22 March 2007


22 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Our guest at today’s briefing will be Paul Buardes, the Chief of the UN Procurement Service.  Also, please be advised that there will be a presentation by the OIOS Procurement Task Force in the coming weeks, and Robert Appleton will appear before you then to answer questions.  Meanwhile, we will distribute for you just before the noon briefing guest starts a statement by the Task Force, providing an update on its recent activities.  And we will put that out shortly.

**Secretary-General in Iraq

We will start with the Secretary-General’s travels.  Although we could not mention this in advance because of security reasons, we just got the following update from someone who has been spending the day with the Secretary-General, who today made a one-day visit to Iraq, where he met with Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki to discuss the United Nations’ commitment to help the people of Iraq.  The Secretary-General stressed to the Prime Minister the need to include all major political groups in the political process; the importance of upholding international human rights standards; and the UN’s commitment to move forward on the International Compact for Iraq.

Afterward, the Secretary-General attended a luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister, at which a number of Parliamentarians and leaders of Iraqi political groups were also present.  He then met later in the day with some of the other Iraqi political leaders, as well as with the diplomatic corps in Baghdad.

Earlier, the Secretary-General had met with UN staff in Baghdad, both international and national, and listened to their concerns.  He then laid a wreath on the monument that was made in honour of the former head of the UN Mission in the country, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The Secretary-General and Prime Minister al-Maliki also held a joint press conference, and our colleagues in Baghdad will put together a transcript of that press conference. 

**Security Council

Today here at United Nations Headquarters, the Security Council, in consultations this morning, heard from Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia, on the work of the UN Mission in that country.  Doss presented the Secretary-General’s recent report on Liberia and said that, although the political situation has remained quite stable, there are still serious security challenges that require continuing attention and action.

We are in contact with Mr. Doss to see whether he can speak to you while he’s in town.  Then, this afternoon at 3:00, the Security Council intends to hear in consultations from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army-afflicted Areas, Joachim Chissano, and may hold a formal meeting on that matter.

Council members also intend to hold further consultations on the non-proliferation draft resolution concerning Iran, immediately after those consultations.  We have asked Mr. Chissano to speak to you at the stakeout following his appearance in consultations.

** Sudan

On the first working day of his two-week, three-country trip to Africa, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes met with several senior Government officials today in Khartoum, including the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Minister of National Security.  He also met with representatives of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations working in Sudan.

The meetings focused on the humanitarian situation in Darfur, where the operating environment for the world’s largest humanitarian assistance programme has become ever more challenging over the past ten months.  While security incidents targeting aid workers have increased, bureaucratic obstacles such as visas, travel permits, and customs restrictions have become more cumbersome, and threaten to slow, or even stop, humanitarian operations.

Mr. Holmes is expected travel to Darfur to visit several field locations over the weekend.  Tomorrow, he plans to travel to Juba, Southern Sudan, for the day and meet officials down there.

**Human Rights Council

From Geneva, the Human Rights Council is holding a discussion with John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.  He presented both his annual report to the Council and a report concerning the fact-finding mission authorized by the Council at its first special session last July, which he was appointed to lead. 

After this discussion, the Council will hold a dialogue with Professor Christine Chinkin, a member of the high-level fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun, Gaza, which was commissioned by the Council at its third special session last November.  Professor Chinkin is presenting a report on behalf of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was appointed to head the mission and couldn’t attend today’s session. 

Earlier in the day, the Council concluded its discussion on the report of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and then debated various thematic issues raised earlier in the week, including freedom of religion and the rights of children, women, minorities, migrants, indigenous peoples and internally displaced persons.

** Middle East

Just to recap for those of you who may not have seen it, yesterday afternoon, there was a statement by the Middle East Quartet, which we issued upstairs, which summarized the telephone discussions held by the Secretary-General and the other principal members of the Quartet concerning the situation in the region, and in particular the establishment of a Palestinian National Unity Government.

The Quartet expressed its strong support for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to further facilitate discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  The Quartet agreed to meet in the region soon to review developments and discuss the way ahead.

** Israel -- Palestine Peace Process

The Food and Agriculture Organization is today hosting the UN International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  That event is taking place at the Rome headquarters of the FAO.  And in a message delivered by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that important developments are taking place among Palestinians, between Palestinians and Israelis, in the region, and internationally.  Copies of the Secretary-General’s messages are available upstairs.

