24 July 2006


24 July 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good Afternoon.  Sorry this is so late, but I thought that all of you probably would want to hear from the Secretary-General himself, rather than a representative.


We do have a guest.  She should be here shortly.  It is Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström, and she will be joining us today to brief on the UN humanitarian flash appeal for Lebanon, which is being launched today.  Jan Egeland, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, was in Lebanon today for that launch, as he told you last Friday.  And, he will travel to Israel later today.

**Secretary-General/ Lebanon

The Secretary-General, who was just speaking to you moments ago, said he would leave for Rome this afternoon to attend the international meeting that would take place Wednesday on Lebanon.

He said that he hoped that a package would emerge from the discussions in Rome that would allow us to take concrete measures to resolve the crisis in Lebanon.

Among the steps that would be discussed, he added, were a cessation of hostilities, ideas about an international force, and the release of abducted soldiers.

The Secretary-General added, in response to a question, that what is important is to arrive at a set of measures that can be implemented simultaneously, rather than sequentially.


And, we also have a report today by the Secretary-General on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  It is out on the racks today.  In it, he says that hostilities between Hizbollah and Israel since the 12th of July have radically changed the context in which UNIFIL is operating.  In the current environment, circumstances conducive to UN peacekeeping do not exist.  And, he noted that a situation now exists where the Force is restricted from carrying out even its basic activities, such as re-supplying its positions and conducting search and rescue operations. 

At the same time, the Government of Lebanon has asked for the Security Council to extend UNIFIL for a further six-month period, after its mandate expires at the end of July.  The Secretary-General, however, recommends that the Council extend the mandate for one month to provide the time for the Security Council to consider all possible options for future arrangements in South Lebanon. 

**Brammertz Investigation

And, this is on the Secretary-General.  After consultation with the State Parties to the Rome Statute, and approval by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, he has re-appointed Serge Brammertz as the Commissioner of the International Independent Investigation Commission in Lebanon until 31 December 2006.  He is grateful that the ICC has agreed to extend Brammertz’ leave of absence until that date.  The Secretary-General looks forward to further progress in the Commission’s investigation under Brammertz’ continued leadership.

**Security Council

And, this morning, the Security Council is holding an open debate on children and armed conflict.  Among those briefing this morning were:  the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy; Associate Administrator for the UN Development Programme, Ad Melkert; and UNICEF head Ann Veneman.

The meeting is taking place one year after the signing of a landmark Security Council resolution to protect children in conflict.  That resolution created a monitoring and reporting mechanism for six types of violations of children’s rights.  In her comments to the Council this morning, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that, now that the mechanism was in place, we must ensure that concrete measures are taken against violators.

Meanwhile, Mr. Melkert said we need to put in place strong policies that make young people active agents for peace.  For example, youth could be trained as election observers or peace monitors.  For her part, Ms. Veneman drew attention to the fact that, over the past 10 years, some 2 million children have died as a result of war.  We have more information on today’s meeting upstairs.

** Sudan

And, then, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that the security situation in Darfur remains volatile, so much so that the UN’s access to beneficiaries is less than 80 per cent, a figure well below the rates achieved in 2004.  The Mission is concerned that the requisite conditions for humanitarian operations inside camps for internally displaced people are being affected.

And, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, is currently in South Darfur as part of a regular visit to the three Darfur States. He’s checking on UN activities in the region and holding meetings with local authorities on the security situation and on the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.


And, turning to Kosovo, the high-level status talks between Pristina and Belgrade took place in Vienna today, under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari.  The two sides were represented by both their Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Although eight rounds of technical talks have already been held, this was the first time that delegations at this level presented to each other their visions of the political future of Kosovo in the presence of the international community.  The meeting was also the first formal one between top Serbian and Kosovar leaders since 1999.  A press conference by Ahtisaari and his deputy is now being held in Vienna, and we hope to have the transcript, as well as a press release, available for you this afternoon.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And, turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the UN’s continued effort to ensure a peaceful run of the 30 July elections in that country, the Special Representative, William Lacy Swing, left the capital Kinshasa this morning for the troubled eastern province of Ituri.

Swing has repeatedly noted Ituri’s key role as a barometer for the stability of the country and its readiness to hold the elections.  Speaking to the press, Swing said that the UN was vigilant but not overly anxious about the security situation, and he welcomed the fact that militias in the east had not disrupted the election process so far.

**Secretary-General and Pharmaceuticals/AIDS

And then, just a heads up:  the Secretary-General, I mentioned, will be leaving this afternoon, but before he does so, he will meet at 3:30 p.m. in Conference Room 7 with the heads of nine of the world's leading generic and research-based pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies working on HIV/AIDS.

It is the first time that research-based, generic and diagnostic pharmaceutical companies working on HIV/AIDS will be coming together in a single meeting.  It’s also the first time in five years that the Secretary-General will be meeting with pharmaceutical companies to find ways of scaling up HIV prevention, treatment, care and support to all those who need it by 2010, in line with international commitments.

Among the goals of the meeting are to review the industry’s progress in recent years in contributing to the global response to AIDS, and to discuss how the UN and companies can do more together to expand access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support services in low- and middle-income countries.

UNTV will cover the top of the meeting, so you can follow the Secretary-General’s statement. And, after the meeting, we will issue a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General on the meeting’s outcome.

