Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

14 September 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

14 September 2009
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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Joining us shortly today as our guest will be Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, who will be here to brief you on political developments in advance of next week’s General Assembly busy week.

And I am told that the General Assembly Spokesperson for the sixty-fourth session will be joining us regularly starting tomorrow.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

I’ll start with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference meeting in Vienna today.  Sergio Duarte, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, read out a statement on the Secretary-General’s behalf, in which the Secretary-General hoped that the 25 non-nuclear-weapon States that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but which have not brought their comprehensive safeguards agreements into force will do so before the 2010 NPT Review Conference.  The General Conference also provides a useful opportunity to reaffirm international support for resuming the six-party talks aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the Secretary-General added.

The Secretary-General also thanked Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei for his many years of outstanding service to humanity and to international peace and security.  He extended his full support to the new Director General, Ambassador Yukiya Amano, as he prepares to confront the many challenges ahead.

**Security Council

The Security Council here has been holding an open meeting and consultations this morning on the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL).

In his briefing to the Council members, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for Sierra Leone, Michael Schulenberg, cautioned that, though Sierra Leone had embarked on a remarkable journey towards a stable, peaceful and democratic country, this journey would be bumpy, long and even at times dangerous.  What Sierra Leone needs to succeed is time, patience, determined national leadership and continued international support.

Also in the Council this morning, members held consultations on resolution 1874 (2009) regarding the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

** Yemen

And on Yemen, Rashid Khalikov, the Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is on the last day of a four-day fact-finding mission to Yemen.  He has been visiting areas where people displaced by the conflict in northern Yemen have settled.  On his arrival, Khalikov said that it is hard to have a comprehensive picture of the humanitarian situation because of the continued insecurity.

Earlier this month, a flash appeal for nearly $24 million for Yemen was launched, but it has not received any funding to date.  Khalikov expressed his concern about the lack of funding, saying we urgently need the international community’s support to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.  We have a press release with more details upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Gaza

And on Gaza, the underground water supplies, upon which 1.5 million Palestinians depend for agricultural and drinking water, are in danger of collapse, according a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The potential breakdown is a result of years of overuse and contamination, which have been exacerbated by the recent conflict, UNEP says.

The agency adds that, unless the trend is reversed now, the damage could take centuries to undo.  It also notes that, since the water supplies are linked to those of Egypt and Israel, those countries must be involved in any efforts to fix the situation.

As it stands now, pollution levels are such that infants in the Gaza Strip are at risk from nitrate poisoning.  And there is more on that upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council opened its twelfth regular session.  It started with a high-level segment, during which it heard statements from representatives of Sri Lanka, the United States and Thailand.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.

**Kenya-Somalia

Angelina Jolie, the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador, paid a visit this weekend to the world’s largest refugee site, the Daadab refugee camp, located on the Kenya-Somali border.  She described conditions in the camp as “one of the most dire” she had seen.

During her day-long visit among some of the 285,000 refugees, Jolie met a number of families, including a mother who had just arrived in the camp after walking for days with her three young children to flee war-torn Somalia.  After visiting a number of shelters, she observed that toilets were overflowing and that refugees were living amongst garbage because of a lack of space.

UNHCR recently began moving 12,000 refugees to the Kakuma camp in northern Kenya as an emergency measure for new arrivals.  There is more information in a UNHCR press release upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has started a major operation in Zimbabwe in support of small scale farmers, as part of FAO’s joint efforts with the European Union to fight hunger this year.

FAO has procured 26,000 tons of seeds and fertilizers for distribution to 176,000 vulnerable farmers -- representing between 10 to 15 per cent of communal farmers in the country.

FAO says that, with good seasonal rains, timely implementation and effective coordination, farmers’ production in Zimbabwe could more than double this season, compared to the previous year.  There is more in an FAO press release upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And finally, for press conferences tomorrow, in observance of the International Day of Democracy, Ambassador Anda Filip from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Steven Kull from World Public Opinion and Craig Mokhiber from the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will be here at 11 a.m. to present and discuss the findings of a World Public Opinion global survey on political tolerance.

Then tomorrow, in this series of guests we’re bringing to you in advance of the upcoming General Assembly week, our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Susanna Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.  And they’ll be here to talk about peacekeeping issues.

**Secretary-General Remarks

The Secretary-General this morning attended the book launch of UN Ideas That Changed the World published by the UN Intellectual History Project.

Those remarks are upstairs.  And then tonight the Secretary-General is scheduled to join in a prayer for peace and prosperity at the Holy Family Church, as tradition on the eve of the opening of a new General Assembly session each year, just before leaders from around the world join at the UN to discuss how to achieve these goals.

And in those remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to reiterate that while the United Nations is responding by helping countries meet the Millennium Development Goals, it cannot heal the wounds that families are suffering from economic hardship.  He will call on all religious groups to unite faith so they can strengthen ability to reach the UN’s life-saving goals and help shape the world.

