9 November 2005


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



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

Good afternoon.  Mr. François Lonseny Fall, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, who just briefed the Security Council, is already here, and he will be our guest and brief you right after our presentations.

**Secretary-General in Egypt and Saudi Arabia

The Secretary-General, this morning, had a working breakfast in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  They discussed developments in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Middle East peace process.

The Secretary-General then left Cairo for Jeddah, where he met this afternoon with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for more than an hour.  They had a wide-ranging discussion and exchange of views on Iraq and on Syria and Lebanon.  The Secretary-General also thanked Saudi Arabia for its generous support of the relief effort in Pakistan, including its bilateral contributions, and said he hoped it would serve as an example to other nations.

The Secretary-General this evening is scheduled to attend a working dinner with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud -- that is going on now -- and the two of them will have a joint press conference afterwards, at about 2 p.m. our time.

** Liberia

Turning to Liberia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General there, Alan Doss, has welcomed the peaceful manner in which yesterday’s run-off election for the presidency took place throughout the country.

Mr. Doss said that the voting was an “opportunity to leave behind the war that has wrecked the country for so long and to enter into a future of peace and stability.”

Doss, who visited several polling stations, said he “observed Liberians going about the normal business of democracy:  exercising their right to vote in a run-off election, without fear and without hindrance”.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia is helping to collect results and maintain security there.

According to reports received from the Mission, the run-off presidential election was conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner.  No serious security incidents were reported.

**Security Council

Here, in the Security Council, as I just mentioned, the Council heard a briefing in its closed consultations on Somalia by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.  Council members are also considering the text of a presidential statement on Somalia, which may be adopted following consultations.

Ambassador Fall is our guest, and he is here, as I mentioned, and after the consultations, the Council is expected to hold a formal meeting to consider a letter from the Secretary-General on Iraq.  In that letter, the Secretary-General says he has received a request from Iraq’s Government that more than $2 million be taken from the escrow account for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UNMOVIC, and used to settle Iraq’s arrears to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

On the documents counter today, the Secretary-General has a letter to the Security Council in which he says he reappointed the three-member Group of Experts dealing with sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire.

**Security Council Mission to Great Lakes

Meanwhile, members of the Security Council travelled today from Burundi to Uganda, where the delegation met with President Museveni in Entebbe.  From there the mission travelled to Kigali, Rwanda, where they were to meet with President Paul Kagame. 

The delegation is now on its way to Dar es-Salaam, in Tanzania, the final stop on a five-nation tour, which is being led by the French Ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sablière.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports that it completed yesterday the deployment of UN peacekeepers in a place called Aba, 100 kilometres north of Aru, in the country’s east.

Aba is the locality where some Uganda-based soldiers were reported to have briefly crossed into Congolese territory on the 19 October.

Working with the Congolese national army, 144 peacekeepers from the UN Mission’s Ituri Brigade are carrying out reconnaissance and search missions in the area, which is along the border with Sudan.

So far, there’ve been no reports that members of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or its leader, Joseph Kony, are in this area.

**South Asia ‘Quake

Turning to the South Asia earthquake, the World Health Organization today warned that serious diarrhoea outbreaks in hard-hit areas of Pakistan show the urgent need to get supplies of safe water and sanitation to the self-settled camps.

UN agencies and their partners are working closely with the Pakistani Government and military to train teams to visit all self-settled camps and assist with water, sanitation and hygiene education.

For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is providing technical support to 18 planned camps established by the Government of Pakistan, where about 10,000 people are now living.

We have more information on this upstairs.

** Middle East - Quartet

On the Middle East Quartet, the Middle East Quartet – comprising, as you know, the United Nations, United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union -- has consulted on the importance of Special Envoy James Wolfensohn’s mission to resolve the remaining issues associated with disengagement and to facilitate the recovery of the Palestinian economy. 

Accordingly, the Quartet has requested Mr. Wolfensohn to continue with his duties through the end of March 2006.

**Bird ‘Flu

And in Geneva, today was the last day of the global bird ‘flu meeting, which we mentioned to you earlier this week, and was organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health and the World Bank.

More than 600 delegates from more than 100 countries voiced support for an urgent request for $35 million, to fund high-priority work over the next six months, and to help countries which have already been affected or are most at risk.  Experts and officials also set out key steps to respond to the threat of the virus, including improving veterinary services, strengthening early detection and rapid response systems, and training health managers.

Among the speakers was David Nabarro, Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, who said that the international community must avoid duplication of work and share expertise.

We have a press release on this in the Spokesman’s Office.

