DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone.
The withdrawal of United Nations international staff from Iraq is continuing in accordance with the authorization given by the Secretary-General yesterday. He had informed the Security Council of that decision based on information which he had received from the United Kingdom and United States authorities regarding the continued safety and security of United Nations personnel. The last plane has taken off from Baghdad to Larnaca, Cyprus. At the end of the operation, more than 300 international staff will have departed.
These are staff in Iraq from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme and United Nations agencies, programmes and funds implementing the “oil-for-food” programme. In addition, the Secretary-General has authorized the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), which is deployed along the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait, to withdraw. We issued a statement on the withdrawal yesterday afternoon after the Secretary-General made the announcement at the stakeout microphone outside the Security Council.
As a result, all United Nations activities in Iraq will be suspended until further notice. However, the Secretary-General has stated that the United Nations will find a way to resume its humanitarian activities to help the Iraqi people and do whatever it can to provide them assistance and support.
According to the Office of the Iraq Programme, during the week of 8 through 14 March, Iraqi oil exports reached 12.7 million barrels generating
$340 million in revenue.
The Security Council is holding an open debate on the “Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons and Phenomenon of Mercenaries: Threats to Peace and Security in West Africa”. The meeting is chaired by the Foreign Minister of Guinea, François Lonseny Fall, as the Security Council President. The Secretary-General addressed the meeting, which has 29 other speakers, including 10 ministers.
The Secretary-General thanked the Security Council for “focusing its attention –- even at this critical moment when all our minds are on Iraq –- on a
subject which is of great importance to the welfare and well-being of millions of people in another region of the world, namely West Africa”.
He went on to say that “the easy availability of small arms and light weapons is strongly linked with the dramatic rise in the victimization of women and children and with the phenomenon of child soldiers”. “Light automatic weapons can be carried and fired by children as young as nine or ten”, he said. “The link is particularly evident in West Africa” and he cited the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now Côte d’Ivoire.
On the mercenary problem, he said, the problem is linked to the failure to adequately fund and implement disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, and the failure to provide assistance to countries such as Liberia and Guinea-Bissau. He called for help to the countries of the region to build up the capacity to address this issue, and countries involved, and in particular their leaders, to focus more intently on this very real and very present threat to peace. A presidential statement is expected at the end of this debate.
**Security Council –- Tomorrow
Iraq is next on the Security Council agenda for Wednesday morning when an open meeting is scheduled on the UNMOVIC programme of work. As of now, we do not have a list of ministers attending that meeting.
Our understanding is that there are four ministers indicating their participation, in addition to the three African ministers who are already here for today’s debate. That’s, so far, an indication that seven ministers may be attending; and we’ll keep you updated.
**Corell Returns to New York
Hans Corell, the United Nations Legal Counsel, has returned from
Phnom Penh, where he succeeded in reaching agreement with the Cambodian Government on a formula for trying Khmer Rouge leaders. That agreement now goes to the General Assembly for approval.
Mr. Corell will be briefing the Secretary-General on the agreement this afternoon at 3, and sometime after that he would like to brief you. We will squawk the precise time, but you might like to pencil it in for about 4 p.m. for that briefing.
At that time, he may also share with you embargoed copies of the full text of the agreement, which is expected to be made public in Phnom Penh at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning which is 9 p.m. tonight, New York time. And so, our embargo would be until 9 p.m. tonight New York time.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Earlier today in Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and representatives of various groups in Ituri signed an agreement of cessation of hostilities, under the auspices of Amos Namanga Ngongi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
Ngongi said this agreement would be followed on Thursday by the establishment of a preparatory committee for the establishment of the
long-awaited Ituri Pacification Commission. Formation of the commission has been delayed several times by fighting between various rebel factions and militias.
World security is threatened not only by the crises currently dominating the headlines, but also by AIDS, hunger and the "dreams of obscure vengeance" from political terrorists "whose only achievements are the sudden screams of innocent people”, said Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the opening of the fifty-ninth session of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva yesterday.
He warned that the fight against terrorism could not be allowed to trample on rigorous respect for civil and political liberties. He said, “We must not let our quest for security be based on fear. That quest will only be completed if we are guided by what binds us all: the rights that you, the Commission are sworn to protect and promote.” The full text of his speech is available upstairs.
