6 March 2006


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



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

Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  Happy Monday to all of us.

**Secretary-General on UN Democracy Fund

I’ll start off with a statement on the new UN Democracy Fund:

“The Secretary-General is pleased that the Advisory Board of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) is meeting today to review its governance and programme arrangements.  The Board’s decisions today will set the basis for the Fund to become operational.

“The Secretary-General established UNDEF in July 2005.  It was welcomed by Heads of State and Government at the September 2005 World Summit, at which they reaffirmed that democracy is a universal value and that there is no single model of democracy.  And it has now received pledges for more than $41 million from 17 countries from various regions of the world.

“The Secretary-General sees UNDEF as an innovative and flexible mechanism for advancing the United Nations democracy agenda.  The UNDEF will support projects aimed at consolidating and strengthening democratic institutions and processes such as the drafting of constitutions and the development of pluralistic media.  It will also fund projects designed to empower civil society, strengthen the rule of law, increase popular participation and ensure that people are able to exercise their democratic rights.  Its comparative advantage is expected to be its capacity to help build the enabling environment necessary for democratic institutions to function more effectively.”

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council, the Council is today holding consultations on the work of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission for Iraq [UNMOVIC].  Demetrius Perricos, the acting Executive Chairman of that Commission, is briefing the Council on the latest report on its work, which came out last week.

** Afghanistan

From Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, who heads the UN Assistance Mission in that country, today expressed his sadness at the murder over the weekend of Mohammed Hashim, an Afghan engineer who had worked for UN-HABITAT in the province of Farah.

Hashim was dragged from his car by six armed men and shot dead on Saturday.  UN-HABITAT and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, in a joint statement, urged the authorities to bring the perpetrators of this murder to justice.

We have a press release upstairs, as well as today’s Kabul briefing notes, which also mentions Koenigs first trip to northern Afghanistan.

** Sudan

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk, visited Abuja, Nigeria, which, as you know, is the site of the Darfur peace talks, and there he met the different stakeholders in that peace process.

He stressed the importance of reaching a ceasefire agreement that can be implemented, in order to put an end to the violence on the ground.  He urged the mediation to call for an emergency meeting of the Joint Commission, on the basis of the N’Djamena Ceasefire Agreement.

The security situation in Darfur, meanwhile, remains tense, with intense fighting reported in at least one location, according to the UN Mission.

**IAEA Chief on Iran ’s Nuclear Programme

From Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the Agency’s Governing Board today that, during its investigations on Iran, the Agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

Regrettably, however, he added, that after three years of intensive verification, there remains uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran's nuclear programme.  ElBaradei said that Iran should do its utmost to provide maximum transparency and build confidence.  And we have, upstairs, copies of Mr. ElBaradei’s speech to the Board of Governors, which began its meeting in Vienna earlier today.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) today announced an innovative deal that it has struck with an insurance company, designed to speed up relief in case of a drought emergency this year in Ethiopia.

Under terms of the agreement, if the rainfall in Ethiopia falls below a certain level, the insurance company, AXA Re, will immediately provide the WFP with $7 million in contingency funding, which can rapidly be put to relief work.

The agency said the arrangement will markedly shorten response time, as it eliminates some of the need for assessments and other studies, usually required before money can be released.  And WFP said the agreement is a test case that would be an entirely new way to finance disaster relief.  We have more details in a press release upstairs.

And in a related development, WFP also said it is running out of food for 3.5 million Kenyans in need of emergency assistance.  James Morris, who, as you know, heads WFP, said the death toll in the area could rise in the coming months without additional donations to head off a disaster.  And we have more information on that as well.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Yesterday afternoon, Milan Babic, a detained witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was found dead in his cell at the United Nations Detention Centre, outside The Hague.

After conducting an investigation, the Dutch authorities confirmed that the cause of death was suicide, and Babic’s family was duly notified.

The Tribunal President, Judge Fausto Pocar, has also ordered an internal inquiry.  And Babic, who was already serving a 13-year sentence of his own, was also to be a witness in the trial of another Serb, Milan Martic.  In 2002, he had already testified in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

**Press Conferences/Upcoming Events

A couple of things to flag for you this afternoon and tomorrow; at 2 this afternoon, the Permanent Mission of Norway is sponsoring a press conference by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, and there is an open letter from women’s non-governmental organizations to the Secretary-General and Member States regarding UN reform.

