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

31 January 2008

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

31 January 2008
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

And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president

 

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson of the Secretary-General

Good afternoon

**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa

The Secretary-General today addressed the opening session in Addis Ababa of the African Union Summit, and he drew attention to the alarming developments in Kenya, calling on the gathered African leaders to urge and encourage the leaders and people of Kenya to calm the violence and resolve their differences through dialogue and respect for the democratic process.

He later told reporters at a press conference that he would travel tomorrow to Nairobi to give his full support to the Panel of Eminent African Persons, led by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  He said he would meet with Raila Odinga, some civil society leaders and visit UN staff as well.  And he urged the Kenyan people:  “Stop the killings and end the violence now, before it is too late!”

We have his speech to the AU and his opening remarks to the press conference upstairs.

Following the press conference, the Secretary-General met with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, and encouraged him to move toward a quick resolution of the crisis.  They discussed the humanitarian situation in the country and the situation of internally displaced persons, as well as the Secretary-General’s trip tomorrow.

Earlier, the Secretary-General had spoken by phone with Kofi Annan to commend his role in the negotiations.  They talked about the serious impact of the violence on Kenya’s economy.

The Secretary-General also had bilateral meetings with several other leaders gathered for the African Union Summit.  He met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and said that he was encouraged by the arrangements agreed to between Algeria and the United Nations for the forthcoming investigative panel looking into the 11 December Algiers attack.

He later met with Prime Minister Guillaume Soro of Côte d’Ivoire, with whom he discussed the Ouagadougou Accords and the elections that are to take place this June, which the United Nations will support.

In a meeting with President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, the Secretary-General talked about the President’s nomination to head the Economic Community of West African States, as well as Burkina Faso’s role in the Security Council and the situations in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.

The Secretary-General also has meetings scheduled today with the Prime Ministers of Somalia and Guinea, and the Presidents of Benin and South Africa.

**Security Council

The Security Council, after receiving a briefing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo yesterday afternoon from Associate Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Dmitry Titov, approved a resolution that authorizes the UN Mission in that country to provide assistance to the Congolese authorities in the organization, preparation and conduct of local elections.

In a presidential statement, the Security Council also congratulated President Joseph Kabila and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the organizers of and participants in the Goma Conference for Peace, Security and Development in North and South Kivu, on the success of that event.

The Security Council also adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea by six months, until the end of July.

Council members yesterday also discussed Kenya in their consultations, and afterward, the Council President, Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi of Libya, said that Council members deplored the continuing violence following disputed elections there.  They welcomed the convening of a national dialogue under the mediation of Kofi Annan and urged both sides to engage fully and constructively to secure a political solution.

Today is the last day of Libya’s Council Presidency, and Panama will assume the rotating Presidency of the Council tomorrow.

** Chad

A series of armed attacks on the UN refugee agency and other aid organizations has forced UNHCR to evacuate most of its staff from its office in Guereda in eastern Chad.

In the last 72 hours, five vehicles belonging to UNHCR, its non-governmental organization partners and Médecins Sans Frontières Suisse were stolen at gunpoint.  The UNHCR compound in Guereda was entered by armed men two nights in a row -- on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tensions between opposition forces and the Chadian National Army have been mounting since Monday, leading to increased security incidents, especially in Guereda, about 165 km north-east of Abeche.

There is a UNHCR press release with more details.

Meanwhile, the UN Team in Chad is concerned over the looming shortage of food aid in Chad.  The UN is expecting that, due to the logistics reasons, there will be shortcomings of food supplies to refugees and internally displaced persons over the month of February.

**Meeting of Troop-Contributing Countries

This morning, as planned, a meeting of troop and police contributors to three UN missions -- UNAMID in Darfur, MINURCAT in Chad and the Central African Republic, and MONUC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- was held.

General Per Five, the military advisor for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, briefed on all three missions.

On UNAMID, he flagged the shortfalls in military aviation assets, namely helicopters, and underlined challenges to timely deployments in Darfur, including cross-border raids into West Darfur.

Associate Secretary-General and Officer in Charge of the Department of Field Support, Jane Holl Lute, noted the importance of moving ahead on the successful deployment of UNAMID and its linkage with the neighbouring mission in Chad and Central African Republic, saying that the mission in Chad will not succeed if the mission in Darfur does not succeed.

