships that they have formed with other Member States, private sector or civil society, and also with UN system actors in implementing the Strategy;

-- best practices that they had developed that might be beneficial for the wider membership to know; and, finally,

-- to also identify gaps that they have encountered in order to accelerate the implementation of the Strategy.

Furthermore, the President also called for initiatives that Member States could take to give further support to the Task Force and strengthen the specific areas of the Strategy.

The full speech is available for you upstairs, and it’s also on the website of the President.

**Noon Briefing

Tomorrow, as Michèle has announced, following the noon briefing, we will have an update for you on what exactly happened, where the Strategy stands and a broader overview of UN counter-terrorism efforts.  That will be with the Permanent Representative of Turkey and the Permanent Representative of Uruguay.  They are the two chairs of the informal review that is going on today.  The press briefing will also have Robert Orr, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, but more importantly in this case, he is the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force.  So that will be tomorrow, following the noon briefing.

**Contributions for UNRWA

The President today, following his attendance at this informal review, also attended the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

In his speech to that meeting, the President reminded Member States that UNRWA was the only United Nations programme that was a direct subsidiary of the General Assembly.  This gave the Assembly a special responsibility to fulfil its obligations to UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees.  He urged Member States to take this opportunity to reaffirm the international community's joint efforts by providing the Agency with the financial resources it required for the year 2008.

**General Assembly President’s Programme

This relates to something that Matthew has asked Michèle, and that is that the President, this afternoon, is meeting with the Secretary-General’s special envoy for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, and he will receive an update on his latest good office’s efforts.

**Future Plenary Meetings

A quick update on upcoming dates for you:  as I have mentioned already, on the 5th, that is tomorrow, the Assembly in the afternoon will take up the reports of the First Committee for action.  And we also have a date for the Assembly taking up the reports of the Sixth Committee, and that will be a day later, Thursday 6 December, in the morning.

I have no dates for the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) reports.

**Main Committees

As regards the work of the Committees, let me say that the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) continues to be in action in the form of informal consultations.  It received an extension to finish its work by the end of this week.  We’ll see whether that will actually happen.  The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), as you know, is the Committee that goes on for a longer time.  It also has resumed sessions next year.  It is continuing its work in informal consultations today.  But just a reminder, the Fifth Committee will be meeting in a formal session on Thursday morning to take action on a number of draft resolutions, including the one that has been interesting you -- the Capital Master Plan.  The text of that draft resolution is available for you up on the racks.  It’s A/C.5/62/L.8.

That’s all I have.  Any questions?  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Concerning the Strategy on terrorism, does the international community now have a clear and precise definition of terrorism?

Spokesperson:  No, if you remember, when the Strategy was adopted, in the debates leading up to the adoption of the Strategy, Member States agreed to put aside their political differences as regards formulating or agreeing on a definition of terrorism, and try to move towards agreeing on action points that they can take in order to take a more practical approach to terrorism, and basically have an operational approach to combating terrorism.  That is what the Strategy is supposed to represent.  At the same time, the definition issue remains with the United Nations in the framework of the work of the Sixth Committee that is being carried on.  And one of the resolutions -- one of the actions -- that in fact the plenary will be taking next Thursday morning, in the framework of taking up the reports of the Sixth Committee, is going to be on carrying forward the discussions on the so-called comprehensive convention against terrorism, which is being drafted within the framework of the Sixth Committee, which would include, or is attempting to include, a comprehensive definition of terrorism.

Question:  Does the President think it is possible to make progress on that front without a clear definition?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is possible.  Two things to note.  The President, in today’s speech, has once again urged Member States to try to overcome their differences, and try to fulfil the pledge that was made at the 2005 World Summit, and try to come up as soon as possible with a final text of the draft convention.  At the same time, he believes that, yes, the Strategy is a collection of practical action points on which Members States can advance and can progress, collectively and individually with the help of the UN system, in order to fight or combat terrorism.

Question:  On this counter-terrorism meeting, how many countries are participating in this?  And tell me about the meeting of Mr. Gambari and the President.  What time is the meeting, and will the President be available to the media for his comments?

Spokesperson:  It will be in the afternoon and only between the two of them.  And as you have heard from Michèle, at a later stage Mr. Gambari will also brief the press.  But Mr. Gambari will also address the Security Council, and there are plans for Mr. Gambari to also address the full membership of the General Assembly. 

As regards your first question, I don’t have the numbers.  It’s an informal plenary, but invitations have been sent out to all 192 Member States.  The idea is for all of them to be there.  Since it’s an informal plenary, there’s no list of speakers.  So we don’t even have that kind of formality in advance to see how many countries actually want to take part in an active way, so to speak.

If there are no more questions, then thank you very much for your attention.  See you tomorrow.

* *** *

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