DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Juan-Carlos Brandt, Senior Associate Spokesman for the Secretary- General, welcomed the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, to today's noon briefing. Ms. Bellamy would brief correspondents on her recent trip to Afghanistan. (The briefing is issued separately.)
Mr. Brandt also welcomed members of the Freedom Forum's journalists-in- residence programme. The 12 representatives of the Forum were from Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The Department of Public Information (DPI) had today prepared a programme for the journalists that had so far included a guided tour and meetings with some Headquarters staff. Members of the Forum would also be shown the elements of the United Nations home page. After lunch, they would meet with different desk officers in the Department of Political Affairs.
Mr. Brandt said the Security Council was meeting this morning to take up three items: Sierra Leone, Angola and Afghanistan. Concerning Sierra Leone, the Council had before it the fourth report of the Secretary-General on the situation in that country. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi, had briefed the Council on the latest situation there.
The Council had then reviewed the sanctions on Sierra Leone, Mr. Brandt said. In that connection, the Government of Sierra Leone had written to the Security Council, requesting it not to lift either the arms embargo on the country or travel restrictions on the junta leaders, as fighting was still continuing in some parts of the country and most of the junta leaders, including the leader of the group, Johnny Paul, were still in the country. That letter was available on the racks. Mr. Annabi was also scheduled to brief the Council on the latest situation in Angola, he continued. The Council would then take up Afghanistan to discuss a draft presidential statement, which had been pending since last week.
The Secretary-General had named Oluyemi Adeniji (Nigeria) as his Special Representative to lead the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA), the Senior Associate Spokesman said. Mr. Adeniji would take up his post in the Central African Republic some time before 15 April. A biographical note would be available later in the day. (See Press Release SG/A/678-AFR/49-BIO/3151.) The letters exchanged between the Secretary- General and the Security Council on Mr. Adeniji's appointment were on the racks.
Mr. Brandt said that Panama had paid its 1998 dues of just over $168,000 to the regular budget. That country had been the fifty-third Member State to
join the Honour Roll this year. Last year at this time, only 49 countries had paid in full. "Thank you Panama", he added.
The Secretary-General was in Jamaica, Mr. Brandt told correspondents. At 4:30 p.m., he would speak at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, where he would also receive an honorary degree. In that speech he was expected to welcome the fact that Jamaica paid its United Nations dues on time and in full, and would note that Jamaica was currently one of only eight countries whose permanent representative to the Organization was a woman.
The Secretary-General would also note that some treaties were more popular than others, Mr. Brandt continued. For example, the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families, which was adopted in 1990, had not entered into force. Twenty ratifications were needed, but to date only nine States had become party to the agreement. He would compare that to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nearly all States had ratified that Convention, which had entered into force within a year of adoption.
Mr. Brandt said that the Secretary-General would also stress that without education, "we cannot see beyond ourselves and our narrow surroundings to the reality of global interdependence. Without education, we cannot realize how peoples of other races and religions share the same dreams, the same hopes. Without education, we cannot recognize the universality of human aims and aspirations." The Secretary-General would also say that education not only enriched a culture -- it was the first condition for freedom, democracy and sustainable development. Copies of the speech were available in the Spokesman's Office, and it would come out as a press release with an embargo of 4.30 p.m. EDT today. (See Press Release SG/SM/6516.)
Last Saturday, 4 April, the Secretary-General had concluded his visit to the United Kingdom by meeting with the Prime Minister of China, Zhu Rongji, who had been in London for the second Asian-European Meeting, Mr. Brandt said. China's new Foreign Minister, Tang Jiaxuan, had also been present. They had discussed the current Asian economic crisis and the current London Meeting. The Secretary-General had thanked the Prime Minister for China's decision not to devalue its currency and thereby contribute to regional stability. The Prime Minister had also congratulated the Secretary-General on his successful mission to Iraq. With that meeting, Mr. Brandt added, the Secretary-General had ended a three-week visit to Geneva, the Middle East, Moscow, Beijing and London.
