|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.
The Secretary-General is presently meeting in London with British Foreign Minister David Miliband. He started the day with a working breakfast meeting with United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown. They discussed the upcoming 25 September High-Level Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, the Middle East, Kosovo and the rise in food and oil prices. Speaking to reporters afterward, the Secretary-General said that he was aware that the proposals he presented to the Security Council a day earlier on Kosovo may not fully satisfy all sides, yet he fully believes that what he proposed will prove to be the least objectionable course to all and can offer us a way forward.
The Secretary-General and his wife, Ban Soon-taek, later had an audience with Queen Elizabeth II. He also addressed the UN Association of the United Kingdom, discussing the central role of the United Nations in world affairs and highlighting the UN's work on climate change, global health, terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation. We have upstairs the transcript of the joint press conference this morning with Prime Minister Gordon Brown as well as the text of the Secretary-General’s statement to the UN Association of the United Kingdom at the Royal Geographical Society on “Securing the Common Good: the United Nations and the Expanding Global Agenda”. You can also see the pictures of the day on our UN photo website.
The Secretary-General will fly to Jeddah tomorrow for talks with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. He will be back in London on Sunday evening for further talks with British officials and to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the International Maritime Organization, based in London.
In his remarks to reporters in London earlier today, the Secretary-General recalled his meeting with President Robert Mugabe last week in Rome, saying he emphasized the importance of ensuring that there would be no further violence, and that this forthcoming presidential run-off election should be held in a most transparent and fair and convincing and credible way. The Secretary-General said he had urged President Mugabe to take all necessary measures to ensure that. And he also said he had urged the President that humanitarian assistance should be allowed to be delivered to those in need.
Meanwhile, UNICEF, on the eve of The Day of the African Child, expressed its deep concern at the Zimbabwe Government’s suspension of access for non-governmental organization workers, who are now prevented from reaching the country’s most vulnerable children. The UN Children’s Fund called for a full and immediate resumption of programmes run by NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that are critical for the country’s children.
The Security Council met this morning on non-proliferation. Members were briefed by the Belgian Ambassador in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee dealing with resolution 1737, which concerns Iran. The Council is now meeting on Iraq. Briefing Council members earlier today, Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues, said that, now more than ever, urgent steps are needed to broaden national reconciliation. Addressing such fundamental issues as the sharing of resources, the future federal nature of the Iraqi State, and the resolution of disputed internal boundaries requires wisdom, patience and strong political will, he added.
UN Controller Warren Sach also briefed Council members in his capacity as the Secretary-General’s representative on the International Advisory and Monitoring Board. We have both statements upstairs.
The Council is also expected to adopt today a resolution on Cyprus, extending the mandate of the UN Mission there until 15 December. Meanwhile, we mentioned to you yesterday that an advance copy of the Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo had gone to Security Council members. That report, whose elements we already flagged to you, is now available as a public document. Also, yesterday evening, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Djibouti and Eritrea. The Council condemned Eritrea’s recent military action against Djibouti, called on both parties to commit to a ceasefire, and urged Eritrea in particular to show maximum restraint and withdraw its forces from the area.
We can now confirm that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will be visiting Cyprus on 17 June for consultations about the ongoing political process on the island with the Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) draws attention to the revised appeal for Ethiopia, which represented a considerable increase in the amount previously asked for, from $68 to more than $325 million. The majority of that money, some $268 million, is needed for food, after drought and crop failure caused the number of people in need of emergency humanitarian aid to more than double, from 2.2 million to 4.6 million Ethiopians.
The worst-affected areas were in south and south-eastern Ethiopia, including Oromia, where livestock had already died from lack of water. Assistance was urgently needed to avert loss of life and further deterioration of the health of an estimated 75,000 children who were already suffering from acute malnutrition and illness. John Holmes, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, urged donors to respond immediately and generously to prevent a recurrence of previous disasters. There is a press release with more details upstairs.
Over in Timor-Leste, Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão signed an agreement today between the Government of Timor-Leste and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in support of the UNMIT mandate to formalize support for reform of the security sector in the country. The agreement details the technical assistance and advice that the United Nations will provide to the Government. The objective is to strengthen the nation’s ability to protect itself, both internally and externally. According to Atul Khare, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste, “The review, reform and development of the security sector are vital to strengthening institutions that can weather future crises without external assistance and that will help Timor-Leste establish itself as a strong democracy, upholding the rule of law and promoting human rights.” The review will be finalized by early to mid-2009.
Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has called on donors to help meet Myanmar’s urgent needs for 1 million gallons of diesel fuel. According to Heyzer, diesel is needed to operate some 5,000 tillers, which will help rice farmers in time for the June/July growing season. Cyclone Nargis destroyed livestock and buffaloes, which are the traditional animals used for ploughing, ESCAP says. Heyzer visited Myanmar this week. We have a press release on that upstairs.
