28 March 2007


28 March 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


and the spokesperson for the general assembly president


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Just to let you know, we have a guest briefing at 12:30.  The Permanent Representative of the Netherlands, Frank Majoor, will brief on the work of the Peacebulding Commission.  So we’ll try to get this done fairly quickly, so that I and Ashraf Kamal, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, can do our part fairly quickly.

**Secretary-General Statement on Côte d’Ivoire

The Secretary-General commends President Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro for the steps they have taken to date towards implementing the Ouagadougou political agreement.  The Secretary-General, in particular, welcomes the establishment of the integrated command centre on 16 March and the supplementary agreement reached on 26 March, which designates Mr. Soro as the new Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire.

The Secretary-General also commends President Blaise Compaoré for facilitating the supplementary agreement and congratulates Mr. Soro.  The Secretary-General assures President Gbagbo and Mr. Soro of the readiness of the United Nations to work closely with them to support the implementation of the Ouagadougou agreement.  He also expresses his gratitude to Prime Minister Charles Banny for his significant contribution to the peace process, in particular for his tireless efforts to rebuild trust among the Ivorian parties and launch the key disarmament and identification processes over the past 16 months.

That statement is available in English and French upstairs.

**Secretary-General at Arab Summit

The Secretary-General today addressed the Summit of the League of Arab States taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and he urged the leaders gathered at the Summit to reaffirm their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which he called one of the pillars of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Secretary-General noted the positive signs for that peace process, including the formation of a National Unity Government in Palestine and the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.  Solving the conflict, he said, is a moral and strategic necessity.

The Secretary-General also underscored other priorities, including the need to resolve the situation in Lebanon through dialogue; support for the security and recovery of Iraq, including through the International Compact for Iraq; and the need for peace and an end to strife in Darfur.

The Secretary-General today also attended a mini-summit on Somalia, chaired by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud, which brought together senior officials of the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the African Union, the League of Arab States and the European Union, as well as the foreign minister of Kenya, to discuss the way forward for that country.

The Secretary-General also had a busy schedule of bilateral meetings, including a meeting with President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan, with whom he had had a wider meeting with advisers, followed by a tête-à-tête.  There will also be a summit meeting tonight on Darfur, which will be chaired by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and will also involve the Secretary-General and Arab League Secretary-General, Amr Moussa.

He also met, among others, with the Presidents of Lebanon, Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates.

Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and he underlined the crucial timing of the Arab Summit.  They discussed Iraq, the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, the National Unity Government in Palestine and the important Arab Peace Initiative, and Darfur.

** Sudan

Today in Khartoum, the Government of Sudan and the United Nations signed a Joint Communiqué, in which the Government of Sudan pledged to support, protect and facilitate all humanitarian operations in Darfur through rapid and full implementation of all measures outlined in the moratorium on restrictions, which was first penned on 3 July 2004.

Both parties recognize that progress has been made in addressing the humanitarian situation since the signing of the moratorium, and that this recommitment is to address current problems in the implementation of that agreement.  Specifically, the Sudanese Government has, among other things, undertaken to extend current visas and permits through January 2008 to provide international NGO country directors and their families multiple entry visas, and to fast-track visa and customs procedures.

Also today, Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, travelled to Chad, where he met with the Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry officials, in the context of his consultations on revitalizing the Darfur peace process.

Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, arrived in the Chadian capital of Ndjamena today, following visits to IDP camps and aid projects in the area around Goz Beida, about 100 km from the Sudanese border.

Setting out from Abéché, Mr. Holmes travelled to Goz Beida, a hamlet whose population has more than quadrupled in the past three years due to the insecurity in the Chadian countryside and across the border in Sudan.  Dwindling water resources are a pressing concern: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the water sector warn the limited underground water supply could be fully depleted in a matter of months, putting tens of thousands of people at risk.

**Security Council

The Foreign Minister of South Africa, Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, is chairing the Security Council today as it discusses the relationship between the United Nations and regional organizations, particularly the African Union, concerning international peace and security.  Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi, briefed the Council on the cooperation the United Nations has received from the African Union in its work.

That debate is expected to continue into the afternoon, with 32 speakers inscribed.  Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dhlamini-Zuma will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout at 12:30.

Once the meeting is done, the Security Council expects to hold a formal meeting to consider a resolution amending the sanctions imposed on Rwanda.

After that, the Council will consider a presidential statement concerning the implementation of the Ouagadougou political agreement for Côte d’Ivoire.  And of course, you just heard what the Secretary-General had to say about that.