On Friday, 3 April, the Secretary-General and his wife had toured the United Nations Landmines exhibit at the Imperial War Museum, Mr. Brandt continued. The Director of the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom, Malcolm Harper, had presented the Secretary-General with a cheque for
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10,000 pounds for the Organization's landmine activities. That donation had been collected from the Association's membership and the general public.
Mr. Brandt said the Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Frechette, had a number of activities. The schedule was available in the Spokesman's Office. Included in those activities was a meeting with the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Zurab Zhvania, and at his request, a meeting with the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Andre M. Kapanga. She would also meet with the Permanent Representative of Ireland, John H.F. Campbell; the Representative of the European Community, Luigi Boselli; and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan, Yukio Takasu.
The Executive Director of the Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi, had this weekend visited Iran and had taken a trip to that country's borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Brandt said. In Tehran, Mr. Arlacchi met with the country's President, Mohammad Khatami; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kamal Kharrazi; the Deputy Minister of the Interior, as well as the Governors of Zahedin and Mashhad.
As a result of his meetings and his visit to the border areas, Mr. Arlacchi had concluded that Iran had made a serious commitment to drug control, Mr. Brandt continued. Its Government had fully supported initiatives of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) in Afghanistan and had requested the Organization to step up its programmes of alternative development by supporting alternatives to poppy growers in Afghanistan. The Government and the Executive Director had agreed to prepare a comprehensive plan based on Iran's anti-narcotics experience over the past decade. That would include prospects for the Programme to establish its presence in Iran.
The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Catherine Bertini, would travel to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea this week to meet with officials and assess emergency food operations, Mr. Brandt said. During her visit, Ms. Bertini would see nurseries, kindergartens and hospitals where the WFP distributed food assistance. She would also inspect a food-for-work project.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea had warned last month of an impending grain shortage which had confirmed the findings of a joint assessment mission by the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the country would be unable to feed itself this year, Mr. Brandt said. The country was in urgent and dire need of international assistance. The WFP had appealed to the donor community to provide more than 650,000 tons of food for the people there. A WFP press release was available in room 378.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) press release on World Health Day, to be commemorated tomorrow, the Organization would highlight the
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scandal of 600,0000 maternal deaths that took place every year, Mr. Brandt told correspondents. In addition, the WHO had said in the press release that each year over 50 million more women had suffered from complications during pregnancy or delivery, many of which had lead to long-term debilitating health problems. The WHO press release was also available in room 378.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Prakash Shah, had given his first press conference in Baghdad today. He had noted that the visits to the presidential sites had gone well, and that there had been a remarkable degree of understanding, cooperation and flexibility shown by all sides. The upcoming report of the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) would give more details on the visits. Mr. Brandt reminded correspondents that the report was due on 11 April. The transcript of Mr. Shah's press conference was available in the Spokesman's Office.
The transcript of the briefing by the Spokesman of the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq in Baghdad last Thursday, 2 April, was also available in the Spokesman's Office. That day had marked the first anniversary of the distribution of humanitarian supplies in central and southern Iraq. By now, approximately 5 million tons of assorted food commodities had arrived in that country. Helicopter spare parts necessary for the aerial spraying campaign in central and southern Iraq were also about to be delivered. There was an update on the special flights authorized up to now for the delivery of humanitarian supplies.
In response to questions raised at last Friday's briefing regarding some photographs in the DPI display case, it could be confirmed that Syria had contacted DPI about the photos concerning the Secretary-General's trip to the Middle East, Mr. Brandt said. Syria had said that the number of photos of Israel was unbalanced -- in other words, there were more photos of the Secretary-General's trip to Israel than of his visits to other countries. "Those of you who keep track of these things will remember that the week before, the DPI photos had all featured the Secretary-General's travels to the Arab countries in the region. That is because it had happened before Israel -- those were Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, as well as Gaza", Mr. Brandt added.
