18 December 2006


18 December 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.

** Sudan

Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General has decided to send to Khartoum Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, a senior UN official, to deliver a message to the Sudanese President, Omar Al Bashir, following up on a weekend telephone conversation between the Secretary-General and President Bashir.  Ould-Abdallah will begin on Wednesday, a diplomatic mission to clarify details of the agreement reached last month at the high-level meeting on Darfur, which, as you recall, was co-chaired by both the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, as well as to clarify the subsequent results of the African Union Peace and Security Council meeting, which took place later in Abuja in Nigeria.

Mr. Ould-Abdallah will also seek to clarify the joint “hybrid” operation of the African Union and the United Nations in Darfur.  Meanwhile, here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General is meeting with members of the Security Council this afternoon at 5 p.m.  Also attending the meeting will be five Member States who will be joining the Security Council in January.  Secretary-General-designate Ban Ki-moon is also expected to attend that meeting.

** Alliance of Civilizations

The Secretary-General, along with the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey, will be in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at 3:45 this afternoon, to present the report of the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations to an informal plenary meeting of the General Assembly.  In his remarks, he is expected to say that the report, launched last month in Istanbul, shows us a way forward, as it emphasizes the problem is not the faith but rather the conflicts, terrorism and other events of the past several years that have exacerbated tensions amongst people.  He is also expected to say that the United Nations, at its best, epitomizes the work of the Alliance.  We have in my office embargoed copies of his speech available upstairs.

Also in connection with the Alliance of Civilizations, I’d like to remind you that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will be in this room at 5:15 this afternoon to brief you on the work of the Alliance.  And then tonight at 7 p.m., there will be a concert featuring the West Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and that is in honour of the Secretary-General and in support of the Alliance of civilizations.

**Security Council

Also at 3 o’clock this afternoon, the Security Council will hear in an open briefing from Serge Brammertz, the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission that has been looking into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  And that assassination, as you will recall, also took the lives of 22 other people.  Following the briefing, Council members will go into closed consultations to discuss Brammertz’s most recent report.

This report is now out on the racks and, in it, Brammertz says that the investigation into the Hariri killing is approaching a sensitive and complicated phase, and the Commission’s work can only be undertaken with confidentiality in order to create a secure environment for its witnesses and staff.  Meanwhile, the Commission’s work on 14 other cases continues to bring to light significant links between each case and with the Hariri case.  Mr. Brammertz has told us he will stop at the Security Council stakeout after he is done briefing the Security Council ambassadors.

** Iraq

From Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country, today condemned the recent acts of violence and terror that have further deteriorated the fragile security condition in Baghdad and in other parts of the country.  The most recent incidents were the car bombs at the Tayaran Square on 12 December, in which scores of innocent people were killed or injured, and the kidnapping of dozens of people from an Iraqi Red Crescent office in the Karrada district of Baghdad yesterday.  Mr. Qazi appealed to all Iraqis to join hands in combating such violence that threatens their nation.  He specifically noted the Prime Minister’s convening of a recent reconciliation conference and said that such initiatives need to be built upon.  In this regard, he urged the regional and international community to assist the Prime Minister in his efforts.  And we have that full statement upstairs.

** Haiti

Today, the United Nations appealed for $98 million to help Haiti stabilize and develop itself.  Launched in Geneva, the appeal aims to reinforce the Haitian Government’s capacity during the critical post-electoral transition period, so that it can improve, among other things, its democratic institutions and its ability to respond to natural disasters.  We have a press release on that upstairs.


Also, the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has issued a report on how funds deposited into the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) Tsunami Trust Fund were used.

Under the supervision of the United Nations Controller, that Fund was established to manage contributions set aside for tsunami operations.  The total amount received under the Fund amounts to nearly $75 million.  Since the start of the operation, more than $72 million of that amount has been allocated to 67 projects from 14 United Nations organizations in seven countries.  And the full report is available online on Relief Web.

**Migrants Day

Today is International Migrants Day.  And in a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that today more people are affected by international migration than at any other time in history.  He calls on the international community to work together to ensure that this global trend benefits all concerned, including the countries of origin and destination, as well as the migrants themselves.  And in a separate message, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says that the reality for many migrants is one of exploitation, exclusion, discrimination, abuse and violence amounting to widespread human rights violations.  And this must change, she says in her statement.

**Secretary-General Press Conference

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. will be the Secretary-General’s farewell conference.  It’ll take place right here in this room, in 226.  And as usual if the Secretary-General has a press conference, I will not have a noon briefing, which is always good news.  And just for your planning, also, the last scheduled noon briefing of the year, barring breaking news, will be on the 22nd, Friday.  Since there are only three working days next week, we will not have a live briefing.

