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

8 July 2008

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

8 July 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.

**Security Council

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro briefed the Security Council on Zimbabwe in an open meeting this morning, telling the Council that the Zimbabwe issue poses a challenge to the world.  When an election is conducted in an atmosphere of fear and violence, she said, its outcome cannot have a legitimacy that is based on the will of the people, and Zimbabwe’s flawed elections produced illegitimate results.  The Deputy Secretary-General said that it is clear that Zimbabwe will have to go through a political transition, and will also need a process of national healing and reconciliation that should include wide-ranging and participatory national consultations.  She noted that the creation of a Government of National Unity as a way forward enjoys broad support in the region, and added that the Secretary-General strongly supports the African Union’s recommendation for a mechanism on the ground to support the mediation efforts.  Migiro warned that those who perpetrate crimes must be held to account, and the United Nations stands ready to play its part in supporting such a process.

The Security Council continued its discussions on Zimbabwe in closed consultations, with Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios on hand to answer questions from Council members.  Speaking to reporters after her briefing, the Deputy Secretary-General also noted the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, including the shortages of food and other basic amenities.  She added that, in her discussions with African leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, recently, the role played by the Secretary-General through Menkerios has been appreciated, and the UN will see how it can continue to play a role in Zimbabwe.  As you know, she also spoke at the Security Council stakeout a little later, and we will have a transcript of her comments later in my office.

**Secretary-General in Japan

In Japan today, the Secretary-General talked to students at Hokkaido University in Sapporo about the world’s food challenge in the context of the triple crises involving food prices, fuel prices and climate change that are confronting the world today.  He said that the crises are having the greatest impact on the most vulnerable countries and vulnerable people, notably women and children, especially in Africa.  He asserted, “We must act now and together, responsibly, as one world community, for one shared humanity, to avoid a collapse of what food security the world enjoys today.  If we do not,” he warned, “we will pay an unacceptably high price.”

The Secretary-General also held bilateral meetings today with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who were also in Hokkaido for the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit.  The Secretary-General plans to attend the G-8 Major Economics’ Leaders Meeting on Climate Change and the G-8 Outreach Working Lunch at Toyako tomorrow, before leaving Sapporo for New York later that day.

**Food Crisis

The heads of the three Rome-based UN agencies today issued a joint call on G-8 leaders to help feed the world by taking the lead in promoting a “new green revolution” and significantly boosting development aid to the rural and agricultural sector.  In a statement, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP) called for a “twice-green” revolution that would double global food production by mid-century.  The agencies noted that an underlying cause of the current global food crisis was the dramatic decline in agricultural investment over the last three decades.  They said that, by reversing this trend, the current G-8 Summit could help strike a decisive blow in the fight against hunger and poverty.  There is more information upstairs in my office.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council President, Ambassador Le Luong Minh of Viet Nam, delivered a press statement on the Council’s behalf condemning in the strongest terms the terrorist suicide attack that took place at the Indian Embassy in Kabul earlier that day.  Council members underlined the need to bring the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of that act to justice.  And we had for you yesterday the statement by the Secretary-General.

** Chad

Today in N’Djamena, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad is starting a third round of training for some 200 Chadian gendarmes and police officers.  Once their training is completed, the law enforcement officers will join the Security Council-mandated force in protecting refugees and internally displaced persons in north-eastern Chad.  They will further be supervised by UN police under the administration of the UN Mission.  A total of 850 Chadian gendarmes and police officers will receive the UN-run training, which is expected to end in September.

**International Criminal Court

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court has suspended the Trial Chamber’s recent decision to release Congolese war crimes suspect Thomas Lubanga.  The decision came late yesterday following an appeal by the Prosecutor, and Lubanga will remain in the Court’s custody until a final Appeals Chamber ruling.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will simulate an accident at Mexico´s Laguna Verde nuclear power plant tomorrow to evaluate national and international preparedness for a possible nuclear or radiological emergency. Seventy-four IAEA member States and 10 international organizations will participate in the 48-hour drill.  As this will only be a virtual nuclear accident, the exercise will not pose any risk to the public or environment.  And you can have also on that more information upstairs.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has added 21 more sites to its World Heritage List.  Yesterday’s additions include a thousand-year-old temple in Cambodia, a monarch butterfly biosphere preserve in Mexico, the lagoons of New Caledonia, and a historic Alpine railway linking Switzerland and Italy.  The Committee also expanded the scope of two existing sites:  Spain’s Altamira Cave, to which 17 more caves with paintings from the Paleolithic era have been added; and the “frontiers of the Roman Empire”, which will now include a 60-kilometer wall fortification in the United Kingdom that was built in the second century A.D.  We have the full list upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim will provide an update on his activities, as Janos told you yesterday, as well as recent developments related to the work of the Assembly’s sixty-second session, and upcoming events.  And that’s all I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Did the Secretary-General receive a letter from the Iranian UN Ambassador on Monday to secure the release of four Iranians that he says are being kept in Israel?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that the Secretary-General received on 7 July a letter from the families of the four Iranian diplomats presumably kidnapped in Lebanon 26 years ago during the occupation of Lebanon by Israel.  In the letter, the families request that the Secretary-General follow up on the case.  So I can confirm that the letter was received and it was sent on the twenty-sixth anniversary of the diplomats’ disappearance.