And, yesterday afternoon, the Council President, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, read out a statement to the press on Cyprus, which welcomed the Cyprus Government’s decision to remove the wall and National Guard post at Ledra Street as a step towards opening a new crossing point.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that humanitarian organizations continue to undertake evaluation and assistance activities throughout Kinshasa in the wake of last week's fighting between Government forces and armed elements loyal to former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

In response to needs, the World Health Organization (WHO) distributed three metric tonnes of essential drugs and surgical materials, as well as 400 rolls of plaster and 100 sheets.

OCHA says that one additional concern has been the protection needs of vulnerable groups, including the families and dependents of the forces loyal to Bemba and arrested street children, as well as the risk of sexual violence and other human rights abuses.

** Gaza Flood

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East says that sewage water yesterday flooded some 250 houses in the village of Um Nasser in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip when the wall of a huge cesspool collapsed, causing some 1,500 people to flee the area.  Among those too old or too weak to escape the flood, 4 people were confirmed dead yesterday and 18 others were injured; 11 others are still missing.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that 96 homes were destroyed or damaged and some 300 families had to be relocated to a temporary camp on higher ground in the region nearby.  OCHA adds that preliminary needs assessments indicate that tents, blankets, mattresses, food and water are required for those who have moved to the new camp.  UNRWA responded to this assessment by making 300 tents and 6 water tanks, as well as blankets and mattresses, available to the displaced civilians. 

**Former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia reports that Blagoje Simić, a former Bosnian Serb politician, was transferred yesterday to the United Kingdom to serve 15 years in prison.

Simić was convicted in October 2003 for persecuting non-Serb civilians in the town of Bosanski Šamac between April 1992 and December 1993.  The non-Serb civilians were detained and confined under inhumane conditions, lacking sufficient space, food or water, and were subjected to torture including sexual assaults, the extraction of teeth and threat of execution.  And we have more on this upstairs. 

**Human Rights Council

Turning to Geneva, the Human Rights Council earlier today concluded its interactive dialogue on the reports of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions; the Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; and the Special Rapporteur on racism and racial discrimination.

The Council is currently holding a discussion with experts on human rights and transnational corporations, the right to health, and on the situation of human rights defenders.  Meanwhile, here at Headquarters, the Human Rights Committee which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, will conclude its current session on Friday.

**FAO -- Locusts

The Food and Agricultural Organization is taking part in a new offensive against Desert Locusts in the Horn of Africa.  Along with the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa, FAO has launched aerial control operations on the Red Sea coast near the Sudanese/Eritrean border.  This week operations will start on the coast of northwest Somalia near Djibouti.  And we have more in a press release upstairs.

**Bird Flu -- Indonesia

Turning to the bird flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) is welcoming Indonesia's decision to immediately resume sharing samples of the H5N1 avian influenza virus.  And we have more on that in a press release upstairs.


In the fight against HIV infection, experts are recommending that male circumcision be recognized as an additional way to reduce the risk of heterosexual transmission in men.  That recommendation was made by an international consultation of experts that was convened by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS in Switzerland earlier this month.  And we have more in a press release upstairs.


The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is turning 60 this year, and we are celebrating the occasion with a gathering in Bangkok of major beneficiaries, stakeholders and partners of the Commission.  In a video message aired at that event, the Secretary-General said that ESCAP has carved out a unique role in regional advocacy, consensus-building and cooperation.  And we have copies of his remarks upstairs.

**Asia Africa Trade

In a joint report released today, the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Development Programme say that foreign direct investment in Africa by developing Asian countries is growing and has the potential to reach much higher levels.

The report says that this significant observation owes much to the complementary nature of economic development between Asian and African countries, even though Asian direct investment mostly targets African natural resources.  And that report is available on both UNCTAD and UNDP websites.


You may notice that the UN flag is being flown at half-mast at UN Headquarters today, to observe the official mourning for the late Prime Minister of Armenia, Andranik Margaryan.

