12 April 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

** Iraq Statement

Good afternoon.  I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attack on the Iraqi parliament.

The Secretary-General deplores the bomb attack in the Iraqi parliament today, which has killed several Parliamentarians and left many more people wounded.  This attack targeted Iraq’s elected officials and attempted to undermine one of the country’s sovereign institutions.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims, the Government of Iraq and the Council of Representatives.  He once again urges all Iraqi leaders to come together in a spirit of unity in order to stem the violence and work towards a more peaceful and stable Iraq.

** Iraq

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned in the strongest terms today’s attacks in Baghdad on the Al-Sarrafiya bridge and at the Iraqi parliament, Qazi said that the bombings constituted attacks on the symbols of Iraq’s proud history and hope for its future.  They showed the need for enhanced dialogue and national reconciliation.  He called on the Iraqi authorities to apprehend the perpetrators of these criminal acts and bring them to justice.  We have Ashraf Qazi’s statement upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Press Encounter

The Secretary-General was asked by a reporter after his town hall meeting about the abduction, one month ago, of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza, and he said that he was deeply concerned.  The Secretary-General said that Johnston’s coverage of Palestinian issues has earned a great reputation worldwide, and he emphasized that freedom of coverage, as well as freedom of the press, should be protected as a matter of principle.  “I sincerely hope that those who are responsible for this abduction should release him unconditionally and immediately”, the Secretary-General said.

Asked about the ongoing dispute in Lebanon about the international tribunal, the Secretary-General said he was very much concerned by the lack of progress on this issue, and he reiterated his hope that the Lebanese Government will take the necessary constitutional procedures, and will work through dialogue and the promotion of national reconciliation.  He also discussed his hopes for progress on the deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur.  And we have a full transcript of his remarks upstairs.

**Town Hall Meeting

The press encounter, as mentioned, was right after he spoke to staff at UN Headquarters and duty stations around the world in a town hall meeting, telling them that he had been profoundly moved by the professionalism, commitment and hard work he has seen among UN staff during the past three months.  He told the staff that he has asked his senior managers to identify their priorities and goals in a measurable way, and that he is also working to strengthen the Management Performance Board.  Afterwards, the Secretary-General told reporters that the town hall meeting –- in response to a question -– was very useful and rewarding, and allowed him to learn there are certain concerns among staff, particularly on his proposals to promote mobility among staff members.  He said he would have closer dialogue with the staff.

**Security Council

And here at the United Nations today, the Security Council, at 3 p.m., will hold consultations on Sudan and Somalia and other matters.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations will provide an update on the meeting that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday, involving the United Nations, African Union and Sudanese officials, concerning the heavy support package for Darfur for the African Union force in Darfur.  Then, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tuliameni Kalomoh, will brief Council members on recent developments in Somalia.

** Lebanon

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is currently in the Middle East.  In a press conference in Beirut today, she said she had been shocked to see the destruction caused by the recent conflict in southern Lebanon and its considerable impact on children.

She also visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, where she noted the very high school drop-out rate.  Referring to that visit, she said it was crucial that children, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized ones, be encouraged to continue to go to school.  She also stressed that all parties should respect international humanitarian law with regard to the protection of children, and ensure that schools are zones of peace.  And there is a press release on her visit upstairs.

** Sudan

And on Sudan today, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that, due to a reduced demand for food aid, it will gradually shift its operations in southern Sudan from emergency war relief to longer-term recovery, after more than 20 years of delivering food aid to the region.  And there is a press release from WFP on that subject.

** Burundi

A delegation of the Peacebuilding Commission is currently on a four-day mission to Burundi.  The mission is led by Norway’s Permanent Representative, and its main goal is to discuss with the Government and other stakeholders how the Commission can best support national peacebuilding efforts, bring increased attention to ongoing peacebuilding efforts in Burundi and communicate the main principles and purposes of the Peacebuilding Commission to stakeholders on the ground.  And there is more information upstairs.

** Solomon Islands

Turning to the Solomon Islands, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that humanitarian activities are still being hampered by lack of access to, and communication with, tsunami-hit areas.  Nevertheless, UNICEF has managed to send tens of thousands of packets of oral rehydration salts to the western town of Gizo.  And UNICEF, together with the World Health Organisation, is planning a measles vaccination campaign for this coming Monday.  And there is a press release on that with more information.


And there is also a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on a new strain of wheat virus that can lay waste to entire fields and that is spreading from East Africa to Yemen.  And there is more information on that for you.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And just to give you heads-up, at 3:15, the Deputy Secretary-General will deliver an address to the General Assembly informally briefing on the rule of law.  The meeting is an informal one and is closed, but we will make the statement available after it is delivered.

