27 March 2006


27 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesman

**Press Conference by Haitian President-elect R éne Pr éval

Right after this briefing, at about 12:30 p.m. in this room, we do expect to hear from the President-elect of Haiti, René Préval.  He may be a little bit later than that depending on how the Security Council schedule is working out.  But certainly, whenever it’s adjourned for the morning session, he’ll come here to this room to talk to you.

**Security Council

And on that, the Security Council is today holding an open meeting on Haiti, in which it heard from President-elect Réne Préval.

The Secretary-General, who met with Préval earlier this morning, opened the meeting by telling the Council that the first round of national elections that took place last month was a vivid illustration of the faith of the Haitian people in the democratic process, and their determination to make a fresh start.

The Secretary-General stressed, “It is right and indeed necessary that a multidimensional peacekeeping operation continue.”  Yet, the work of the UN Mission in Haiti, he added, can tackle only the most urgent needs, and generous and coordinated bilateral assistance is needed to supplement and build on those efforts.

Juan Gabriel Valdes, the Head of the UN Mission in that country, also spoke to the Council and stressed the inclusive character of the elections, which saw a massive turnout from all sides.  The open debate is continuing, with more than 30 speakers inscribed.

**Human Rights

On human rights, a short while ago in Geneva, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed the final session of the Commission on Human Rights.

Arbour noted the historical importance of the creation of the Human Rights Council, but also noted that its actual impact on people’s lives is still to be determined.  She said, “Much will rest on the profound culture shift that must accompany this institutional reform.”

The first opportunity to breathe life into this new institution will come with the elections of its first members, scheduled for the 9th of May, she said.  This is a vital opportunity for the United Nations to begin setting the standard for its human rights work in the future.

The Council will convene for the first time on the 19th of June and begin its work.  Arbour said it will be important that during its first sessions the Council quickly find a way to deal with its substantive mandate, even as it establishes its working procedures.  And her remarks are available upstairs.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, today strongly condemned the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in Iraq, where sectarian tensions are higher than ever and mutilated bodies continue to appear on the streets on a daily basis.

He said he was saddened and appalled by the daily cases of torture, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial executions that have affected all communities and led to the internal displacement of Iraqi civilians.

Qazi called on the Iraqi authorities to take firm action to stop the violence, and emphasized the need, more than ever, to speed up the formation of a government that will assert respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Qazi also addressed the summit of the League of Arab States in Khartoum over the weekend, and he told the gathered Arab leaders to send a message that Arab solidarity supports all of Iraq’s communities.  We have copies of those two press releases upstairs.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Special Envoy for the implementation of resolution 1559, yesterday left Lebanon, ending three days of intense talks with leaders there.

Before departing, he told reporters there that he was very encouraged by what he had heard and seen in Lebanon.  Noting the agreements reached so far in Lebanon’s national dialogue, Roed-Larsen said, “There is a consensus among the Lebanese that the border with Syria needs to be delineated, and that formal diplomatic relations should be established.  This should take place as soon as possible.”

He added that the matters of Hezbollah and the Palestinian militias and their arms should be dealt with through dialogue and consensus, guided by the Taif Agreement, which ended the infighting and communal violence among the Lebanese, and by resolution 1559.

Today, Roed-Larsen is in Paris, where he met with the Foreign Ministers of France and Qatar.  After meeting with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Roed-Larsen said, “The outstretched hand of a united Lebanon should now be grabbed by Syria.  It takes two to tango.”  And we have several press releases from this weekend that describe his travels to Lebanon and since there to Paris.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk, will visit the Juba region in southern Sudan later this week on 30 and 31 March, in the aftermath of the attacks that were reported on UN camps last week.  He will then travel to Abuja, Nigeria, on 1 and 2 April to meet parties of the peace talks on Darfur.