**UN Development Programme

While strong, individual countries continue to be a crucial element in globalization, international cooperation is vital in providing the framework of common values and rules which would make the system more inclusive.  That was the message today of Kemal Derviş, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, at an international economic conference in Mumbai.

He is in India as part of his first official trip to Asia since taking charge of UNDP in August. 

** Eritrea – Polio

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, Eritrea and Liberia are among 22 countries in Africa that will be launching polio vaccination campaigns this week.  The drive is supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, as well as other partners.

We have a press release on that.

**Upcoming Press Conferences

For tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., the Permanent Mission of Guatemala will be sponsoring a press conference by Deepak Chopra, who will be launching a campaign entitled “The Alliance for a New Humanity”, which aims to unite organizations and people from around the world to take action together to address major global concerns.

That’s what I have for you today.  Before I turn over to Pragati and to the Special Representative, any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the Quartet decision.  Did they have a meeting, or was this decided over e-mails or letters?

Deputy Spokesman:   There were consultations.  I don’t know exactly the mechanics of how the dots were connected, but there have been consultations, and I understand that the other Quartet members are also making similar statements today.

Question:  So, they didn’t have an official meeting?  I just didn’t hear of anything, that’s why.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there was no official meeting to discuss this.

Question:  Last time, two days ago, we asked you for information about what was being done in the Volcker follow-up.  There was some kind of committee being set up to read the Volcker report and see what follow-up was needed.  Can you tell us just who was on the committee, which department it was in, what the status of its work was?  Can you update us on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You asked me the other day what efforts, I think you asked me a question about what Chris Burnham had said at his briefing.

Question:  No, I asked ... and Stéphane had said that there was some kind of committee set up to read the Volcker report, which obviously would be a good idea, and to see whether further action was needed in any aspects.  And I asked who was on the board and what they were doing.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any specific information on that.  I think I answered your colleague’s question earlier this week about the follow-up mechanism, and I said that the commission is still in place, and that a follow-up to that is being discussed.  As for the follow-up to the last Volcker report, the only thing I can tell you on that is that the UN is currently examining all companies named in the report and cross-checking them against its list of approved vendors, and that process, I understand, has begun.  In terms of committees, I don’t know what…

Question:  Well, Stéphane didn’t answer it.  Is there any kind of (inaudible) internal mechanism for Volcker follow-up? is the question.

Deputy Spokesman:  There is.  The UN is, as I said, mainly through the Department of Management, looking into…

Question:  The question is what is the internal mechanism?

Deputy Spokesman:  Let me get you the details on that.  I’ve asked for the details.

Question:  You said the UN is examining all the companies named in the report and cross-checking them against the list of approved vendors.  Is that with a view to removing companies who are named in the report from your list of approved vendors?

Deputy Spokesman:  Where appropriate and with the full respect for due process, such companies may be suspended from doing business with the United Nations, pending further investigation and clarification of their role in the oil-for-food programme.

Question:  So, how does this work and when are decisions going to be made, and do you follow up with specific investigations with comp -- what’s the process here?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is something that is just beginning, so I have nothing further on this now, but, as I just mentioned to James, if I get more details on the mechanism and the time line, I will let you know.

Question:  When the Volcker Commission ceases to function, which you said is the end of this month, what you’re saying is all the documents will be sent to the United Nations, right?

Deputy Spokesman:  I did not say that.  Right now the Volcker commission is in existence, as I said, until the end of this month.  Any question beyond that is right now a hypothetical one.

Question:  Where does the documentation end up when they end their reign, whatever it is?  Where does it end up, all these documents?

Deputy Spokesman:  The precise details of that are being discussed right now, as they have still more than three weeks before they close shop.

Question:  Mr. Volcker said at his press conference that the documents would go to the UN, and that it would be up to the UN to make them public.  Is the UN intending to make any or all of the Volcker documentation public…

Deputy Spokesman: As I --

Question:  (inaudible) including the interviews with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing beyond what I’ve said on this, that right now the precise details of the documentation are being discussed between the UN and the committee.

Question:  On another subject, are there any developments with regard to the work of the Alliance of Civilizations, and would it have any relationship to the project that will be launched tomorrow called Alliance for Humanity by Deepak Chopra and the Guatemalan Mission?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I know, tomorrow’s project is something being arranged by the Guatemalan Mission and, as of now, I don’t have anything further on the Alliance, the other alliance that you are referring to.

Question:  I also understood that the Secretariat sent to the General Assembly a -- I don’t know its official name -- an implementation proposal or some such for the management reforms.  Can we have a copy of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll look into that.  Maybe is that something that you might have addressed to General Assembly spokesperson?  I’ll let Pragati answer, but I certainly will look into that.