The Chairperson of the 2003 session is Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji of Libya. The session is set to continue until 24 April.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a tripartite agreement in Brussels yesterday. The agreement, for the first time, establishes a formal process for resolving the twenty-three-year-old Afghan refugee problem in Pakistan.
Under the agreement, the UNHCR will continue to assist the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan for three more years. At the end of this process, a screening will take place to determine who among the remaining Afghan population is still in need of protection and continued refugee status. The UNHCR has already signed similar agreements with the governments of Iran, France and the United Kingdom.
In a press release issued today on the status of its emergency appeal, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says contributions received so far will enable it to continue its emergency assistance activities, but not all activities envisaged under the
$94 million appeal launched in December.
The UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Peter Hansen, said today that “while we all welcome this positive development, other pressing emergency needs -- shelters for refugees made homeless by shelter demolitions, bolstering of our emergency health services, and enhancing our psychosocial and other services -- remain badly under-funded”.
Commissioner-General Hansen issued an urgent call last month to the international community not to let the West Bank and Gaza slide down on its list of priorities as the world's attention is set on Iraq. We have the full press release upstairs.
On Sunday, the World Food Programme (WFP) launched an emergency operation to airlift food to thousands of Mozambicans cut off by floods caused by
Cyclone Japhet. A WFP helicopter made its first delivery of a corn-soya blend to families stranded along the Save River, which burst its banks on 11 March, washing away key roads in the area. The airlift operation will cost $340,000 and will provide 200 tonnes of maize meal, beans, high-energy biscuits and vegetable oil for about 15,000 people by the end of the week. We have a press release on that.
According to the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic will not sit today due to the ill health of the accused.
**Eva Clayton Appointed Assistant Director-General of FAO
We have an announcement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome announced yesterday that former United States Congresswoman Eva Clayton has been appointed as an Assistant Director-General for the FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. Ms. Clayton will be responsible for the World Food Summit follow-up, in order to track progress in the FAO efforts to increase agricultural productivity worldwide and to help reduce hunger and poverty in the world. We have a press release on that.
**United Nations Correspondents’ Association
And finally, the United Nations Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) is announcing that Hans Blix will again brief correspondents in the UNCA Club, and that will be today at 3:00 p.m. and this briefing is open to UNCA members only. But, I know on previous occasions it’s been carried by United Nations Television so non-UNCA members have been able to watch it in the corridors where we have TVs on the third floor. Yes, Elizabeth?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Have any of the United Nations staff in Iraq defied orders to leave? I know that some of them were feeling quite passionate about staying during the course of the war.
Spokesman: No. To my knowledge, no. What we were told was we expect that shortly all international staff will have left Iraq. Yeah?
Question: Another quick question. The Secretary-General talked yesterday about going back to the Security Council to seek mandates for work that would have encompassed, you know, Iraq-related staff for the future. And we know that there have been contingency plans that have been mapped out by the Deputy Secretary-General. When can we get a fuller idea of what those contingency plans are and exactly what was the Secretary-General talking about vis-à-vis mandates?
Spokesman: He’s talking about all the programmes currently mandated by the Security Council, which would be the oil-for-food programme, the weapons inspectors, the peacekeepers on the border with Kuwait, the compensation fund in Geneva, all the Iraq package of machinery that’s been set up since 1991. We’re particularly eager to see some arrangement worked out with the Council for the continued operation of the oil-for-food programme, which is a big network to deliver a massive amount of humanitarian assistance with a very long pipeline with a lot of stuff in it which will, of course, be temporarily suspended.
But, should there be war, and once the hostilities are over, to let the stuff out of this pipeline quickly and to get our international staff back in Iraq to distribute it we think would be the fastest and best way to distribute assistance to the Iraqi people. So, that is, I think, the first step he would expect. We also need to know what the United Nations might be called on to do, again, should there be military action, to assist through the various other agencies, funds and programmes that we have that are capable of delivering assistance.
Question: So, is he talking about new mandates or reviewing existing mandates?
Spokesman: Well, we’d have to adjust existing mandates, let’s say the oil-for-food, to allow it to operate as a kind of war relief fund. Its mandate would have to be adjusted. Mohammed?
Question: Fred, according to some estimates, up to 10 million Iraqi people will be facing the problem of drinking water and food. By vetoing of humanitarian (inaudible) United Nations, what would be the fate of the many people in Iraq?
