DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
|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 President of the General Assembly.
Good afternoon, all.
At 1.15 p.m. today, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and other experts on indigenous issues, will brief you on today’s opening of the seventh session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Following that at 2 p.m., President Evo Morales Ayma of Bolivia will also brief you in this room on the opening of the Permanent Forum, as well as on the current situation in Bolivia.
We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the heavy fighting over the weekend in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and he deplores the substantial loss of life and injuries among the civilian population.
He urges parties to the conflict in Mogadishu to refrain from the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force that endangers the lives of civilians, particularly in heavily populated civilian areas, and reminds them that any targeting of non-combatants is a violation of international humanitarian law.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, condemned as “senseless” the most recent outbreak of violence in Mogadishu, saying that once again it is the innocent who are the victims. He warned that the fighting, the worst in months, would only make reconciliation and reconstruction more difficult.
Scores of civilians were killed during a particularly bloody weekend in Mogadishu and some 130 were admitted to the three main hospitals with war wounds, according to reports from the field office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The use of heavy artillery in residential areas was reportedly one of the reasons for the high civilian casualties. With many more unaccounted for or unable to reach hospitals, the figure of those wounded or killed is expected to rise. Mass displacement is also ongoing both within and from Mogadishu, OCHA says.
The Secretary-General just ended a three-day visit to Accra, Ghana, where yesterday he addressed the twelfth UN Conference on Trade and Development, warning about the problems caused by the skyrocketing price of food.
The reasons for the crisis are many and cannot be solely ascribed, as some do, to a simple trade-off between biofuels and agriculture, the Secretary-General said. One thing is certain: for the past three years, the world has consumed more food than it produces. Grain stocks are at their lowest in 30 years. The situation is unsustainable.
He said that the United Nations must take a lead in coordinating a global response, working with the World Bank and the IMF. The Secretary-General announced that he would immediately establish a high-powered task force, comprised of eminent experts and leading policy authorities to address this issue. The task force must also deal with the longer term security issues of agricultural productivity, land utilization, financing mechanisms and all other elements of the current crisis.
As the Secretary-General left today, he addressed the high-level segment of the Conference on Trade and Development, warning about problems that can keep countries from implementing the Millennium Development Goals, including the rise in food prices, which, he said, threaten to undo the gains made so far in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. And he called on the leaders of the international community to help redeem his pledge to make this the year of the “bottom billion”.
We have his statements upstairs.
During his time at the Conference, the Secretary-General met with a number of leaders, including the Presidents of Brazil, Finland and Ghana, and the Vice President of El Salvador, and discussed the issue of rising food costs with all of them.
He is now travelling to Liberia, where he will meet the President and see the work of the UN Mission in that country.
SG Travels – Zimbabwe
Before departing for Monrovia, he met for half an hour with the Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in Accra upon Mr. Tsvangirai’s request. The opposition leader complained about the deadlock and the deterioration of the humanitarian and political situation in the country. He appealed for an intervention by the African Union and the United Nations, since he feels there is no progress in the efforts made by the Southern African Development Community.
The Secretary General reiterated his deep concern that the situation still has not been resolved as well as his concern about the reported violence. He appealed, once more, for the release of the electoral results, as soon as possible and said that he would consult the President of the African Union on possible ways forward.
On Burundi, the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission has informed the Government of Burundi that it has decided to postpone its visit to that country, following reports of resumed fighting between the National Defense Forces of Burundi and the Palipehutu-FNL. The Peacebuilding Commission will continue to monitor the situation and stands ready to reschedule its visit to Burundi for the earliest possible date.
Late on Friday, we issued a statement, expressing the Secretary-General’s grave concern over the heavy exchange of fire and his deep regret over the loss of life resulting from the renewed violence.
The complete statement, as you know, is on our website.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning to hear from the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy dealing with Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, and from the head of the UN Mission there, Julian Harston. These two officials earlier today also briefed troop contributing countries for the UN Mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO.
After the Western Sahara consultations, Council members will hear from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane about the elections in Nepal, also in closed consultations.
Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a private meeting on Kosovo, at which the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, will speak.
