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

23 June 2008

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

23 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.

**Secretary-General Stakeout

The Secretary-General is having his monthly luncheon with the members of the Security Council today.  Once that luncheon has ended, he intends to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout position on Zimbabwe.  We expect that to take place at around 2:30 p.m.

It will be on Zimbabwe, and we expect him to hold another stakeout on Thursday on other matters.

The members of the Security Council also expect to meet at around 3 this afternoon on Zimbabwe, but the format of that meeting has yet to be decided.  Council members are to discuss the format in their closed consultations right now.

** Zimbabwe Statement

We issued a statement yesterday saying that the Secretary-General deeply regrets that, despite the repeated appeals of the international community, the Government of Zimbabwe has failed to put in place the conditions necessary for free and fair run-off elections.  The circumstances that led to the withdrawal of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai from the presidential elections represent a deeply distressing development that does not bode well for the future of democracy in Zimbabwe.  The campaign of violence and intimidation that has marred this election has done a great disservice to the people of the country and must end immediately.

The Secretary-General has discussed the situation with various leaders, including those of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  He strongly supports the statement of the Chairman of SADC that conditions do not exist for a run-off election to be held at this time and that they should be postponed.  The United Nations is prepared to work urgently with SADC and the African Union to help resolve this political impasse.  Assistant Secretary-General Haile Menkerios remains in the region to assist.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning discussed the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, following a meeting earlier today with the troop contributing countries for that peacekeeping mission.  Wolfgang Wiesbrod-Weber, Director of the Department for Peacekeeping Operation’s Asia and Middle East Division, briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the mission, which recommended that it be extended for six months.

The Council also discussed the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) in this morning’s consultations, to consider a draft resolution on that Mission’s future.

** South Africa

The UN interagency team in South Africa is helping the Government respond in the wake of violence against foreigners there.  The UN refugee agency recently established a hotline for refugees and asylum seekers.  It is also helping the Government with registration efforts in Gauteng Province.

UNICEF, meanwhile, is helping with nutrition, education and child protection, and also providing basic recreational materials for schoolchildren.  The interagency team has also helped lead trainings on humanitarian principles and disaster response for officials in Cape Town and elsewhere.

** Somalia

The UN refugee agency has called for the immediate and unconditional release of its staff member who was abducted by armed men on Saturday in Mogadishu.  Hassan Mohamed Ali, a human rights advocate and the longest-serving UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] staff member in Somalia, was taken from his home near Mogadishu Saturday evening.  So far, his abductors have not made contact with the UN or the Somali authorities or any third party. 

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who was travelling in the region last week, said the abduction is a setback to humanitarian efforts for uprooted Somalis.  “UNHCR is an impartial and apolitical organization,” he said.  “We ourselves are civilians.  We are unarmed.  We are humanitarians who are committed to serving those in need.”

This latest attack on a UNHCR worker comes just a few months after a series of kidnappings and abductions in April which forced the UN to withdraw international staff from parts of the country.  The Organization had just begun redeploying international staff to regions deemed to be safer.

** Sudan

The AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that two World Food Programme trucks were carjacked yesterday by 11 armed men.  A patrol team sent by UNAMID managed to rescue the two drivers safely.

UNAMID also reports that a number of confidence-building patrols have been conducted in Darfur, including a night-time patrol in the village of Kineen, where the team spoke with the residents who complained of a lack of adequate schools, lack of food, water and medical facilities.  They also said that children and women were constantly harassed by armed Arab militias when fetching firewood.  The team assured them that their concerns would be communicated to appropriate agencies, and that more patrols would be conducted to the area.  The security situations where the patrols took place were assessed to be relatively calm.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian community in the Sudan is warning that the people of Darfur face the annual hunger gap -— the period leading up to the harvest in October.  In a joint statement issued over the weekend, the UN humanitarian agencies in the Sudan urged the Government of the Sudan to implement its stated commitment to ensure that food convoys with escorts are organized at least every 48 hours on main routes into Darfur.  However, in order to return the food ration to normal levels, the authorities must permit food relief trucks to travel into Darfur every day, regardless of whether escorts are in place or not.

**Greece/FYROM

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, will travel to the region this week for continued consultations on the “name issue”.  Nimetz will be in Athens on Thursday and Skopje on Friday.

In Athens, he is expected to meet with the Greek Foreign Minister, as well as other Greek officials.  In Skopje, he will meet the President and Prime Minister of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, along with other officials.

** Guinea-Bissau

Available today is a report by the Secretary-General on Guinea-Bissau and peacebuilding efforts in that country.  In the report, the Secretary-General says the international community must urgently and strongly support the Government of Guinea-Bissau in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.

He also notes that the economic and financial situation in the country remains dire.  In that context, he says he is concerned that resources for the smooth conduct of crucial legislative elections, scheduled for this November, have not been found yet.

** Syria

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team arrived in Syria yesterday.  It will work through tomorrow to determine the veracity of information that claimed that an installation destroyed by Israel in Syria last September was a nuclear reactor.  According to the information, the reactor was not yet operational and no nuclear material had been introduced into it.  IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said that the Agency is treating this information with the seriousness it deserves and that he looks forward to Syria’s full cooperation in this matter.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The UN today honoured innovative public institutions from 12 Member States with the UN Public Service Award.