Spokesman: I think under international law the occupying power would have responsibility for providing assistance to the affected population. And so, that’s what we’re assuming would be the case, should there be military action. We would then expect to move to a second phase once the environment was safe enough for civilians to go in and help with humanitarian relief, for
United Nations agencies, their non-governmental organization partners and anyone else who might be qualified and willing to bring assistance to get to work. Yes?
Question: Excuse me, but after the occupying power already has provided 2.3 million for people out there. Not up to ten...
Spokesman: I don’t understand that question.
Question: ...And that the United States will provide just 2.3 million for people out there.
Spokesman: I don’t know what the United States contingency planning is for delivery of aid, but they will be responsible, at least initially, under humanitarian law. Yes?
Question: Are a certain amount of United Nations staff staying in Cyprus in case they have to be called back?
Spokesman: The weapons inspectors expect to stay in Cyprus for a limited amount of time. We don’t know whether they will be called back into action. Humanitarian staff, I think, will also be there for a limited time. They’re the first ones we would like to bring back into the country should there be military action. Peacekeepers are being sent home in two stages; those who are deployed on the boundary, and we’ll have to see whether in future there would be again a need for them to patrol the border. That would be a matter for the
Security Council to decide. But, I have to emphasize that the mandates of all these programmes are still in existence and the withdrawal is considered temporary, and should there not be military action, and some other solution to this crisis be found, some peaceful solution, we’re ready to go right back to work. Yes?
Question: Will there be any withdrawal of staff from other places in the Middle East?
Spokesman: No. Yes, Mr. Abade?
Question: Did the Secretary-General speak to Secretary Powell after President Bush’s speech?
Spokesman: He did speak to the Secretary yesterday, but not after the speech. It was earlier in the day. Serge?
Question: Fred, we’re living in a moment of uncertainty about this story of the United Nations. Can you describe for us, for our history and the world, the morning after in the life of the Secretary-General? Did he sleep well? Did he eat a good breakfast?
Spokesman: I failed to ask him that question. I think he is focusing ahead rather than looking back. He’s watching very closely this meeting that’s been planned for the Council, this ministerial-level meeting planned for tomorrow. And he’s also giving very close attention to the contingency planning should there be military action and the possible role the United Nations might be called on to play post-war. So, I think those are his two current preoccupations. The eleventh hour fifty-ninth minute activity in the Council, and then a possible post-war role, should there be military action. Elizabeth?
Question: What role would the Secretary-General envision for weapons inspectors in the future? Is he going to, for example, push to see them given a verification role perhaps, once the conflict is over?
Spokesman: I don’t think he wants to anticipate what the Council will do and I don’t think the Council wants to speculate. But I’d leave the members to speak for themselves. So, we’re waiting to see first what develops, whether or not there’s military action and then what the post-conflict situation, if there is a conflict, would require. One can imagine that there may be; there could be a role for weapons inspectors post-conflict. But that’s not for me to say; that’s for the Council to say. Yes, Bill?
Question: Yesterday when the Secretary-General was asked about his view of the legitimacy of possible military action in Iraq, whether it would be a violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, he made the remark that he believed that questions would be raised. I am wondering, what does he, as Secretary-General, what’s his personal, not personal, but as Secretary-General believe about whether this would be a violation of the
United Nations Charter?
Spokesman: Just take out his Hague statement and read it carefully. That was a carefully drafted statement. It represents his current view. It’s an echo of what he said more broadly at William and Mary College. So, I think his on-the-record position is fully developed, clearly stated, and I don’t think has to be re-articulated since the Hague statement. Yes?
Question: Are you talking of the Hague statement or the
question-and-answer, the question he replied after he gave the Hague statement, which seemed to go a little further than the statement and which was not repeated yesterday?
Spokesman: The Hague statement, as drafted, is his official position. His response to a question was a somewhat blunter statement of that position. But, I think if you read, it’s hard to read the answer to the question divorced from the statement, because he read the statement and then he took questions. So, I think you have to see the statement as the context for the answer to the question. So, I’d refer you to the statement.
Question: Secondly, just back on the oil-for–food programme? When you say the mandate would have to be adjusted to allow it to function as a kind of a war-relief fund, are you envisaging something that’s no longer trading oil for food? And is there a straight provision of humanitarian relief or... I don’t quite understand?
Spokesman: The oil-for-food programme has the Government of Iraq as a partner. Now, should there be a conflict, that situation might change and you’d need the Security Council to redefine the relationships of who is carrying out what. Anything else?
Thank you very much.
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