Turning now to the situation in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), representatives of the signatories of the Nairobi Communiqué of November 2008 met here in New York on Friday to review progress in dealing with armed groups. The meeting of the Joint Monitoring Group’s Special Envoys was chaired by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC, Alan Doss.
The Congolese delegation informed the gathering of its intention to invite leaders of the ex-FAR/Interahamwe to Kisangani in early May. They intend to use that meeting to deliver a firm message to them to seize the opportunity of voluntary disarmament and repatriation or face the consequences of a refusal, including military operations and sanctions, as outlined in Security Council resolution 1804. It was decided that the next meeting of the Joint Monitoring Group’s Special Envoys will take place in Kigali.
On Sudan, Jan Eliasson, the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, and his African Union counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, have ended a two-week visit to Sudan during which they met with Government officials and the leaders of many of Darfur’s factions, and they spoke to reporters on Saturday about their meetings.
Eliasson said that the strong emphasis on this visit has been on the deteriorating security situation. The two envoys, he said, are deeply disturbed by the escalation of hostilities and by the deterioration of the security situation that has occurred in Darfur and in the region during the past few months.
He said that he and Salim were preparing for consultations among the Darfur parties that would deal with three key issues: preparations for a ceasefire; cooperation between the Government, the Movements and the UN-AU hybrid operation, UNAMID; and the issue of banditry and access for humanitarian workers.
We have the transcript of that press conference upstairs, as well as the latest humanitarian update for Darfur.
On Georgia, according to the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, Abkhaz and Georgian media have been reporting a build-up of forces by both sides in the zone of conflict. In response, the UN Mission has intensified its monitoring in all areas concerned, but has not observed anything to substantiate those reports.
The UN Mission says the media reports and resulting official statements have led to an increase in tensions and the possibility of a serious incident between the sides. Yesterday’s reported shooting down of an unmanned aerial vehicle in the zone of conflict is a case in point.
For its part, the UN Mission will continue to conduct focused monitoring in order to address both sides’ concerns. The Mission urges both sides to exercise restraint and to refrain from actions which could risk escalating the already tense situation. It also encourages the sides to engage seriously in dialogue on security matters as soon as possible.
We have more on that upstairs.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, has just completed a three-day visit to Baghdad, during which he met with the staff and leadership of the United Nations Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, and held discussions with senior officials of the Iraqi Government and the Multinational Force. He is now travelling to Kuwait, where he will attend, on the Secretary-General’s behalf, a meeting of Iraq and neighbouring countries.
Pascoe had meetings with Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdel Mahdi and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. He held discussions today with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and with the Commander of the Multinational Force, General David Petraeus.
He is expected to brief the Security Council next week on Iraq, following his return, on the occasion of the publication of UNAMI’s quarterly report.
On the Middle East, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, met yesterday with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in Riyadh.
Serry and the Foreign Minister discussed the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and UN and Arab efforts to support the process. They also discussed the situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including efforts to bring calm and alleviate the grave humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. In addition, they discussed efforts to ensure implementation of Phase I Road Map obligations.
Serry and the Foreign Minister also stressed the continued importance of the Arab Peace Initiative and their shared commitment to a comprehensive regional peace based on Security Council resolutions and on international law.
Still on the Middle East, meanwhile, Serry’s office in Jerusalem, known as UNSCO, reports that no diesel or petrol has entered Gaza since the attack on April 9th by Palestinian militants on the Nahal Oz fuel depot.
Already heavily constrained by shortages, UN and other humanitarian operations -- which provide health, education, food, water, sanitation and other vital services to the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip -- will shut down in a matter of days unless fuel supplies are restored immediately.
All international humanitarian agencies operating in Gaza will hold an emergency meeting there tomorrow morning to further assess the increasingly dire humanitarian situation.
On Nepal, the United Nations Mission in Nepal today confirmed that Nepal’s Election Commission declared results in 239 of 240 constituencies in the first-past-the-post vote, and in 232 constituencies in the proportional representation race.
