Press Briefing


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All cell phones are off? Okay.

**Noon Guest

The guest at the noon briefing will be Sharon Capeling-Alakija, the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers.  She'll talk to you about volunteerism and social development.

**Oshima in Afghanistan

The United Nations top humanitarian official, Under-Secretary-General Kenzo Oshima, is on the second of a three-day mission to Afghanistan to assess the rapidly deteriorating conditions for the people of that war-torn country.

Oshima, having spent Tuesday in Kabul, today proceeded to Faizabad.  There, as in Kabul, he emphasised the need to access the vulnerable people.  While appreciating international assistance, the authorities in Faizabad drew attention to the need for increased aid to the area.  Oshima also visited a camp for displaced persons in Faizabad housing some 10,000 people.

Tomorrow, Oshima will travel to Herat, where there are 80,000 displaced Afghans in six different camps.  Recently 150 displaced persons in these camps died of exposure during a brief spell of below-freezing temperatures.

**Statement on El Salvador

We have the following statement concerning the El Salvador earthquake:  “The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the second earthquake to strike El Salvador in a month's time.  He extends his condolences to the Government and to the families of the victims.

“The Secretary-General assures the Government of El Salvador of the commitment of the United Nations to assist in the relief and rehabilitation effort.  He urges donors to respond generously to the request for international assistance put forward by the Government yesterday. “

**El Salvador

We have a press release upstairs on that subject, issued late last night by the World Food Programme (WFP), on the situation.  According to information gathered by WFP, some towns have seen up to 70 per cent of their homes destroyed.  Following the January earthquake, WFP had set up a $10 million programme to assist some 200,000 people affected by that tremor.

For its part, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is assembling today in El Salvador a four member UN Disaster Assessment Coordination Team.  OCHA has also allocated an emergency grant of $30,000 for the purchase of

emergency relief supplies.  You can pick-up the OCHA situation report and the WFP press release in my office, for more information.

**Financing For Development

This morning in Conference Room 8, the Secretary-General opened the first meeting of his High-level Panel on Financing for Development, which is headed by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo.  He noted the need to secure international attention to development financing issues.

He told the panel, "We have to help developing countries organize themselves in a way that encourages investors, both domestic and foreign".  He added, "And we have to motivate the people and governments of industrialized countries, so that they are willing to devote more resources to debt relief and economic assistance, and to open their markets more fully to developing-country products".

We have the full text of the Secretary-General's remarks upstairs.

The panel, a list of whose members is also upstairs, is also seeing the Secretary-General for a luncheon today, and will be meeting members of the bureau of the Preparatory Committee dealing with next year's High-level Meeting on Financing for Development.  That will take place over dinner this evening.

The work of the panel, which is to present its recommendations to the Secretary-General, is independent from that of the Preparatory Committee, but, as the Secretary-General noted today, it should complement the inter-governmental process.


Terje Roed Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is in Brussels today where he met with senior European Union officials.

This is part of a series of meetings the Special Coordinator will be having in a number of European capitals in an effort to raise awareness and funds to assist the Palestinian Authority as it faces a major fiscal crisis.

During this tour, he is accompanied by representatives of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Norwegian Government, in their capacity as chair of the donor coordination body.

Larsen will also be travelling to Washington and we expect him to be in New York at Headquarters on Friday.  And of course, we've put in a request for him to talk to you.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding closed consultations this morning.  Kieran Prendergast, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, first briefed Council members on the high-level meeting between the United Nations and regional organizations.  You will recall that this meeting took place last week here at Headquarters and that Mr. Prendergast spoke with you about it last Wednesday afternoon.

The second item on the agenda of the consultations is Sierra Leone.  Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, is briefing the Council now on the situation in that country and he will probably go to the stake-out microphone outside the Council upon exiting the Council chamber.

**Sierra Leone-Humanitarian

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, met for a second consecutive day today with Sierra Leonean officials and refugees, explaining his proposal for humanitarian access in the region.

Lubbers said UNHCR is receiving indications that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) may be willing to consider UNHCR’s call for a humanitarian corridor, possibly a safe return route from Forecariah in south-western Guinea to the Kambia area of Sierra Leone.  Lubbers said he is enlisting the support of governments and other parties, such as the RUF rebel movement, who have influence in the region, to help UNHCR open a humanitarian passage or lifeline from the Parrot's Beak, north into central Guinea.


Today in Bridgetown, Barbados, the leaders of the Caribbean Community (known as CARICOM) launched a Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS.  Speaking in Bridgetown, Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) called the launching "a watershed moment", and urged additional resources to fight AIDS in the region.

