|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 Doha Trade Talks
Yesterday, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the conclusion of the Doha Trade Talks yesterday afternoon.
The Secretary-General is disappointed to hear that the tremendous efforts made by key players to conclude the seven-year long Doha Round this year have not yielded the desired outcome. Success was particularly important at this juncture when the world faces major development challenges that include the food, fuel and financial crises, climate change, weak progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and the fight against poverty, and growing protectionist sentiments amid concern over global recession.
The Secretary-General spoke today to Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization, on this issue. Looking forward, the two leaders stressed the need to ensure that the break in negotiations would not be long. They hoped that by regrouping forces, the Doha negotiations could be revitalized before the end of the year.
The Secretary-General is convinced that a successful conclusion to the talks was needed to energize international cooperation towards ameliorating conditions for developing countries to derive gains from trade and investment-led globalization. We have the full statement upstairs.
**World Trade Organization
Meanwhile, in Geneva, World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy yesterday urged ministers at the Trade Negotiations Committee to agree together not to lose the potential benefits of what was almost agreed, even if it takes longer then originally hoped.
The progress made in agriculture, non-agricultural market access and other subjects should be preserved, Mr. Lamy said. He called upon all ministers to reaffirm the commitment to the multilateral trading system and reflect on the next steps as the dust settles. There is a World Trade Organization news item upstairs.
The Security Council is scheduled to meet at 3 this afternoon to vote on a resolution extending the mandate of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID. That Mission’s current mandate expires tonight.
Today is the last day of the Vietnamese presidency of the Security Council.
Tomorrow, Belgium will take over the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of August.
UNAMID, meanwhile, reports that the security situation in its area of operations has remained relatively calm. The Mission is conducting its routine patrols and escorts in all its locations.
The Mission has scheduled a team today to visit the Kalma Camp for internally displaced persons in South Darfur. On Monday, Sudan’s National Intelligence Service Security carried out a search in the Kalma Camp, confiscated some arms and ammunition, and apprehended a number of suspects who were taken to Nyala. Afterward, some of the displaced persons at the camp said that the security officers also confiscated their personal belongings.
As of midnight tonight, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) will have ceased operations. In its last formal press release, issued yesterday afternoon, the Mission said that it will remove its equipment and other assets from the Ethiopian side starting today. Troops and equipment have already left Eritrea, as military operations ended there in February 2008 following Eritrea’s refusal to supply the Mission with fuel.
For more than seven years, troops and civilian staff from some 46 countries served in the Mission. As of now, just over 700 people remained employed by the Mission, including 320 troops and 130 civilian staff in Ethiopia and another 250 civilian staff in Eritrea. There is more in a press release upstairs.
On the instructions of the Secretary-General, a fact-finding mission led by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) is currently in the Horn of Africa to assess the political, security and humanitarian situation along the frontier between Djibouti and Eritrea, in light of the recent tensions there.
DPA is joined on the mission by representatives of the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The group convened yesterday in Addis Ababa, where it will meet with the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and other partners.
While in Djibouti, it will hold meetings with civilian and military authorities and conduct a field visit to the border area to collect information about recent incidents. The mission is expected to complete its work on 6 August, and will submit a report to the Secretary-General upon its return.
The Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team dispatched by the Secretary-General completed a two-week mission to Lebanon yesterday.
During its visit, the four-member team met with a number of Lebanese officials and conducted several field visits along the country’s northern and eastern borders. The team had been sent to assess progress made in enhancing border management and security, as stipulated in UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).
The team will include its findings and recommendations in a report that it will submit to the Secretary-General soon.
UNAIDS chief Peter Piot was in Washington, D.C., yesterday to witness President George W. Bush’s signing of the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through 2013. The legislation authorizes $48 billion for the Plan.
In a statement, which we have upstairs, Piot called the signing a “historic event”, adding that the generosity of the US Government has enabled all of us to make a qualitative and quantum leap forward.
UNAIDS officials report that, as they understand it, the new law has lifted HIV as a criterion for denying visitors entry into the US. And they look forward to quick regulatory implementation of the law by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Meanwhile, in connection with the seventeenth International AIDS Conference, which the Secretary-General will help open on Sunday in Mexico City, UNITAID -- an international financing facility committed to the scale-up of treatment and care for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis -- along with UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), today announced an infusion of $50 million aimed at halting mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
For its part, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will be hosting a “workplace advice centre” in the networking zone of the Conference’s Global Village, which will offer advice and materials on how to draft HIV/AIDS policies and carry out effective prevention at the workplace. The centre will be supported by UN Plus, the support group for HIV-positive UN staff. And the Secretary-General will also be visiting the Global Village when he is in Mexico City early next week. We have more on that upstairs.
