19 March 2007


19 March 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.

**Secretary-General’s Middle East Trip

The Secretary-General will leave this week for Egypt, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel and Jordan.  He will on the 28th of March attend the Arab Summit in Riyadh before departing for Beirut.  The Secretary-General will be back at Headquarters on the 2nd of April.

The Secretary-General’s main priorities for the trip will be the Middle East peace process, stability in Lebanon, Darfur and the United Nations role within the Iraq Compact.

The Middle East is among the top items on the Secretary-General’s agenda.  The UN has had crucial political and operational roles in the Middle East for over 60 years.  And the Secretary-General wants to see first-hand the UN peace operations and presences in the region.  He also wants to hear first-hand from the people in the region on the problems and challenges they face.

The Secretary-General believes that we are seeing a renewed dynamism in diplomacy in the Arab world.  During his visit to the Arab League Summit, he wants to express his support to ongoing efforts to reenergise the Middle East peace process and bring about peace and stability in Lebanon, Iraq, and in the broader Middle East context.

** Middle East Quartet

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke this morning with the other members of the Quartet for peace in the Middle East.  The conference call included US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Javier Solana, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.  They discussed the Quartet’s approach to the new Palestinian Unity Government between Fatah and Hamas approved by the Palestinian legislature on Saturday.  They have agreed that there will be a joint statement that will be issued this afternoon.

**Security Council

The Security Council is discussing Kosovo this morning.  Members heard a briefing in a closed meeting by the Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Kosovo Joachim Rücker and are now in consultations on the same subject.  Mr. Rücker will be at the stakeout following those consultations.

Then this afternoon at 4 p.m., the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno is scheduled to brief the Security Council in consultations on Sudan, in connection with the Sudanese President’s response to the Secretary-General’s letter on Darfur.

Mr. Guéhenno has also agreed to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout microphone following those consultations.

** Sudan

Also on Sudan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, is scheduled to depart tomorrow on his first field mission since taking up his post on 1 March.

During his two-week mission, Mr. Holmes plans to travel to the Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic. 

He will begin his mission in Khartoum, then plans to travel to Juba, in southern Sudan, before going to the Darfur region.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator is then expected to travel to eastern Chad, and the final leg of his three-country mission is northern Central African Republic and the capital, Bangui.

Upon his return, he will brief the Security Council on his mission, and there is a press release available with more details.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan continues to report attacks on villages in Darfur.  Following an attack yesterday on a village north of El Geneina, in West Darfur, villagers in neighbouring Jebel Moon are fortifying their defences fearing similar attacks, according to the Mission, which has provided more details in today’s update. 

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General’s most recent report on Afghanistan is out as a document.

It will be discussed by the Security Council tomorrow, and the Special Representative, Tom Koenigs, will brief you too.

In his report, the Secretary-General recommends that the mandate of the UN Mission, due to expire on 24 March, be extended for a further 12 months.  He says that it is time for the international community to reconfirm its commitment to Afghanistan and to move expeditiously to consolidate the accomplishments of the last six years.

The Mission, he says, should focus in the coming months on promoting a more coherent international engagement in support of the Afghanistan Compact; strengthening its humanitarian coordination role and contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights; and extending its good offices role through outreach inside the country and support for regional cooperation.

** Afghanistan -- Education

Also from Afghanistan, the Mission today flags a briefing by UNICEF, which reports that more than 6 million boys and girls in grades one through 12, have returned to school over the past year.

You can read more about it in the briefing notes from Kabul.

**Human Rights Council

Turning to Geneva, today the Human Rights Council held a special event on violence against children, including a video presentation followed by an interactive discussion with the Independent Expert for the United Nations Study on Violence against Children, Paulo Pinheiro. 

** Sierra Leone

A seven-member delegation of the Peacebuilding Commission is leaving New York today for Sierra Leone, where the delegates will conduct the Commission’s first in-country mission until 25 March.  Led by the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands, Frank Majoor, who chairs the Commission’s country-specific configuration on Sierra Leone, the delegation will meet with government officials, multilateral and bilateral partners, and civil society representatives.

The mission aims to obtain first-hand information, identify priority areas and assess challenges to peacebuilding.  The delegation will also seek to bring increased attention to peacebuilding efforts in Sierra Leone and promote the main principles and purposes of the Peacebuilding Commission. 

And for your planning purposes, the head of that delegation, Ambassador Majoor of the Netherlands, will be a guest at the noon briefing on 28 March.

**FAO -- Bird Flu Detection Kit

Animal health experts from 15 nations are meeting today in Vienna to discuss new portable labs that experts say could revolutionize the fight against bird flu and other livestock diseases.

The main device under discussion is a mobile testing system and reader the size of a small portable television.  It can also be used to detect other animal diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease and Rift Valley Fever.