Final results from both races are expected tomorrow, after which the Commission will take a few days to tabulate the results and allot seats in the Constituent Assembly to all eligible political parties.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Ian Martin, in an interview said that as the electoral process is finalized in all districts, UNMIN’s electoral teams are preparing to return home.
On human rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has begun a series of meetings to prepare for the Durban Review Conference on racism. Speaking at the first meeting, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the Durban Review Conference is not and should not be seen as a repetition of the 2001 World Conference against Racism. Instead, it should be a platform from which all relevant stakeholders can renew their commitment to fight racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Arbour said global efforts to eliminate racial discrimination have failed to make much progress, since some Governments fail to recognize the existence of racism as a phenomenon.
The Secretary-General in a video message today congratulated the opening of the session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and applauded their choice of climate change as the special theme of this session.
Adding that this session meets at a historic crossroads with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Secretary-General stressed that the Permanent Forum takes on a new role to translate the Declaration into a living document at the national and international levels.
He also welcomed the Forum’s focus on the Pacific for this session and stressed that this will spur greater cooperation and solidarity among Governments, indigenous peoples and the UN family in the region.
Press Conferences Tomorrow
And then, just looking ahead, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Firdaus Kharas, Chairman of Chocolate Moose Media, will hold a press conference to announce the creation and availability of the “Buzz and Bite” Malaria Prevention Campaign. This press conference is sponsored by the Mission of Canada.
Later tomorrow, at 4:45 p.m., there will be a press conference by Joanne Sandler, Executive Director of UNIFEM; UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman; and Tim Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, on UNIFEM’s “Say No to Violence Against Women” Campaign.
This is all I have for you. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Yes, Bill.
Question: Concerning the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Zimbabwe opposition leader, whose name I am not going to attempt to mangle, was there any proposal of the discussion for a joint UN-AU monitoring force and, if not, has the Secretary-General been approached by anybody, and what is his view about the wisdom of proceeding on that line?
Spokesperson: Well, he hasn’t been approached specifically on that. There was a general appeal made by Mr. Tsvangirai for some joint effort on the part of the UN and the AU on the issue, saying that he felt that the regional meeting of SADC had failed to unblock the impasse. So in terms of specific measures, the Secretary-General says that he is going to have to discuss first with the President of the AU before he can think of the way forward.
Question: He doesn’t have any view on ….
Spokesperson: Not at this point.
Question: On the same point, Michèle, the Secretary-General meeting with the opposition leader, is this a novelty in this administration or has he met with an opposition leader before?
Spokesperson: Yes he has. He has on several occasions. In this specific case, as I said, it was a request from Mr. Tsvangirai, who came to Accra to meet the Secretary-General. Yes, Edie.
Question: Just another follow-up on that. Has the Secretary-General made any plans to discuss this with President Kikwete, who is the President of the African Union at the moment from Tanzania?
Spokesperson: Well, he said he is planning to speak with him, yes. But you know the meeting took place right before he took the plane to fly to Monrovia so we don’t have any specifics yet on when he will speak to the President of the AU.
Question: The Taliban has put a passage on its website requesting the United Nations to block the executions of about 100 (inaudible) in Afghanistan. Is the Secretary-General planning to listen to the Taliban’s request to talk to the Government about it?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General cannot respond to something that is on a website. The Secretary-General responds to formal letters and there is nothing else I can say about this. Yes.
Question: Can you tell us about the Secretary-General’s task force on the food crisis. Who is going to be on it and where are they going to meet? When do they intend to start their deliberations?
Spokesperson: Okay, there is going to be, as you know, a meeting of the heads of all the UN agencies next week in Berne and that would be the focus of their discussion. The composition of the task force will emerge from that meeting. The task force is composed of UN people in different agencies. As you know, there are several agencies within the UN dealing with that issue, including, the FAO, of course the people distributing food like the WFP, but also the people from the financing [side], the members of the Bretton Woods organizations, so there are several actors from the UN system who are going to be on that task force. We don’t have an exact composition at this point.
Question: Regarding the Pope’s address to the General Assembly on Friday, there were representatives of the major religions in the world. We saw the representatives of the Jewish and Christian religions but we did not see any representatives of leaders of the Muslim religion. I was wondering if you invited any of them and they did not respond. Did you ever invite them to the speech or not?