**Press Conference Today

Right after this briefing, there will be a press conference with H.E. Frank Majoor, the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN, who is the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission Country-Specific Meetings on Sierra Leone.  Ambassador Majoor will brief you on the Commission’s field visit to Sierra Leone.  And between now and then, we’ll also have, Ashraf Kamal to talk about the President of the General Assembly.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Mr. Thomas Schindlmayer, Expert with the United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also, the Permanent Mission of Greece wanted to remind you all that at the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium at 2 p.m. today, there is a concert by Voices for Peace, by Thea Musgrave, and also by the New York Virtuoso Singers and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.  Again, that’s at 2:00 at the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium and you’re all invited.  Are there any questions before we go to Mr. Kamal?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Right.  I want questions on two subjects, if that’s OK with you, Farhan.  First of all, the Secretary-General talking on Darfur, it seems to have all gone in one ear and out the other since President Bashir said immediately “no” peacekeepers, just African troops, logistical things.  Do you know if there’s any kind of pressure from Arab countries, or are they giving into his, as usual, supporting everything he says? And then, secondly, can we have Mr. Annabi’s text -- I don’t see it anywhere.  And thirdly, where is Mr. Bemba –- is he still in the South African Embassy?  And what’s wrong with him?  I thought he was on his way to the Netherlands.

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as I’m aware, yes, he continues to be in the South African Embassy in Kinshasa.  We can check whether that’s changed in recent hours or not.

Question:  Ambassador Kumalo said yesterday something’s wrong with his neck, but he wasn’t too…and he was on his way to the Netherlands for medical care, which our people thought was a little strange.

Associate Spokesperson:  I think the South Africans who have him under their auspices might be better positioned to comment on that than I would be.  As for the others, on Mr. Annabi, yes, we’re trying to get a hold of his prepared text for the meeting that took place in the Security Council.  Once we have that, we will put that out and squawk it.  And tracking back to your first question, yes, there’s further activity taking place today concerning President Bashir and Sudan.  As I said at the start of this briefing, the King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, will convene a meeting fairly late this evening.  It’s expected I believe to go on sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight.  That will also involve the Secretary-General and that is designed to move forward on Darfur.  And regardless of some of the comments that have been made by President Bashir in his public comments today, we continue, of course, to press ahead with our efforts on the light support package and heavy support packages concerning the UN assistance in Darfur. And as you know, we’ve also continued to press ahead on other matters, including with the humanitarian agreement that was reached at today.  

Question:  What moves has the President garnered? He keeps saying the same thing for the last year, no matter how many agreements there are.  Is there a real concerted effort among Arab nations or just the Saudis?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, let’s see what kind of persuasion, what kind of effect, this mini-summit that’s being convened late this evening will have.  Certainly, the effort is continuing, it’s going to be continuing throughout the night and we hope that this will assist in our efforts to help the people of Darfur.

Question:  I know you gave quotes on this yesterday but I’d like some more clarification and explanation.  Yesterday, there was a terrorist threat made against UN Headquarters here in New York, the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Squad sent SWAT members with machine guns to all the entrances and the UN Security Forces were on elevated alert, people were inspected more thoroughly coming in and out of the building.  And yet the press corps here was not informed through an email or some sort of detailed announcement.  I have a few questions for you.  The first one is, why weren’t we told that there was a potential terrorist threat against out workplace and this building?  Two, what is the procedure in place to inform people at UN Headquarters that there is a threat?  Three, what will you do in the future to ensure that we are informed of these potential attacks?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, throughout the day in fact, including both before and beyond the noon briefing, I did talk to reporters and informed them of the fact that, what you call a terrorist threat, we characterize as an unconfirmed bomb threat.  It is something that could, in fact, just as easily have been a hoax and it may indeed have been a hoax.  It was a phone-caller, calling in some information about a threat to the building and calling in to the NYPD.  And once the NYPD shared that information with us, we also stepped up our security, as did the police department.  In terms of that, whenever we feel that there is any significant threat against the building, as you are aware, we have informed the press and indeed everyone in the building through the intercom system.  And if need be, if there were any need to evacuate the building, we have procedures in place for that.  As it was yesterday, work carried on as usual and, like I said, this was an unconfirmed threat.  We do not know whether there was any credibility or legitimacy to it.

Question:  I have a couple of questions but I’ll just do one and see if there’s more time.  I asked you yesterday about the whistleblower policy and since I’ve obtained this UNOPS email that references a story that Inner City Press wrote about its Dubai operations of UNOPS and says “when we learn the identity of the individuals involved in any breach of confidentiality, we will apply the severest disciplinary action”.  So, I’m wondering again, what is the position of Ban Ki-moon on whether UN agencies can threaten staff members for speaking to the press about alleged corruption at the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I checked after the briefing with UNOPS, who said they were unaware of any email joining, prohibiting anybody from communications.  And they reaffirmed, by the way, in their discussions with me, that their personnel, as with all UN staff, are free to speak within the regular rules for all UN personnel.

