16 February 2007


16 February 2007
Spokesperson'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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon. 

**Guest at Noon

Our guest today is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, Mr. Alan Doss, who will brief you on the Liberia Partner’s Forum, which took place earlier this week in Washington. 


This afternoon at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will make a statement at an informal meeting of Member States on the follow-up to the adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly last September.

He will tell Member States that, whether we like it or not, our generation will go down in history as one that was challenged to protect the world from terrorism. We have embargoed copies of his speech upstairs.

The Secretary-General will also brief Member States on steps taken by the UN system in taking forward various provisions of the Strategy and will launch the Counter-Terrorism Online Handbook, which is a new resource tool on United Nations counter-terrorism activities.

Then, at 4:00, the Secretary-General will meet informally with the Member States on restructuring.  We have upstairs his letter from yesterday to the General Assembly President about his restructuring plan.

** Sudan

On the Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, and African Union Special Envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, who are on a joint AU-UN mission to re-energize the peace process, held more talks in Khartoum today.

They are expected to meet with the Sudanese President before wrapping up their mission over the weekend.  We have available a transcript of their joint press conference. 

In response to a question, the envoys said they had stressed the importance and urgency, in their meetings with officials of the Government of Sudan, to respond to the letter on the heavy package of UN support to the African Union in Darfur.

The Secretary-General himself yesterday told reporters after the Security Council luncheon that he is still awaiting an official reply from President Bashir to the letter which outlines our detailed positions on force generation, command and control and funding. “With an affirmative answer, we can pave the way immediately to the introduction of an UN/AU hybrid mission,” he said.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, following Security Council consultations, the Council President, Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia, read out a statement to the press, saying that Security Council members condemned the Wednesday terrorist attack on a bus in the south-eastern city of Zahedan in Iran, which killed at least 18 people and wounded many more.

The Council also sent a letter to the Secretary-General, in reply to one that he had sent earlier conveying the Government of Lebanon’s request for technical assistance from the International Independent Investigation Commission in the effort to investigate the bombing that took place on Tuesday near the town of Bikfaya.  The Council invited the Commission to extend appropriate technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities in the investigation.

The Council letter is on the racks. 

** Somalia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that reports out of Somalia indicate there is now a steady flow of displaced persons leaving Mogadishu, in order to escape insecurity and violence in the capital.  About 650 families have reportedly set up temporary shelters at one stop on a road outside the capital, while another 175 people have reportedly moved from Mogadishu to Baidoa.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, said that late yesterday, it had received confirmation that the death toll had risen in a human smuggling incident that had occurred in the Gulf of Aden on Monday.  Some 107 bodies have so far been found along the Yemen coastline, mostly of people who had been fleeing Somalia.

** Guinea

The United Nations has made $2.35 million available from the Central Emergency Response Fund for urgent humanitarian activities in Guinea.  The humanitarian situation in Guinea has increasingly become a source of concern since the nationwide strike was launched last month; according to a Government source, 110 deaths have been recorded since 10 January.

The CERF funds are to be used for the purchase of medicines and other medical supplies for the injured, as well as to support essential telecommunications and a common humanitarian air service to ensure access to more remote parts of the country. These emergency projects will be carried out by the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, in collaboration with their non-governmental partners.

**UNIFEM/Violence against Women

The Deputy Secretary-General will make remarks at the ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is taking place at 1:15 today.  She will discuss the ways in which UNIFEM has successfully managed that Trust Fund over the past decade and will say that this is an opportunity to renew and redouble our efforts.  We have embargoed copies of those remarks upstairs. 

** Iraq Compensation Commission

The Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission will hold its sixty-second session, from next Tuesday until Thursday.  At the opening plenary meeting, the Governing Council will elect a new president and one of the two vice-presidents of the Council of the Compensation Commission, to replace Greece and Japan respectively, whose terms concluded in December 2006.  The Republic of the Congo currently holds the other vice-presidency.  We have more details in a press release from the Commission.

**Press Conference

And then at 11 a.m. next Tuesday, there will be a press conference with Ambassador Munir Akram, the current Chairman of the Group of 77.  Ambassador Akram will brief on the Group’s agenda and on UN reforms.  And I have upstairs for you the Week Ahead at the United Nations.  This is all I have for today.  Yes, Bill?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, on the subject of restructuring, a couple of things.  One, what is the format of this afternoon’s meeting at 4 p.m. going to be, and two, following this meeting, how does the Secretary-General foresee the next steps in terms of a timetable for moving ahead?