And on malaria, Ray Chambers, the UN Special Envoy for Malaria, today applauded the passage by the US Congress and the President of legislation that increases the US Government’s commitment to fighting malaria more than four-fold from present levels, to $5 billion from 2009 to 2013. The legislation, he said, ensures that we are on track to meet the Secretary-General’s goal of universal coverage of life-saving prevention and treatment in Africa by 31 December 2010.
** West Africa
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released its latest report on West Africa. It notes that the region is experiencing renewed flooding caused by heavy rains. The situation threatens to compromise regional food security, which is already weakened by rising food prices. More than 50,000 people have already been affected by flooding in seven West African countries. In Mauritania, for example, some 4,600 people have been displaced by the rising waters of the Senegal River. Another 10,000 in Togo were displaced by flooding, and several bridges were made unusable, disrupting trade links between Togo and Burkina Faso. In Mali, six people died in the floods.
On Somalia, UNICEF’s Representative to Somalia is deploring the escalating violence affecting children in the southern and central parts of the country.
In a statement, Christian Balslev-Olesen said that, in just the past year, the UN has received reports of more than 150 children killed or injured through indiscriminate shelling, bombings and crossfire. Last week, seven children died in battles between anti-Government elements and Ethiopian troops; five were fleeing from school and two were playing football on a public field.
Balslev-Olesen also expressed concern about the recruitment of children in the ongoing conflict. We have copies of the statement upstairs.
** China -- Olympics
Counting down to the 2008 Summer Games, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Beijing Olympic Committee and the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau today launched a new method to help achieve China’s goal of a “green” Olympics.
Through the financial support of the Global Environment Facility, UNDP is providing four electric buses to be used as the official transport fleet for athletes between the Olympic Village and the Olympic sports venues. They’ll form part of an overall fleet of 50 electric buses being used by the local government.
Responding to a recent cold wave in the highlands of Peru, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has provided poor farmers with medicine and vitamins to save some 18,000 alpacas.
FAO distributed anti-parasitic medicines, antibiotics and vitamins to smallholders who have no source of income other than raising alpacas and sheep. There is more information on that upstairs.
**World Intellectual Property Organization
On the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the new 2008 World Patent Report shows a worldwide growth in the filling of patent applications and confirms increasing internationalization of innovative activity.
According to WIPO, the overall growth has been driven by a major increase in innovative activity in China, the Republic of Korea and the United States.
This reflects a consolidation of earlier trends, which demonstrate a marked shift in innovation hubs around the world. We have a press release with more details upstairs from WIPO.
And tomorrow marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week. We have upstairs a press release from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is embargoed until 7 p.m. tonight New York time. And this is all I have for you, thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: (In French)
Spokesperson: (In French) I am sorry, this was about the “UN Cool” initiative. I know you are protesting, Masood, because I am speaking in French. I’ll say it in English…
Correspondent: No, I am not protesting…
Spokesperson: You have something else? Yes, Masood?
Question: I am protesting. The Israeli Foreign Minister was here today and she spoke in Hebrew. And she took a very long question in Hebrew and she answered in Hebrew. No effort was made to translate it for us. Number one, the six accepted languages of the United Nations are French, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and English. Number one, she was speaking from the UN forum in Hebrew. No effort is being made to translate it for us. That’s outrageous, number one. That’s a Member State and they know better what to do. In the sense that, if I was to make a case, India has 1.2 billion people; 1.2 billion people speak Hindi. So why can’t we have somebody come and speak in Hindi? We will protest about it. So that is very, very important. Some translation should have been made. The Middle East is a very important region. It looks like an election campaign was going on over there. I am really, really… besides, she gives such a long reply, no effort to make a translation, other people standing there not even allowed to ask questions. So we lodge a protest about this and it should be carried to the Israeli diplomatic mission.
Spokesperson: Well, I think you should address that complaint to the mission itself.
Question: My other question is, has the Secretary-General made any decision about an inquiry commission chairman for Benazir Bhutto’s investigation as yet?
Spokesperson: Not yet. As I said earlier, no new progress that I can announce, and they are still working on it.
Question: Michèle, regarding the same issue, what did Mr. Ban Ki-moon discuss with Ms. Livni, specifically?
Spokesperson: They discussed the Middle East peace process, including Lebanon. They discussed operational issues for humanitarian aid to be deployed to Gaza and the West Bank. And they discussed the situation of students who are unable to exit Gaza. And they also discussed the Annapolis process.
Question: (inaudible) settlement; especially that they are razing down many houses in East Jerusalem?