**Security Incident

And lastly, I just wanted to update you on a situation from Friday afternoon, when a letter that was in the process of being delivered to the fourth floor pigeonholes was found to be leaking a white powder.  United Nations Security was immediately informed about the suspicious package.  The New York Police Department and the Department of Environmental Protection responded to the incident and preliminary tests discovered a harmless substance, namely flour.  This morning, New York’s Department of Health, after final test results came in, confirmed the substance was harmless.  And we are told the New York City Police Department’s Seventeenth Precinct is continuing its investigation into that issue. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I’m glad the substance was harmless and it was benign and everything else, but how did this person who dropped the substance breach the security?

Spokesman:  It was a United Nations messenger who was delivering the mail.

Question:  And he was not asked to explain about this package, nothing.

Spokesman:  The letter was in the mailbag.  As he was delivering the letter, as this person, he or she, does, the person saw this white powder flow out and so informed Security.

Question:  Following the irradiation years ago, how are letters and packages screened or scanned coming into the building?  I remember years ago it took weeks for letters to get to people.  I wondered, I thought that might have been backed off on without revealing private security information.  What is to prevent a similar letter arriving in an hour with Ivory soap in it?  What’s the story?

Spokesman:  I will check with Security to see what we can tell you on how the screening process is conducted.

Question:  Why?  Mail is two weeks, three weeks late, sometimes it’s not even delivered.  I thought the scrutiny was there and some people welcomed it.  Then why this breach, that’s what I’m asking.

Spokesman:  Obviously, the Security service is continuing to look into it.  If I have an update, I will give one to you.

Question:  Two points about this.  Really, it’s time that we review the security of the mail.  People on the fourth floor are complaining about losing mail.  It should be secured in a room.  When the postal worker took the envelope back to the second floor, he took it all over the place, the place wasn’t immediately sealed, people were walking through.  If it was anthrax, it would have been a big problem because people went home.  When I complained to the New York Police Department, they said, well, the Security here have made a flaw by not securing the place.  It was a mess, a complete shaft, to be honest.  High time now that the mail service is organized and put into a secure room with a part-time worker, with UNCA or the United Nations paying for it, but it has to be organized.  We have been complaining and complaining.  This is an example of what could happen.  If this was anthrax, people would have been contaminated big time.  And we have families.  It’s no joke, to be honest.

Spokesman:  Hey, listen, I think everyone is taking it seriously.  Maybe it’s something we can discuss after the briefing.  We can set up a meeting with Gary and we can set up a meeting with Security to try to go through the system.

Question:  There were reports it was addressed to CNN.  From speaking to two separate detectives, because I was decontaminated and investigated downstairs, and questioned by four policemen, and my colleagues as well, and I was told it wasn’t CNN, it was an Islamic media organization.  Can you tell us who it was addressed to?

Spokesman:  I can tell you it was not addressed to CNN.  At this point I cannot tell you exactly who it was addressed to, but it was not addressed to CNN.

Question:  Was it somebody who was nonexistent or somebody who actually existed?

Spokesman:  It was addressed to someone who actually existed.

Question:  This Islamic organization?

Spokesman:  I understand, I don’t think I can go into further details at the briefing on this.  I’ve told you all that I’ve gotten from Security on this.  I’m happy to talk about this off line.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General’s decision to send a Special Envoy to the Sudan in any way represent any signals coming out of Khartoum that it might be positive towards the hybrid force and also in that regard, what is the readout you have today about the meeting in Khartoum on that subject?

Spokesman:  The meeting has not yet taken place.  Mr. Ould-Abdallah’s mission is a one-off mission on behalf of the Secretary-General in order to get as much clarity as possible on the Sudanese position relating to the hybrid force, to the agreements that were reached in Abuja and in Addis Ababa.  The Secretary-General will meet with members of the Security Council this afternoon for further discussions on Darfur and to brief them on his immediate short-term strategy to get the process moving.  And after the meeting we’ll hopefully have a readout for you.

Question:  If he’s sending a Special Envoy, what does his immediate short-term strategy consist of?

Spokesman:  He will be briefing the Security Council members and we’ll give you a readout afterwards.

Question:  Who is this person?

Spokesman:  Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah currently serves as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for West Africa.  But he is going in his capacity as a Senior Adviser to the Secretary-General to Khartoum.