Spokesperson: I am sure they were invited. Of course, the invitation would come from the President of the General Assembly. I think you can check this probably with Janos who will come and join you in a few minutes on the podium. I don’t know. The invitations at the General Assembly was not an initiative by the Secretary-General but by the President of the General Assembly. Yes.
[The Spokesperson later specified that there were seven “outside” guests; three were the guests of the President of the General Assembly. One was the guest of the Secretary-General. Three other guests were from the New York City administration. The Holy See Observer Mission received a few hundred invitations, which they distributed according to their requirements. They were all seated in the gallery. None sat in the VIP section.]
Question: Michelle, a follow-up from the question earlier on food shortage, and you just said that the task force is comprised of all major UN agencies. I just want to find out also, if the Secretary General is paying attention to calling a summit soon of world leaders.
Spokesperson: The summit, as I said, is being considered. However, the Secretary-General is already saying that he will attend the high-level meeting that FAO is organizing in a few weeks.
Question: Also, in an interview today, Jimmy Carter, ex-President of the United States, said that Hamas is ready to sign a peace deal with Israel and that, short of renouncing violence, had said that if the Palestinian people overall agreed that there would be a peace deal, they were ready to sign a peace deal. Has the Secretary-General any response to that as yet?
Spokesperson: No. As I said before when you asked me that question, it wasn’t you, but I said it was an initiative by Mr. Carter and we would not comment on it.
Question: Any follow-up on the letter from Pakistan on (the) Benazir Bhutto investigation.
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have anything yet.
Question: Just a follow-up to his question. On (the) Hamas issue, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory asked Mr. Ban Ki-moon and even the Security Council to start considering having negotiations or mediating between Hamas and Israelis. I was wondering if Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to take any action in that direction or not and how he is reacting to any statements.
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything on that at this point. You know, as the Secretary-General, he is aware of the different initiatives taking place on the ground and he is following them but I don’t have any specific comments on that. Yes, Rima.
Question: Thank you Michèle. Do you have a readout of Serry’s meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have anything more. But we can put you in touch with his office
Question: The other question I have is that you discussed that there would be a press conference in the Gaza Strip tomorrow on the restoration of fuel.
Spokesperson: We said they are meeting tomorrow. I didn’t say there would be a press conference tomorrow.
Question: Where? Do you know exactly?
Spokesperson: Well, you can get that information upstairs. We have additional information upstairs on that.
Question: Will the task force be in collaboration with the FAO meeting in Rome?
Spokesperson: Of course. You know the head of the FAO will be there at the meeting in Bern, which is the meeting of all heads of agencies, and hopefully there will be a task force composition by the time that meeting is over in Bern.
Question: So this summit in Rome could be the task force? Do you predict there would be another summit before or after the Rome (meeting)?
Spokesperson: We don’t know yet at this point. But the Secretary-General, as I said, is planning to go to Rome. Yes, back there, Edie. I’ll get back to you.
Question: I just want to make sure that this task force is going to be only UN people. Nobody from outside.
Spokesperson: At this point, yes. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Just a follow-up on [inaudible] question. Whether or not the Secretary-General responds to things on websites, has any one in the UN system taken a position on these hundreds of pending executions. There are hundreds of pending executions in Afghanistan. Various NGOs and human rights groups have said that the process hasn’t followed due process. Has either Louise Arbour or anyone, to your knowledge, taken a position? What is the Secretary-General’s position on these hundred pending executions?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have his position at this point but I can check for you whether there was a position taken by the human rights office.
[The Spokesperson later mentioned the remarks made by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour last November when she visited the country: “In my discussion with the President, I raised my deep concern with the death penalty. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Afghanistan is bound not to apply the death penalty unless the highest standards of due process have been respected in each case.”]
Question: Is Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno slated to go to Belgrade?
Spokesperson: I can check on his schedule for you.
[The Spokesperson later said Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno plans to visit the Balkans soon, in his role as head of peacekeeping.]