Syria had also objected to a stand-alone portrait of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Brandt went on to say. For the record he wanted to note that it was common practice for DPI to post portraits of different officials. The week before, the board had featured a stand-alone portrait of President Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Generally, those pictures were posted when they were judged to have news value. There had been no DPI portrait of Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, because the Department's photographer had not been given access to the Secretary-General's meeting with President Assad. The photographer had been given access to the meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel.
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Syria, Mr. Brandt said, had subsequently offered DPI its own portrait of President Assad, but as a rule, only DPI photos were featured on the board. In any case, responding to the sensitivities involved, the photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu had been taken down; it would have been taken down anyway because it had already been up for a week. The United Nations was always mindful of the sensitivities of its Member States. He reminded correspondents that there were 185 Members, and that to do so was not always an easy task.
Mr. Brandt concluded by reminding correspondents that tomorrow would be an official United Nations holiday. The Organization was celebrating, as mandated by the General Assembly, the holiday of Eid Al-Adha. The building would be closed, but the Spokesman's Office would be staffed if assistance was needed.
When a correspondent wanted to know why the Organization was mindful of the sensitivities of one Member over the sensitivities of another, Mr. Brandt said that it was not easy and that was precisely the problem. Sometimes care had to be exercised in not doing anything that offended Member States while upholding the integrity and autonomy of the United Nations.
Asked who had taken the decision and with whom did Syria communicate, Mr. Brandt replied that the decision had been taken by DPI. There had been no need to take the matter to the highest levels of the Organization, since the Department was used to dealing with politically sensitive questions. The head of that unit was the Officer-in-Charge of the Media Division and that was the person who had taken the decision. When asked if there were any statistics about how many pictures there had been of Syria versus other, Mr. Brandt said that he did not have any.
A correspondent wanted to know whether the Secretary-General had a day off for his birthday. Mr. Brandt said that he in fact had this week off, a much deserved holiday.
Concerning the Kosovo resolution, Mr. Brandt was asked how would the arms embargo be monitored. He said he would have to look into that question since that resolution by the Security Council, like all Council resolutions, spoke very clearly for itself and his office did not try to analyse or interpret them in any way. The correspondent would have to look, in particular, at the implementation of what was called for by the Council.
A correspondent raised the issue of an article in The New York Times today that had spoken about arms- and troop-smuggling from Albania to Kosovo which represented a breach of the brand-new resolution and asked whether Security Council resolutions were all equal or whether some were less binding than others. Mr. Brandt said that all Council resolutions were binding and all had to be observed by Member States.
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Concerning the query by Syria over the photographs, one correspondent said that the onus seemed to have been put on one of the Directors of DPI and asked for the name of that person. Mr. Brandt said he was not trying to put the blame on anyone -- he was merely explaining. His role there was to answer questions to the best of his knowledge and to be as factual as possible, and that was the information that he had received.
Still on DPI, the correspondent said that type of initiative directly affected correspondents. It was an inconvenience at best and smacked of censorship at worst. How should such a situation be understood? he asked. It was a situation where the Organization was trying to maintain the best possible balance between the concerns of Member States, replied Mr. Brandt. He understood that it was perhaps an opportunity to review the way in which such procedures were carried out. "We try to be as balanced as we can. We try to show you as much as we can, the work of DPI -- the very good work that the photographers that work for us do, sometimes under very difficult circumstances." There was no intention of bias and certainly, of censorship.
When asked for the document reference numbers on the costs of the escalators, Mr. Brandt said that there were two documents, but he did not have their symbols with him. Those symbols were available in the Spokesman's Office. They were Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) documents containing an explanation of the extensive need for repairs and maintenance that was required for the Secretariat building and the amounts that were budgeted and allocated.
Mr. Brandt also told correspondents that France and the United Kingdom had this morning become the first declared nuclear-weapon States to deposit their instruments of ratification for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). So far, 13 countries had ratified the Treaty, including six of the 44 countries required for its entry into force. A list of those 44 countries was available in the Spokesman's Office.
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