Spokesperson:  This afternoon is going to be essentially informal consultations, once more, with an added element that he has give those elements that you have also received yesterday to the membership again, and [will] listen to their different observations on the plan.  Some changes have been made after consultations, and those changes are incorporated in that letter, which was distributed yesterday by the President of the General Assembly.  The next step would be a formal meeting, which is not going to take place, of course, today.  It’s going to take place afterwards, certainly next week or the week after.  Maybe Tuesday we’ll have that meeting. 

Question:  Maybe Tuesday, this formal meeting?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Not set yet?

Spokesperson:  Not set yet.

Question:  Also, will the Secretary-General have an opening statement at the 4:00 meeting this afternoon?

Question:  Will you have copies of that available in advance?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question: Thank you.

Question:  Michèle, just on restructuring.  It seems to me that the Secretary-General, in spite of some setbacks in the very beginning, he’s undertaking a proactive role in this restructuring; he’s willing to talk more and more to explain his position.  I wonder now where he stands, where Mr. Ban Ki-moon stands with enlargement of the Security Council reform -- his predecessor did talk on that very clearly – I wonder where he stands on that? And, how closely is he following the work of the facilitators at the General Assembly on this?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is certainly following very closely everything that concerns reform.  But there are a number of issues, the Security Council issue being just one of many issues.  You have a system-wide coherence issue that has to be talked about next, in the immediate future, and there are a number of other issues. In terms of Security Council reform, as you know and as you heard yesterday from the Spokesperson of the President of the Assembly, they are dealing with this, and the Secretary-General is observing and following.

Question:  And concretely, where does he stand on Security Council reform –- he wants to see that move a little bit faster forward, or…?

Spokesperson:  He wants it to move forward.  He has in the past expressed the view that he feels the Security Council should be enlarged.  How it should be enlarged is something up to the membership.  Yes?

Question:  Just how long does the Secretary-General plan to wait for the reply from President [Omer Al-] Bashir on the hybrid force?

Spokesperson:  Well I don’t think there is an ultimatum there.  He has strongly expressed yesterday, and you heard him, he has expressed his disappointment with the way things have been, particularly the fact that the Human Rights Council could not send its team down there.  He has at several times, expressed this.  What can he do at this point? Right now, he’s waiting for the report he’s going to get, which is going to come soon, as I said, from his envoy and the AU envoy, and this is supposed to come today or tomorrow.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, regarding the senior officials whose resignations the Secretary-General has already accepted and who are waiting for the conclusion of their contract, are they still free to make decisions within their own jurisdictions, or have some restrictions been placed on them?

Spokesperson:  No restriction, whatsoever.  They continue to do their work as usual. Yes?

Question:  Do you have any position regarding the Unity Government of Palestine and the agreement reached yesterday between the parties to form a new National Unity Government?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have a position specifically on that.  You already heard the position that was expressed by the Secretary-General; he talked about it yesterday, and he talked about the fact that he has always been in favour of a National Unity Government, and he’s following the developments very closely and with great interest.  That’s all I can say.

Question:  Do you expect that the American position will impact on the Quartet meeting on the 21st?

Spokesperson:  I don’t like to speak about events in the future.  I would like to wait.  Yes?

Question:  Two questions.  There was a report issued yesterday by the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions, in which he seems to say that sanctions diminish only marginally the practices they attempt to curtail.  So that seemed like a pretty different position than.. does he have the same position like on the Liberia diamond sanctions, or any other sanctions regime?

Spokesperson:  Well, you’re jumping from one thing to the next.  Which reports do you want to talk about?

Question:  DRC.

Spokesperson:  DRC, yes.  Okay, so what do you want to know about the DRC report?

Question:  I want to know whether the statement that he makes about sanctions in that report applies to any other sanctions regimes that the Security Council has enacted.

Spokesperson:  No, it does not. 

Question:  Also, on the outsourcing of a portion of the UN Pension Fund, there’s supposed to be opening bids today, we’ve heard.  The read-out for the RFP wasn’t given, the list of bidders wasn’t given, but we’d definitely like to attend and observe the opening of the bids.  Is that… ?

Spokesperson:  I can ask for you whether that is possible.  Actually, you know it is just the beginning of a process.  It is not a done thing; it is a beginning of a process and I will ask for you how opening these bids will be.  I don’t know at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Concerning the attack on the Zahedan, did it occur at night or during the day?  Is there any more information on that, and is there an investigation under way?

Spokesperson:  On the part of the UN, no.  Yes?

Question:  Israel has imposed restrictions on access at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and limited the age to 15.  What’s the United Nations position on this? I mean, this is an occupied area, and the right of worship is sacred in the Charter of the United Nations.  Do you have any…. ?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any statement beyond what I told you the other day. No, I don’t.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, would you mind clarifying what the Secretary-General said yesterday concerning his position on the Palestinian Unity Government and whether it should lead to lifting the embargo? He said that some countries are cautious about this issue, but what does he personally think? What is the view he’s going to take with him to the Quartet meeting?