** Gaza

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, or UNSCO, reports that yesterday more than 70 trucks went into Gaza from Israel through the Karni and Sufa crossings.  But all supplies in Gaza are still dwindling, UNSCO says.

At 11 last night, the UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, and the World Food Programme (WFP) were told by the Israelis that they could bring trucks into the Kerem Shalom crossing today.  WFP only had time to prepare one truck, but UNRWA managed to get 12 trucks, containing milk and rice, ready to go.  However, when they arrived at Kerem Shalom this morning, it was closed, and all 13 trucks had to return to Ashdod.  Returning the trucks cost UNRWA more than $8,000.

UNSCO also reports that fuel is going through as planned.  But electricity cuts continue and approximately 40 per cent of the Gazan population still doesn’t have regular access to water.

** Myanmar

The Special Adviser of the Secretary-General, Ibrahim Gambari, today concluded his consultations in New Delhi in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate for Myanmar.

During his trip, Mr. Gambari met with Indian Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari; Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, in continuation of earlier consultations to explore how India could, in concrete terms, support the Secretary-General’s good offices.  Mr. Gambari is encouraged by these consultations and by India’s support for the Secretary-General’s good offices on Myanmar.

** Nepal

Over in Nepal, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kang Kyung-wha, today visited Nepalgunj, where she met with civil society organizations, lawyers and representatives of the Nepal Police in the city.

In the meetings, she discussed issues of gender and discrimination, which are the focus of her visit to the mid-western region.

The Deputy High Commissioner also visited the National Human Rights Commission’s regional office to discuss cooperation between the two organizations, and she is expected to meet with representatives of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

**Climate Change

Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report on UN activities in relation to climate change.  It was prepared in response to a General Assembly resolution requesting a comprehensive overview of such activities ahead of its upcoming debate on that topic, which is scheduled for 11 and 12 February.

In the report, the Secretary-General reviews recent developments in this area, including the December high-level meeting in Bali, as well as ways to support global, regional and national action and make the UN itself climate-neutral.

In order to place the world on a sustainable energy path, global investments of between $15 and $20 trillion may be needed over the next 20 to 25 years, the Secretary-General says.  He notes that, if those choices are based on a solid economic rationale and sound scientific evidence, they can unlock a huge potential for change and put the world onto a sustainable energy path.

**Mangroves

Environmental and economic damage caused by the alarming loss of mangroves in many countries should be urgently addressed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.  In that context, FAO called for better mangrove protection and management programmes.

FAO added that, if deforestation of mangroves continues, it can lead to severe losses of biodiversity and livelihoods, in addition to increased salt in coastal areas and the build-up of soil around coral reefs, ports and shipping lanes.  Tourism would also suffer.

And we have more on that upstairs.

And right after this, we will have Janos Tisovszky, the Spokesman of the President of the General Assembly, who will talk to you.  Are there any questions before that?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On those trucks, do you know first of all whether that incident happened after the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision or before?

Associate Spokesperson:  That would have happened afterwards.  They were informed at 11 p.m. yesterday.  In other words, considerably after the Supreme Court’s decision.

Question:  Do you believe that it is related to the Supreme Court’s decision?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think that we have made a connection.  At this stage, all that we have done is prepare for the opening of the crossings.  And when the crossings did not open, the trucks went back, and, like I said, that did entail waste.

Question:  And to follow up on this, is there any thinking about one more time trying to get those trucks through the much wider opening now in Rafah?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, we are trying to use whatever crossings are available to us.

Question:  Rafah is available to everyone.

Associate Spokesperson:  I mentioned the crossings through Israel that we have been working on and we will continue to explore all options to get aid into the country.

Question:  I mean, in remembrance of the Holocaust, there is an exhibition going on here and all the condemnation of atrocities that happened to the Jews.  What is happening at this point in time is tantamount to genocide and what have you, and the Secretary-General, all of the United Nations and the Security Council has been totally unable to do anything about it or to call for action.  If the Secretary-General offers, can do something to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza, is there something that he can explore?

Associate Spokesperson:  We are doing all that we can concerning Gaza.  I just mentioned the humanitarian efforts.

