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

6 June 2008

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

6 June 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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all. 

**Guest Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief you on the global food security crisis.

**Food Conference

The High-Level Conference on World Food Security has concluded with the adoption by acclamation last night of a Declaration calling on the international community to increase assistance for developing countries, in particular the least developed countries and those that are most negatively affected by high food prices.  But John Holmes will tell you more about it when he comes here in a few minutes.

**Security Council Mission to Africa

The Security Council mission in Africa is in Chad today, where they are expected to be meeting with President Idriss Deby in the capital, N’Djamena, right now.  Earlier today, the Council delegation arrived in Abeche, in eastern Chad, where they met with the Force Commander of the European Forces (EUFOR) and with Victor Angelo, head of the MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad] peacekeeping Mission, who briefed the Council on their respective operations.  From there, the Council team flew to Doz Baide, near the Sudanese border, and met with the governor of the region before visiting a camp for refugees from Darfur.  Elders at that camp identified security as their main problem.  The Council mission also visited a camp for Chadians displaced by fighting in the region, and received briefings from UN and other humanitarian workers, who also cited security concerns and restrictions on their movements.

** Sudan

Before leaving Khartoum, the Security Council delegation visiting Africa met with President Omer Al-Bashir.  They discussed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South of the Sudan, the situations in Abyei and Darfur, and the Sudan's non-cooperation with the International Criminal Court.  On the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Security Council delegation said that President Al-Bashir has informed them that an agreement was reached yesterday between his side and the Government of South Sudan to resolve the dispute over Abyei.  That agreement will be debated by the Parliament of South Sudan today and, if approved, will become effective on 10 June.  President Al-Bashir also welcomed a greater role for the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) in its area of operation, including the region around Abyei.

On the Darfur peace process, the delegation said that President Al-Bashir has welcomed the proposed creation of the position of Chief Mediator, as outlined in the Secretary-General's latest report on Darfur.  On the International Criminal Court, the delegation regrets that President Al-Bashir continues to reject any possibility of the Sudan cooperating with the Court, contrary to its obligations under Security Council resolution 1593 [2005].

** Zimbabwe

On Zimbabwe, Under-Secretary-General John Holmes, who will be appearing as our guest shortly, said in a statement that the directive in Zimbabwe instructing all private voluntary organizations and non-governmental organizations to suspend all field operations until further notice is a deplorable decision that comes at a critical humanitarian juncture for the people of Zimbabwe.  Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called Zimbabwe's decision to restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations in the country “absolutely outrageous” and said “it is a true perversion of democracy”.  She described the Zimbabwe Government's action as a cynical and offensive perversion of any notion of democracy, and said it was against international human rights law.

** Sierra Leone

On Sierra Leone, the UN refugee agency on Friday said it is recommending to States to end refugee status for Sierra Leoneans who fled their country during the decade-long civil war which started in 1991, since the root causes of the Sierra Leone refugee problem have ceased to exist.  There have been fundamental and durable changes since peace was declared in January 2002, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says.  The cessation will take effect at the end of this year, on 31 December, following consultations with the Governments of the main countries of asylum and with Sierra Leone.  During the height of the conflict, as many as two million of the country's six million citizens were displaced, with some 490,000 fleeing to Liberia and Guinea.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on Cyprus, says that a window of opportunity to finally resolve the Cyprus problem is clearly open.  It is particularly heartening, he says, that, over the past two months, the two leaders have already taken decisive steps towards their shared objective of resuming negotiations aimed at a comprehensive settlement.  He says that the agreement of 21 March and the joint statement of 23 May are clear indicators of the renewed political will to seek a solution to the Cyprus problem.

The Secretary-General says he is firmly committed to helping the leaders move forward to the formal talks as expeditiously and smoothly as possible, and he intends to appoint a Special Adviser at the appropriate time.  Notwithstanding the improved prospects for a settlement, the Secretary-General believes that the UN peacekeeping Mission, UNFICYP [United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus], continues to play a vital role on the island and recommends that the Security Council extend its mandate by six months, until 15 December.

**Secretary-General’s Travel to Europe and Saudi Arabia

Next Thursday, the Secretary-General will participate in the International Conference on Afghanistan taking place in Paris.  While he is in Paris, he also expects to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy.  On the following day, the Secretary-General will be in London, where he expects to meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other senior British officials, and also intends to address the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom on the theme of “Securing the Common Good:  the United Nations and the Expanding Global Agenda”.

He will then travel over the weekend to Saudi Arabia, at the invitation of the Saudi King, where he will discuss issues of mutual concern with the King and the Saudi Foreign Minister, among others.  Then, on Monday, 16 June, the Secretary-General will participate in the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the London-based International Maritime Organization, before returning early in the week to New York.

**Global Insight Summit

The Secretary-General will be heading to Jackson, Wyoming, this afternoon to open the first-ever Global Insight Summit, which is being convened by the UN and the Jackson Hole Film Institute.  The Summit, which will be held during the fifth annual Jackson Hole Film Festival, represents a unique collaboration, bringing together entertainment leaders and UN officials to explore how film and television can be better used to raise public awareness of critical global issues and the UN’s role in addressing them.  The Secretary-General will be back in New York tomorrow evening.  We have more information on the trip upstairs.