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s going to first, the discussions are going to go on between now and the Quartet meeting.  I will be able to give you a better answer after the Quartet meeting once the consultations have gone on between the principals of the Quartet meeting.  For the time being, I cannot say anything beyond what was said yesterday by the Secretary-General.

Question:  Yes, but what’s his personal view? I mean, what’s his position ahead of that meeting? He said that some countries have some reservations or positions, are cautious – that’s the word he used – but, does he think that the requirements have been met by this Unity Government so far?

Spokesperson:  He considers it a very positive development, what has happened.  He has said it, he said it yesterday when you were asking him the question yesterday, and this is again his statement, and we stand by it.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, on Pakistan, regarding the proposed closure of four UNHCR camps in Pakistan for over 200,000 Afghan refugees, can you indicate where these refugees will be relocated, in which provinces? Do you have any idea?

Spokesperson:  We’ll have to ask UNHCR for you, or you can actually go to the website.  I think they have the information. 

Question:  Well, some of the refugee camps, I saw they had no latrines, they were overcrowded, so that’s a problem.  And, secondly, is this closure part of the resurgence of the Taliban?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  You’ll have to ask UNHCR.  They made the decisions and it’s their call.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you for seeing me.  You nodded to me so I thought that you finally saw me.  Thank you very much.  I am going to grow bigger.  Yesterday, Paula Dobriansky, the chief negotiator for the United States for climate change, at 4:00 visited the Secretary-General.  Today now, Sir Nicholas Stern, who is the point man now after his report, former head of the World Bank economic section, who has a lot of good things to say on the tremendous damage coming up because of climate change – he is now meeting with the Secretary-General.  Could you please inform us about the Secretary-General’s moves -– because he has made moves, but you do not inform us.  Could you please inform us what goes on?

Spokesperson:  Do you think I’m hiding what the Secretary-General is doing on climate change? I don’t think I am. 

Question:  I have it on my web that he is doing things, and you simply do not let those things be known.  I have stated in the open and I’m saying it now in the open.  Please, could you keep informing us?

Spokesperson:  I am doing my best, sir.  And, so far, I think everything concerning climate change that has come out of this Office at this podium was informative to your colleagues.  I don’t know if it was not informative to you, but I think they were informative to your colleagues.

Question:  Tell us at least.. [talkover]

Question:  Just to follow up on the Darfur issue – you said there was no ultimatum, but could the outcome of Mr. Eliasson and Salim’s report change the position of the Secretary-General concerning the deployment of the hybrid force?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know at this point.  We have to wait for the report.  The Secretary-General believes very strongly in the political process, and the political process has to really be the ultimate solution to the problem.  So, as you know, he’s very concerned about the situation in Darfur and following it very, very closely.  Yes, Bill?

Question:  Michèle, what happened to the captions for all the pictures in this room?

Spokesperson:  They were just taken down to be redone.  But, they have not disappeared altogether.  Thank you, Bill.

Question:  In addition to the Chef de Cabinet, who are the people working in the Executive Office for the Secretary-General at the present time?

Spokesperson:  Well, right now, as you know, the office is being reshaped, and the Secretary-General’s office is examining a number of applications for 12 posts, now 13 posts, that he has circulated, so the thirty-eighth floor is not yet what it will be in the next few weeks.  Yes?

Question:  The Council of Europe today announced that the US has refused to allow it to visit Guantanamo, and it said that it had to go with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak.  So, has he also been denied once again access to Guantanamo Bay?

Spokesperson:  I can check.  He had been denied before, but I can check if this is the case this time around, yes, I’ll find out for you.

Question:  One other thing.  At the stakeout yesterday, Mr. Ban said that he has a shortlist for the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide.  Is that shortlist going to be released at some time?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I’ll let you know.  Yes, sir?

[She later said that the process to find a new Special Adviser was continuing.]

Question:  What is your quotable answer to my question? You didn’t give me an answer.

Spokesperson:  That was not a question, sir.  You accused me of..

Question:  Yes it was.

Spokesperson:  …of hiding information.

Question:  Do you have information for us from the two meetings of yesterday and the one from today?  I want a quotable answer.

Spokesperson:  The two meetings were held on climate change, okay? That’s all I can say at this point.  They discussed the different aspects of climate change.  It was already said that those meetings were going to be about that.

Question:  I didn’t ask that question.  If you would have said this in your statement, that this subject is being talked at the UN, I would have asked my question.  That’s my point.

Spokesperson:  Thank you very much, sir.  Any other questions? Do we have General Assembly today? No, I guess not.  Mr. Doss.

* *** *

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