The Executive Board of the World Food Programme (WFP) has approved a new four-year strategic plan that will be critical to addressing soaring hunger needs due to the global food crisis. The strategic plan emphasizes life-saving emergency aid, such as the 3 million vulnerable served in Darfur with emergency food aid. But it also emphasizes prevention, local purchase of food, and using targeted cash and voucher programmes when food is available locally but not accessible by the hungry. The approval of WFP’s four-year strategic plan follows last week’s High-Level Conference on World Food Security in Rome, where world leaders gathered to discuss hunger and agriculture development issues against the backdrop of high global food and fuel prices. Recent market shocks and climate change make the challenges of feeding some 90 million people even greater.
The latest round of UN-sponsored global climate change negotiations concluded today in Bonn, Germany. The conference, which drew more than 2,000 participants from 170 countries, was part of a series of meetings designed to negotiate a UN climate change deal in Copenhagen in 2009. It was the second major UN climate change meeting this year following the launch of negotiations in Bali in 2007. Three important workshops on adaptation, finance and technology took place in Bonn, designed to deepen the understanding of the issues related to the building blocks of the Copenhagen agreement.
Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said there was now a clearer understanding among Governments on what countries would ultimately like to see written into a long-term agreement to address climate change. The next meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will take place in Accra, Ghana, at the end of August, and will focus on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries and sector-specific approaches, for example, for steel or cement sectors, when tackling climate change. We have a press release upstairs.
China and the United Arab Emirates have made impressive strides in tackling the risk of contamination from unsafe blood, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today. They have done that by reaching close to 100 per cent voluntary blood donations. Their efforts to increase their safe blood base will be promoted as models for other countries to follow on the occasion of World Blood Donor Day, which will be observed tomorrow. According to WHO, access to safe blood is a key component of effective health care, and voluntary donors are the cornerstone of a safe blood supply. We have more on that upstairs.
In 100 days, the world will take part in the International Day of Peace. The Secretary-General, in a video message out today, says the world needs to take this Day of ceasefire and non-violence very seriously. We need to start planning for it now, he says. That is why, today, I am asking Governments, communities and individuals to start preparing concrete activities for the International Day of Peace and beyond. On 21 September, let us send a real signal of our universal desire for peace, he says in the video.
**Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council concluded today its adoption of the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review on the reports of 32 countries. Those countries had been the first to undergo the review process over the course of the first two sessions of the Working Group, held in April and May this year. Today, the Universal Periodic Review covered the reports on Sri Lanka, France, Tonga, Romania and Mali.
**World Tourism Organization
The Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization, Francesco Frangialli, announced that he would be stepping down at the beginning of 2009 to allow for a smooth transition before the end of his final term of office. He noted that the membership of his agency had expanded to 153 States during his tenure. We have a press release upstairs.
** International School Graduation
And some in-house news. The Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2008 of the United Nations International School (UNIS) will take place at 3 p.m. today in the General Assembly Hall. Author and former child soldier Ishmael Beah, a UNIS graduate from the class of 2000, will give the Commencement Address. The 126 graduates in this year’s class represent 63 nationalities, speak 28 languages and will go on to study in 13 different countries.
And we also have the “Week Ahead” upstairs for next week. The chiefs of public information and spokespersons from peacekeeping, peacebuilding and political missions will meet at Headquarters in New York for an annual workshop organized by DPI [Department of Public Information] and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]. Journalists interested in meeting the workshop participants should contact the Office of the Spokesperson. We have a list of attendees that you can look at. And this is all I have for you. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On 15 June is the anniversary of the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit. And I know the General Assembly had a resolution in support of that in October. I wonder if the Secretary-General might have a statement in regard to that?
Spokesperson: No, he does not.
Question: Michèle, although there’s a meeting in the Security Council on Iraq itself, in which the assessment is that progress has been made, there’s a report in the New York Times that suggests otherwise. Has there been a special report by the Special Representative since this one?
Spokesperson: Since when?
Question: Since this report by Mr. Gambari. Has the Secretary-General’s Special Representative prepared another one?
Spokesperson: I’ll check for you if there is one.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General’s next report on Iraq to the Security Council was due on 15 July.]
Question: I also wanted to check on the Secretary-General’s report on the Sudan. Has the Special Representative there, Mr. Qazi, prepared a report?
Spokesperson: I don’t know when he submitted one, but we can check on the dates with the Security Council.
Question: There’s a report in the Washington Post today that the Government of Myanmar, a week after the hurricane hit, started giving large parcels of land in the delta to business people described as cronies of the regime. Is the UN aware of that report and how would this modify the UN approach to Myanmar?
