DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Security Council/Middle East
As we speak, the Secretary-General is briefing the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. As you know, early Saturday morning the Security Council adopted resolution 1402 by a vote of 14 in favour and none against. The Syrian delegation did not participate in that vote. That resolution calls on both parties to move immediately to a meaningful ceasefire and also calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah. The text also reiterates the Council’s demand expressed in resolution 1397 for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction.
In remarks delivered to a public meeting of the Council on the Middle East on Friday, the Secretary-General said he was deeply alarmed at the rapid escalation of violence. "Horrific terrorist acts against Israeli civilians", he said, "first in Netanya and then in Jerusalem, had been carried out. Such attacks are aimed at undermining any prospect for a political settlement."
"I understand the anger of the Israeli Government and people over these attacks", he said.
He also criticized Israelis’ use of disproportionate use of lethal force, especially in civilian populated areas. "Such use of force", he said, "would neither bring peace nor security to Israel."
"Both sides", he went on to say, "need to adopt policies that reinforce a political process leading to peaceful settlement and eschew actions that make peaceful negotiations more difficult."
In conclusion, he urged Council members to consider in their debate not only the alarming rise of violence, but also "how the international community can help the parties get back to the table".
Earlier that day, the Secretary-General issued a statement along the same lines as his remarks. In the statement, he also called on both Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat to exercise responsible leadership.
The statement and the Secretary-General’s remarks to the Council are available upstairs, and we also sent them out to the lid list over the weekend.
Yesterday, in Kabul, the Chief of Staff of the newly approved United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Karl Fischer, and the members of the Special
International Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga, held a press conference to announce the procedures and the criteria to participate in that Loya Jirga, or tribal council.
They said that the emergency Loya Jirga will meet in Kabul between the 10th and the 16th of June in a gathering of 1,451 participants, out of which 1,051 will be elected. The elections will be held in two stages, with the United Nations bearing the responsibility for providing security and order. We have details of the elections procedures available upstairs.
Seats have also been set aside in the Loya Jirga for civil society, including women and minorities, among other important groups. Speaking to the press, Karl Fischer said that the Loya Jirga is part of the process to achieve within two or three years "a situation where peace in Afghanistan is guaranteed, where the Afghans themselves take their destiny into their own hands". We have the texts of his comments upstairs, as well.
On Saturday, Mussagy Jeichande, the Secretary-General’s Representative in Angola, represented the United Nations at a signing ceremony of a ceasefire agreement between the Government of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA. He told the gathering that this agreement "concludes a first phase of a process which we all want to be irreversible and which we all want to bring peace to Angola".
Jeichande reiterated the United Nations’ readiness "to help that peace, democracy and social welfare become realities available for the Angolan nationals".
The full text of his statement is available upstairs.
Also, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Africa, Ibrahim Gambari, is set to arrive in Angola tomorrow. He will be on a fact-finding mission to examine the current peace process and clarify the United Nations’ role in it. And he will also seek to encourage the parties to take full advantage of the recent positive developments in Angola to move the peace process forward under the Lusaka Protocol.
The Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on Guinea-Bissau, which is out on the racks today, says there has been definite progress in that country towards the consolidation of the democratization process, including the resumption of the work of the National Assembly at the end of February. He notes, as well, that some human rights activists have been released in recent months, while two independent press organs have been authorized to resume publishing. Also, the demobilization programme is resuming.
He says that after the violence of recent years, "there is now real hope that the country, despite its serious difficulties, can move forward".
Despite such progress, he says, the new constitution has not yet been promulgated. He also says that the depressed state of the economy means that it is impossible for the Government to balance the budget, and he calls for direct budgetary support to help offset Guinea-Bissau’s chronic deficit.
We have one press release to highlight for you today.
In a joint release, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have condemned the recent detention of 14 health workers in the Sudan.
Kenzo Oshima, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator said, “Threats to the Security of humanitarian personnel are always of grave concern, and the detention of health workers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.”
The press release is available upstairs.
**Death of the Queen Mother
Then on Saturday, through his Spokesman, the Secretary-General extended his condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her family on the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
The Secretary-General said that throughout her long life, the Queen Mother won a special place in the hearts of not only the British people, but people throughout the world through her courage, kindness and good spirits.
We have the text of that statement upstairs.
Finally, there’s one treaty signing today. This morning, Argentina became the ninety-fifth country to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
That’s all I have for you.
Questions and Answers
Question: My original understanding was that the Secretary-General was to brief the Council tomorrow on his trip to Beirut. Why was it necessary to step that up to today, and what is the likely outcome of the meeting?