**Press Briefings

And at 1 p.m. today, there will be a background briefing in this room, by a senior UN official on the Secretary-General’s report on system-wide coherence.  That report is scheduled to be presented by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on Monday.

At 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union Commissioner for External Relations.  Ms. Ferrero-Waldner will meet with the Secretary-General tomorrow morning and will be here after that meeting to take questions.

And that’s what I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Why is this meeting closed –- on the rule of law?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You should probably ask the General Assembly Spokesman, but there are many briefings in the General Assembly that are informal.  But frequently, we make the remarks available by senior officials.

Question:  The Iraqi insurgence has come this far.  Has the Secretary-General ordered some special security measures for the UN mission in Iraq?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I can’t comment on any security matters and movement of UN personnel, obviously, for security reasons.  But generally, the world security measures and conditions are evaluated around the clock, and I am sure that following this morning’s incident, there is especially close attention being paid to the situation in Baghdad.

Question:  In East Timor, Mr. Ramos-Horta has criticized the UN Mission for not having provided better security or not being more involved –- he asked the UN for answers.  Does the UN have any answers?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen any reports that had come directly from his to the UN on this matter.  And as far as… I think we have been reporting to you from the UN mission that the situation so far has been calm regarding the elections.

Question:  In Kosovo, there has been a poll showing that the acceptance of the UN is at an all-time low.  I don’t remember exact figures. Some 20-30 per cent of the population approved of what the UN is doing and everyone else thought that the UN was doing a terrible job.  What kind of response is the UN giving to these figures and these findings?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is –- and this is from the UN authorities in Kosovo, the UN Mission there –- they say this is the latest of the regular quarterly surveys done by the UNDP in Kosovo, and it is based on opinion polls among its population.  The UN Mission there has not been involved in this project, but we are told that UNMIK’s ratings have gone up and down in different quarters in the past.  The UN Mission, when we asked them, did not have an immediate comment on the latest movement, but there could be several factors impacting on the public’s perception, but I don’t know, I can’t speculate further.

Question:  But, movement or no movement, this is an ultimate figure here, and that is:  the UN is overwhelmingly unpopular in Kosovo.  What strategy, if any -– and this is not about how the poll was done and not a question about movement –- the question is, with the UN so unpopular, is the UN engaging in any kind of strategy to deal with this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the UN, from the start of its mission, has had a very proactive strategy in trying to reach out to the people of Kosovo.  Specifically on what it is doing in response to the latest poll, I will have to find out from them on the ground.

Question:  But if you are not wanted there, what are you doing there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Security Council has mandated the UN to be there, it does have the mandate to be there, and it will be there until the Security Council tells it that it does not have to be there anymore.

Question:  We know that there a few International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials in Iran.  Can you give us some information on how their progress is going?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check with the IAEA on that.  I don’t have anything directly from them today.

Question:  I am sorry if I missed that -- what is the reason for the Secretary-General meeting with former President Clinton?  And whether he is considering engaging him in any new job or something?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the latter, I don’t know.  I will give you a readout of the meeting after it happens.  My understanding is that President Clinton asked for the meeting.  And as you know, Mr. Clinton played an instrumental role in the tsunami recovery efforts for the United Nations.

Question:  Just one more on East Timor.  Ramos Horta is saying: “I asked the UN for an explanation.”  So I am wondering if there is one.  Are you saying, unless he writes a letter…

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have just not seen anything.  So I will follow up and if there is anything, we will get back to you, as we always do, with your questions.

[Following the briefing, responding to a question about complaints from Jose Ramos Horta, one of the presidential candidates for Timor-Leste, the Deputy Spokesperson said that some candidates had submitted complaints through the channels provided for by the law; they were being dealt with in accordance with the procedures.  Others, while maintaining that there had been flaws, had announced that they would not submit formal challenges.]

Question:  It was announced that the UN’s representative in Gambia, who is a UNDP representative, was thrown out for having challenged the President’s claim that he could cure AIDS with no medicine, but in some other way… He was expelled from the country, and now UNDP has replaced him with another person, who presumably won’t criticize.  Can you explain why –- who made the decision in the UN system to -– unlike Jan Pronk, whom Kofi Annan stood behind to the end of his term –- to actually replace someone who was expelled for having criticized…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You really need to address this to UNDP.  It was a UNDP representative, and it was the UNDP who I think…

Question:  But he was also a UN representative.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I understand, but I think this person came back to the UNDP for consultations.  We would really have to ask the UNDP.

Question:  The Secretary-General had no role in…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d have to check with UNDP.

If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record