Question:  It’s a Secretariat document.

Deputy Spokesman:  O.K.

Question:  On the Mercedes.  First of all, have you found the Mercedes yet?  Secondly, is Mr. Janneh, Abdoulie Janneh, the one who claimed the exemption of Ghanaian import taxes at the behest of the Secretary-General’s son, is he still with the UN, and what is his post at the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have nothing further to say on either the car or the official that you’re referring to.  There were no adverse findings against them, and we have nothing to say.

Question:  Clarify something.  Does the Secretary-General not consider it an adverse finding that an official, who’s acting in his official capacity, claiming a tax exemption on behalf of the UN, and he’s doing it at the behest of the Secretary General’s son, apparently with no contact with any UN officials?

Deputy Spokesman:  The report did not come up with adverse findings, and …

Question:  (inaudible) financial situation.

Deputy Spokesman:  …we have nothing further to say.  You can ask me many times, but I have nothing…

Question:  Let me ask you another question.  Why is the UN preaching accountability when people can do things at the behest of outside individuals in their official capacities and not be brought to account?  Isn’t that unaccountable?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further to say.  This question stems from your repeated questions every day, and I have nothing further…

Question:  OK, just to clarify.  Could you clarify then your comment, your policy is not to comment on anything in the Volcker report now, is that right?  I thought we’d understood from what you’d said the other day that there was an investigation based on what was brought to light in the Volcker report.

Deputy Spokesman:  I said we would be cooperating with, I would like to refer you to the statement that we had, and I don’t want to read it over again, but in terms of going over…

Question:  (inaudible), because you don’t think from memory, to the UN, as well as national Governments was investigating, so I’m asking you in this particular case if Mr. Janneh, is he under investigation?  Is the UN doing anything to investigate? 

Deputy Spokesman:  We have, the exact line from the report, from the remarks that I read, was that the UN and national authorities, if appropriate, will …

Question:  Just a quick question.  Would it not be appropriate, in the circumstance where a UN official is performing official functions at the behest of an outside individual who’s not a member of the UN, would it not be appropriate for the UN to investigate why that person is acting in that way?

Deputy Spokesman:  You are asking the same question over and over again.  We have nothing to say on the official that you’re referring to and the case that you’re referring to, and I…

Question:  Is it the case actually that that official received official sanction from the UN Secretariat for doing what he did in his official capacity?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further to say on this subject.  I’m sorry.

Question:  On OCHA, I just wanted to find out whether (inaudible).  In that press conference with Mr. Egeland, who had talked about airlifting of supplies from certain countries, like the United States, (inaudible) and so forth (inaudible), and I’d asked whether the United Nations can ask NATO or any other entity to do that, so he said that they’ll get back.  Is there any update on that at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have not received anything from OCHA, but I can certainly follow up with you, but NATO, as you know, has been -- I think he mentioned as well --  has been providing airlift capacity, and I think certain UN agencies, like UNHCR, have been working closely with them to airlift some supplies.  I don’t have the details, but I can get that for you from OCHA.

Question:  Yesterday the Secretary-General said after meeting the Egyptian Foreign Minister that Syria has had a good record in implementing UN resolutions.  That’s a slightly confusing statement in the light of the Larsen, which was then Secretary-General’s, report, which suggested that Syria was continuing to, or there were weapons and arming of Palestinian militia, which would be the 1559 side, and then also the Detlev suggestions that Syria had not been cooperating with the investigation.  So, does the Secretary-General stand by his contention that Syria has a good record of implementing UN resolutions, or was that a slip of the tongue?

Deputy Spokesman: No, it was not a slip of the tongue.  I think he stands by everything he said yesterday, and I think the bottom line is that he is encouraging Syrian cooperation.

Question:  Is Shashi Tharoor on official UN business in India?  Is the UN paying for him to be there? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yesterday I mentioned to you, when I was clarifying a question from the previous day, that he is on leave in India.

Question:  And there were some remarks that he’d given in which he’d said that national Governments would have to follow up on some of the claims made in the Volcker report, and he said the Volcker report was not a judge or a jury.  I wondered if you could explain the apparent contradiction between that and the decision by the UN to unilaterally fire Joe Stephanides, based on the findings of the report?

Deputy Spokesman:  On Shashi Tharoor’s comments, yesterday I issued a clarification, after I spoke to him, on his comments on the reports that I was asked about, so I’d like to refer you to that, and I have no comment right now on your other question.