Spokesperson: The issue of settlements was discussed yesterday with Mr. [Ehud] Barak, from what I gather. But I will try to find out whether the issue of settlements was discussed again also with Ms. Livni.
Question: We would like to know the point of view of Mr. Ban on this issue. I mean, what did he convey to them?
Spokesperson: Mr. Ban’s position about settlements has been very clear. Settlements go against all the efforts being made towards a settlement in the Middle East.
Question: Did he make that clear to them today? I mean stronger…?
Spokesperson: Always he has. I don’t know about the conversation today. But I can tell you that he has over and over again spoken about settlements.
Question: (inaudible) progress with regard to withdrawal from, to implementation of 1701; stopping the overflights over Lebanon, which are becoming really very intensive these days? Did he (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: On the violations of air rights? I can also ask whether that issue was raised. What I just gave you is what I have in terms of what they discussed.
[The Spokesperson later added that the topic of Israeli overflights in Lebanon did come up during today’s meeting between the Secretary-General and Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.]
Question: Michèle, this is a technical question. There was an important interactive panel entitled “Fortress or sand castle? Human rights in the age of counter-terrorism” in Conference Room 2 yesterday afternoon. But there is no available record of that. There are no, you know, summaries, no lists of the identities of the speakers and of the very important arguments which were raised in the panel. Is there any place where I can get some sort of record…?
Spokesperson: I’ll check for you whether it was a closed meeting or not.
Correspondent: Oh, it wasn’t.
Spokesperson: It was an open meeting?
Spokesperson: I’ll check for you why we don’t have any readout of it or any press release on it. Yes, George?
Question: Several housekeeping news. Do I assume correctly that [ Belgium’s] Ambassador [Jan] Grauls’ programme of work briefing will be after the daily briefing on Monday? And when might we be getting, you know, an introductory press conference from Monsieur Le Roy? And what is the status, or what is the chance of an appointment of the Under-Secretary-General of OLA in the near future?
Spokesperson: OK, your last question, OLA, we don’t have. Interviews are being conducted. No choice has been made yet on the person to replace Mr. Michel. In terms of Mr. Le Roy, let’s wait for him to be here so we can address the question to him.
Question: Do you have any idea yet when Monsieur Le Roy is going to come?
Spokesperson: I know that he is going to come during the month of August, but I don’t have a specific date. As for the Monday schedule, I don’t have it yet.
Question: On the collapse of the Doha Round of negotiations, does Ban Ki-moon have any explanations why it failed and who is responsible for not reaching an agreement, the developing countries or the developed countries?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General cannot second guess the Member States who actually participated in the Doha Round of talks. What he did offer was the statement that he issued yesterday, and you have a full copy of that upstairs. That’s all I can say about it. And he is concerned, very much, very much so. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I have a couple of questions. One is, it is reported that UNMIK is going to stop producing passports for (inaudible) in Kosovo. Is that the case, and if so, what’s going to happen with Kosovars who travel to countries where the Kosovo passport is not accepted? I guess they are not stateless, but how will the UN describe them and why are they stopping producing the passports?
Spokesperson: We asked that question this morning. As of 30 July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kosovo started to issue the passport, as you noted, with the “ Republic of Kosovo” name and logo. And on 29 July 2008, the stock of blank UNMIK travel documents ran out. I have to say that the entities responsible for producing and distributing UNMIK travel documents are under the authority of Kosovo institutions. These entities have retooled the hardware and software used in the production of UNMIK travel documents to the specifications of the Kosovo passport. So no facility will exist to produce UNMIK travel documents at this point. So now it is de facto impossible for UNMIK to continue issuing UNMIK travel documents. However, the travel documents that were issued before will still be, of course, valid until they expire.
Question: I didn’t know that explanation and thanks for it. It is reported actually that the Kosovo passports will be printed by a German firm, Giesecke & Devrient -- that they are not printed in Kosovo, they are printed in Germany.
Spokesperson: As far as I know, they are printed in Kosovo. This is what I have been told by UNMIK.
Question: Is this an appropriate way to treat Kosovars who may want to travel to countries where the new passport is not going to be accepted? Are they expected to no longer travel as they could in the past?
Spokesperson: We are still in a transition right now and we’re going to have to see how it works on the ground. It is very difficult to predict what type of situation will arise from that situation. But it is a de facto situation and UNMIK cannot produce all the travel documents, because they no longer have the infrastructure, in terms of technical capacities, that they had before.
Question: Don’t they produce in the Occupied Palestinian Territory? Aren’t there some…?
Spokesperson: In the Occupied Palestinian Territory you have a Palestinian passport.