But to get back to your question:   The Secretary-General has been in touch with a number of leaders on this.  In fact, just this morning, I didn’t highlight this, but he had also talked with Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and one of the topics they discussed was the situation in Gaza.  He has been in touch, as you know, just a few days ago with President Shimon Perez and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel.  He is continuing to press on all sides to make sure that the desperately needed humanitarian aid can be sent into Gaza.  He has been pressing on that daily.

There was, by the way, recently, within the past couple of hours, a teleconference by the principal members of the Quartet, that is to say:  the Secretary-General; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; Dimitrij Rupel, the Slovenian Foreign Minister who represents the EU presidency; Javier Solana, the European Union High Representative; European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner; and Quartet Envoy Tony Blair.  So they have all been discussing issues in the context of the Quartet, and one of the topics clearly that came up with that was the situation in Gaza.

Question:  There was also a report by Human Rights Watch that also mentioned this.  Does he have any response to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any direct response to this.  Like I said, the basic point is that we are doing everything we can to make sure that the humanitarian conditions in Gaza improve.

Question:  The current situation in Kenya with over 1,000 people have died.  And the Secretary-General said he would not let the situation evolve to genocide.  Francis Deng, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the Prevention of Genocide spoke loud a few days ago.  And a US diplomat says that there is now ethnic cleansing.  And yet, when the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs was here a few weeks ago, and when I asked him a question about the possibility of the situation sliding into violence like in Burundi and Rwanda, he did not want to hear that.  My question:  Is Humanitarian Affairs underestimating the situation in Kenya?  And two, are all the Departments going to put into practice preventive diplomacy, or is this [inaudible] exclusively for the Political Department?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as those questions go:  No, I don’t believe that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is underestimating the problem.  They are there, as a matter of fact, on the ground trying desperately to provide humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of people who have been dislocated by the recent violence.  So they are well aware of what the nature of the problem is.  As Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said to reporters at the stakeout yesterday -- he was asked about whether what was happening was ethnic cleansing or something else -- his basic point has been:  it doesn’t matter now how you label it.  What is important is to get pressure to bear on all the sides to alleviate the situation right now.  What we are trying to do is prevent worse things from happening, to prevent mass atrocities or anything worse than that.  Beyond that, we are not characterizing what the nature of the situation is, and when the Secretary-General is on the ground tomorrow, he will have a chance to see first-hand for himself what the situation is like and also to be in touch with Kofi Annan, who is the person who is currently in charge of the diplomatic efforts that the international community is bringing to bear.

Question:  If I may, I was not asking about the dimension, I was asking about the possibility of anticipating the situation turning onto massive violence such as in Burundi and Rwanda.  And the second question was:  are all the Departments of the United Nations going to implement the policy of preventive diplomacy, or is this reserved exclusively for the Political Department?

Associate Spokesperson:  To the extent that they can, all of the UN offices are doing what they can to prevent the situation from worsening, yes.  As far as that goes, they are all committed to making sure that we can prevent the crisis from spiralling out of hand.  Whether it involves deploying humanitarian assistance to parties on the ground, whether it involves supporting the diplomatic efforts, including the one by the Eminent African Personalities, we are trying to do what we can to prevent, indeed, something worse from happening.  And the Secretary-General, in his comments today, made it very clear that he will not tolerate another Rwanda happening.

Question:  Louise Arbour found herself in a bit of a stir over seemingly lending her support to what appears an Arab initiative to try to equate Zionism to racism.  And I am just wondering, is there any talk of that, what exactly is her position on this?

Associate Spokesperson:  Louis Arbour actually put out a statement yesterday.  We can provide you with that statement when you go upstairs.  But it makes very clear that there was language in the Arab Charter on Human Rights that had to do with Zionism that she did not support.  She did not endorse that language, which is in contradiction with the relevant resolution of the General Assembly.  And we have more details, like I said, in a press release upstairs.

Correspondent:  One of the things that people have been complaining about this issue is that she has not reprimanded those individuals who allowed it to get as far as it did.  Even that something like this would come to the surface…

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, her position on this is very clear and you can see it in the press release.  She does not support that language.

Question:  I know I have asked this several times during the briefing, but any update on the UN investigation into the Algiers bombing -- the negotiations between the UN and the Algerian Government [inaudible] not being consulted?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, the Secretary-General, among leaders he met with today, did meet with the President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and they did discuss the panel.  And the Secretary-General is encouraged by the progress that has been made on this.  I hope that we will be able to tell you a little bit more about the panel sometime hopefully next week.  But certainly, the Secretary-General has been encouraged by his discussions.