Question:  In the Volcker report, when it describes the meeting between Kojo Annan and Kofi Annan in the Hotel Crillon on November 28, 1998, a time that the Cotecna bid was being considered, Mike Wilson says that he was in the lobby of the Crillon Hotel and actually spoke to Kojo Annan while he was upstairs in the Secretary-General’s room.  Was the Secretary-General aware that his son was talking to Mike Wilson on the cellphone from his room while Michael Wilson was in the lobby downstairs?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re not reopening the investigation.  The Volcker Commission has finished its work in looking into this matter.

Question:  Can you update us on the follow-up action?  I’m confused, what’s the follow-up action now that the investigation is complete?

Deputy Spokesman:  I just told you at the beginning of this meeting, so let’s…

Question:  Well, you were unable to tell me what the follow-up action was, so I’m pressing you on that point.

Deputy Spokesman:  I mentioned to you that currently the Commission is still in place, that the UN is looking into arrangements for when the Commission’s existence will end, at the end of the month.  I also told you that the UN is currently examining the companies named in the report, and in terms of the other recommendations on follow-up to the Volcker report, we had Chris Burnham come here and talk to you about management reform.  We have various UN reform proposals going forward, and I just told Mark Turner that I would look into the latest proposal that he said was submitted, so…

Question:  A clarification -- can we then therefore say that we do not expect disciplinary action of any UN staff in the wake of the Volcker report?  Is that a fair enough statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, it’s not a fair statement, but I have nothing further to say today.  So, if we’re finished with this, I’d like to turn over to the General Assembly spokesman.  Pragati?

Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

It’s a quiet day today in the General Assembly.  Tomorrow morning the Assembly will meet in plenary to hold a joint debate on the report of the Security Council and the question of equitable representation on, and increase in the membership of, the Council.  We will circulate the list of speakers for that as soon as we receive it.  I understand there is a good possibility that the debate will extend into Friday.

This morning the Third Committee took up the report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which was presented by the High Commissioner himself, António Guterres.

Assembly President Jan Eliasson is in Washington today, where he is meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at her invitation.  He’s also taking the opportunity to meet with a number of officials from the State Department and members of Congress.  The main subject for discussion is United Nations reform, especially the Peacebuilding Commission, the Human Rights Council and management reform.

On Mark’s question, a couple of weeks ago, the Secretariat submitted a report to the Assembly on implementation of the Summit outcome, which included a section on management reform.  That was the report that Bob Orr came to brief on.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I may be confused.  I had been under the impression someone had suggested today that there was a report that was done more recently.  Maybe they didn’t?

Spokesperson:  Not that I’m aware of.

Question:  On the implementation of management.  No?  So there’s been nothing in the past week?

Spokesperson:  Not that I’m aware of.

Question:  This debate on the Security Council, is considering any particular resolution on Security Council expansion, or is it just a debate?

Spokesperson:  It’s an annual debate that’s held in the General Assembly, and there’s no draft resolution tabled.

Question:  I have a couple of questions.  One of them is my old question about whether the Volcker report’s been distributed or not distributed to members.  The other two questions are:  can you update us on the budget process now under way, in the General Assembly, when that’s expected to come to a head, and the second thing is can you tell us what’s happening with the ACABQ elections and whether and who the Russian candidate is?

Spokesperson:  I’m not up to speed on the budget process and the ACABQ elections, but I’ll look into that.  I know the budget process is very complex this year because of the Summit outcome and various elements.  On the question of the Volcker report, I did inquire with General Assembly Affairs and ascertained that it was not reproduced or distributed as a document, and Mr. Chen had said that he would look into whether it was feasible.  I’m still trying to find out if it was decided that it was not feasible, because it’s such a huge report.  But I think at this point most Member States have gotten the report, from what we see in the press coverage, and are responding to it.  It is available online.

Question:  The reason why it might not be feasible is because it’s too long?

Spokesperson:  I can’t speculate.

Question:  But you were the one who said it might not be feasible, so what is the reason it wouldn’t be feasible?

Spokesperson:  I’m speculating that it might not be feasible because it’s a very, very long report, and the membership is quite large, but…

Question:  Can you find out the factual reason why it wouldn’t be feasible?

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Is the President of the General Assembly confident that the next few days will bring consensus on the representation and expansion of the Council, or is he contemplating pursuing the discussions in the next few months on this question?

Spokesperson:  In his letter that he issued last week, he mentions his view on Security Council reform, and I think he sees it as a more long-term process.  I don’t think anyone is expecting this plenary tomorrow to yield decisions.  It will probably be a restatement of positions, and there might be some new positions.  We’ll see what happens. 

* *** *

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