According to UNAIDS, the Caribbean is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in terms of the impact of AIDS, with nine of the 12 countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the Americas located in the Caribbean basin.  We have a press release and fact sheets from UNAIDS with more information.

We also have upstairs the text of an article written for the International Herald Tribune by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), on the need for affordable AIDS drugs.  In it, she says, "Popular outrage, political will, market forces and the best science are enabling the pursuit of a fundamental principle of public health:  the supply of essential medicines on the basis of need rather than on the ability to pay".

**Distribution Plan

The Secretary-General yesterday approved the distribution plan for phase IX of the oil-for-food programme, as submitted by the Government of Iraq on

4 February.

As I mentioned to you yesterday, the plan foresees a budget of over

$5.55 billion for the humanitarian programme, divided among 12 sectors countrywide.

In transmitting the Secretary-General’s approval of the plan to the Government of Iraq, the Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme, Benon Sevan, reiterated the Secretary-General’s observation in an earlier report that “now that increased revenues are available for the implementation of the programme, the Government of Iraq is in a position to reduce current malnutrition levels and improve the health status of the Iraqi people”. 

The full texts of the Secretary-General’s letter of approval and that of

Mr. Sevan are available in my office and they'll come out later as official documents.

**IAEA note

On the racks today is a letter from the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, addressed to the President of the Security Council.

In it Baradei reports to the Council on the recent visit to Iraq of a four-person IAEA team which carried out a physical inventory of declared nuclear material which remains under IAEA seal in the country.

The team was able to verify that the material, which consists of low enriched, natural and depleted uranium remains under IAEA seal.  This inspection was conducted in accordance with the Safeguards Agreement of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

There will be a troop contributors’ meeting today at 4 p.m. to discuss the latest concept of operations for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The United Nations mission in Kosovo reports on the latest wave of violence in the province, primarily targeting Kosovo Serbs.  One Kosovar Serb man was killed and several others were injured.  For more details, see today’s briefing notes from Pristina.


We got two more payments today, payments in full for the regular budget for this year, from Botswana, with more than $93,000, and Trinidad and Tobago, with more than $155,000.  There are now 48 governments paid in full.

**Press Conference

Press conference this afternoon -- I mentioned this yesterday.  Portuguese Ambassador Antonio Monteiro and Ms. Shazia Rafi, the Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, will be joined by Hans Corell, the UN Legal Counsel, to talk to you about the Conference on the International Criminal Court Ratification in Lusophone Countries.  That’s at 3 this afternoon.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And at a press conference here tomorrow morning at 11, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will present the UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador and "Face to Face" Campaign Spokesperson for India, Miss Universe 2000, Lara Dutta.  And I know, Richard, you'll show up for that.

**UNCA Briefing

UNCA came to us and said they would like to have informal meetings with senior Secretariat officials in the UNCA Club, and we think that's a good idea.  So the first of these will take place tomorrow at 4 p.m. in the UNCA Club and it will feature Kieran Prendergast.  He'd prefer to speak to you on background, but he'll talk to you about some of the things that his department, the Department of Political Affairs, is dealing with.  And then he'll take your questions on any subject of interest to you.  So Kieran Prendergast, tomorrow at 4.

**Memorial Statement on William Epstein

Finally, Bill Epstein, the Canadian disarmament expert who was among the very first members of the United Nations Secretariat and who worked alongside Sir Brian Urquhart at the UN's first offices in Church House, London, in 1945 passed away last Friday.

Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, is reading the following statement on behalf of the Secretary-General at a memorial service going on right now at the Plaza Memorial Chapel in New York City.  It reads:

"I learned with great regret of the passing of Bill Epstein, a former staff member and a man who was well known to all seven Secretaries-General of the United Nations.  He was indisputably one of the world’s leading advocates of global nuclear disarmament, having devoted both his entire professional career and his long retirement to this noble cause.  He will perhaps best be remembered for his important contributions to the negotiation of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and for his long advocacy of a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the subject of his celebrated book, The Last Chance.  Though his long-standing goal remains to be achieved, his efforts will surely inspire others to carry on his work." 

That's all I have for you.  I see that Sharon has come in.  Why don't you come up and take a seat here and we'll get to you in just a minute.  Yes, Louis.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Is Bob Rubin attending this…

Spokesman: Yes, he is.  I saw him this morning in the room and his name is on the list of attendees. Yes, Richard?