Question: I noticed last week when there was a stakeout by the Secretary-General, he made a statement about Iran, and when I read the transcript, it wasn’t in the transcript. There was a whole paragraph where he said that he welcomed cooperation by Iranian authorities with the IAEA.
Spokesperson: It was simply that the question was about Iraq and he answered on Iran so on the transcript, we put his answer on Iraq.
Question: Okay, I guess I am saying, the thing on Iran stands. That is his position on Iran.
Question: I guess I am wondering, has there been a thought on whether the transcript should be changed in that way?
Spokesperson: No, because he was not asked that question. The transcript is supposed to reflect really the questions asked and the answers that occur at a stakeout or a briefing. Yes, Benny.
Question: I don’t understand this whole statement by Louise Arbour that you read that Durban 2 shouldn’t be an extension of Durban 1. It is defined as a follow-up.
Spokesperson: What she said (is that) it shouldn’t be a duplication of what happened then.
Question: But it is defined as a follow-up.
Spokesperson: Well, it is defined as a follow-up on the issues, Benny. I don’t think there is a misunderstanding here. It is a follow-up on the issue of racism which is an extremely important issue to discuss.
Question: So the fact that she says that Durban 2 shouldn’t be an extension of Durban 1, does that mean that Durban 1 has failed?
Spokesperson: No it doesn’t mean that. It means simply that there were a number of incidents that, as you know, occurred during 2001, and she is just saying that there should not be a repetition of that, but there should be a close examination of the issues themselves, which is what Durban 2 is about.
Question: Is there any decision as to where Durban 2 might take place?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. Anyway, it is not scheduled until 2009, as you know. Yes. Okay. Thank you. Janos?
Briefing by Spokesman for the General Assembly President
Just a couple of things from the work of the Assembly, actually from the programme of the President.
Official visit to Turkmenistan
General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim began an official visit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan this morning. He had meetings with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and Parliament Chairperson Akja Nurberdyeva.
The focus of the meetings was on regional issues and on Turkmenistan’s cooperation with the United Nations and the country’s contribution to current General Assembly priority issues. It was in the context of regional cooperation that the work of the newly opened United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia was discussed, as well as the situation in Afghanistan and global counter-terrorism efforts. Amongst the UN topics, the Millennium Development Goals, the upcoming HIV/AIDS review conference and UN reforms were featured most prominently.
Also, food security was a topic that was discussed during the meeting between the President Kerim and President Berdymukhammedov.
This is the first visit by a General Assembly President to Turkmenistan. Also note that Turkmenistan is one of the 21 vice-Presidents of the current General Assembly session.
Tomorrow the President will meet with the UN country team and also visit the Regional Centre on Preventive Diplomacy.
President Kerim will travel from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan for an official visit on Wednesday. In Kazakhstan, he is scheduled to meet with the President and the Foreign Minister, as well as parliamentary officials, and he is also expected to deliver a keynote speech at the opening of the Eurasian Media Forum, and that will be on Thursday.
Let me just go back to that meeting that the President had with President Berdymukhammedov, where the food security issue was discussed. I mention it because one of you, I think it was Rima, who came up to me and asked about the President’s views on that, and it is just an indication that the President is following this situation, and following it very closely, and he has been concerned about the potential impact such a crisis may have on people’s well being around the world, including implications that go beyond aggravating poverty and hunger to also encompass broader economic, political and security concerns.
Please note that already in mid-February in a statement that the President delivered to a meeting on financing for development, he drew attention to the danger of high food prices in derailing development and leading to political tension and having potential security implications.
Also, in convening the debate on the MDGs in early April, President Kerim asked Member States to focus on fighting poverty and hunger as a key goal to meet, in order to be able to advance on the broader development agenda. And in his opening statement to that meeting, the President once again warned that rising food prices would lead to increasing food insecurity and hunger for the most vulnerable. Please also note that one of the outcomes of the debate was that there was a consensus signalled by the debate about the need for greater international investment in agriculture in poor and food-insecure countries. And one other thing related to this indirectly is that there is going to be, as the President has mentioned to you, a thematic debate by the General Assembly on human security and most likely, that would also discuss this aspect of human security. That thematic debate is expected to be in the second part of May. I don’t have an exact date yet for you.
