4 October 2005


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily press briefing by the officeS of the spokesman for the secretary-general

and the spokesperson for the general assembly president

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

It’s nice to see that the average age here has dropped by about 20 years. 

Our guest at noon will be Johan Schölvinck, the Director for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as Nguyen Hong Nhung, a student leader from Viet Nam, who will be joining us to talk about the World Youth Report 2005.

**Kosovo Statement

I have a statement to start off on Kosovo.

“Ambassador Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Comprehensive Review of Kosovo, will be submitting his report to the Secretary-General this afternoon.

“Ambassador Eide has had extensive consultations in Belgrade and Pristina, as well as with key Member States, regional organizations and, of course, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK); he has also spent considerable time in Kosovo, meeting with people from all walks of life.

“The Secretary-General will study the report and then forward it, together with recommendations for the next steps, to the Security Council.  The Council is expected to take up Kosovo in the second half of this month.”

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General will be travelling to Switzerland, Portugal and Spain over the next 10 days.

His first stop is Geneva, where his programme begins with an address on Thursday to the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Also on that day, the Secretary-General plans to visit the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Operations Center that responds to public health emergencies.

While in Switzerland, he is also expected to make an official visit to the capital, Bern, to meet with Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and with President and Minister of Defence, Samuel Schmid.  On return to Geneva, he will inaugurate the Micro and Small Business Finance Symposium.  He is also expected to hold a press conference there.

Then, beginning next Tuesday, he will make an official visit to Portugal, where, in addition to meetings with the Government, he is expected to receive an honorary degree from the New University of Lisbon.

From Portugal, he travels to Salamanca, Spain, to attend and address the Ibero-American Summit on Friday, October 14.

**Security Council

The Security Council today is meeting for its first time this month, under Romania’s Presidency.  In consultations, Council members are discussing the programme of work for October, and they are also discussing Somalia.

The Council has scheduled two formal meetings after its consultations, to consider presidential statements on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the weekend bombings in Bali, Indonesia.

Once the Council’s work is done, Ambassador Motoc of Romania will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for October.

** Iraq

We have a press release upstairs from our UN Mission in Iraq, which describes the preparations that have been put in place for the October 15 referendum on the Constitution.   Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission has hired more than 100,000 polling staff across the country and has carried out a large public outreach campaign before the vote.

Carina Perelli, the Director of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, says that if there are any technical problems during the referendum, they will be addressed individually by competent Iraqi authorities.  We have more details in a press release upstairs.

** Somalia

Also, in answer to a question that was raised yesterday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that the Somali ship that had been held by pirates for some three months has now been released and has arrived at the Somali port of
El Maan.  The agency has sent staff to the port to check on the cargo. 

The WFP trusts that all 850 tons of aid will be delivered to the agency intact for distribution in Somalia.

**Lecture Series

Tomorrow afternoon, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library is organizing a third event in the Dag Hammarskjöld Lectures and Conversations Series to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former UN Secretary-General.  The event will be held in the Library’s auditorium tomorrow from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. 

Titled Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution:  Then and Now, the event will feature a conversation with Lakhdar Brahimi, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as Jane Holl Lute, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.  The discussions will be moderated by Shashi Tharoor, the head of the Communications and Public Information Department.

This lecture series is sponsored by the Government of Sweden.

Also tomorrow, at 11:15, the Global Commission on International Migration will brief on its report entitled “Migration in an Interconnected World:  New Directions for Action”.  That is it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Iraq and the Constitution, do you have any comment about last-minute changes that were made to the draft Constitution?  Has the UN been in discussion with American officials to try to reverse these changes?

Spokesman:  We’ve communicated with the Iraqi authorities, consistent with our mandate, to advise them on relevant international standards on electoral processes.  We’ve conveyed our views and concerns to the Iraqi authorities in relation to the changes in the laws which you mentioned.

Question:  Have you been in contact with the Americans?  Given that this looks like a fairly egregious change at the last minute, is the UN prepared to say anything stronger than “it’s conveyed its concerns”?

Spokesman:  We understand that this new interpretation of the referendum law is presently under close consideration by the Iraqi authorities, by the Transitional National Assembly, and we hope they’ll be able to come to a resolution on this issue.  Ultimately, this will be a sovereign decision by the Iraqis, and it’s up to the Iraqi National Assembly to decide on the appropriate electoral framework.  That being said, it is our duty, our United Nations role in Iraq, to point out when the process does not meet international standards. 

Question:  Just to ask for a third time, have you been discussing this issue with the Americans, and do you believe that this change does not meet international standards?