**Department of Peacekeeping Operations

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations will hold policy meetings tomorrow and Wednesday aimed at coming up with ways to increase the number of women in uniformed posts in peacekeeping missions.  Although the numbers of civilian positions held by women in peacekeeping has increased recently to 27 per cent, the percentage of women in the military and police units remains far too low, at 1 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

The meetings will bring together senior military and police officers from both troop-contributing and troop-receiving countries.  Reporters are invited to attend the sessions, which are taking place in Conference Room 1.  And we have details in a press release upstairs.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

Out on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary General to the Security Council reiterating his call for increased troops and police for the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire.

The Secretary-General says the Mission needs four battalions of soldiers, three formed police units, and 100 additional police officers to support the implementation of the peace agreement there and provide protection for the October elections.  He originally asked for the additional support on 3 January, when he presented his latest report on the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire.

**Statement on Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General, in a statement we issued on Saturday, also warmly welcomed the decision of the European Union to start planning and preparation for possible EU support to the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  Consultations between representatives from the European Union, the UN and the Congolese authorities are presently under way.  And that statement is up on our website.

**Early Warning Conference

More than 1,200 participants from 140 countries are gathering today in Bonn, Germany, for the Third International Conference on Early Warning, to discuss ways to reduce natural disasters.  The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, is there to present a report on the Global Survey of Early Warning Systems, which was called for by the Secretary-General in January 2005.

Also attending is the UN’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President Bill Clinton.  Addressing the conference today, Clinton said that making communities safer -- by better managing the risks of natural hazards —- must become a global priority.  And we have a press release on the conference upstairs.


The UN Human Settlements Programme, or UN-HABITAT, has awarded a Special Citation to the King of Sweden for what it calls “his tireless campaigning to promote an environmentally sustainable human habitat”.  And we have a press release on that upstairs.


And we have some information that the Secretary-General is expected to speak to the press at the second floor Security Council stakeout following his meeting with Congressman Henry Hyde’s delegation, and after Congressman Hyde speaks.

That meeting is due to begin at noon, and they should wrap up hopefully 30 or 40 minutes after that.  So, you’ll have considerable time from right now to get right down the corridor if you want to talk to them.

**Press Conferences

In terms of other press conferences, as I said earlier, President-elect Réne Préval will hold a press conference in this room shortly -– 12:30 p.m. or possibly a little bit after that.

Then tomorrow, at 12:45 p.m., Ambassador Revaz Adamia of Georgia will be in this room to brief on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.

And before I take your questions and then go onto Pragati, I want to welcome the students from Columbia University.  Welcome to the UN.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A question I’ve been wanting to ask in this room for about a month now -- I wanted to ask [President George W.] Bush in the Oval Office when I was there with the Secretary-General, but he wasn’t taking questions -- and it’s based on a report that came out on British TV about a month ago and it’s now in The New York Times this morning.  And it is that Bush discussed with [Prime Minister Tony] Blair at the White House in January 2003 perhaps using a U2 spy plane painted with the UN colours to fly purposely low over Iraq in the hope that Saddam [Hussein] would have it shot down and cause a pretext for war.  Do you have any comment on that, and wouldn’t that be a gross violation of the use of the UN by a Member State if that’s true?

Associate Spokesman:  It’s a shame you didn’t get to ask your question to President Bush.  I think he’s more senior than I on this sort of thing.  I do not, in fact, have a comment on this.  You’re referring to something that could have happened or may have happened but --

Correspondent:  It’s according to memo that was now been leaked to the Times to David Manning, Blair’s top assistant.

Associate Spokesman:  But this is something that did not actually take place.

Correspondent:  The discussion of doing it seemed to take place.  That’s what I --

Associate Spokesman:  I would have no comment on the discussions that are part of this leaked memo.  I don’t have any way of gauging that.  In any case, in terms of Iraq, our goal at this stage is to deal with the situation on the ground.  As I just pointed out to you, our concerns are about the violence that is occurring on a daily basis and the need to stabilize the situation.