**Monday Press Conferences

And then ahead, there are several press conferences scheduled for Monday.  Starting at 11 a.m., the General Assembly President, Srgjan Kerim, will be joined by other speakers to brief on the General Assembly’s debate on “Global Private Investment and Climate Change”. 

Our guests at the noon briefing will be Jorge Sampaio, the UN’s Special Envoy to Stop TB, and Winstone Zulu, an HIV/TB activist, who will brief on the first HIV/TB Global Leaders’ Forum.

At 2 in the afternoon, Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, will present key findings on the global AIDS response, including updates on progress made and new global estimates of people receiving antiretroviral treatment.  We have more information on these events available upstairs in our “Week Ahead”.  This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, to start with, does the Secretary-General have any plans while he is in Europe next week, to talk about Kosovo, since the “D-Day” -- if I can put it like that, like somebody put in the news press reports -- about 15 June approaching for the transition between EULEX and UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], etc.?  And what is the latest Secretary-General’s position, knowing what we know, that he’s actually between two fires, rather?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is still studying his options.  He has been actively involved in the issue.  He has spoken to several leaders on the question.  Marie probably mentioned last week that he spoke to Javier Solana about this, and he spoke with the President of Serbia yesterday over the phone.  So these issues are still being discussed.  And this is really all I have at the moment.  

Question:  What did he say to the President of Serbia?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the information.

Question:  What are his options?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information yet, but you will know once there is a decision taken.

Question:  Gaza’s power plant will only function for a few days and its diesel supply will run out in two weeks.  What is being done about that situation?  And it’s reported that the Myanmar regime is forcing cyclone victims to work for food.  Can you confirm if that’s the case?

Spokesperson:  The first question on Gaza, we already got the information that we have two more weeks [of fuel], so you have that information.  We have nothing beyond that.

Question:  What is being done?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything beyond that.  What is being done doesn’t depend on the UN.  The information from the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East was given to you, that over two million litres of fuel reserves are left at the Gaza power plant.  On Myanmar, we don’t have a possibility to answer that question.  You can ask John Holmes, who will be with us in a few minutes. 

Question:  Let me follow up with a question.  Did the Secretary-General tackle the issue of Kosovo with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad today?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know about today, but I know they have discussed the issue.  I don’t know about today, though.

Question:  About the Secretary-General’s trip to Saudi [ Arabia].  You said he’ll be discussing with the King issues of mutual concern.  What are those issues?

Spokesperson:  There is the Saudi initiative, as you know, which is close to the Alliance of Civilizations, an inter-faith dialogue [among Muslims, Christians and Jews], and that will be one of the issues discussed.  I don’t have the exact agenda of the discussions, but, as soon as I have it, I will let you know.

Question:  Will Lebanon be part of the discussions?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  We don’t have the exact agenda of the discussions.  It is at the invitation of the Saudi King that the Secretary-General is going there.

Question:  Do you have any update from the Secretary-General on the 10 Palestinians wounded and one killed yesterday by the Israeli forces in Gaza?  Is there a statement from the Secretary-General on that?

Spokesperson:  We had a statement yesterday afternoon, yes.

Question:  Is there any update?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything new for today.

Question:  Now I wanted to ask, the Pakistani Ambassador met with the Secretary-General this morning and gave him the letter by the Foreign Minister asking for an inquiry by the United Nations into the assassination of [former] Prime Minister [Benazir] Bhutto.  Did the Secretary-General give a promise of anything?  Is there a timeline for looking in?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General received the letter.  Indeed, I can confirm that.  However, the Secretary-General has not taken a decision on it.  He has just received the letter and the letter is being studied.

Question:  Whenever he receives such a letter, is there a timeline?  Will he be sending it to the Security Council? 

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  As I said, the letter is being studied.

Question:  I’m sorry.  I came in late so, if you addressed Zimbabwe, forgive me.  But what’s the latest?  Is the Special Envoy going?  And there seems to be some confusion about whether he was actually been invited by Harare?

Spokesperson:  We’re not really talking about a special envoy here.  Mr. Menkerios would go as the person in charge of African issues in the Department of Political Affairs.  What I mentioned earlier in the briefing, before you came in, was essentially about the humanitarian situation, but Mr. Holmes is here and he will be able to talk to you about this.

Question:  Is he going?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know at this point.  We don’t have additional information on that.

Question:  Was the invitation accepted in Rome?

Spokesperson:  The invitation was accepted by President [Robert] Mugabe in his conversation with the Secretary-General.

Question:  Has that changed?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  At this point, I can tell you what I have.  I can’t tell you what I don’t have.  Okay, quickly because Mr. Holmes is here.

Question:  Israeli Minister Shaul Mofaz said today that, if sanctions don’t work against Iran, they would attack Iran.  How do you view this?

Spokesperson:  This is a hypothetical question. 

Question:  But he said it today.

Spokesperson:  Those are words.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General call the President of Serbia, or vice versa?  Who called?

Spokesperson:  He called the Secretary-General. 

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