Question:  My question is about Western Sahara.  A few days ago Marie said that Peter van Walsum will be making a trip to the region before the next round of talks in Manhasset.  Do you have any more information on that?  When is his trip going to be and what the agenda is?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t believe we have the dates announced yet.  But it should be happening sometime in February.  We will try and get you some more details on that.

Question:  Is this report about the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) peacekeeping mission there finding that peacekeepers had vandalized longstanding art in Western Sahara?  I wonder, can you tell us what battalion or what contingent the peacekeepers were from, and what the UN is going to do about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, I can tell you that the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has launched a formal inquiry into this matter and has taken action to prevent any further vandalism.

While not all the damage appears to have been done by UN peacekeepers, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has requested UNESCO’s assistance in evaluating the damage to the two sites and recommending what, if any, repair measures can be taken.  UNESCO is currently putting together a group of qualified experts to travel to the area as soon as possible. UNESCO is also prepared to provide material for peacekeeping training programmes on the protection of cultural property.

And just to let you know also that the UN remains committed to maintaining the highest standards of conduct among peacekeepers and to respecting fully the local customs and property of the territory in which they operate.

Question:  What action is being taken to prevent this?  Are there gates being fenced off?  When you say actions are being taken, what is being done?

Associate Spokesperson:  They are taking remedial measures, and like I said, they are also putting into place an inquiry to find out who precisely has done this and what needs to be done.  They will take whatever follow-up measures are warranted.

Question:  Now that the attention has shifted from Gaza to Kenya, the UN has been mobilized, while at the same time the Security Council failed to take any action in that regard to the crisis in the Gaza, there are stories or reports that this may be shifted to the General Assembly, may be talking about a resolution.  Is there any truth to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t have anything to say.  However, my colleague from the General Assembly may speak to you about this after I am done.

Question:  George Clooney mentioned a need to get the UN more engaged in Darfur and resolve the crisis there.  Is Ban planning any sort of trip soon or any discussions with Bashir to get things rolling?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General spoke with President Bashir just yesterday.  I think we gave you a readout about that and I can give you that.  One of the things that they emphasized was the need to move forward on UNAMID deployment.  Meanwhile, Mr. Guéhenno has been in Khartoum and also in Addis Ababa recently, trying to move forward on the status-of-forces agreement.  We are hoping that will be signed very soon.  So we are doing all we can on the peacekeeping front, and of course, our humanitarian efforts also continue.

Question:  What was the response from Bashir that was not shared, in terms of whether he is now going to follow through with some of the things that he had agreed with?

Associate Spokesperson:  What I got from Michèle was in fact that he agreed with the Secretary-General on the need to move forward as quickly as possible with the deployment of UNAMID.

Question:  You mentioned, George Clooney did, that he was scheduled to speak before the troop-contributing countries meeting and he seemed somewhat miffed.  He said, “I was going to do it but now I am not, so I am briefing you.”  Can you explain to us what -- I know yesterday -- Marie said he was going to speak to the troop-contributing countries meeting -- what happened between yesterday’s noon briefing and today?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, due to procedural issues, Mr. Clooney did not attend the briefing, and instead he went directly to the press conference.  The troop contributors’ meeting continued as scheduled, as we mentioned.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says it is continuing to look for opportunities for Mr. Clooney to continue to engage with the peacekeeping community, including the troop-contributing countries and the police-contributing countries, as far as they can arrange these things in the future.

Question:  What were the procedural issues?  Did any member of the Council object to his participation?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, any time individual experts, people who will speak under their own expertise, meet with Member States, there have to be consultations with Member States.  This was something that was part of the whole effort to get Member States consulted.  I am not aware of what the precise problems were, but ultimately, you can only speak once the consultation stage with Member States has been carried out.

Question:  Two questions.  One, is there a shortlist on the independent committee on Algiers, and who will lead it?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to say on the names of people on Algiers right now.  Yes, we are gathering people together.  I do hope, possibly early next week, to be able to tell you something about it.  We are moving very close.  I think we are actually close to figuring out who will head that, but we are still a few days away, I think.