That is all I have. Any questions? Tarek.
Questions and Answers
Question: on the same question I asked…
Spokesperson: Yes, I heard. I will follow up and find out who sent out invitations, who were invited. It could also well be that the various Member States might have sent out invitations as part of their own delegations to attend the address of the Pope. So I will follow up and find out who exactly was invited. Masood, yes.
Question: I just wanted to follow-up on the Security Council reform. The so-called overarching group is still holding meetings on the issue of expansion of the Security Council. Have they been meeting with the President of the General Assembly as well?
Spokesperson: As you know, when the President came here, and if you followed some of the little statements that were issued last week, what emanates from all of that is that the President, with his Task Force, which includes the Permanent Representatives of Bangladesh, Djibouti, Chile, and Portugal, is in an intensive phase of consultations with various regional groups, various different interest groups, that includes the overarching group, various different Member States on this issue as the next phase in Security Council reform. You may have also noticed, as I said from the statements that were issued last week, that when the President met the Foreign Minister of Gabon and when he met the Minister responsible for Africa of the UK, Lord Brown, and also when he met the Pope, this issue of Security Council was discussed and is very much on the agenda. But as I said, at the moment, it is a phase of intense consultations among the various different players.
Question: A follow-up on the Pope. Did the Pope discuss this issue about the expansion of the Security Council? In broader terms or (not)?
Spokesperson: In the terms as we reflected in the statement. It was a one-on-one meeting between the President and His Holiness, and what was discussed was the importance of international organizations, including the relevance of the United Nations --and, within that, the need for these organizations to adapt to the changes and challenges of the present era, making them adaptable to these changes and challenges. That means reforming them and that reform includes reform of the Security Council. It was in that context that this came up in the meeting with the Pope.
Question: Follow-up on the visit. I speak UN but you lost me on that one. Does the Pope advocate expansion of the Security Council? Is that what you are saying or did he just nod along?
Spokesperson: It was a one-on-one meeting and when I talked to the President afterward, what the President told me was that they agreed on the need for multilateralism to be the way to approach international problems and at the heart of multilateralism should be international institutions, including the UN, but these institutions should be reformed to adapt to the changes and challenges of the world and those reforms include Security Council reform. So this is what I have. This is how it was reflected to me.
Question: Taking it in a different direction, was the General Assembly filled to capacity for the Pope’s address on Friday?
Spokesperson: I didn’t count, but to me it looked as if yes.
Question: There were a number of tickets issued to VIPs and outsiders. Do you have any sense of whether there were any particular noteworthy guests that came by?
Spokesperson: I will follow up on this in the same vein as Tarek asked about who actually sent out the invitations, on what basis, who was invited. I will try to get back to you on that. [Later it was clarified that invitations were through the UN protocol office with most of the invitations sent out by the Holy See.] Yes?
Question: ECOSOC has a meeting on food security in May. Does the General Assembly have any relationship with that?
Spokesperson: ECOSOC is one of the principal organs of the United Nations and they have their own President. It is the Permanent Representative from Haiti. ECOSOC speaks for itself. I do not speak for ECOSOC, but the food security aspect is that, as I have tried to highlight here, the President of the General Assembly is following the issue closely and is going to make sure that this issue is going to come up in the framework of the General Assembly’s work as well. If, as I said, nowhere else, then definitely within the context of human security. The relationship between ECOSOC and the General Assembly is a different area that we can also talk about. ECOSOC briefs the General Assembly annually on its work. There is also a resolution by the General Assembly, adopted two years ago (15 November 2006) on the reform of ECOSOC and that is going to be discussed and reviewed at the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly.
Question: The Pope called for dialogue among civilizations and religion. As you know, we already have that dialogue. Does the President interpret that as calling for high level summit between different cultures and religions and would he be able to entertain such a proposal?