**UN Office of Legal Affairs

And then, available today is a new publication by the UN Office of Legal Affairs on migration-related treaties, titled “Focus 2006:  Crossing Borders”.  This book is being released ahead of the General Assembly summit to promote signature and ratification at this year’s Treaty Event, which will take place during the general debate in September.

There’s more information on that upstairs.

**Guest at Noon

And, as I mentioned, Margareta Wahlstom will be joining us shortly.  So, if you want to wait for her, I hope she will be down here.  Otherwise, do you have any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  As far as I can recall, on Wednesday, July 19th, there was a letter sent by Mr. [Mehmet Ali] Talat to the Secretary-General.  Do we have information about the contents of this letter, or is it sure there was a letter?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is the first I’ve heard, so let me look into it after the briefing and we’ll come back to you, or you can follow me up after the briefing.  [The Deputy Spokesman later added that no such letter had been received.]

Question:  Can you just tell us what the status is of the Secretary-General’s team, where they are, where they’re heading, regarding Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re talking about the Vijay Nambiar team?  They are, as far as I know, they are still here.  Mr. Roed-Larsen will be going to Rome for the Lebanon conference in his capacity as the ‘1559’ resolution envoy, and as the Secretary-General just mentioned to you, I think a lot will be discussed at this conference.  And, the future of the team has still not been decided. 

Question:  Do you have the list of those invited to Rome, and will there be a second meeting afterwards with Syria and Iran also?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I know, the meeting is on Wednesday, as I mentioned.  It is being organized.  We are not the organizer, so you need to talk to the organizers about who they are inviting.  The Contact Group, though, is being invited.

Question:  So [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesman:  I just mentioned to you that the Contact Group of Lebanon will be there, and then, you have to ask the organizers who else they’ve invited.

Question:  Has the composition of the three envoys changed?  Or is there talk of changing that composition?  Because there were reports that Mr. Roed-Larsen ran into some trouble, or there was difficulty with Syria over him taking part in the talks in Damascus.

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing further on the state of the envoys than what I just mentioned to you.  Yes?

Question:  Two things:  has the SG had any contact with the [inaudible] Ethiopian Government [inaudible], situation in Somalia?

Deputy Spokesman:  I will have to check his call list.  He was very busy on the phone over the weekend.  So, let me check that phone list for you.  [The Deputy Spokesman later added that the SG had not called anyone in the Ethiopian Government about Somalia.]

Question:  The other one is on the Sudan.  Are there any new initiatives to try and convince Khartoum to sign onto this UN force, or is it being kicked down the road because of the extension of the African Union there?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think that effort is very much there.  The Secretary-General was just in Brussels, where he spent the greater part of the day attending a donors’ meeting for the AU force [in Darfur] -- that was just last Wednesday –- and there, he did meet with the Sudanese delegation.  So, very much so that the future transition of that force into a UN force is very much still on the top of our priority agenda. 

Question:  Isn’t the Secretary-General concerned by highlighting now the Shebaa Farm issue and how important it is and how it should be solved?  It undermines the UN credibility and his own, in fact, after the UN has drawn its line, and did so with all the power that the UN has and the authority the UN has over such issues.  Now, all of a sudden he says, “Never mind.  We need to reopen it and re-look at it.”  Isn’t he concerned that that undermines the credibility of…

Deputy Spokesman:  I think on this issue, I think I would like to leave it where he just answered the question about that, too.

Question:  The question wasn’t asked.  And, I’m asking you now:  could you find somebody who will explain to me how that doesn’t undermine the credibility of the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General answered that question in the context, right now at the stakeout, in the context of seeking an end to this crisis and of finding long-term solutions to the issue.  And, in that context, he mentioned Shebaa Farms, and I don’t want to take it any point beyond what he said.

Question:  On the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, I guess Mr. Swing said he’s not overly anxious, there’s a report over the weekend of UN vehicles being stoned in the southern mining town, and also many churches are beginning to call for a boycott of the election if vote-rigging for Mr. Kabila is not addressed, in their point of view.  So, I wonder, I mean, I heard your statement.  What is the UN doing about these.. about the churches’ call, and can you confirm the UN vehicles were stoned before a Kabila rally?

Deputy Spokesman:  The specific incidents, I know there have been incidents of violence; we have been reporting on them.  This specific one, I do not have.  In the context of security for the elections, I think he was, what he says, is not to be over-anxious, but the United Nations is being very vigilant so to ensure that the elections can take place peacefully.  And on this issue -– it is an important one –- and we’re trying to set up a briefing for you before the elections.  So, hopefully a lot of these questions can be addressed directly.

Question:  The only thing –- on specifically, the churches’ call, which began on Sunday, for a possible boycotting of the elections this coming Sunday, is the UN, has the UN spoken with them, has it reacted in any way [inaudible]?    Deputy Spokesman:  The UN, as you know, the Mission on the ground is working with all parties on the ground to try to ensure the smoothest elections possible.  And, I know when the Secretary-General was there just a couple of months ago, he also met with a wide section of people on the ground, including church leaders, to try to ensure a “not-disrupted” election process.  As to the specific call, I don’t have an answer for you.  I’ll look into it, okay?  [The Deputy Spokesman later added that that Special Representative William Lacy Swing had called the call for a boycott “untimely”.]

Question:  Does the Secretary-General or anybody else in the Secretariat have any steady opinion on the reconfirmation of Mr. Bolton to the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s a process of the United States Government.  I don’t think the Secretary-General would have a comment on that.

On that note, Margareta Wahlstrom, to launch the humanitarian appeal for Lebanon.

* *** *

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