|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.
**Statement on Mongolia
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Mongolia.
“The Secretary-General expresses deep concern at the violence resulting from the recent demonstrations in Mongolia and regrets the consequent loss of life. The Secretary-General deplores the resort to violence to protest the conduct of the parliamentary elections last weekend. He urges all parties to exercise restraint and engage in dialogue and appeals to all demonstrators to refrain from any further acts of violence.
“ Mongolia has made a peaceful transition to democracy, and the Secretary-General encourages all parties to respect this achievement and find ways to settle the current crisis, fully respecting the rule of law”.
**Secretary-General in China
The Secretary-General has held a series of meetings in Beijing today with the senior Chinese leadership, including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jinbao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Throughout his meetings, he called for greater Chinese involvement in tackling the major pressing issues facing humanity, such as the effort to combat climate change, to address soaring food prices and to attain the Millennium Development Goals. In those meetings, he and the senior Chinese officials also discussed UN-China relations, UN reform, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, Kosovo, the Middle East, the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.
Earlier, the Secretary-General had visited the site of the Olympic Games, where he received a tour of the visitor centre and got a first-hand look at Birdnest Stadium. He told reporters afterward that he was impressed at the preparations for the Olympics, adding, “Let us work together so that the whole international community will become gold medallists through the Olympic Games, through demonstrating cooperation, friendship and mutual understanding.”
He later met with State Councillor Dai Bingguo, who hosted a banquet in his honour in the evening. He will depart Beijing for Seoul, the third leg of his Asian visit, tomorrow morning.
The Secretary-General and his wife this morning visited an HIV patients’ ward at the Government-run Ditan Hospital, where he spoke with a number of patients, including one woman who had delivered a baby girl just 20 days ago. He told the patients and hospital staff that fighting HIV/AIDS is a high priority for the United Nations. He added that he is working with the scientific, medical, business and civil communities to provide greater medical access to patients and also to make workplaces more integrated and welcoming to those who are HIV-positive.
As you know, the Security Council, in its first consultations for this month, approved its programme of work for July.
The Council then received a briefing from the Italian Ambassador about the work of the sanctions committee dealing with resolution 1718, which concerns the issue of non-proliferation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that you just heard the new Council President, Ambassador Le Luong Minh.
**Secretary-General Statement on Attack in Jerusalem
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attack in Jerusalem.
“The Secretary-General condemns today’s attack in Jerusalem, in which several people died and many were injured. He sends his condolences to the families of those killed and wishes those injured a speedy recovery”.
** West Bank
And some of you asked yesterday. We have a reaction on the attack in the West Bank.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the firing of rockets at the Palestinian village of Burin in the West Bank by Israeli settlers. He calls on Israel to impose law and order and ensure the protection of the Palestinian population under occupation.
**Horn of Africa
On the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, UN agencies, along with the Red Cross and several non-governmental organizations, today warned that large parts of the Horn of Africa are either facing, or rapidly sliding into, a state of humanitarian emergency. A combination of drought and rising food prices is driving the crisis, they say.
In a joint press release, the Regional Humanitarian Partnership Team in Nairobi said that more than 14 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, and Djibouti require urgent food aid and other assistance in the next few months. They’re calling on Governments, donors and other humanitarian partners to act promptly to prevent an escalation of the crisis. There is more information upstairs.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is rapidly expanding operations in Haiti. By the end of this year, WFP expects to be feeding 2.3 million people, up from 800,000 now. And I would appreciate if you could turn off your cell phones. It will be able to do so because of a $23 million allocation from funds raised through its recent appeal. The Haitian population is highly vulnerable to food price increases, as households spend more than half their incomes on food.
Overall, WFP has received more than $62 million, which is enough to cover increased needs for 2008. However, WFP still needs more than $61 million to cover Haitian beneficiaries’ needs for 2009. There is a press release with more information upstairs.
**G-8/Food and Fuel Prices
And we have several other items on economic and social issues to flag for you, many of them tied to next week’s G-8 summit.