The weeklong talks are part of a joint research project involving the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The programme explores potential uses of nuclear technology to increase agricultural production, including the use of isotopes in the diagnosis of disease.  We have a press release upstairs.

**UNDP -- Goodwill Games

Today, United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassadors Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane are hosting the Match against Poverty, in Marseille, France.

Forty other players are joining them in a game designed to remind the world that everyone is responsible for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Proceeds will go to projects selected by UNDP in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

We have a press release upstairs.  This is all I have for you today.  Yes, Mr. Abadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, how many journalists are accompanying the Secretary-General on his Middle East trip?

Spokesperson:  Eleven.

Question:  Eleven?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General already established his own position on whether the new Palestinian Unity Government should be engaged vis-à-vis the three principles of the Quartet?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think he will join the Quartet statement this afternoon, which is a joint statement.  He will not express a separate opinion at this point.

Question:  Except in a meeting earlier today was an Israeli politician that did express an opinion.  Could you confirm whether that is his opinion?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have the readout of that meeting.  Yes?

Question:  One, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has been quoted as saying that if Mr. Ahtisaari feels he’s done everything he can, maybe someone else should be bound for the job.  Does the Secretary-General have any response? Would he consider appointing a different representative on the Kosovo status question?

Spokesperson:  At this point, Mr. Ahtisaari is the one responsible.  And he is the one in charge.

Question:  Warren Sach, I’ve just heard, has been renamed to be the Secretary-General’s representative to the Pension Fund.  Could you explain Ms. Bárcena… it was passed by Sach to Bárcena on 1 March.  And I then just called Sach’s office and they said that he is now, once again, the representative to the Pension Fund.  Is there a reason for that?

Spokesperson:  No, there was just an administrative process when Ms. Bárcena became head of the Department [of management], there was a switch to her.  But Mr. Sach has been reconfirmed.

Question:  Does that indicate any change in the position on the outsourcing of the $9 billion of the Pension Fund, or just…

Spokesperson:  You can ask that question to Mr. Sach.  I do not think so.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, of course, a follow-up to Matthew’s question.  I wonder why anybody, if anybody, is really thinking of replacing Mr. Ahtisaari.  Even you repeated that even the Secretary-General hinted somehow that talks have been exhausted.  I mean, they are finished now, so is there a valid question or request for replacing Mr. Ahtisaari?  How do you see that?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, no.  Mr. Ahtisaari …as you know, the project is being presented to the Security Council and…

Question:  The Secretary-General or to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be presented to the Security Council, and this process has to go on, and Mr. Ahtisaari is in charge.

Question:  And also, how today’s talks on Kosovo will influence the final talks in the Security Council? How do you see that?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s difficult to assess this at this point.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  I wanted to just… is today’s Quartet statement on the Palestinian Unity Government?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it will be.  It’s not out yet.

Question:  And, in the Middle East trip, will the Secretary-General be meeting with the Government, the new Palestinian Government?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he will.

Question:  That means he’ll be meeting with Hamas for the first time, yes?

Spokesperson:  He will be meeting with members of the Government.

Question:  With the members of the Government or the President?

Spokesperson:  He’ll be meeting with the President.  At this point, I don’t have the final programme yet, and I will let you know whether there are other people involved.  He is meeting with President Abbas.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  When was the last time the Secretary-General spoke with President Bashir Assad, on Lebanon and on the tribunal?

Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm that for you.  I don’t know.  I don’t know when the last time was.  I can check.  Yes?

Question:  I have a question on (inaudible).  I wanted to also say that we have occasions in the past where the Secretary-General has spoken out against what seems to be, you know, an abuse of the rule of law in African countries.  One is in the process in Nigeria, where the courts have given a ruling on the (inaudible) of the Vice-President…  And the Government is saying they are not going to pay the courts.  I’d like to know, is the United Nations following this? The Vice-President has sent a petition to the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you that the United Nations is following the situation.  And although, as I told you last time, we do not have a specific answer on the reaction on the part of the Secretary-General, he is following the situation closely.

Question:  Yes, but do you know whether he has received the petition from the Vice-President of Nigeria?  Do you know that or not?

Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm.  I don’t know whether he has received a petition.  Yes?

Question:  During his Middle East tour, will the Secretary-General be addressing the Israeli Knesset at all, do you know?

Spokesperson:  He is going to be meeting the Speaker of the Knesset but I don’t have a meeting with the whole Knesset.  Isn’t she also Israel’s President…(inaudible).

Spokesperson:  Well, she is acting President, yes of course.  I think he is meeting her in both capacities.

Question:  About the… (inaudible), do you know if the Secretary-General will also address freedom of speech, because last week an Egyptian web (inaudible) got sentenced to four years in prison because he insulted Islam?

Spokesperson:  I know what his main priorities are, what his main subjects of discussion will be, but I don’t know whether he will discuss that issue.  Yes?