Question:  They don’t have a Press Officer, UNOPS doesn’t.  But I’m going to give you the email but I’d like…

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s actually a person who handles their communication and what I can do is put you in touch with that person and he can talk to you further.  But I..

Question:  Because it’s a Ban Ki-moon question and he’s the top of the agency.  I tried to ask Ms. Barcena yesterday about it.  It seems to me like he needs to have a… what is his position on whether the head of agencies saying to the press, you shouldn’t speak to the press is legitimate or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know about the validity of that email.  Like I said, the people who I talked to, deny that there was anything beyond…

Question:  I just want to be clear.  There’s two different things. There’s as it applies to this email, and that’s one thing.  And then there’s two, there’s just this policy question. What is Ban Ki-moon’s policy on whether staff can be disciplined for speaking with the press about alleged corruption at the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  You know what the whistleblower’s policy and the Secretary-General’s bulletin is.  And that policy stands.  Staff who are whistleblowers are free and are protected in terms of their communications.

Question:  So, if an individual gets suspended by a UN agency, and goes to the whistleblower policy, he’s already suspended, so what happens is that then he has a two-year case through the justice system of the UN -- which is admittedly broken.  So, I guess I’m just seeking from you some statement, doesn’t have to be right this moment, but sometime today, what the position is of Ban Ki-moon on whether staff can speak to the press about alleged corruption at the UN?  It seems like, I hear the policy there, but if you could just say it, that would be great. 

Associate Spokesperson:  That policy is clear, that if staff have any reason to believe any corruption or any mismanagement, they are free to speak.  There are whistleblower protections and again, I can show you what the bulletin is.  The text of that still stands.

Question:  I don’t know, maybe I missed it yesterday because I wasn’t here, but it seems to me the UN system pretty much comments on any important events in the world.  And nobody, not the head of OCHA, not the head of the Human Rights Council, not DPA, not Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have said anything about that situation with the Brits and the Iranians.  I don’t know whether it’s a threat to world peace and security or whether it’s as important as other situations you comment on?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s not unusual, nor is it exceptional.  The United Nations is an organization that deals with diplomacy and there are certain cases when there are certain diplomatic efforts or diplomatic problems where it may not necessarily be helpful to give comments right off the bat.  At this point, I have no comment to give on that.  We’ll see what down the line we can say.  

Question:  Well, let me try one thing.  I mean is there any way for the UN to verify the GPS coordinates, as were given by the Brits?  At least to say whether those coordinates are indeed in Iraqi or Iranian waters?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s a very nice try, but in all honesty, the basic point is that, at this point, I have no comment to make on this issue. 

Question:  It’s not important?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re not saying that it’s not important.  I’m saying that, at this point, there’s no comment I could give and surely, you know enough about the work the UN does, that you know that that happens on a number of issues.

Question:  Can I get the Secretary-General’s comment on the fact that the Zimbabwean opposition leader was arrested again today?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, what we’re looking forward to, there’s a regional meeting by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and we’re looking to see what stance the leaders attending the SADC meeting will take in terms of dealing with the problems that have been occurring in Zimbabwe.  So, we’re waiting to see what’s going to come out of that first.

Question:  What if they take no position?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll make some commentary regardless, but let’s see what they have to say from SADC.

Question:  Regarding these five diplomats kidnapped by the Americans in Irbil some weeks ago –- is the United Nations doing anything regarding them?  I remember you did not issue anything at that time, but after the meeting of Baghdad?

Associate Spokesperson:  Thank you, Mr. Abboud, for helping to prove my point that there are a number of situations, not just the one of the last few days, on which we have given no comment.  Yes, we have given no comment on that, you’re quite right.

Question:  I want to pursue Neil’s question. Before security determined that it was a hoax and a threat, is there a procedure to let the people in this building know that there is something going on, that they should be aware of, before you say it’s a threat or a hoax.  You see, when you send in security with machine guns running all over the place, people working here should know what’s happening. 

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, and we did talk to anyone who was asking us about this, about the nature of this unconfirmed bomb threat. But neither were we trying to play it up out of proportion.  The work of this building doesn’t stop because of one anonymous phone call.  And we continue to go about our work.  But yes, we did inform anyone who asked about the nature of the security activity at the gate.  And if anything more serious were to develop, if there were anything such as a confirmed or credible threat, further action certainly would be taken.

Question:  Would you consider (setting up someone) for example so that the media can get precise information at that moment?

Associate Spokesperson: Yes, I’m in regular contact, I’m the person from the office who’s in regular contact with UN security on this.  And UN security, by the way, when it feels the needs to do so, also does put out general information on the intercoms.