The International Monetary Fund, in a report issued yesterday, notes that surging food and fuel prices are having the greatest impact on import-dependent poor and middle-income countries. Some of them are being pushed to “a tipping point”, where Governments won’t be able to feed their people and maintain economic stability at the same time, the report warns.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick has sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, as well as the Secretary-General and the other G-8 leaders, in which he warns that soaring food and fuel prices are causing a substantial redistribution of income, creating poverty and social instability. This is “a man-made catastrophe”, he says, one which must be fixed by people. He urged the G-8 countries and major oil producers to focus on the immediate needs of the most vulnerable, by boosting support for agriculture, as well as for the World Food Programme and the World Bank’s own rapid financing facility for the most vulnerable countries.
Meanwhile, the UN Population Fund is calling on G-8 leaders to give serious consideration to population and family planning issues, including maternal health, when they meet next week.
And UNICEF on Thursday launches its fourth “Junior 8”, or J-8, summit in Chitose City, Japan. With an agenda that parallels the G-8 itself, the meeting brings together delegates from the G-8 and developing countries who are between 13 and 17 years old. Employing social networking tools, they will produce a communiqué laying out their recommendations to the G-8 leaders. There is more information on the J-8 upstairs in our office.
In Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan today announced its plans to open a new office in Tirin Kot, the capital of the southern province of Uruzgan. The new office, the Mission says, will play a key role in helping local communities, coordinating development and humanitarian efforts, supporting local Government institutions, and monitoring human rights issues, among other tasks.
Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that the challenges of bringing development assistance to the province of Uruzgan are “vast, but not insurmountable”. Making progress will require the concerted and sustained effort of the central and provincial government and the donor community, he said. We have a press release with more details upstairs.
There are two items of interest today on the web site of the World Health Organization (WHO).
First, a new study published by WHO says that the number of doctors required and those available globally will be roughly in balance by 2015. But there will be huge disparities in their distribution. Most African countries will face shortages, for example.
Second, WHO reports that it is planning for the return of thousands of displaced people to their homes in the Sudanese town of Abyei. WHO’s priorities include controlling health risks for the displaced and restoring basic health services for the returnees.
And this is all I have for you. Thank you. Yes, Rhonda?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have two questions. One, in the press conference the Secretary-General is reported to have said that he is interested in going on a visit to North Korea and that he would be welcome. Do you know anything more about when that is likely to happen?
Spokesperson: No. It has not been scheduled yet. The Secretary-General did say that, but it has not been scheduled yet. Yes?
Question: And the second is, there were over 400 injuries last Saturday night, early Sunday morning in South Korea. The offices of some of the NGOs had been, the police had gone to them and taken computers and arrested people. There is a number of things happening that are human rights and democratic rights problems with regard to what the police are doing. Is there any comment that the Secretary-General has? Is there a way...
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have a comment.
Question: ...that he can encourage there to be due process rights and human rights going on in South Korea?
Spokesperson: Well, he is arriving there tomorrow. So, we will certainly have more about what he says there. But at this point we have no comment. Yes, Masood?
Question: In view of the Secretary-General emphasising about the food crisis and the fuel crisis, and he’s been asking all the G-8 Member States to do something about it, what specific or concrete proposals does the Secretary-General intend to take to the G-8 to tell them that this has to be addressed on an emergency basis, otherwise the world will be undermined by this crisis, especially the poor countries?
Spokesperson: Well, what he intends to do and say is already spelled out in the letter and we will keep you informed of what he says over there.
Question: And remember I had asked you a couple of times about this journalist who was attacked by Israeli authorities and who was tortured when they asked him about a scholarship and then finally... I mean, he was let go but after days of torture. You said you were collecting information on this and you’d have something for us later on.
Spokesperson: No, I didn’t promise I’d have something. I said I’d ask. We don’t have anything on that. It is, of course, a deplorable event. We certainly deplore the use of violence in cases like this, but we don’t have a specific reaction of the Secretary-General on that.
Question: Why not? Because, you know, once it...
Spokesperson: We do not... Masood, you do know that we do not intervene in every single case. We cannot possibly.
Question: I understand. But then there is this element, the perception starts building that there are double standards operating over here once...
Spokesperson: I think we just had two statements on violations on different sides. In this specific case we do not report or discuss every single event that takes place, Masood. It’s not possible. I mean it’s not humanly impossible. I know you would want us to say something about that specific incident. I will try to find out whether there was a reaction on the part of UNESCO on that because they usually are the ones dealing with freedom of the press issues. But I don’t have a reaction at this point and as I said, I don’t know whether we will have a reaction. Yes, Matthew?