Spokesperson: I don’t think we have an independent report on that so I cannot confirm or deny. We can try to look into it, but I don’t know whether our teams on the ground have been able to assess that. But we can check, of course, for you.
Question: The Arab Group is working on a draft resolution to submit to the Security Council on the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. I was wondering about Ban Ki-moon’s position on taking the issue of Israeli settlements to the Security Council? Does he support such a step?
Spokesperson: It’s up to the Security Council, but I will add a line to you that we issued a statement on that specific issue last week. I think it was on 2 June. And we expressed the Secretary-General’s concern about the construction of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and you can refer to that statement. But in terms of the issue going to the Security Council, it is up to the Security Council.
Question: Yes, I understand this. But what’s Ban Ki-moon’s position on this? Because according to some Arab ambassadors, they say going to the Security Council is highly futile because the Israeli settlements continue on the Palestinian territory and we do not see any reaction from the Quartet or from the United States.
Spokesperson: No, I’m sorry. The last Quartet statement -- I can check on that -- refers to settlements. The Secretary-General himself has talked about settlements. No later than last week, there was a statement. In terms of whether it will go to the Security Council, what I am saying to you is that it is not up to the Secretary-General. That’s all. He has made his position quite clear.
Question: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister met with the Secretary-General in Paris, on the sidelines, and again asked him for an investigation of the Bhutto assassination. And Mr. Ban assured him there would be an outcome once the report was studied. Now, how long will it take to study the report and come out with a conclusion about whether to undertake the investigation?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a timeline on that. I do have a readout of the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. The Secretary-General told him that the UN was studying the content of the Pakistani letter as well as the UN procedures and there would have to be consultations with Member States. The Office of Legal Affairs was looking into it. And he said he had no definite news to give about the request for investigation just yet. So I think we still stick to that statement. There is nothing more on that. Really, we have nothing new and it’s an issue that has to be studied very carefully. I’m sure you understand.
Question: The system of Special Rapporteurs in the international system plays a front role in giving independent advice to the UN system and to nation States, and there’s been some concern from civil society that certain conditions may be placed on them in the future, or there will be some change from the status quo in terms of the level of their independence. I wonder if you can comment on that from the perspective of the Secretary-General, if that is the case, if there is going to be some change in the level of their independence within the system?
Spokesperson: I cannot comment on what the Human Rights Council might or might not do. At this point, it’s not a matter for the Secretary-General. It hasn’t happened yet and the Special Rapporteur system is linked to the Human Rights Council, not to the Secretariat of the UN. So there is nothing the Secretary-General can input into this as long as there has been no decision, as far as I know, taken by the Human Rights Council.
Correspondent: It would be a different perspective.
Spokesperson: Yes, it would, but it’s a hypothetical question at this point.
Question: I have a question about Darfur. It’s said that rations are being cut because trucks are being hijacked on the way. It doesn’t seem that the peacekeepers who are there are involved in protecting the convoys. It seems they’re waiting for the Government of the Sudan to protect these trucks. Is there a move afoot? Mr. Holmes said it’s being considered, but are DPKO and UNAMID considering deploying the peacekeepers they have, while too low in number, but at least to protect some of the trucks? Is that something we can find out?
Spokesperson: Mr. Holmes is the person who’s certainly up to date with his discussions with UNAMID on that specific issue, the protection of UN humanitarian aid being carried towards the camps. I don’t have any new information on that, but I can try to ask them over there whether they are taking measures concerning the protection of those convoys.
Question: One more. Some people are now suggesting that countries partner in terms of deploying peacekeepers. If only African peacekeepers can get in, then let these countries, like Ethiopia, to partner with the Republic of Korea or Argentina. Different countries are being mentioned. Is Peacekeeping itself trying to arrange some kind of partnership for countries that weren’t allowed in, maybe by providing equipment or expertise, to the countries that can’t get in?
Spokesperson: All of this is being studied now, because, as you know, there was quite a push on the part of the Secretary-General himself, to get specialized groups, in terms of expertise, to be involved in the Mission. So I’m sure there are efforts being made on that count.
Question: Thanks a lot. The proponents of this are asking the Security Council to set up something called a partnering conference. Is that something the Secretariat could do or does it require the Security Council to put countries together?
Spokesperson: That I have to check. I have to check on how far they’ve gotten so far on this and only DPKO can answer that question.
Question: On the same issue of Darfur, I wanted to know if there is any update from DPKO that any helicopters had been sent to facilitate the work in Darfur that they’ve been complaining is lacking?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an update, but I can get one for you certainly and I could ask them to come and brief you. Okay? Thank you very much.
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