Question:  Okay, one more question.  Since the word was mentioned here.  In the consultations you mentioned among the Quartet and all those involved in the Gaza thing, did anybody mention the word genocide in this context?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that, but I would still have to wait for any readout or communiqué following the Quartet.

Question:  Is that the word the Secretary-General supports in any way?

Associate Spokesperson:  You know, the purpose of this briefing is not to settle disputes between different journalists.  You and Masood can talk about your differences outside of this room.

Question:  [inaudible] by Security Council members, so I need to know whether the Secretary-General supports that.  One member of the Security Council in a speech said it was genocide, and then he said it was a crime against humanity.  I have to ask whether the Secretary-General supports in any way those characterizations.

Associate Spokesperson:  That is not a term we have used.  At the same time, these definitions tend to be made by Member States or bodies of Member States, and we leave it to them to make the call.

Question:  I wanted to ask for some detail on the trucks with the milk and the rice.  When you said there was some waste, does that mean that … did the milk spoil?  I assume, with the rice, they can bring it back another time.  Is that the case with the milk?

Associate Spokesperson:  Some of the things hopefully can be brought back.  Certainly there was some spoilage that resulted from the fact that they were sent back from the closed border crossing.

Question:  I need some clarification.  What exactly is the difference between a “Messenger of Peace” and a “UN Goodwill Ambassador”?  Is the Goodwill Ambassador just for agencies, or…?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Messengers of Peace are people who are appointed by the Secretary-General for different causes.  Different agencies do have their own Goodwill Ambassadors.  There is a wider network of that.  But the Messengers of Peace are selected by the Secretary-General.

Question:  The Amnesty International today issued a report saying there were crimes against humanity committed by Israel in the war against Lebanon, against the Hizbullah in Lebanon.  Is there any comment on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that.  There are a number of reports on Lebanon, including one that was released by the Winograd Commission in Israel itself.  We would need to study those before we comment on any of them.

Question:  I guess this is a question about UN policy.  In this issue where UN officials or staff of the UN are not supposed to take benefits or housing subsidies from Governments, what safeguards are in place to ensure that by payments or housing subsidies to spouses of UN officials or staff, that that is not an indirect form of subsidies?  What review is done by the Ethics Office, and what policy do you have in place on this?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Ethics Office does review, not just senior officials, but also the monies and properties that their spouses own.  So they are vetted.  There is a vetting process.

Question:  Does that include rental property?  They seem to list property they own, but if a Mission to the UN pays rent…

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe someone from the Ethics Office might talk to you about this in the future.  But I don’t go into all these details of how the vetting process is conducted, but there is a vetting process.

Question:  Concerning Myanmar, there are indications that some restrictions have been lifted around the residence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Can you confirm that?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, we do welcome the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to meet again with the Executive Committee of her party, as well as with Liaison Minister Aung Kyi.  However, the concerns that have been expressed underline the need for the authorities to seize every opportunity to engage in a meaningful and time-bound dialogue that produces substantive results, as called for repeatedly by the Secretary-General and by Mr. Gambari.  And of course, one of the things we have repeatedly called for in that regard is the lifting of all restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Question:  Is there any sort of communication from NLD or Aung San Suu Kyi after the meeting was over?

Associate Spokesperson:  We have not seen the full statement attributed to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  We have only seen press reports quoting an NLD spokesperson.  However, Mr. Gambari looks forward to returning to Myanmar as soon as possible in order to follow up on this and all the other issues which he has discussed with all concerned.

Question:  Is Mr. Gambari coming back, or is he going to China?

Associate Spokesperson:  He is coming back first to New York.  He will go back to China in the coming month, but the dates have to be arranged around the Chinese New Year.

Question:  There is a report by the Tamil Tigers, which I am sure you can pronounce better than I, have written to Ban Ki-moon, raising issues about a bombing of a school bus, but also a request saying that “we urge you to reconsider recognizing Tamil sovereignty”.  Has he received such a letter, and also what steps would he take on a hybrid letter that both alleges Government responsibility for a bombing and asks for sovereignty?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first we have to wait to see whether we have received the letter before we can determine a response.  So we will have to check on that.