Question:  Has he been involved in this process before?

Spokesman:  He is fully aware of this process.  He has not been directly involved in Darfur, but he is fully briefed and he will be carrying the Secretary-General’s message to President Bashir.

Question:  My sources are telling me that the Secretary-General has been offered the post from the Alliance of Civilizations, mainly from Mr. Zapatero and Mr. Erdoğan, to be Political or Chief Director or whatever, after he leaves the office.  Is that true?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has been offered quite a lot of posts and activities after he leaves office.  As he has said to you and to others, he plans to go underground for a few months after he leaves on 1 January, and he will decide what his priorities are and what his options are.  But no decisions have been made.

Question:  Was it offered him? 

Spokesman:  No decisions have been made on his part.

Question:  This weekend, the leaders of the Great Lakes signed a very important pact on stability, security and development in the region.  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  He sees it as a very welcome development.  The Secretary-General is very supportive of the Great Lakes process and of this specific process over the years.  He strongly believes in a regional approach to a lot of the issues, the security and development issues that were raised at the conference.  So it is a welcome development.

Question:  Is Mr. Brammertz meeting with the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  Not on this trip.  He met him when he was here earlier, a few weeks ago.

Question:  How long is he staying in New York?

Spokesman:  I don’t have his travel details but he will speak to you, as I said, at the stakeout.

Question:  He won’t come to 226?

Spokesman:  No, at the stakeout after he’s done with the Council.

Question:  I’m sorry if I missed it, I was late.  Do I understand correctly that Kemal Derviş is giving a press conference at some point?

Spokesman:  Yes, we announced it last Friday and it is taking place, if I’m not mistaken, on the twenty-first, either at eleven or one o’clock.  I can check.

Question:  On the Sudan, for Mr. Abdallah, do you know how long the mission will be?

Spokesman:  I can find out.

Question:  And also, the team that went to Chad and Central Africa, will there be a report or something?

Spokesman:  There will be a report to the Security Council.  We’ll see what we can get for you on an update.

Question:  So Kofi Annan, I understand, has this important meeting on Darfur this afternoon, tomorrow a press conference.  Are there any other events that we can expect involving him over the course of the next couple of days before we all break for the holiday?  And also, just to follow up on this question of whether Kofi Annan might become the representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, there’s also a rumor, and I’m just trying to find out if there’s any real concrete substance to it, that he might take over as an envoy for the Darfur situation?

Spokesman:  As I said, there’ve been a lot of reports of offers, left, right and center, for the Secretary-General after he leaves this job.  He has not made any decisions and he is not expected to make any decisions any time soon.  He’s going to take a few months off and decide what his priorities are and where the next phase of his life will take him.

Question:  Any important meetings?

Spokesman:  I’ll have to check.  Those are the main ones.

Question:  And then, when does he actually leave United Nations Headquarters to go underground, as you said?

Spokesman:  January first he will leave office.  He will be in New York until January first.

Question:  On the Alliance of Civilizations, just for the record, is there any involvement of the Iranian Government, either by funding or by being active, in the project?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any, off the top of my head.  We have someone from the Alliance in the back and maybe after the meeting he can answer that question for you.

Question:  On the plan for the creation of a foundation, where does that stand?  Is that going to be done sometime soon or does that have to wait until he comes out?

Spokesman:  I have no update on that.

Question:  On UNESCO, there was talk about appointing the former President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, as an envoy.  Now they’ve suspended it based on human rights questions that arose.  It arose in this room about two months ago.  What type of review is done before these people are named and how long?  It’s been put under suspension.  What is the process?

Spokesman:  You would have to ask UNESCO that.  They have an office here in New York.

Question:  Okay.  On this anti-revolving door policy, when is it going to be finalized and is it going to be finalized while you’re still holding noon briefings?

Spokesman:  Very much so, because I’d like to be able to announce it before I go.

Question:  And will there be an opportunity to ask questions about it when it comes out?

Spokesman:  There’s always an opportunity to ask me questions.

Question:  The Secretary-General and his pension.  Can you just give us the details on that?  I’m hearing that he’s asking for more money.

Spokesman:  He’s not asking for anything more than what he’s entitled to get.  Kofi Annan spent more than 30 years as an international civil servant for this Organization.  For that, he is entitled to a pension according to the rules and regulations of the Joint Pension Board and the International Civil Servants Unions.  As mandated by the General Assembly, there is also a pension that is due to him for his 10 years as head of the Organization.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  There was a story out the other day, quoting an unnamed United Nations official saying that the pension would exceed $2 million, with $250,000 annual payout.  I guess it’s the combination.  Can you confirm that and can you break down how that works?