And from Gaza in the occupied Palestinian territory, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says that its Commissioner-General, Karen Koning AbuZayd, today attended the re-opening of the Wadi Gaza bridge, a project supported by UNRWA in its continuing commitment to improving the welfare and well-being of Palestinian refugees within the broader Palestinian community.  And we have more details on that in a press release upstairs from UNRWA.

** Haiti

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti reports that gang members have handed in dozens of automatic weapons to the National Disarmament, Dismantlement and Reintegration Commission in recent days.  This is one further sign of the progress made in bringing stability to the crime-ridden areas of the nation’s capital as a result of the recent anti-gang activities carried out by the Haitian National Police and supported by UN peacekeepers.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo Statement

And we just received a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the situation in Kinshasa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General is deeply alarmed at the outbreak of fighting in Kinshasa between the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the guards of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.  The Secretary-General calls for an immediate halt to the fighting, which threatens the lives of innocent civilians in the area and risks grave consequences for peace in the country. 

The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) stands ready to assist the Government in bringing about an end to the current fighting, to re-establish security in the area, and to work with the Congolese Government in addressing the underlying issue of appropriate security for Mr. Bemba.

** Nepal

Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, has issued a press statement in which he said that the recent killings in Rautahat have shocked the international community and could and should have been avoided.  He said he hopes that the perpetrators will be identified and brought to justice.

We have Martin’s statement upstairs, as well as one from High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, which confirms at least 25 killings in the recent clashes in the Terai region.  Arbour said that such incidents must not be allowed to jeopardize the peace process in that country.

** Guinea-Bissau

The Secretary-General’s most recent report on Guinea-Bissau is out today.  It says that the persistent and bitter divisions there among key national stakeholders threaten to compromise the independence and authority of the judiciary and the legislature.  The Secretary-General has strongly urged all actors to use the proper constitutional channels to resolve their dispute.

**World Water Day

Finally, today is World Water Day.  The Secretary-General has issued a statement, in which he notes that 700 million people suffer from water scarcity, a number that could quadruple by 2025.  He added that rapid population growth, unsustainable consumption patterns, and pollution are among the threats to current supplies.

In Rome, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization called coping with water scarcity the “challenge of the 21st century”, while the head of the UN Environment Programme issued a statement calling for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.  Climate change is one of the main threats to the water supply, he said.

Here in New York City, many top restaurants are today asking diners to pay one dollar for the tap water they normally get for free.  The funds will go to UNICEF’s drinking water projects around the world.  We have several press releases upstairs.  There are press releases on all these issues upstairs. 

Let’s start in the back and come up front.  Richard?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, I noticed - I don’t know if I missed it - you didn’t mention this moment where there was a mortar that went off in Baghdad near the Secretary-General.  It’s the video that’s been seen around the world.  It’s the video that’s been seen the most of the new Secretary-General in the past few months.  Why didn’t you mention that?  What’s the reaction of the Secretary-General to that and again, our ritual, what’s the latest count?  Presence of the United Nations, what it’s doing in Iraq?

Spokesperson:  Okay, the reason why I did not mention it is because he is fine.  And following the press conference, or what you saw on the television screen, he proceeded to take the rest of the questions, two more questions, at the press conference, and then proceeded with his programme in Baghdad, which I did flag, which was his meetings with the various political leaders and the diplomatic corps, before he wrapped up his visit to the city.  To let you know, all I know about the incident which you all witnessed; we can confirm there was a mortar attack.  There was a mortar that went off outside the compound in an open field about 100 meters away, in fact, from the place where the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister were holding their press conference.  No one was hurt and not, certainly, the Secretary-General nor his delegation.  And he is…

Question:  Was it aimed at the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  The United Nations mission there is investigating the incident, but they tell me that occurrences like this happen almost daily in Baghdad and there is an investigation underway.

Question:  It is still newsworthy, or noteworthy, I find it unique it would not be in the regular listings of what happened to the Secretary-General.  I mean, that seems a little bit more important than some other events on his calendar.  What is the United Nations’ role right now in Iraq?  How many people?  What does the United Nations feel it is doing to help the Iraqi people?