Spokesman: That’s a misunderstanding. I heard one media outlet just as I was coming down here say that the Secretary-General was briefing on Lebanon. He still plans to brief on Lebanon tomorrow. He’s briefing on the situation in the Middle East today.
Question: Why did he ask then for this meeting? There was a Council meeting until very early in the morning on Saturday, culminating in a resolution. Why did he feel necessary to come back and brief today and is there a likely outcome?
Spokesman: You’ve seen the headlines. The situation on the ground is moving very rapidly and dramatically. It’s some 72 hours since he last briefed the Council, and he’s assuming that the Council would want to stay seized on a daily basis with the dangerous situation in the Middle East. So he did, it’s true, call for this meeting, and he’s had telephone calls with world leaders throughout the weekend. So he has information to impart to the Council to assist them in their deliberations on the matter.
Question: So he called Ambassador Lavrov to ask for this meeting to be scheduled?
Spokesman: I don’t know the precise way it came about, but this is not the first time that through an exchange between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council that they mutually agreed to call a meeting. As he took the initiative, it would be under Article 99 of the Charter, which authorizes him to bring to the Council’s attention any threat to international peace and security. But they’re working so closely these days that it’s a phone call and not a formal letter any more to get the machinery going.
Question: So in the last 24 hours, who has he spoken to in terms of the conversations this week?
Spokesman: I couldn’t give you the list, but a number of leaders in the Middle East, the United States, Europe. There must have been 25 phone calls over the three-day weekend.
Question: Who was at the top on the U.S. list?
Spokesman: The President.
Spokesman: Saturday morning.
Question: When was the last time he spoke to Arafat?
Spokesman: I think in Beirut on the day that he left for New York.
Question: Is there any indication that the good offices of the Secretary-General is going to provide any relief to the besieged people in Palestine?
Spokesman: I think we can say that anything that he can do, he is doing. I don’t know that it’s within any one person’s power to suddenly reverse the cycle of violence that’s happening in the territories. The progamme, the blueprint for getting the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table, is widely known. The U.S. mediator, General Anthony Zinni, has been trying to get the two sides to begin the Tenet process; which is to lead to the Mitchell understandings; which is to lead back to the negotiating table. But they’re still stuck at the pre-Tenet stage while the violence goes on.
Question: I don’t know if you said this earlier. Is the Secretary-General going to stop by the stakeout after this briefing?
Spokesman: I asked him if he’d do that. I think he will do. He normally talks to you when he’s just returned from a trip; he hasn’t done that yet. So I think he will stop at the stakeout on the way out.
Question: What is the Secretary-General’s opinion of the role that the Syrians are playing on the Security Council. This is kind of an extraordinary situation early on Saturday morning, them walking out on the vote?
Spokesman: I have no guidance on that subject, but nice try.
Question: Did the Secretary-General ever receive a response to the letter of March 11 roughly, or 12th, when he asked for an investigation by the Israeli Prime Minister of the United Nations worker that had been killed and expressing his views about Israeli actions?
Spokesman: I have to look into that. The last time that question was asked was probably a week ago or so, and at that we had not received any response. I’ll have to update the information and give it to you after the briefing.
[Later the Spokesman’s Office announced that so far the United Nations has had no response from Israel on its request for an inquest into the death of United Nations employee Karma Hamdan last month.]
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any suggestions, perhaps even making them right now, for the Council as to what further he would like them do?
Spokesman: I can’t give you what he’s saying to the Council, but yes, he’s putting forward some ideas. I mean, he sees them working very closely together. But yes, he’s putting some ideas down on the table today.
Question: Has Mr. Larsen reported to the Secretary-General on the situation on the ground and what’s the content of those reports?
Spokesman: Yes, I guess it’s through Terje Roed-Larsen that the Secretary-General stays most closely in touch with events in the territories, as well as in Israel. Mr. Larsen has been doing the best he can to continue coordinating with the U.S., the E.U. and the Russian Federation -- the so-called quartet -- and he’s also been in touch with various world leaders by telephone in addition to the contacts the Secretary-General himself has had with world leaders. So they’re working very closely. They talk on a daily basis.
Question: Among the 25 calls roughly you mentioned, who is the top Israeli official he spoke to and when?
Spokesman: I just don’t have that detail. I’m not sure that he has spoken specifically to Israeli or Palestinian leaders since Beirut. I think these calls tended to be Arab heads of State, European heads of State, and I have already mentioned the U.S. President, and I can add the U.S. Secretary of State. Anything else?
Okay, well, look out for the Secretary-General at the stakeout then after the session. Thank you very much.