Spokesman:  The pension that is owed to him as Secretary-General is mandated by the General Assembly.  You can look up the General Assembly resolution.  And I don’t have the figures for the pension that is owed to him for his 30 years but again, that is easily calculable if you look on the Joint Pension Board.

Question:  This Middle East peace process being initiated by Mr. Tony Blair.  He’s been visiting the Palestinians and the Israelis, and he’s saying basically what the Quartet has been saying about the two States.  Is this part of the Quartet or separate from the Quartet, what Prime Minister Blair is doing?

Spokesman:  You know, I haven’t seen the exact statements that the Prime Minister has made, but obviously the two-State solution is something that the Secretary-General and the Quartet have been pushing for.

Question:  Are there separate sources for the pensions, one for 10 years and one for 30 years, and does the 30 years include the 10 years?

Spokesman:  No, no, no.  The Secretary-General stopped being a staff member, as you all very well know, when he became Secretary-General.  As any other person who’s worked for this Organization for x number of years, in his case more than 30 years, he has a right to a pension, he was contributing to that pension, this is money that he’s been putting in.  As any other staff member, he’s been putting in to a pension.  He stopped officially being a staff member when he became Secretary-General.  As part of the secretary-generalship, the General Assembly had voted on a pension and he will collect on that pension.

Question:  Is he contesting?  Is there anything to this?

Spokesman:  There’s nothing to contest.  One, he’s paid into a pension after more than 30 years as a civil servant, and the other one has been voted on by the General Assembly. 

Question:  Is there any news on the Fund he announced for Africa?

Spokesman:  No, I was just asked that and I said I had nothing new on that.

Question:  The Secretary-General meets in the cafeteria with the staff tomorrow.  Why was that location chosen?  Are the staff invited?  Is there Q&A?  Will it be covered by United Nations TV? 

Spokesman:  Yes, staff has been invited.  It was a large space, large enough space to have an informal get together with the staff before he leaves.  It’s obviously not the biggest room but we thought it would be more informal and pleasant than one of the big halls.  There will be some speeches, some give and take.  This is meant as an occasion for the Secretary-General to bid farewell to the staff in New York, not just the Secretariat but obviously the funds and programmes.  I do not believe there will be any press coverage, but I can check for you.

Question:  Some of us have been asking for an interview with one of the co-chairs of the Alliance of Civilizations for the past six months.  When one of the chairs was there in your seat, he said he was not aware of it.  Then we brought the issue to his attention.  It has now been three months.  We have not gotten any answer.  Can your office intercede, find out?

Spokesman:  Sure.  There’s a gentleman in the back from the Alliance.  He can help you out.

Question:  Will staff members be allowed to openly ask questions of the Secretary-General tomorrow at the gathering?

Spokesman:  I’ll check but I do believe it is a give and take.  I’ll check on the exact scenario.

Question:  Will the Secretary-General be in the building on 31 December?  Where’s the last?  Because we might have to cover his departure.

Spokesman:  I think his last planned workday in the building will be on Friday, this Friday.

Question:  Twenty-first?

Spokesman:  Twenty-second.  He will be in New York and working from home the remainder of the week and if he needs to come to the office for any meetings, he will come in.

Question:  That’s a Monday evening, if I’m right.  Sunday.  There’s no midnightish Sunday evening that we have to worry about, lowering the flag?

Spokesman:  Not at this point, no.

Question:  You said earlier that the Secretary-General-designate will be attending the meeting of the Council this afternoon.  Is there any particular reason for his attending?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General wanted to reach out to the Secretary-General-designate and invite him to attend this meeting.  Obviously, Darfur is one of the many issues that remain very much on the front burner and so it’s to best brief him and keep him up to speed on the latest developments.

Question:  On the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Coomaraswamy on children and armed conflict.  There are reports of some people being unhappy with her and her focus on Sri Lanka.  They say they’ve sent hundreds of protest letters to Ban Ki-moon saying that she shouldn’t be reappointed.  I wonder if there’s some way, maybe through you, to verify that these protests have been received and what the process will be.

Spokesman:  That you would have to address to Soung ah-Choi, from Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s team, who sits in my suite of offices.  You can ask her if you have that question before 31 December.

Question:  Would the Spokesman’s Office request a photo or a TV still of the meeting of the two Secretary-Generals and the Council?

Spokesman:  We will ask.  And on that note, thank you very much.

* *** *

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