Question:  And does he plan to respond?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.

Question:  And my other question is, it has been about two months since Cyclone Nargis arrived in Myanmar, and General Shwe has still not granted full access to the Ayeyarwady Delta for humanitarian aid workers.  What does the UN plan to do about that?

Spokesperson:  You can ask that question to Mr. [John] Holmes [Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs].  Mr. Holmes will be with you on Thursday to launch the [revised] appeal for Myanmar.  So you will be able to talk to him about the issue of Myanmar; his briefing that day will be on Myanmar.

Question:  A follow-up to the issue of the Iranians and the issue of exchange of prisoners between Hizbullah and Israel, and whether this is expected soon because it’s been reported already that they have signed the agreement with the mediation of the UN.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any precise information on that.  I know the UN is involved and I will let you know as soon as it is ready to go.

Question:  Is UNESCO launching an investigation into the Scottish capital of Edinburgh on its World Heritage status?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I think you should address that question to UNESCO.

Question:  Michèle, can you confirm that the Secretary-General will be back to meet with the Pakistani Foreign Minister who’s going to be here the day after tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so, because the Secretary-General is coming back on Wednesday, but late in the evening.

Question:  The meeting is set for Thursday.

Spokesperson:  I can check for you whether it’s in his schedule.  I don’t have Thursday’s schedule yet.

Question:  But he is coming back tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  Tomorrow in the evening, yes.

Question:  Michèle, people are saying that the Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, Mr. Mengesha, either has resigned or will be leaving his post.  Are you aware of that?

Spokesperson:  No, I’m not, but I can ask whether this is the case.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Yohannes Mengesha intends to leave the United Nations in September.  According to Mr. Mengesha, it is a personal decision.]

Question:  The construction work we’re seeing in the different hallways.  Can you explain that?  That’s not related to the overall construction, or maybe it is, but it’s about the fire and the safety and the Bloomberg crackdown.  Can you just put it into context, what’s going on?

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t call it a crackdown.  The UN has been trying to meet the expectations of the City of New York in terms of different things like fire protection and everything else, and this is what you’re seeing now.  This has nothing to do with the final Capital Master Plan.

Question:  How much does it cost to do all this, the non-Capital-Master-Plan-related work?  Do we know?

Spokesperson:  We can ask.  Of course, you can have the answer.  I’ll try to get it for you from the Department of Management.

Question:  Is the city satisfied, as far as you know, that this is the right move to satisfy its concerns about safety?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes.

Question:  On a related topic, are they supposed to be working weekends?  I noticed unique drilling sounds behind the stakeout audio, and I’m just curious whether it’s an emergency, the need to get this done, or how is that being planned?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check that out because I have no idea.  I saw them, like you did, and I heard them while the stakeout was taking place today, so I’ll try to inquire.  Most of the time, I do know they work on the weekends.  In my office they work on weekends.

Question:  On a different subject, in Afghanistan, I know there’s been repeated complaints by the Afghani Government about the US strikes against suspected terrorists which have led to the deaths of civilians.  I wonder if the United Nations, which has a lot of activity in Afghanistan, is in touch with the Americans over this issue, or generally speaking, what do you think of these repeated incidents?

Spokesperson:  I have to say, when you talk about the repeated incidents, the Secretary-General has repeatedly addressed the issue of civilian casualties.  I can give you the previous statements he has made specifically on this issue.

Correspondent:  But it’s still going on.

Spokesperson:  The UN can only protest that, can only ask that the civilian casualties be lessened.  The UN has no power over the situation.

Question:  Michèle, there was an incident yesterday when a wedding party was attacked and dozens of people were killed.  Is there any reaction?

Spokesperson:  You had a full reaction on one other incident in Afghanistan yesterday.  I don’t have a reaction on every incident that happens.

Question:  Isn’t it pretty significant that several wedding parties have been bombed so far by the US troops in Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  As I said, we have protested the number of civilian casualties, over and over again.

Question:  In the UN Journal, it says the Secretary-General is going to be presenting awards to winners of the UN-21 awards on Friday.  What is this award ceremony and is it open to the press?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s open to the press.  I can give you more information.  I have more information upstairs for you on this.

Question:  When you said before that the Iranian diplomats were kidnapped, is that based on the letter or is that based on a presumption by UN officials?

Spokesperson:  It was what was stated in the letter.  Okay, thank you all.

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