Question: This is not about Miss Universe, though I would know if there was any background material or photos.  The Taliban government and what they have done to the United Nations today in Kabul -- what is the latest?  What's been closed, what's not been closed?

Spokesman: We did receive a memorandum from the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning, informing us that in case the representation of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in New York is closed, then the United Nations special mission’s office in Afghanistan, in Kabul, would be expected to close as soon as possible.  That was the wording of the memo.  We are in the process of examining this memo's contents. 

The personal representative of the Secretary-General was in Washington yesterday.  He discussed the issue of the Taliban representation to the UN in his talks with senior officials.  He is in touch with the Taliban and he says he is confident that a formula can be found that will enable the United Nations Secretariat to maintain its ongoing dialogue with the Taliban in New York.

Question: Is there a possibility that the Taliban are seeking space here in the UN?  Could some compromise be found regarding that at all?  Were they talking about it?

Spokesman: I haven't heard that idea mentioned.

Question: Do you think Mr. Vendrell was snubbed?  I mean it happened very quickly.  He goes to Washington to talk about it and the Taliban say they were told yesterday to close down.

Spokesman: He's talking with both the Taliban and the authorities in Washington.  He says he's confident that a formula will be found.  And I'm sure once it is, he'll announce it to you.  Yes, Mark?

Question: If the special mission office is closed in Kabul, can you give us an idea what that means.  Will it merely disrupt the UN's political work, or will it have a knock-on affect on the humanitarian work in Afghanistan, and how many people would have to leave?

Spokesman: I think the impact would only be on the political work.  I don't think it would have any impact on the humanitarian programmes there.  And I assume it would mean that, to carry on his political work, he [Mr. Vendrell] would have to travel into Afghanistan from Islamabad, Pakistan. 

But you can sense from what I said that something is developing.  We don't quite know what it's going to be.  When we do, we'll tell you.  He's confident that he'll be able to maintain contact with the Taliban here in New York.  And if that happens, it's assumed that he would be able to continue working as before, in Afghanistan.

Question: Is this an issue that the Secretary-General is likely to raise directly with the Secretary of State during their meeting today?

Spokesman: I can't say.  I don't know anything about the agenda.  We'll just have to see how that meeting plays out.  Yes, Bill.

Question: Citing an unnamed Western diplomatic source, the AFP reported today that a six-member UN technical team is going to leave for Iraq on

20 February for talks on how to manage 600 million euros allocated to rehabilitate Iraq's oil industry.  Can you give us official confirmation of those facts and answer any other questions about the details of that mission?

Spokesman: Yes, we did that last week.  I don't know what the need is for this great secrecy, but we announced that mission last week.  Yes, Serge.

Question: Will we have a read-out from the meeting between Secretary of State Powell and the Secretary-General?

Spokesman: The Secretary of State has agreed to come to the stake-out and, at your request, the Secretary-General will escort the Secretary of State down.  Together, they'll take one or two questions from you.  The Secretary-General will then go up to his next appointment and leave the Secretary of State at your mercy.

Question: You mentioned in prior briefings the two men are friendly with each other and have had contacts over the years.  Can you give us more on that and how they've come to know each other and where they've crossed paths?

Spokesman: I'm sorry, I should be able to give you some specifics on that, but at this point I don't have any.  I know they've met in the past, they've talked, I don't know how many times, I don't know where.  I know that in the

contact they've had since Colin Powell was named Secretary of State, they've seemed to have an easy, comfortable relationship.  But I can't give you the history of that relationship.  I'll see if I can find out any more for you.  But I have nothing at this time.

Question: Would there be any particular top issues that the UN wants to make a point about with the United States Secretary of State.

Spokesman: The Secretary of the State asked for the meeting, so we will politely listen to the issues that he wishes to raise with us.  The Secretary-General may have his own list, but I'm not privy to that and I can't therefore tell you what may be on his list.  Yes, Serge.

Question: There was a press report regarding HIV that there is an Indian pharmaceutical concern that was willing to sell the medicine at half price.  I wonder, since we have the conference in Barbados about that, if the UN knows anything about that or if any offer was made to the UN.

Spokesman: No, I don't think we have any position on that other than the Secretary-General's well-known position that pharmaceutical companies should take the lead in finding a way to make affordable drugs available to poor countries.  And he's been talking to pharmaceutical CEO's about this issue.  But underlying the issue, of course, is an issue of trade patents.  It's a WTO issue and I don't think we want to wade into that complexity, other than the Secretary-General's position of principle that I've just mentioned. 

Okay. Sharon Capeling-Alakija -- welcome to the briefing.

* *** *