Press Briefing


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

Good afternoon.

**Security Council

The Security Council began closed consultations shortly after 10 o'clock this morning by hearing a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, on the latest report of the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and recent developments there.

Today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Congo, Kamel Morjane, is in Lusaka to attend the scheduled summit aimed at restoring peace to that country.

The second item on the Council’s agenda this morning is the work of the panel created by Security Council resolution 1306 (2000) that explored the link between diamonds and violations of the arms embargo in Sierra Leone.

**Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations

Then this afternoon at 3 o'clock, the recently established Working Group of the Security Council on Peace Keeping Operations will meet for the first time.  Ambassador Curtis Ward, of Jamaica, chairs the working group, which was established by the Council last month following their public meeting on “strengthening cooperation with troop-contributing countries”.

Today’s meeting is an organizational session.  The group’s first substantive meeting is expected to take place next week, with a briefing by Jean Marie Guéhenno, the head of the peacekeeping department.


From Afghanistan, we have word that United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima traveled to Herat in western Afghanistan today where he visited camps for displaced Afghans.  The recent cold weather has claimed the lives of 150 people, mainly women and children.  Oshima witnessed new arrivals, which are expected to rise to 300 to 500 people per day once the snow melts in the mountain passes.  The conditions of those who remained behind are unknown, due to poor access in winter. 

Over a half a million Afghans have left their homes, last year and this, due to conflict and drought.  Most are internally displaced inside Afghanistan.

Oshima had meetings with members of the aid community and with the Governor of Herat.  During this last meeting, the two discussed the issue of the ban on poppy cultivation, the need for emergency assistance to help the displaced now, as well as medium-term help over the next 18 months to restore livelihoods.

Oshima is scheduled to hold a press conference tomorrow in Islamabad.

**El Salvador Quake

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Catherine Bertini, today made an urgent plea for funds for victims of the earthquakes in El Salvador, saying that the food aid agency had only enough food stocks in the country to feed 200,000 people for two weeks.  The WFP said it needs to help an extra 100,000 people left homeless in the wake of Tuesday’s quake.  You can see the WFP press release for more details.

The food programme also has a press release on a relief effort for more than 4 million Kenyans in need of food aid as severe drought conditions continue across large parts of that country.


After completing his visits to Guinea and Sierra Leone, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, is in Monrovia, Liberia today, where he met with Foreign Ministry officials and had scheduled discussions with President Charles Taylor.  Lubbers is in the region to try to find a humanitarian solution for tens of thousands of refugees in need of help in volatile areas where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet.


Yesterday I was asked about a team of United Nations experts that will travel to Iraq to examine ways to implement the cash component for the oil industry, as called for in the last roll-over resolution of the oil-for-food programme.

The Office of the Iraq Programme informed us today that the planned travel date for the mission has changed.  The six-member team, which had been scheduled to leave on the twentieth of this month, is now tentatively set to travel to Iraq on the twelfth of March.  The change is due, in part, to the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which falls on the fifth of March.

**Compensation Commission

The Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission met in special session today in Geneva to elect a new President and one of two Vice-Presidents.  The Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Sverre Berg Johansen, was elected President and the Designated Permanent Representative of Mauritius, Ambassador Jaynarain Meetoo was selected as Vice-President.  The Permanent Representative of Bangladesh

serves as the other Vice-President.  Norway also chairs the New York-based

661 Iraq Sanctions committee.


In budget news, Malaysia has become the forty-ninth Member State to be paid in full for its regular budget dues this year.  That’s with a payment of more than 2.3 million dollars.

**Treaty Signings

Treaty signings today:  this morning, Russia signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, becoming the seventy-seventh State to sign that Protocol.

**UNCA Briefing

A reminder that Kieran Prendergast will brief you this afternoon, on background, in the UNCA club at 4 p.m. today, and he’ll take your questions.

**Noon Guest Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Terje Roed Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Press Conferences tomorrow:  The Mission of Spain is sponsoring a press conference at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning by the Spanish non-governmental organization Paz y Cooperacion and the Airline Ambassadors International.  They will be launching an international youth art competition on the theme “International Year of Volunteers”.

And then at 12:30 or immediately after the noon briefing, whichever comes first, Ambassador Bagher Asadi of Iran, who is the current Chairman of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, will hold a press conference on the ongoing preparations for the High-level International Intergovernmental Event on Financing for Development.

That’s all I have for you.  Richard?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Prendergast briefing is not for cameras, it’s on background?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Any response from Pino Arlacchi to have him appear at 226 for journalists’ questions?

Spokesman:  He said that he would prefer to speak to you after he makes a trip to Bolivia in the next week or so, when he expects to have some news to break.

Question:  From the Vendrell/Annan meeting of this morning, was there any news regarding the Taliban that you can release:  political status, his talks with Washington?

Spokesman:  As I indicated yesterday, we’re waiting for something to develop and if it does, we’ll let you know.

Question:  Would that be more in line with the status of the individuals as opposed to the location of some type of office?

Spokesman:  I don’t want to get into the details now.  It’s, I think, a little too sensitive.  Yes, Nicole.

Question:  The Zambian President today announced that the United Nations Observer Force in the Congo would be deploying on February 26.  Can you confirm that?  Is that your understanding?

Spokesman:  I can’t right now.  I’ll have to check with the peacekeeping department and get back to you after the briefing.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General characterize his meeting with Mr. Powell any differently than what we got on paper?  I mean, meeting him for the first time here, how he felt being here.  You know, kind of a general, anecdotal kind of thing.

Spokesman:  No.  You heard him yesterday.  You might have sensed from the two of them as they stood together that they are very comfortable together.  The meeting yesterday was a very easy meeting, even though it was intense from a substantive point of view.  I think their current professional relationship is off to a good start.  Melinda?

Question:  Fred, do you have any further information regarding the upcoming talks with Iraq.  For example, has Baghdad submitted an agenda yet or has there been any further communication regarding those talks?

Spokesman:  They’ve submitted the list of their delegation.  To my knowledge, they haven’t given us anything on the agenda as the Secretary-General had asked in Doha, Qatar.  The dates are still the same, the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh of this month.  So there’s not much to update you on, at this time.

Question:  Is there a time for the first meeting?

Spokesman:  We don’t have that yet.  Nicole?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General submitted anything to the Iraqis?  At one point he said he would be coming to them with his thoughts on how the talks should go.

Spokesman:  I think he was waiting first to hear from them and then he would give them a paper, and to my knowledge no papers have exchanged hands.

Question:  What happens if no agenda is submitted?  Would the talks take place nonetheless?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I don’t think that was a precondition for the talks.  The Secretary-General accepted the idea of talks and suggested that it might be helpful if they put their ideas on paper as to what they wanted to accomplish at these talks.  The fact that they haven’t done that I don’t think is an impediment to the talks going forward.

Question:  These talks were asked for by the Baghdad Government?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Iraqi delegation met with the Secretary-General in the margins of the Organization of the Islamic Conference Summit in Doha, Qatar, and asked for the meeting.

Okay.  Thanks very much.

* *** *