And those remarks, of course, will be made available to you on an embargoed basis this afternoon.

And that’s what I have for you.  I am expecting Lynn Pascoe in just a few minutes.  So, I’ll take a few questions, but many of them I’m going to defer to him today.  So I’ll start in the back.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I think we were told last month that the Goldstone Commission on Gaza was due to report before the opening of the Human Rights Council, but I see no sign of the report so far.  Is there any reason for the delay?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is, I think we’ve always been reporting to you that the Human Rights Council is scheduled to discuss the report on the 29th of this month.  Any other questions?  Masood, and then Matthew.

Question:  Thanks.  I have two questions.  One is this question about the OIOS team that just visited Pakistan about the indifference to the United Nations Information Centre of over there on the charges of certain irregularities and corruption over there.  What has happened?  Is there any report on it?  Can we know about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that subject today, but we can certainly ask our UN Information Centre if that’s where you’re getting that information.

Question:  About this Gaza thing that you just mentioned earlier at the top of the briefing, where you were saying about the plight of the Palestinians, what if anything the Secretary-General can do to persuade the Israelis to, what you call, lift the blockade at least let the water, all the equipment into [inaudible]?   What has he done?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He is in constant touch, as you know, with the relevant partiers on this issue.  He has his political and humanitarian people on the ground in the region working on this issue.  I don’t think a day goes by without some kind of action on the part of the UN to try to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people who are in dire need of assistance in the region.  Matthew.

Question:  First a follow-up on Masood’s question.  In terms of getting a specific answer, the then Director of UNIC in Pakistan, Tetsuo Maximilien Ohno was charged with bringing two cars tax-free in, rather than one.  It’s said he was transferred to Lagos.  Can we find out if he was there with UNIC in Lagos and what, specifically, what the finding is about this import of cars tax-free?  I just want to make sure rather than saying, you know, that there is no [inaudible] investigation, is the individual.  And also the person who raised this was [inaudible]…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on that, but we’ll look into that for you.

Question:  I want to ask about Sri Lanka.  Can you confirm that the Secretary-General spoke with President Rajapaksa?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I am expecting Lynn Pascoe to come here shortly, and one of the subjects that he will discuss is Sri Lanka.  But just to the question factually, yes, the Secretary-General did speak with the President this morning.  But, as I said, I would like to leave any readout of that to Lynn Pascoe to give to you.

Question:  And I wanted to ask another question about…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Can we sort of move around some of the questions?  In the back.

Question:  Thank you.  Can you confirm whether the Secretary-General’s Office has purchased for him a new SL-class Mercedes V-12 engine, and if so, why would he choose to ride around in a car that is typically taxed by the federal Government for its poor gas mileage?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on that, we’ll have to look into that for you.  Yes?

[The reporter was later informed that United Nations Security confirmed that one new car has been leased (not purchased) as part of the standard effort to replace aging cars in the fleet.]

Question:  What’s the latest developments in southern Lebanon regarding attacks lately?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I had a statement for you on Friday, and beyond that, I don’t have anything further.

Question:  Lebanon has submitted something against Israel in the Security Council…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything, no.

Question:  Do you have any remarks from the Secretary-General regarding the Iranian proposals on non-proliferation and the [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything directly in response to the reported announcement that everybody has seen in the press this morning, but as you know, the Secretary-General has his views on Iran; his views on that matter are well known.  He has always encouraged Iran to enter into negotiations and to abide by Security Council resolutions and [to cooperate with] the IAEA on this issue.

Just before I take another two questions, I just wanted to flag to you a late note that here at UN Headquarters this morning, the Secretary-General did attend a book launch.  You probably all saw that -- UN Ideas That Changed the World -- published by the UN Intellectual History Project.

[See above for full announcement.]

I said I’d go back to Matthew and then we’ll come back to you.

Question:  Honduras’ Ambassador to the UN has been quoted that the UN is cancelling what would have been election aid for elections to be held in November.  Is that -- he said it’s going to be announced Monday -- is that something you’re aware of? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of anything like that.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you.  Are you aware of the Israeli demand to drop the possible indictment against Israel at ICC or at the Human Rights Council as a condition to freeze settlements?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not even… I’m not clear about what your question is, but no, I have not received anything like that.  If it’s an ICC-related question, though, you should probably follow up with the ICC.

Question:  [inaudible] clarify this?  Minister Lieberman said two days ago that Israel has a condition to drop any possible indictment on ICC as a condition to freeze the settlements.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I’m not aware of that, and the Secretary-General’s views on settlements are quite well known, as well.  So, if there is nothing for me, if you can just wait for a couple of minutes, Mr. Lynn Pascoe said he would be here at 12:20 p.m.  So if you want to walk out for a second and come back, it’s fine.  I’ll see you in a few minutes.

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