Spokesperson:  Just on that, I’d like to point out that when the Secretary-General, or we announced, or he himself announced, his visit to the Middle East, the United Nations’ role in the Iraq Compact was one of the four key issues that he himself said he wanted to focus on during this trip; the others being Lebanon, the attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, and the Darfur crisis.  As you recall just last week, less than a week ago, the Secretary-General did convene the Iraq Compact meeting here in New York, where nearly 100 delegations attended, and the Secretary-General very much urged for the official launch of that Compact, so that the Iraqis can get back on the road to peace and stability as soon as possible.  As for what the United Nations is doing there, the United Nations, given the current security considerations, has a staff of about 65 internationals, maybe double that of national staff, and the Secretary-General today met…

Question:  What about Fijians?

Spokesperson:  The Fijians are the guards and that’s a separate…

Question:  So, does the 65 number include the Fijians?

Spokesperson:  No, it does not.  This is just international staff, and the Secretary-General met with the staff this morning.  In fact, that was one of the first things that he did this morning in order to listen to their current concerns. 

Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Spokesperson:  Can I…

Question:  My soundbite was interrupted there.  Can you continue on what else the United Nations is doing there?

Spokesperson:  I think I’ve spoken enough on your question, so I will go to Betsy.

Question:  Actually Marie, I’m sorry but it’s kind of the same questions.  Ban Ki-moon’s going to Iraq in the first place, is this a sign that the United Nations will be increasing its activities there, in keeping with the Compact, or does this event today jeopardize that idea?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the reason again, why we did not lead with the incident that you saw, is because if saw the Secretary-General, he continued the press conference.  He continued with the programme, and the reason why he went to Iraq in the first place was to show the United Nations’ commitment to try to bring about peace and stability to Iraq and to flag the importance of that for the peace and stability of the region.  And as I mentioned, this is one of the four topics that were included as his main issues to deal with on his first trip to the Middle East as Secretary-General.

Question:  Gerald Ford was fine after Sara Jane Moore shot at him and it was reported immediately and the United States Government didn’t not mention it.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General was not shot at.

Question:  Do you expect that in keeping with bringing stability to Iraq that the United Nations will be taking a larger role in the future?

Spokesperson:  I think given…depending on security conditions on the ground, the United Nations is, the Secretary-General and the United Nations have always wanted to help the people of Iraq.

Question:  Marie, in light of the non-event that you are describing this morning, there’s no security review going on about…?

Spokesperson:  I just said there is an investigation underway.

Question:  But you didn’t say if there has been any talk about changing his security or changes to his security.  I’m talking about United Nations personnel.

Spokesperson:  This just happened, as you know, a short while ago.  I have no further information than what I have now.  Yes?

Question:  I just want to ask if you have received any notifications from the Iranian delegations concerning a possible visit by President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.

Spokesperson:  The only notification, I think, is the same as what you all have seen, which was the letter to the Security Council President, in which the President expressed his interest.

Question:  Anything new?  I mean, do you expect him in the coming two or three days?

Spokesperson:  I checked with Protocol and no, they have not received any official notice from the Iranian delegation up to this day.

Question:  Going back to Iraq, what is the task of the United Nations over there and who is doing their security?  Do they go out? What do they do?

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand your…

Question:  The task of the United Nations over there…

Spokesperson:  The United Nations Mission on the ground, as you know, has helped with the elections there.  They have been helping with the Constitution efforts as well.  And as you know, they have…whatever they can do on the humanitarian and development fronts they are on the ground to do.  Their security is, as Benny mentioned, there is the guard, but that is ostensibly there to guard the Mission.  But it’s also in the framework of the larger security presence there.

Question:  Two quick questions: one is when was the last visit by a Secretary-General to Iraq?  Secondly, can you tell us who is the Secretary-General going to meet with on the Palestinian leg of his trip, and whether that will include anybody of the Unity Government?

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, I forgot the first part of your question.

Question:  The first question, when was the last time a Secretary-General visited…

Spokesperson:  Yes, Secretary-General Kofi Annan last visited Iraq in 2005.  I will get you the precise dates of that.

[The Spokesperson later said it was on 12 November 2005.]

Your question about who exactly he is going to meet, can I go through the programme for you after the briefing and let you know?  Okay.

[The Spokesperson later said that he would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, among other officials.]

Question:  Marie, could you tell us, since the Secretary-General’s programme has now changed and he is not now in London -- he is obviously not going to fly back to London -- what is he going to do?  You said it’s a day trip.  I assume he’s not spending the night in Baghdad.  Where is going?

Spokesperson:  All I can tell you on that is that he will proceed with his Middle East trip, as announced, which starts in Cairo tomorrow.  London was really just a place where everybody was going to meet up. 