Question: So there is no other place on earth that the UN has been producing travel documents…?
Spokesperson: I can check that for you, but I don’t know of any.
Question: Thanks a lot. The other thing is, I know there was little, some statement put out. There was a report put out late yesterday by the Save Darfur Coalition about the helicopters. And it listed countries that it said they believed have the capability; Italy, Romania, Ukraine, Spain, Czech Republic and India. So I just wanted to be sure whether you’d say these are… Are all of these countries ones that the UN has asked for and what has been the response?
Spokesperson: The UN has systematically, and the Secretary-General in particular, has systematically asked Member States to provide the missing aviation assets to UNAMID. As you know, and I have said it over and over again, it has been a systematic effort by the Secretary-General. It has not, so far, given any results. And the report that Crisis Action has put out really strongly encourages capable countries to make available transport helicopters to UNAMID. I am not going to comment on specific countries. All I can say is that the effort really reached quite a few people and it is essential, as you know, that we redouble our efforts to equip UNAMID with helicopters and the necessary capabilities. So of course this effort goes in the same direction as ours. Certainly, it is a positive development.
Question: And I have one more question. I don’t know if it’s housekeeping or not. I had asked and I just sort of want to know whether when the Secretary-General visited Myanmar -- with his very tense visit after the cyclone -- was this issue of the currency exchange rate losses, was it raised to him? Did he become aware of it? And if so, what did he do upon learning about it?
Spokesperson: He was not aware of it when he was in Myanmar, that I can assure you. The issue became really a problem later on when the humanitarian assistance started coming in and, of course, you heard OCHA about the situation. The Secretary-General was not aware of it when he went to Myanmar.
Question: There seemed to be a willingness to see whether these types of currency laws are occurring in any other countries in which the UN has big presence… of changing money. Is there any kind of update? Because I asked UNDP and they said OCHA is doing it? But OCHA is not either in all countries, I mean there are some more centralized… I mean is the UN looking at this issue? Is there anything you can say about…?
Spokesperson: I can try to find out for you whether OCHA has had any problems elsewhere. But you can address your question to OCHA, Matthew.
Question: I guess it became clear to me that maybe OCHA can do it for the countries where they have capital appeal, you know, central appeal and stuff like that, but that doesn’t necessarily cover DPKO. For example, they have big missions in countries and exchange quite a few currencies. So I guess I am asking, maybe it’s a formal question, are there other countries in which the UN is aware and at the Secretariat level…?
Spokesperson: I don’t think you will find that information centralized anywhere. You’d have to go to the different agencies, and I encourage you to go and ask the question directly to OCHA and DPKO. Yes, George?
Question: To get back to this passport question again. If the UNMIK office, UNMIK headquarters in Pristina, is going to act as, for want of a better phrase, the midwife to the Kosovo passport office, would it be in order, perhaps, that UNMIK establish and maintain a list of countries accepting said passports and try to invent some solution to what happens if people have to go somewhere where their passport is not accepted?
Spokesperson: Well, UNMIK -- I have said it over and over again -- remains status-neutral. At this point, in this particular case, UNMIK has had to adjust to the reality on the ground after the Constitution went into effect. I am sure they will try to find out how this affects people on the ground. And I am sure they will try to find solutions as problems develop. You have to realize that this a decision taken that has started being put into effect just yesterday and today. So, I don’t have an answer for you. Yes, Masood?
Question: Maybe you discussed this yesterday, this issue of air conditioning and heating. Did you discuss it yesterday in the briefing?
Spokesperson: The air conditioning and heating was discussed with the Capital Master Plan and climate change advisers when they were here with you in Room 226 yesterday morning. And you have a summary of that press briefing.
Spokesperson: Yes, it will be warmer in here. It will be warmer all over the building starting tomorrow.
Question: Is the Secretary-General going to take off his tie also?
Spokesperson: Yes, he is.
Correspondent: Oh, good. That’s nice.
Question: And wear traditional dress from South Korea?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know. The traditional dress is for those who live in tropical countries and have tropical attire.
Question: That’s good. Even Mr. Ban, right?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know yet what Mr. Ban is going to wear. You’ll see that tomorrow.
Question: Okay. How about you? Are you going to wear the national attire from Haiti?
Spokesperson: Actually, we wear summer clothes, just regular summer clothes.
Question: Something typically from Haiti?
Spokesperson: The only national costume we have dates back to the colonial times when we took our independence. And we don’t wear it on a daily basis. Yes?
Question: (Inaudible) Will the EEBC also be ending its involvement in Ethiopia and Eritrea?
Spokesperson: I will check for you whether we’re stopping all types of operations.
* *** *