And at 10:30 tomorrow, Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and others will hold a press conference on International Women’s Day; “Women in Decision-making: From Politics to the Private Sector.”

At 3 p.m., Djibril Diallo, Director of the New York Office of Sport for Development and Peace, will introduce the “Dunk for Malaria” event, taking place at the New York Knicks v. Atlanta Hawks basketball game at Madison Square Garden -- anything to help the Knicks would be good -- and he will be joined by Knicks player Allan Houston and Lance Laifer of the Hedge Fund vs. Malaria.

The other big event besides the Knicks, tomorrow is that, at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General will present his management report to the General Assembly in the General Assembly hall.

A senior UN official will then be in this room at 11:30 to give you a background briefing on the report.

The Secretary-General will have a town hall meeting with his staff at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.  That event will be closed to the media; you will not be physically able to enter the room, but you will be able to watch the proceedings on television, if that is of interest to you.

That is it for me. Are there any questions before we turn to Pragati?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the management report that is coming out tomorrow, there have been news wire reports that the Secretary-General is proposing the creation of multiple posts, more priorities for the Deputy-Secretary-General, and he also intends to propose outsourcing of many departments, like translation, payroll and printing.  Now, that has basically caused a lot of unrest among employees -- the outsourcing.  But with the creation of multiple posts, the United States, which has been saying over and over again that it wants to cut down on expenses and so on and so forth -- the creation of almost… it looks like three or four Under-Secretary-General posts to coordinate between departments, what would they do?

Spokesman:  A couple of things Masood: the report will come out tomorrow, so I’m not going to discuss the details that may have leaked out to the media.  What I will say is that, first of all, the staff will be closely consulted on the implementation of the report, once approved by the Member States.  And I think this is a report that we know will create a stronger and more effective United Nations, and I think everyone has a stake in that.

Question:  One of the things that Mr. Bolton has been saying is that the staff of the United Nations should be cut down and that was one of the reasons for bloated bureaucracy.  Instead, what the report is doing is proposing to increase posts, while outsourcing many departments.  How do you think it’s going to…

Spokesman:  I think you will have to wait until tomorrow.

Question:  Mr. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party [of Lebanon], is arriving in New York and will meet with the Secretary-General.  Can you tell us if the Secretary-General will be able to talk to the press after the meeting?

Spokesman:  If the Secretary-General will speak to you?

Question:  Yes.  And second, what’s the purpose of the meeting?  Who arranged it?  And third, what about the timing of the meeting, coming before two reports, the Brammertz report and the other by Nicolas Michel?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all Mr. Jumblatt requested the meeting.  We agreed to see him.  He is obviously a major political force in Lebanon, and the Secretary-General would very much be interested in his views on the situation.  The timing has more to do, I believe, with Mr. Jumblatt’s travel plans than with anything else.  And third of all, I don’t know if the Secretary-General will speak afterwards, but I can check for you.

Question:  When is that meeting going to be?

Spokesman:  On Wednesday.  I believe in the morning, but I’ll have to check for the exact time.

Question:  And when is the Russian Foreign Minister meeting him?

Spokesman:  On Wednesday, as well.

Question:  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa highly praised the elections, this weekend in Benin, and the President, for his attitude towards those elections.  Yet, President Kerekou strongly criticized the elections and, in particular, their lack of transparency.  He criticized the press and the observers for not revealing certain things.  Has the Secretary-General been apprised of the negative attitude of the President?

Spokesman:  I have no guidance on these elections, but I will get something after the briefing for you.

Question:  Is James Wolfensohn going to be visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territories on Thursday?  Would you know that?  And also, is he going to be talking about the budget, or their financial situation?  And is he going to talk about Olmert’s call for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank?

Spokesman:  The answer to all of those is: “I don’t know.”  We will check with his office, as to what his travel plans are and what he plans to discuss.

Question:  I was wondering if we could have an update on the fighting that’s been going on in the Congo.  There seems to be pretty active stuff going on in the eastern Congo and it would be nice if you guys could keep us updated on all of that.

Spokesman:  We’ll see if we can get somebody from DPKO to come down here.