Question:  Marie, as you indicated, the Secretary-General in Baghdad met with the United Nations staff, both international as well as national.  You indicated they expressed their concerns to him.  What specific concerns have they conveyed to him?

Spokesperson:  I just got this readout from our people on the ground.  Let me try to find out more for you if you are interested.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, were there any security concerns before the Secretary-General was going to this trip?  That if he goes to Baghdad, something like that will happen?  The reason why I am asking you this, because we have published in our publication, somehow, I thought that I made a mistake and I apologized for that yesterday to the spokesperson, that he is going to visit Baghdad.  Then, all of a sudden, he is indeed visiting Baghdad.  So, what…

Question:  (laughter) and then all of that happened?

Question:  And all of a sudden, he is visiting Baghdad.  What was the reason that he was hiding, or you were hiding that he is going to visit Baghdad? Or that this completely came…

Spokesperson:  Purely for security reasons, as we did with the last Secretary…

Question:  You knew that he was going to visit Baghdad.

Spokesperson:  Obviously, the Secretary-General knew he was going to Baghdad.  For security reasons, we did not make it public, as we did not the last time the Secretary-General, the previous Secretary-General, went to Baghdad.  As in the previous case, once his arrival was there, it was announced that he was there.

Question:  Then, I have to ask you this:  is he going to visit Damascus?

Spokesperson:  On this trip? As far as I know, no.

Question:  Okay. 

Question:  Tehran?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, no.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  He will, however, just to flag, attend the Arab League Summit, at which he will be meeting with various leaders.  And that you do have to take into account.

Question:  Who will he meet?

Spokesperson:  Obviously, we don’t have the complete list of bilaterals, but given the numbers of leaders that are going to be there, he himself has said the reason for his going to the Summit is so that he can meet and personally discuss issues of the region with the various leaders attending.  We will get you an updated meetings list as soon as we know it, as Michèle had promised you.

Question:  Thank you.  Is Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Palestine, I mean right now…

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the detailed programme with me, so I will give it to you when I get it. 

Question:  Can you tell us why the traveling press was not included in the Iraqi portion of the trip?

Spokesperson:  For the same reasons -- security reasons -- we did not publicize this visit.  I think he went virtually alone.

Question:  The press (inaudible)…

Spokesperson:  Michèle is not with him, no.

Question:  Condi Rice goes with press.  Could that not have been arranged in this case? 

Spokesperson:  Due to security reasons, he went with a very, very small delegation. 

Question:  Has it been confirmed that the Secretary-General will go to Beirut after the Arab Summit?  Is that a confirmed visit?

Spokesperson:  Yes. 

Question:  Is the Secretary-General going to talk with any leaders in the Middle East about a zone free of weapons of mass destruction?

Spokesperson:  He hasn’t actually started his visit, other than to Baghdad, so I’ll have to get readouts from the meetings and let you know if that subject comes up.  I will pass that on to the Spokesperson. 

Question:  In the Ivory Coast, France has said it is going to draw down 500 of its troops.  There were questions made by AU to the United Nations that UNOCI start pulling troops out.  What is the Secretary or DPKO doing in light of this request?

Spokesperson:  I think right now, it has not been officially…as far as I know, the Security Council has not taken up that request.  So, you probably have to see with them, what they are thinking on the future of the mission. 

Question:  I noticed the Spokesman for UNDP is here and I’m assuming this is about these memos that have surfaced showing that requests were made earlier than previously recorded about cash payments and seconded staff.  Is he going to come to the podium?

Spokesperson:  I understand that we do have Dave Morrison here and he is willing to take questions.  I actually don’t know whether he is coming to the podium but we do have a guest first.  So, maybe you can talk to him immediately after the briefing. 

Question:  Besides the Under-Secretary-General, DPA and the Spokesman and journalists, who else is accompanying the Secretary-General to the Middle East? And is he going to visit any Arab countries during his…?

Spokesperson:  I think we’ve already given you the countries.  He is going to Egypt.  He is going to Lebanon and he is going to pass through Jordan, and he will spend…and the centerpiece of his visit is the Summit, is the Arab League Summit.

Question:  (inaudible)

Spokesperson:  Again, I have to look at the list.  I mean, there is always a delegation.  If you’re curious, we will look through the delegation together.  Yes? 