You all know what our position was in the period prior to the war and during the period when UN weapons inspectors were on the ground in Iraq, and there’s no real need for us to rehash.  The Secretary-General certainly hasn’t been looking backwards -- he’s been looking forwards to what can be done right now to deal with the situation on the ground today in Iraq.

Question:  But let me follow up on that.  Given what the UN position was before the war, with the Secretary-General, in particular, opposed the invasion, does he believe that this kind of sectarian violence would be happening, would the roof still be on the mosque in Samarra if the US had not invaded and listened to what the Secretary-General was saying?

Associate Spokesman:  There’s no point in speculating what might have been.  We’re dealing with what actually exists.  What does exist today, yes, is a significant level of sectarian violence.  Ashraf Qazi, our Special Representative, has said that he does not believe what we’re seeing right now is a civil war.  But he’s warned that this country, Iraq, could actually slide into ungovernability if this level of violence continues.  And so we need to take steps to prevent events from spiralling out of hand.  You know what our warnings were prior to all of this -- yes.  But at this stage, the point is dealing with the matters on the ground as it stands.

Question:  The Secretary-General, I just wanted to check the report I read, basically rebuffed efforts to get involved in the Cyprus issue again.  Are you saying -- no, the UN is not ready to mediate, facilitate new talks on Cyprus?

Associate Spokesman:  Well, in terms of Cyprus, we continue to be involved in various efforts.  For example, our Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Moller, did meet with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. [Mehmet Ali] Talat, this morning and they discussed ways in which to move forward.  And we continue to seek out information from both sides on how they’re prepared to do so.  We don’t have anything more than that to announce at this stage, however.

Question:  But the report I read quoted a letter by Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari saying no-go basically.  Is that correct?  Did he write that letter?

Associate Spokesman:  As far as I’m aware, in terms of a letter that was leaked today to the press, all I can say on that was that at the Secretary-General’s request, a letter was sent to the Turkish Cypriot leader by Under-Secretary-General Gambari detailing what happened at the Paris meeting -- that is to say, the Paris meeting that the Secretary-General had with President Tassos Papadopoulos.  That’s all I really have to say about that.

Question:  Negotiations over the statement on Iran in the Security Council got kind of wrapped up -- wrapped up is the wrong word, I guess -– kind of bogged down in discussion.  I’m just wondering if the Secretary-General has any intention, has mentioned any plans to get involved to try to facilitate some kind of movement on that.

Associate Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, as you yourself just mentioned, this is a matter in the hands of the Security Council.  And what we’re waiting to do is to see what the Security Council membership agrees to.  And obviously, we’re prepared to do whatever needs to be done in response to that.  But we’re waiting for them on this.

Question:  But should it remain in this stalemate almost indefinitely?  Are there not concerns that the situation could take on different directions?  And if it moves away from the UN, then you might get some kind of development in terms of unilateral actions or anything that maybe would make it more desirable to settle things in the Security Council.  And would the Secretary-General know when to intervene?

Associate Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General certainly hopes that the members of the Security Council can come to an agreement on this issue.  Iran is an important issue and it’s up to them, nevertheless, to be the ones to agree to this.  This is a matter that was brought to their attention at the request of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its Board of Governors.  So the Security Council has the responsibility to see how it wants to respond.

Obviously. the Secretary-General hopes that their discussions will progress.  While that goes on, of course, the International Atomic Energy Agency is continuing with its work.  And the Secretary-General has also been encouraging Iran to do all that needs to be done, including the sort of discussions it needs to have with other countries to ensure that concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme are being dealt with.

Question:  I’d like to ask if the Secretary-General has any comment regarding the announcement today that General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is going to be Swedish Foreign Minister.  There’s a number of proposed reforms that are still on the table that need to, that are supposed to happen, in the coming five or six months.  Does he have anything on that?