In her remarks at the awards ceremony, the Deputy Secretary-General congratulated the winners for creating new mechanisms for citizens to participate in decision-making, thereby making their Governments more transparent and accountable.  She noted that, despite their diversity, the winners demonstrate one universal truth -– that innovation in governance is possible.  We have the full text of her remarks upstairs.

**Press Conferences/Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 10:15 a.m., Steven Kull of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes; Yvonne Terlingen of Amnesty International; and Craig Mokhiber from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will brief on new survey data on the acceptance of the use of torture, racial discrimination, women’s rights, freedom of the press, democracy and governance.

At 11 a.m., the Prime Minister of Djibouti, Deleita Mohamed Deleita, and Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, will brief on peace and security in the Horn of Africa.

The guests at the noon briefing will be Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, the UN and African Union Special Envoys for Darfur, who will brief on the Darfur peace process.

This is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Does Ambassador Matthew Nimetz have any new idea or does he have anything new in his baggage to go with to Athens?

Spokesperson:  He has no new proposals.

Question:  And is he discouraged by President [Nicolas] Sarkozy who deliberately went and stood on the side of Greece recently in these disputes with the name?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think he can be discouraged by that.  I think he is continuing his work, his mandate.

Question:  About Zimbabwe -- the envoy there -– is he engaging to convince the two leaders, the President and the Opposition leader, to accept the postponement of the elections?

Spokesperson:  Are you talking about [Haile] Menkerios?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Menkerios is presently in South Africa.  And the Secretary-General will himself brief you on the efforts on that count this afternoon when he speaks to you at the stakeout outside the Security Council at around 2:30.

Question:  Is the purpose of the work now concerning postponement?

Spokesperson:  If you’ll ask that question to the Secretary-General, he will be happy to answer it.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General subscribe to the point of view of Mr. ElBaradei that any threat by Israel to Iran could really bring about a fireball in the whole region?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information about that.  The Secretary-General is certainly aware of what Mr. ElBaradei has been saying, but I don’t have any specific statement to make at this point.

Question:  Why is the Secretary-General always slow to react to any threats by Israel?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t react to threats; there are so many of them all around the world and all over the planet.  If we reacted to threats and not to actual, physical, proven danger, I think the Secretary-General would be busy 24 hours a day issuing statements.

Question:  But here you have a situation that is really escalating, especially on the vocal level.  And the Middle East is not just any area.  It is a very inflammable area, as we all know.  Does that not concern Mr. Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  It concerns him, definitely.  It does concern him.  Several times he has appealed for calm and for people to refrain from threats.

Question:  Another issue after the Doha Agreement, which was about over a month now.  Still, the Lebanese Government has not been able to formulate a new Government according to the plan.  Does that concern Mr. Ban Ki-moon?  Or are they making any effort to expedite it?

Spokesperson:  He is concerned.  He has been consulting over and over again about it.  And we are still in that process.  As you know, Lebanon is a sovereign country.  The Secretary-General can also listen and talk to leaders in the region and in Lebanon, but he cannot influence the course of Lebanese politics.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Has there been any announcement from these inquiries or any decision from these inquiries into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  It is still being studied.

Question:  Do you know how long it will take?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know how long it will take.  I can say there are intensive consultations on it, but no decisions yet on which way the Secretary-General might go in response to that letter.

Question:  On a follow-up question, I wanted to say one thing.  Whenever Iran has threatened Israel, the Secretary-General has always in very strong terms condemned it.  Why can’t it be done the other way around?

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, Masood.  I think you’re over-generalizing.  I think the Secretary-General has not often talked about threats.  He has asked for a decrease in the level of rhetorical violence, you know, when people speak.  But I don’t think he has been more vocal on one type of threat rather than on others.

Question:  On the comments on Friday from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, there’s been talk in Israeli mainstream papers since November of 2003 about potential pre-emptive attacks on nuclear facilities in Iran.  Given the recent comments on Friday –- is this any type of signalling that there’s new information or that this particular moment –- that the situation diplomatically is more heated than it was before?  What are we to draw from these comments at this particular time?

Spokesperson:  I think the comments made by Mr. ElBaradei stand for themselves.  I will not comment on his comments.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Michèle, did the Secretary-General or anyone around him have a thought of lifting immunity in the case Srebrenica?  As a moral act, after all, besides recognizing that those that are at large are responsible, but still to put more responsibility in a way -– to show that he is thinking that that is the way even to reform the United Nations to be more transparent and to undertake more responsibility than his predecessors?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if the issue of impunity or lifting of immunity has been raised by the Secretary-General recently with his legal advisers.  But I told you everything I could tell you the other day about the whole issue of the trial.

Question:  I only wanted to hear that issue –- the first one.  So it was not raised basically?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether it was raised.  I’m not aware of it.

Question:  Did you say the Secretary-General, I missed it…

Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary-General will be at the stakeout around 2:30 after the Security Council lunch.  And it’s going to be about Zimbabwe.

Question:  Will he take any other questions?

Spokesperson:  No, he won’t take any other questions.  On Thursday, you can ask him about Kosovo.  On Thursday, he will have a more general stakeout.  But today, we simply asked him if he could talk about Zimbabwe because we know it’s the primary interest of most of our correspondents today.

Question:  But there are other issues…

Spokesperson:  You can ask him on Thursday.

Question:  Not today?

Spokesperson:  Not today.  Today I will take from you Zimbabwean questions to the Secretary-General.

Question:  What’s the purpose of Thursday?

Spokesperson:  Questions on other matters.

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