Question:  The construction that is taking place on the North Lawn is supposedly for a concert next week?  I would like to know what is the admission charged to that event and what percentage of the funds are going to something called “Raising Malawi”, and is it the UN’s understanding that it is in fact a non-profit?  All of the funds will go to Malawi?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, I will refer those questions to UNICEF.  UNICEF has been involved.  Some of the arrangements are made by the US Committee for UNICEF.  They do have a press release that we have upstairs that has some details on this for you.  But beyond that, I think you should communicate with UNICEF directly.

Question:  Mr. Norbert Darabos, the Austrian Minister of Defence, a conscientious objector by the way, would be visiting the UN next week.  I understand that a meeting has been scheduled with the Secretary-General regarding the Chad mission, in which Austrian troops will participate -- a highly controversial matter in Austria.  Would you mind commenting on the significance of an Austrian contribution to this effort?

Associate Spokesperson:  Not of any particular country’s contribution.  Certainly, we appreciate the contributions that all countries have been making, trying to help stabilize the situations both in Chad and the Central African Republic, and we encourage Member States to step forward and do so.

And with that, Janos?

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Thank you very much.  Good afternoon, good to see you.  I promised I would come as often as I can, or rather as often as I have something to say.  To give you a little bit of an update on what is going on -- and today happens to be a day -– even though there are a lot of things happening -– that I do have something to say as far, as the General Assembly is concerned, and also give you a little update on what will be happening.

Let me start with the President.

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim sent a message to the African Union Summit, which –- as you all know -- opened this morning.

In that message, President Kerim noted that the African Union and all its member States had an impressive history of constructive participation in the General Assembly’s work.  The sixty-second session of the UN General Assembly had been marked by a more responsive, cooperative and substantive approach to the five priority issues on its agenda:  accelerating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; reviewing implementation of financing for development; addressing climate change; counter-terrorism; and advancing United Nations reform.

He stressed that the strong emphasis on development served the cause of a more comprehensive multilateralism, where the African Union had a crucial role to play.  He added that, in particular, he was looking to the AU leadership for a way forward on the pressing need to make progress on Security Council reform, including in the form of intergovernmental negotiations.

And the full text of the message is available for you upstairs.

Before you ask me on Security Council reform, which I just mentioned in the context of this message, let me say that I have no new developments on that to report, as consultations are ongoing.  According to the way it was discussed when the Open-Ended Working Group first met, I think it was on the 14th of December.  And the President’s timetable is still the one that will be followed, according to which, there is supposed to be focused debate of the Open-Ended Working Group sometime in late February or early March, then possibly in April, and then in June.

Let me go back to something that Farhan flagged for you already, and that is the Secretary-General’s report on climate change.  It is an overview of UN activities in relation to climate change.  For those of you really into the symbols and numbers, it is A/62/644.  And Farhan noted that this was based on a request by the General Assembly in a resolution that was adopted on 19 November.  That resolution is 62/8, and it is a resolution proposed by the President of the Assembly.

As I have said many times, of the main priorities -- the five priorities that I have mentioned in the context of the message to the AU -- one of the key priorities for President Kerim, one that he calls his flagship issue, is climate change.  It is in this context that the Secretary-General’s report was requested to give an overview to Member States on the UN system response to climate change -– and assist the General Assembly as it will discuss this issue on 11-12 February in an informal thematic debate, which was convened by the President.

I think I have mentioned this also before to you, but I will reiterate it again, that the programme and background for this two-day meeting -- which could go into a third day based on already what we hear from Member States as far as their interest is in addressing this issue -- is available to you on the President’s website.  Next week we will have a little bit more information in the form of a media advisory for you.  On the day of the 11th, we will also try and get some kind of stakeout or some kind of a press briefing for you.  Some of the key people who will be coming include Sir Richard Branson and also Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

This will be the second thematic debate on climate change within the General Assembly.  Some of you will remember that the first was in July and August last year.  That was convened under the sixty-first session and that basically focused on awareness raising and reviewed national strategies.  This upcoming February debate is about triggering collective action on all levels:  Member States, business, NGOs, UN system, not just individually, but also collectively.

The whole idea of this informal thematic debate is to give support to the Bali road map process and also to stimulate the UN system to create synergies and create institutional support for the Bali road map negotiations.

The idea is to bring in various stakeholders.  On the first day of the debate, on the 11th, there will be two panel discussions.  The first one will bring in participation from business, NGOs, media, regional organizations, civil society.  The second panel in the afternoon will bring in various UN system actors.  The second day, the 12th -- and maybe the 13th -- will have Member States addressing this same issue.