Associate Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General actually was asked about that just as he was departing the Security Council about half an hour ago.  And he said that he knows that General Assembly President Eliasson has important work to do here, but he added, “I’m very pleased that he has been designated Foreign Minister.”  And we trust that he will be able to do both the job of Foreign Minister and continue with his responsibilities as General Assembly President as he’s been doing.  And, of course, very soon, once I leave this podium, Pragati could tell you a little bit more about that.

Question:  The Prime Minister-designate of Palestine, Ismail Haniya, this morning declared before the Palestinian legislators that his Government is ready to open a dialogue with a Quartet in order to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This appears to be a very significant development.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction so far to this declaration?

Associate Spokesman:  Well, as far as that goes, the Quartet members -- besides the UN, as you know, includes the Russian Federation, the EU and the United States -- have been discussing developments concerning the Palestinian Authority since the elections, and they’re continuing to deal with that issue.  I would wait to see what the Quartet says next.

I believe at this stage what the Quartet wants to do is see what happens following the inauguration of a Palestinian government.  And they may react at that point.  At this stage, there’s nothing to say about what the Prime Minister-designate has been saying other than to say that, of course, the Quartet has made it very clear what any incoming Palestinian Authority Government would need to do, which is, to say, that they would need to foreswear violence, to recognize Israel and to abide by all previous agreements, including the Road Map.

Question:  The Greek Foreign Minister was slated to do a press conference and then it was cancelled.  She still seems to be on the Secretary-General’s schedule for this afternoon.  Is she still in the Building and will she speak at the stakeout?

Associate Spokesman:  You’d have to check with the Greek Mission whether she’s going to speak at the stakeout. Certainly, she was supposed to speak right before this briefing and that was cancelled.  She is still scheduled to meet with the Secretary-General this afternoon.  But like I said, if you want to know whether she’s going to make herself available, you might want to check with the Mission.

Question:  Coming back to Cyprus, could you tell us why the letter was sent by Mr. Gambari and not by the Secretary-General himself?  And second, do we have any positive answer by the Turkish Cypriot side so we can start what those committees agreed in Paris?

Associate Spokesman:  I don’t have anything on the Turkish Cypriot side.  I’d have to check on that.  As for Mr. Gambari, he is our senior official dealing with political affairs, so it was appropriate and only natural that he would respond on this particular letter concerning our political efforts in Cyprus [while the Secretary-General was travelling].

Question:  This meeting between the Secretary-General and the two American lawmakers, is it only concentrating on UN reforms or are they going to be talking about Iran and Iraq also, or are they scheduled to talk about --

Associate Spokesman:  Well, you’re in luck because they’ll actually both come out and talk to you about what it was that they spoke about.  I believe quite a bit of the focus is about UN reforms, but I would imagine that some other matters may come up.  But you’ll have a chance to talk to Congressman Hyde and to the Secretary-General fairly shortly about that.

Question:  Members of FRODEBU, the second largest party in Burundi, have apparently withdrawn from the Government.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this development, and what it would do to the transition in the country?

Associate Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment on this right now.  I’d need to get some more information.  Obviously, the only thing to say about this at this stage is the Secretary-General has consistently encouraged an inclusive government in Burundi.  But I’ll have to see what else we can say about that.

Question:  According to reports, Nigeria has agreed to extradite Charles Taylor back to Liberia.  But there is the [Special] Court which is demanding that Mr. Taylor be handed over to it in Sierra Leone.  How does the United Nations see that that particular issue be resolved now?  Will he go to Liberia, or would he be handed over to the [Special] Court?

Associate Spokesman:  Well at this stage, obviously, this is still an issue in which the Governments of Liberia and Nigeria are dealing.  The Prosecutor for the Special Court, Desmond de Silva, did come out with a statement yesterday, in which he did welcome the comments from Nigeria agreeing to transfer Charles Taylor.  Obviously, the Secretary-General, in the past, has repeatedly made it clear that he would expect justice to be done, and he wants it to be, in the case of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, as with other courts, that indicted suspects are, in fact, transferred so that they can be tried.