Spokesperson: Well, if you remember, this General Assembly session and this President was the first one that actually had a high-level meeting on inter-cultural inter-religious dialogue for peace and that was at the very beginning of the session. I think it was in early October (4-5 October 2007). I think that already set the framework and would have a follow-up. I will look into exactly where things stand, but that was the first time that a thematic debate in the General Assembly was held on this at a high level.
Question: Any reaction from President Kerim to the declaration by the President of the World Bank, (Robert) Zoelick that the current food crisis could delay the achievement of the major goals, especially number one, by as much as seven years.
Spokesperson: Well, as I mentioned to you, it was actually the President, when he talked to Member States in formulating his agenda and within that agenda, proposing the idea of holding a kind of mid-term review of the MDGs that he suggested the idea that apart from focusing on all the goals to take out three key goals and one of them should be poverty and hunger. So, therefore, I believe that this issue was on the President’s agenda early on, and that it is definitely still there. This is why I quoted from his earlier speeches. Already, it was in mid-February, actually on the 19th of February, that he had that speech where he flagged this issue of the problem of rising food prices and how they could derail developmental issues and also the attainment of the MDGs on poverty and hunger. Also, because of the problem of the fact that the poverty and hunger goal of the MDGs has an impact or catalytic effect on the other Goals, that is why they were singled out. They have a larger impact. This is how I see the President looking at this issue.
Question: All of the Goals had been defined as priority issues. Does this means that they are now priorities of priorities?
Spokesperson: I think the way the meeting approached the issue was that these three -- poverty and hunger, health and education -- were sort of singled out as the ones that needed urgent attention and the ones that had catalytic effect on the other Goals. So that is why there was more concentration on these as regards this particular meeting. It doesn’t mean that the overall approach focuses on these, but for this particular recommitment meeting, these were the areas that were targeted. Matthew?
Question: In the President’s meeting in Turkmenistan, did the topics of human rights or press freedom arise? Human Rights Watch says it is still quite a repressive country.
Spokesperson: Yes, human rights issues did come up in the meetings with the President and the Foreign Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker. I don’t know about the details, but they were discussed. They were among the topics my colleague mentioned to me that were discussed. The media issue is, I am sure, is going to be touched on in more detail when the President addresses, in Kazakhstan, the Eurasian Media Forum.
Question: Just one example, some of the NGOs there say that people can’t access the Internet and things like that. I wonder while he was there, whether he had the opportunity to use the Internet.
Spokesperson: I will send an email and see if he responds. If he responds, then the Internet works.
Question: With the upcoming second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, there is a report on procurement that the General Assembly had asked for on diversity in procurement from the developing world and the non-developing world. There seems to be something of a controversy. The report lumped together procurement of the Secretariat, UNDP and UNICEF, and everything was in there together. It showed that 60 per cent of the procurement was from the developing world. It seems that they were required to say how much of the Secretariat procurement is from the developing world and that is a much smaller number. I wonder if you know if the second resumed session is going to address this and, also, if the President of the General Assembly, since this was raised in the context of reform, if he thinks that the procurement of the UN Secretariat is diverse enough to all the countries on Earth or just to a select few?
Spokesperson: Lot of questions. On the resumed session, and on deferment of procurement related issues, yes, if I remember correctly, on 28 of March when the Fifth Committee concluded its work, one of the decisions it had taken, among the several that it took, was that this issue on procurement would be deferred to the second part of the resumed session, the one that is coming up in May which is going to be from 5th May to the end of May. What will actually be on the agenda we will only know once the bureau decides and once, of course, Member States start discussing. Then we will see what happens. On the management reform debate, I do know that procurement issues did come up within the context of the management reform debate, and the President took part in the reform, so he was there attentively listening, so he is aware of the concerns that Member States voiced on this issue.
Question: With the end of the debate, wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of an outcome document?
Spokesperson: Yes, there was supposed to be a so-called Chairman’s Summary, and that is currently being crafted and that is going to be sent to Member States, and the plan is that that would also be on the website. So once it is ready, it will be available.
Question: On Turkmenistan?
Spokesperson: As I said, let me write that e-mail and I will also check with him whether he can actually access Innercity Press. Okay. All right. Thank you very much.
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