Let me finally just say one word on something that already came up in the briefing that Farhan had, and something that is in the news.  The so-called General Assembly Special Session or emergency special session in the context of what may happen as far as the Gaza issue is concerned.  I am going to address it just from the procedural perspective, so I am not pre-judging anything on this.

But what you must know is that, in addition to the normal regular sessions that the Assembly has, it may also meet in special and so-called emergency special sessions.  So far, there have been 27 special sessions held by the Assembly and ten emergency special sessions.  The rules on this are pretty well stated in the General Assembly rule book, they are from rule 7 to 11 on how they are supposed to be convened.

However, there is also a possibility, and this is what we are talking about most likely in this context, or at least, this is what the news has been about, is that Member States also have the possibility to choose to request the resumption of the so-called tenth emergency special session, which was temporarily adjourned in July 2004.  The General Assembly then decided to authorize the President of the General Assembly to resume the session upon request from Member States.  A request from one M ember State should be sufficient to do this.  It would then be up to the President to accede to the request.  Please note, however, that the tenth emergency special session is to consider the following topic:  “illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

Originally it was convened in 1997.  Since then, it had several meetings and, as I said, in 2004 it ended without formally closing, but with the possibility to resume.  In fact, during the sixty-first session, it was resumed twice, as some of you may remember.  And the last related resolution on this issue, which is –- again for those of you who are into numbers –- it is A/RES/ES-10/17 (for emergency special session)-10 (for the tenth)/17 (that is the seventeenth resolution concerning this special session) -– concluded with the following last paragraph.  It says it:  “Decides to adjourn the tenth emergency special session temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly at its most recent session to resume the meeting of the special session upon request from Member States.”  So again, that is the legal basis for you.

Please also note that any decisions taken in the course of that emergency special session would require two thirds majority of Members present and voting, as they would be considered as decisions on “important questions” within the meaning of so-called Article 18 of the Charter –- that relates to international peace and security.

Let me also mention again -- although some of you who cover this issue may remember -- that the last time when this emergency special session was resumed, it was based on a request from one Member State on behalf of the League of Arab States and another Member State on behalf of the members of the Non-Aligned-Movement.

Again, still on procedure, if the President receives such a request, it would be up to him, as I said, to accede to the request.  In the event that he decides to resume the session, he would then send a letter to the entire membership informing them of his decision and notifying them of the date and time of the resumed meeting.

That is what I have on that as far as procedure is concerned. 

And a little bit of update of what may be happening and what has happened.

The last time I talked to you I did mention that the Assembly did continue with its so-called informal briefings, which it had in November and December.  In November, it was the Secretary-General who briefed, in December it was Ibrahim Gambari on Myanmar.  On 29th of January, so two days ago, the Chair of the PBC, the Peacebulding Commission, did an informal briefing.

As regards next week:  there is going to be a resumption of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on General Assembly Revitalisation.  That is going to have its first meeting in the framework of the sixty-second session, most likely on 7 February.  That is a closed meeting.

The President is expected to brief NGOs on a variety of different issues as far as the work of the General Assembly is concerned.  That should be also on 7th February.

I did mention already to you that there is a meeting on system-wide coherence with the idea of general stock taking, looking at the report emanating from the sixty-first session on 8 February.  That is also a closed meeting. 

So, that is what we are looking at as far as the Assembly is concerned.  As I said, the big event, the first big event, upcoming, open and important, is the 11-12 –- and possibly 13 -- February informal thematic debate on climate change.

That’s what I have.  Mr. Abadi, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  You mentioned five priority areas that the President listed for the General Assembly.  There is an important subject, that is, disarmament that we don’t hear much about.  Since disarmament would potentially release a lot of financial resources for financing development, does the President of the General Assembly consider that disarmament is a priority area?

Spokesperson:  I think he definitely does, especially, as you mentioned, as it relates to financing for development, or as it may relate to reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  But I think disarmament may also come up in the context of this part of the work of the Assembly -– the second so-called major part as opposed to the main part of the session where disarmament was part of the First Committee deliberations.  In the second part of the session, I think where disarmament may feature is amongst one of the topics that the President of the Assembly is taking up and is going to carry forward in the form of another thematic debate, and that is human security.  In that context, I’m sure that disarmament will feature.