Spokesman:  We’ve relayed our concerns to them and, as I said, it’s our duty to speak up to them when we think that the framework that they’re talking about doesn’t meet international standards.  But again, it’s our understanding that discussions are going on in Baghdad, and the Transitional National Assembly will come to a resolution on this issue.  And I’m not aware of any contacts with the Americans, but I’ve not been briefed on any.

Question:  For broadcast purposes, can you just explain what your concerns are?

Spokesman:  The concerns are the different interpretations within the law on what constitutes a majority, whether it’s voters registered or voters who actually vote.  That’s inconsistency, which we’ve relayed our concerns to the Iraqis about.

Question:  What is the international electoral standard for ratification of a constitution? 

Spokesman:  The broad standard would at least have in one text the same definition for what is considered to be a majority of voters.  There are obviously different options, but when there is a contradiction, two different interpretations within one text, that would become an issue.

Question:  Would you like to see this decision reversed?

Spokesman:  We’re working with them, and we understand that they will come to some closure on this issue, and that they will adopt a framework that, as far as we’re concerned, meets international standards.

Question:  Since the aborted Group of Four attempt to expand the Security Council, there are more than enough rumblings in Japan that they would like to cut their contributions to the United Nations, at least by 10 per cent or more.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of this, and is there something that can be done? 

Spokesman:  The issue, of course, of assessed dues is negotiated by the Member States amongst themselves.  They would have to come to some agreement amongst themselves on renegotiating the dues.

Question:  Can you tell me if Japan has paid off its dues for this year?

Spokesman:  I’ll check for you on that. [He later told reporters that Japan has not yet paid its dues in full.]

Question:  With every other special representative, from Sierra Leone to upper who-knows-where, appearing here, Razali Ismail from Myanmar, a country certainly in the news and of importance to the UN, is once again not interested, or I’m sure your office urged him.  Is there a way of explaining why he can’t appear here in front of a press … he’s only in the building once a year.  I mean, is he scared of the youth of the world?  Why will he not appear here? 

Spokesman:  We will again raise this issue, and then maybe we can get Mr. Ibrahim Gambari to come down here, or someone else to talk to you about the situation, what our role in Myanmar is currently. 

Question:  Going back to Iraq -- beyond the issue of two different definitions, registered voters versus voters, people who actually vote, is there a broader standard for ratification of a constitution that says you need something more than a majority?  Is there another issue there, in addition to just conflicting definitions within a …?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of anything beyond a conflicting definition, but I will try to get you a little more from someone who knows more about these things.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General reacted at all to this issue?

Spokesman:  We’re reacting now.

Question:  Reacting in terms of getting on the phone, or doing anything personally?

Spokesman:  I don’t believe he’s had any phone conversation on this issue as of this morning.

Question:  On Mr. Bazali, does the United Nations intend him to stay in his job for the medium or long term, or are there actually any plans for his position to end.Spokesman:  I know of no plans for any change in his position.  I’m not aware of any.

Question:  You mentioned on Iraq yesterday that it was an internal analysis, on the Newsweek leak.  What is the UN team that was working on that report?  Where is that team?  Is it the Political Affairs Department?  Who?

Spokesman:  The constitutional team was working out of the UN Mission in Baghdad. 

Question:  Is the Secretary-General going to be in the building tomorrow before leaving?

Spokesman:  He will.

Question:  Has Nicholas Haysom completed his work as regards to the Constitution?  Now that the drafting is done, he’s not going to do anything further in terms of the ratification process?

Spokesman:  He’s currently out of Iraq.  This issue falls more under the question of electoral assistance.  This has more to do with the mechanics of voting rather than what is in the Constitution itself.

Question:  He’s not coming back?

Spokesman:  He’s out of Iraq currently.  I don’t know if he’s scheduled to go back, but we’ll find out for you.  Pragati?

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

The General Assembly will hold an informal meeting of the plenary this afternoon to hear views from Member States regarding the work plans set out by the President for Summit follow-up.  Provided there is broad support for the plan, after the meeting we should be able to give you the names of the four co-chairs who would be assisting the President in the weeks ahead with informal consultations on the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. 

The First and Second Committees are continuing their general debates today.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Assembly President will be chairing an informal, interactive roundtable discussion with youth representatives, many of whom are here, on the theme of “Young people: making commitments matter”.

Those discussions are a prelude to the plenary meetings on Thursday, which will review the World Programme of Action for Youth at the ten-year mark.  Over 30 youth representatives are expected to participate as part of their national delegations.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.