In terms of the particulars, that’s still up to the Governments who are seized of this matter to deal with.

Question:  There’s an Iraqi-US Women’s Summit across the street today and tomorrow.  Many of the women complain that UN programmes aren’t effective enough now, and that there are many people on the ground and Iraq’s Ambassador said that he’d like to see more presence of the UN in Iraq.  When will it be safe enough to go back in?

Associate Spokesman:  We’ve consistently been trying to increase our presence in Iraq as much as we can, given the security conditions on the ground.  As you’re aware, there are significant security problems, but we do have, at this stage, more than 120 professional and support staff deployed in Iraq itself, including in Baghdad, as well as at smaller outposts in Basra and in Erbil.

And, of course, we continue to monitor the security situation on the ground daily.  And based on that, we can continue to try to expand our efforts as security allows.  But you have to recognize what the challenges we face on the ground are.

And with that, I will turn the floor over to Pragati Pascale.  Thanks and good afternoon.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

The following statement has been issued today:

The President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, has today, 27 March, been appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden by Prime Minister Göran Persson.  Mr. Eliasson will formally take office on 24 April.

Mr. Eliasson will continue his work in his position as President of the General Assembly.  He will be based in New York and return to Stockholm on a regular basis.  To assist Mr. Eliasson, Prime Minister Persson has today appointed a Deputy Foreign Minister, the current Minister for Development Cooperation, Ms. Carin Jämtin.

President Eliasson will continue to work with the same commitment and energy to implement the United Nations reform agenda.  He is returning to New York tomorrow, as planned.

Many previous Presidents of the General Assembly have also served concurrently as Foreign Minister, including Mr. Eliasson’s immediate predecessor, Jean Ping of Gabon.

And the President has informed the Secretary-General of his appointment.

On Friday afternoon, the President sent to all Member States a letter setting out his plan of work for the coming months, following the milestone adoption of the resolution establishing the Human Rights Council.

To give you a few highlights, on development follow-up and ECOSOC reform, the President urges delegations to go into the informal consultations scheduled for tomorrow, 28 March, with a willingness to constructively discuss the issues, and to show flexibility in order to assist the co-Chairs, the Ambassadors of Belgium and Mali, in quickly finding the best way forward.

On Secretariat and management reform, the President notes that there is broad agreement that we must address the substantive issues as quickly as possible, and that it is important that we see the first results of our deliberations in the next few months.  On the review of mandates, the Secretary-General will present his report to the Assembly on 30 March, this Thursday.

On the Peacebuilding Commission, the President states that we must now ensure that the Commission becomes operational as soon as possible, and that it is vital that we select or elect the members of the Organizational Committee without further delay.  He is looking forward to the elections in ECOSOC taking place very soon, followed by the selections in the donor and troop-contributing categories, and the elections in the Assembly.

On terrorism, he says that, although progress has been made on the comprehensive convention on international terrorism, additional consultations are needed.  At the same time, he is calling for consultations to begin in the coming weeks on a counter-terrorism strategy, based on proposals to come from the Secretary-General.  The President is announcing that this process will be led by Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore and Ambassador Juan Antonio Yañez-Barnuevo of Spain.

The President states that he remains fully committed to pursuing the goal of Security Council reform as agreed at the World Summit, and notes that three draft resolutions on this issue have been tabled.  He is available for consultations and also encourages Member States to work constructively with the Ambassadors of the Bahamas and the Netherlands, the co-Chairs of the Open-ended Working Group on this matter.

And this afternoon, the Assembly will meet in plenary to consider the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, the second phase of which was held in Tunis in November 2005.  The draft resolution will be introduced by Tunisia’s Minister of Communications Technologies, Mr. Montasser Ouaili.  Among other things, the draft resolution invites the Secretary-General to convene a new Internet Governance Forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue, as decided at the Tunis Summit.  It is expected, as discussed in informal consultations, that the first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum will take place in Athens from 30 October to 2 November 2006.

Any questions?  Great.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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