Question:  So he doesn’t consider disarmament as a high priority area? 

Spokesperson:  He does consider it as a very important topic, yes, as a continuously important topic of the Assembly.

Question:  Thank you so much for explaining the procedural aspects of the General Assembly’s involvement with the Council issue.  I just have a procedural question in that context.  There has been no request so far, obviously, although one country would suffice.

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  As far as the President is concerned, of course, it’s his decision, under all circumstances, or does it depend on the number of Member States that request an emergency session?  Is there any regulation in that respect?

Spokesperson:  If we’re talking about requesting an emergency special session -- not the resumption of the tenth emergency special session, but another one -– that is convened by the majority of Member States or through the Security Council.  That would be a new one; that would be the eleventh (emergency special session).  If we’re talking about the resumption of the tenth, then the request from one Member State should be enough to trigger the process.  It would be up to the Member States.  Obviously the President would consult and would work with other Member States, etc., and then would make his decisions.  Matthew, it’s not about “sole source”, right?

Question:  No.

Spokesperson:  Just kidding.  Go ahead, it can be about it.

Question:  It’s about the Fifth Committee, though.  I’ve heard the Bureau of the Fifth Committee is meeting to determine the agenda for March.

Spokesperson:  That is correct.  Yes.  The Bureau is meeting to determine the agenda for the March resumed Session.

Question:  The question I wanted to ask is whether the proposed restructuring and increased funding to the Department of Political Affairs is on the agenda or is it contingent on similar restructuring being to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs?  Has it already taken place or is it yet to take place?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is, I think, that it is actually happening today, that the Bureau is meeting.  In regard to your question, we can only be sure after the Bureau meeting to see exactly what happened.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I knew that you’d be asking so I’m tracking the process, and whatever I can extract and I’m at liberty to reveal, I will definitely make available to you.

Question:  And the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, is this on your bailiwick?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.  I can certainly follow up and see what….

Question:  They’re supposed to have deferred action on something called the Democracy Coalition Project.  It’s a US-based NGO that fell under a lot of questioning about what democracy is and whether democracy is consistent with the UN.  I don’t know if you can get a read-out on it.  It says deferred, but I don’t know if that means that it’s….

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out something and see what we can get you.  I’ve not been following it.

Question:  On the activities of the President of the General Assembly.  He met with the Albanian Foreign Minister Monday?

Spokesperson:  That is correct, yes.

Question:  On Balkans… 

Spokesperson:  It wasn’t Monday, it was Sunday.  We put out the statement Monday morning.

Question:  Given that the topic was Balkan stability, did the issue of Kosovo come up and, if so, in what context, and what’s the President’s view of the Kosovo situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, regional stability came up in its broad context.  It was a very brief meeting.  The President has known the Foreign Minister for some time, actually, because, as you may know, the President in his previous capacity did function as Foreign Minister of his country.  That’s the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  So they knew each other from the past.  It was a brief meeting, but I think, as the press statement mentioned, apart from regional stability, one of the key topics there was system-wide coherence and delivering as one, since Albania is one of the pilot countries in that process.  You may remember, there are eight of them and Albania is one of them.  And the President is pretty keen on this issue of system-wide coherence -– delivering as one -– to see how that works.  That is also one of the issues on his agenda amongst the management reform issues.  So that was more of the focus of attention.  On Kosovo, the President has always maintained that he would like to see a solution that is acceptable to all sides soon, that would be very good for regional stability and, in turn, that would be good for international stability. 

He knows that this issue is with the Security Council and with the Secretary-General, so he’ll leave it at that.  Mr. Abadi, yes.

Question:  I know you have said that there is nothing new to report on the reforms of the Security Council and that the Ad-Hoc Working Group will meet [inaudible] sessions in February, April and June.

Spokesperson:  That’s the plan; let’s see how that actually works out.

Question:  In the meantime, I have a question:  Has the President of the Assembly received any concrete propositions [inaudible] regarding the reforms of the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any new proposals apart from what emanated from the meeting that was held on 14 December, and I think we gave a pretty good, detailed background on that.  He himself talked afterwards; he had a press briefing on the 18th.  There’s nothing more on that.

Thank you very much.

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