Question:  Following up on the Volga-Dnepr and Corimec suspensions from last Friday, how long is the investigation going to go on before a final decision is made? What peacekeeping missions are actually involved in this? And can you also answer this: why did the PTF decide to remove Avicos and Cogim, and merely suspend the two other companies?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the first part of your question.

Question:  I was saying, how long is this investigation going to go on?

Spokesperson:  You’re talking about the investigation on?

Question:  Volga-Dnepr and Corimec, who were suspended.  I’m asking how long is this investigation going to go on before a final decision is made? And what peacekeeping missions are involved?  And my second follow-up to that is why did the PTF remove Avicos and Cogim and merely suspend the two other companies?

Spokesperson:  Yes, well I cannot answer that question.  However, it’s a valid question.  I think I already had requested someone from Procurement to talk to you, or someone in charge to come and discuss this issue.  I know there is a press communiqué, a press release, that was put out on that issue on Friday.  But we will try to go further for you and try to get someone to answer your questions.

Question:  A follow-up, does that mean the investigation involving Avicos and Cogim has finished? And if so, when will that be made public?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I would suggest you address that question to the people in charge.

Question:  Will it be made public?

Spokesperson:  What, the investigation? I don’t know at this point but I can ask.  And you can ask the person who is going to come and brief you on this.  You know, I don’t have the answers on this right now.

Question:  When would that be? Any idea?

Spokesperson:  Well, I have to ask first.

Question:  You said you asked.

Spokesperson:  No, you had someone from Procurement on Friday, who came in, was part of the briefing.  And that person answered some of the questions that two of you had.  And apparently you have other questions, so I have to ask him whether he could come back, and who could come back to brief you.  That’s what I said.  Yes, Mr. Abadi?

Question:  There is a confidential report, apparently commissioned by the German Government, accusing the United Nations Administration in Kosovo of being infiltrated by mafia and crimes.  Is the United Nations vigorously rejecting these allegations?

Spokesperson:  This is a leaked report by a German agency, reported in press accounts.  We don’t have any independent verification on this.  And we have to go and look through it.  But you have the opportunity to discuss this with people who represent Kosovo.  There is a briefing after the Security Council.  You could ask your question then.

Question:  Any reaction about Daniele Mastrogiacomo?  He is an Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq.  There is a press release about him issued two days ago and he was freed just a few minutes ago.  Is there any reaction?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything at this point.

Question:  There is, in northern Uganda, the Juba talks of the LRA, they’ve said they would resume the talks if conditions they’ve communicated to Mr. Chisano are met, but it’s not really clear.  So, I’m wondering if you have any readout on his meeting with them, and also whether he is going to come and brief the Council.  There’s something on their agenda about the Great Lakes, but I don’t know if that’s him or the other Great Lakes mission.

Spokesperson:  It would not be him.  I will ask Mr. Chisano’s office for a readout of that meeting.

Question:  There’s a story saying that objectors to military service in South Korea are asking the United Nations to somehow intervene on their behalf.  So I’m wondering…if the Secretary-General has received that, and does he have any thoughts or comments on compulsory military service in South Korea.

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, he hasn’t received anything.  Yes?

Question:  Since [former] United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had appointed Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia, as a Special Envoy on United Nations Reform, among others, have there been any new appointments in this area of United Nations reform?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  Yes, Mr. Abbatti?

Question:  Michèle, in addition to the 11 journalists, who else is accompanying the Secretary-General to the Arab Summit? Are there any United Nations high officials going with him?

Spokesperson:  I know that Under-Secretary-General Pascoe will be with the Secretary-General on that trip.  And there are other officials that will be also there.  I will get a list for you.  I don’t have a list with me at this point.  Yes, Mr. Pincas?

Question:  As long as we’re on this subject, how were those eleven chosen and will the list of the 11 will be made public?

Spokesperson:  Of the 11 journalists?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Sure, it can be made public.  Every time the Secretary-General goes on a trip there are journalists going with him.  It’s a public thing.  And, actually, the journalists who go with the Secretary-General are people who applied to go.  And some people, they have to pay for part of the expenses, as you know, and some of them, their editors just say no.  Some people are willing to go and cannot go, so it’s not a question of…we don’t pick the names out of a hat.

Question:  What about journalists who applied and were not accepted, were rejected, whatever, were not invited?

Spokesperson:  Because we cannot bring 40 people with us.  There is a limited number of people we can bring.  Yes?

Question:  Then, my real question is, can we know what criteria were applied in choosing those people?  That clearly is a question.

Spokesperson:  Well, our first priority was journalists from the region or covering the region, or people who are interested in what is happening there.  We had a number of applications that were accepted on that basis.  The criteria are very clear.

Question:  I thought it was on the basis of dashing good looks and rapier wit…

Spokesperson:  [laughter] Thank you very much.

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