Question: About the programme of work for this month for the Security Council, there is some discussion of a briefing on Myanmar on the political issues. I guess the issue came up of whether USG Gambari; is he now on leave to deal with the Nigerian issues? Or is he on standby? Is he currently working with the UN or on leave?
Spokesperson: I will try to find out for you. I know that he was dealing with the situation in the Niger Delta but I will ask whether he is going to be the one briefing on the situation in Myanmar.
Question: That would be great. Also, is it possible to know if the Secretary-General spoke with Prime Minister (Kevin) Rudd of Australia? He said that that they had a conversation...
Spokesperson: He did, yes.
Question: On the topic of Mr. Downer or what topic?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I can get a readout for you. But they spoke.
Question: Okay, great. And then inside the building there was apparently an incident on Friday in which the CMP contractor hit a pipe (inaudible). There was some gas release and the printing plant didn’t print the Journal for Monday. What is the outcome of that? I was told that there is a landfill leaking gas under the UN.
Spokesperson: That was the situation.
Question: What’s going to be done about that? And why didn’t we know about it?
Spokesperson: We were fully informed of that. The situation was under complete control by Monday morning. This is why we didn’t say anything new to you. You said it quite rightly; it was methane gas coming out of the landfill. This whole riverfront, as you know, was made of landfill.
Question: If it came up then, why isn’t it going to keep coming up? Is it continuing to come up? How do you...?
Spokesperson: There was no danger for anyone. That is why the incident was not mentioned. But we had a full briefing on what happened.
Question: (inaudible) some people who have read it...it’s not been capped. It’s continuing to come up but does not cause a danger in some way?
Question: They mistakenly believed that there was a danger on Friday?
Spokesperson: Yes, because they thought it was gas. It was not natural gas. It was, you know, maybe a leak. They contacted both the New York City Fire Department and ConEdison thinking that it was a gas leak in the basement, which was not the case. What happened was that they detected an odour, and the smell in the area of the UN printing shop forced them to close the area until they found out what it was.
Question: Is the smell still there or not?
Spokesperson: No, the smell is no longer there.
Question: Is there any development on the letter by Pakistan’s Government requesting an investigation into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?
Spokesperson: As I said before, this letter is still being discussed and considered and I don’t have anything new on it.
Question: Are the copies of the Brahimi report available because they weren’t available...?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m sorry Rhonda, but I heard your question the day before yesterday to Mr. Brahimi. As you know, the report is available on the Web. You are the one always saying, “Let’s use the Web a lot more.” We are not printing copies. We’re saving trees.
Question: But that’s the problem because we can’t necessarily print a hundred pages and it’s hard to read...
Spokesperson: Why can’t you?
Question: Because you don’t have that... people don’t have that access and capability.
Spokesperson: Well, that’s... I’m sorry, you know, it’s...
Question: So, in a report, I think that’s a serious problem if the UN is not making copies available.
Spokesperson: No, it is fully available on the Web.
Question: So, is this a general policy that...?
Spokesperson: It’s not a general policy. It’s...
Question: ...is not going to print and make available?
Spokesperson: Yes, it’s true of a number of large reports which are also only on the Web.
Question: This is 100 pages.
Spokesperson: Yes, you’re right. You’re right.
Question: This is a tremendously important report that people should get knowledge of.
Spokesperson: As you know, we have been reducing the number of printed material because we are trying to save trees and the environment.
Question: What is the political evaluation of what gets printed and what doesn’t? And if this is...
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think that it’s an issue really, Rhonda. You have access to it. All of you journalists have access to it.
Question: I guess I would like to ask that there be somebody to talk to us about this, if this is a policy.
Spokesperson: No, you will have no one to talk to you about this. The policy is we are reducing the number of publications, because so much of it is on the Web and available to all of you freely. Yes, Masood?
Question: Is the Secretary-General back on Monday or Tuesday?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General will be back on the 9th.
Question: Do you have any information that he will be meeting the Pakistan Foreign Minister, who is coming on Tuesday?
Spokesperson: I will check whether he will be back on time. Thank you very much.
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