Question:  There was a controversial document signed here in New York on February 22nd by the Prime Minister of Haiti and the Chief of MINUSTAH, Juan Valdes, regarding control of Haiti’s national police.  Now, on the radio Saturday, the Haitian Prime Minister said that this agreement is not valid, and he was taking steps to have the UN or the Security Council eliminate it.  What is the UN’s position regarding this?

Spokesman:  I was told this morning that Mr. Valdes is about to, or already has had, discussions with Mr. Préval on this very issue, and we will see what comes out of those.

Question:  Do we have the document here at the United Nations?

Spokesman:  I don’t believe so, but we can check.

Question:  Were you able to follow through on the question that I put forth on last Friday?

Spokesman:  I’m sorry. I believed that one of my colleagues had gotten back to you. But if they haven’t, let’s walk upstairs and we’ll get you the answer.

Pragati, you’re up. Thank you.

Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

On the Human Rights Council, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is encouraged by the support he received from five Nobel Peace Prize laureates -- that’s Jimmy Carter, Oscar Arias, Kim Dae Jung, Shirin Ebadi and Desmond Tutu -- in the op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday.

This week, the President is continuing intensive consultations with Member States, including the United States.  He is still aiming for action this week, in order to have clarity before the Commission on Human Rights begins its annual session on March 13th.

There is unity among Member States that the text should not be renegotiated at this point, and there is growing consensus that the President himself should not make adjustments to the text.

This morning, at the first meeting of the Advisory Board of the UN Democracy Fund, President Eliasson expressed appreciation for the Secretary-General’s initiative in establishing the Fund, and wished the Board success in its work.  He remarked that democracy has an important place in the UN reform process, and that one clear example of the use of the Fund, will be in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  From what you just said, the only option being left open is a vote.  Is that what the President seems to be leaning towards?

Spokesperson:  He was quoted in the New York Times on Saturday that he definitely does not want to have an isolation process, vis-à-vis the US.  He said that this is the country of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Bill of Rights.  The US belongs on this Council, and he wants the US on board.  I don’t think he is pursuing the option of a vote at this point. He’s still hoping for a consensus decision.

Question:  Is he holding any talks with the United States at all?

Spokesperson:  Yes. Over the weekend I can confirm that he spoke with the Secretary-General, Secretary Rice, and with other officials at the US Mission.  He is going to continue those talks this week.

Question:  Is there anything coming out of those talks?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think he can elaborate on them right now.

Question:  You said that there is unity that the text should not be renegotiated.  So the US has said that it no longer wants the text to be renegotiated?

Spokesperson:  I think that you need to ask the US that.

Question:  No. You just said there was “unity”.  So does that mean unity or that, actually, there may still be some countries that want to renegotiate the text?

Spokesperson:  The President is not pursuing the option of renegotiation, because he has gotten very strong responses from Member States…

Question:  Yes, I understand, but when you said there was “unity”, what does that mean?

Spokesperson:  I think the consensus among Member States is that it should not be renegotiated.

Question:  That, therefore, means that the US doesn’t want it to be renegotiated?

Spokesperson:  I think that’s the response he’s getting, yes.

Comment:  John Bolton this morning reiterated that the US does want the text renegotiated.  They stand by their position.

Question:  Has the General Assembly President been invited to a Congressional hearing in Washington on reform?

Spokesperson:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

Question:  You mention, in the same breath, the Democracy Fund with the Peacebuilding Commission.  Do you have any update on the funding for the Peacebuilding Commission?  Do you know if that’s going to be discussed tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check on that, I’m not sure.  I know discussions on the elections are still taking place, but I’m not sure where the funding issue stands.

Question:  The question now is: will the President keep extending the negotiating process -- the United States is suggesting that the process continue into June -- or will he call for a vote soon?

Spokesperson:  Well, he will make a decision on the way forward by Thursday.  He is aware of the grave responsibilities and choices that he has to make, and he is consulting intensively on that.

Question:  You have indicated that the President was asked not to make changes to the text.  How many countries have asked him to do that?  What are the implications if changes are made?  Would the changes be made in the General Assembly itself, or not at all?

Spokesperson:  I can’t put a number on it.  He said there was a growing consensus.  The text is a “President’s text”, so, as the President, he could change the document he presented, but he is not planning to do that.  And the consensus is that he should not do it.

Thank you very much.

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