Question:  Obviously for many United Nations staffers, the attack a few years ago in Baghdad is still fresh and the wounds still haven’t healed.  I’m just curious, on a personal level, when you heard that the Secretary-General was near something that exploded today, how did you feel personally?

Spokesperson:  I was able to see it on the television so, therefore, we saw that there was a sound.  The Secretary-General, I think, ducked a little then stood up and continued work.  Then I noticed that the Prime Minister didn’t flinch.  So, later when I asked the people on the ground about the incident, they said it’s a daily occurrence.  So in that sense, I was reassured.  But of course, when I heard that the Secretary-General went to Sergio de Mello’s memorial site, of course, as a staff member, that brings back lots of sad thoughts for those of us who work here.  You asked me for a personal opinion and that was a personal opinion.  Yes?

Question:  I have two questions, off Baghdad, if I may.  The discussion this afternoon with a view to a formal meeting about the LRA-affected areas with former President Chissano, that is scheduled for 3:00 with a possible meeting after, so Mr. Chissano could reasonably be expected to be at the stakeout on the order of 4:00, 4:30, 4:45?  Do I have that right?  I know…I’m not going to ask for the betting line on this.

Spokesperson:  We will have somebody in the consultations and we will announce to you as soon as we know when he is ready to come out to the stakeout.  Okay?

Question:  Also, on all of these Human Rights Council reports and investigations, and Gaza investigations coming from Bishop Tutu’s Group, are those reports all available?

Spokesperson:  I believe they post everything on the Geneva website, on the Human Rights Council website.  If you come up to the office we will take a look.

Question:  Thank you very much.

Question:  Once the investigation is concluded over the incident in Iraq this morning, how will that be reported to us?  Is it going to be here?  Is it going to be in a statement?  Is it possible to get a briefing?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  Okay.  I just learned about this incident and the follow-up to it.  So, I’ll let you know.

Question:  Any inkling on when they might be making some sort of concrete announcements?

Spokesperson:  I have not heard, no.  But I will follow up for you.  Alright, yes?

Question:  Marie, just a matter of curiosity, how will UNESCO count all these glasses of tap water? They are going to go to UNESCO’s pocket instead of the greedy restaurant owners?

Spokesperson:  I think you would have to ask UNICEF that question.  It’s their initiative.

Question:  UNICEF, excuse me.

Question:  I wonder if you could check one thing.  The AP reporter who was actually at that press conference walked outside and estimated that either the mortar or the rocket fell 50 yards.  You said 100 yards.  To me, there’s…sorry, that’s quite a big difference.

Spokesperson:  I checked with two sources and that’s what I was told, about 100 meters away, outside the compound in an open field. 

Question:  Anybody get hurt?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Yesterday, the (inaudible) ambassador said there had been scheduled for today a briefing about Zimbabwe but then it got changed because of the Iran resolution.  Who is going to brief, who is doing that briefing?

Spokesperson:  Somebody, a senior official from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Question:  Do you know who it is?

Spokesperson:  Well, it would have been the Deputy because Mr. [John] Holmes is currently in Khartoum.  But you would have to ask the Council President about when it’s been rescheduled for.

Question:  I guess I just want to say on the UNDP thing, it will work much better that Morrison come to the podium, whatever we’re calling it, just because on procurement, I know that you did…by Friday, they came, but they did it in the hall and today they’re coming back.  So it just seems it’s just more efficient to just do it on the record or whatever.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well let’s ask him after we finish, we first have guest number one waiting patiently.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, I reminded you weeks ago that [Alicia] Bárcena, that she didn’t answer our request.  What’s going on with that?  You said that you are going to follow up on that.  What is going on with that?

Spokesperson:  I did and I think, in principle, she has agreed to come to UNCA, but that is all I know.  I will follow up again.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, yes? 

Question:  Marie, you did announce that the Secretary-General will be in Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and some other countries.  Is this announcement made because there are feelings there is adequate security in these countries?

Spokesperson:  We announced the trip as usual.  We did about five days or so before the trip.  That’s been our standard operating practice.

Question:  But the question is the feeling that there is adequate security in these countries?

Spokesperson:  You know, we don’t discuss security matters, but if we announced it that is usually based on various assessments made and agreements of when to announce it with the countries that are inviting us. 

Okay, if we are done here, I would like to ask Paul Buardes to join us up here.  We do have the statement by the Procurement Task Force Chairman that my colleague, Israel, will put on the counter.

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