Question:  Just one follow-up on what they’re talking about and then I have a couple questions.  Maybe it would be helpful, if you know how we get emails from you folks, from the Spokesman’s Office, could we all get a blanket email just saying we’re investigating a call in?  Just something like that, so at least we’re all informed and we’re not pestering you with phone calls?  Is that difficult or worth considering? 

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll talk it over with my boss.  We’ll see whether that’s…

Question: OK, a couple questions.  On Darfur, obviously the Arab League brings up a whole bunch of questions about Bashir and what he’s saying.  Is Ban Ki-moon doing anything about the Human Rights Council and where it’s heading on making a statement on Darfur that appears to be something that probably will come to a vote I think tomorrow or the day after, that’s going to be very watered down…

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll see what the Human Rights Council has to say first.  Obviously, Ban Ki-moon has already made it very clear that he wants the work of the Human Rights Council not to be narrowly focused on one country, but to focus on a number of different issues and he specifically mentioned the need to take up the issue of Darfur.  So, let’s see what they have to say.

Question:  But he did, even before the Human Rights Council began its latest session, beg them to consider things and behave in a way that is equitable and fair and reasonable and its obviously a judgement call of a variety of countries, but in terms of the poor people in Darfur, and poor people suffering around the world in various places in which human rights are being abused, it looks like we’re heading for yet another series of major failures.  Why wouldn’t he pre-empt and come out with a statement?

Associate Spokesperson:  Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  The basic point is, the Secretary-General certainly hopes that the Human Rights Council will be able to deal, and deal seriously with the issue of Darfur. Let’s see what they have to say.

Question:  A couple of questions.  Is he reluctant, then, to lend his political clout to get certain issues pushed through?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.

Question:  His predecessor Kofi Annan, at one point, really put his foot down and asked for things to happen on the Darfur front, for instance.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General has already spoken about the need of the Human Rights Council to act on Darfur.  And we’ll see how they act. Let’s not jump the gun and see what it is that they do.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Does he at least urge the Council to adopt the Jody Williams report, which the Council itself sent?  And it seems the versions of the resolution proposals does not specifically endorse that report?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not going to get ahead of what the Member States of the Human Rights Council are deciding any more than we do that when, for example, the Security Council is considering a matter.  Let’s see how they react and then we can evaluate it.

Question:  On the Human Rights Council, I think they’ve taken a decision to stop periodic reporting on both Iran and Uzbekistan?  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that action taken by the Human Rights Council to diminish country-specific human rights reports?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll see whether we can actually get a comment on that. I’ll see whether there’s something for you on that.

Question:  I had a couple of questions since you’re good at…

Associate Spokesperson:  You’ve actually had three or four, but a couple in the expansive sense.

Question:  I think the Human Rights Council and where they’re heading is pretty important.  I had a question about immunity and when, because you handle these legal things, what are the guidelines in terms of lifting the immunity of a UN employee within the UN?  And then I have another just small follow-up, whether you’re familiar with a case of OIOS of a Johannes Van Aggelin, a disabled UN employee who claims he’s been discriminated against? He’s a Geneva employee.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that case.  As for the waiving of immunity, the basic rule is that the immunity of staff can be waived by the Secretary-General.  The decision by the Secretary-General to waive immunity can be for any number of circumstances, but it follows advice normally from his legal counsel.

Question:  I have two questions actually.  Do I understand correctly, if God forbid, some action had to be taken and clear the building you have some plan to squawk the same to us and I assume to everyone else in the complex?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, and we’ve done that in the past.  For example, on September 11th, 2001, we evacuated the building and I think the press was informed first on our squawk box, but then there were squawks throughout the building on that.

Question:  And secondly, with reference to the Human Rights Council, do you have, obviously not right in front of you, but do you have, I’d like to have it, the particular statements of the SG in which he said he would like the Human Rights Council to focus less narrowly on Israel and on other things of importance?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s from a while back. It’s on our website, we can show that to you. And if that is it, then please Mr. Kamal will come up.  And after that, we will have Frank Majoor, the Ambassador of the Netherlands, give his briefing at 12.30 on the work of the Peacebuilding Commission.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

**Arab League Summit

Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa became today the first President of the General Assembly and the first Arab Muslim woman ever to address a Summit of the League of Arab States.  Sheikha Haya, who received an official invitation from the Arab League Secretary-General, Amre Moussa, told the Arab leaders that “this honour of addressing the summit reflected the Arab world’s appreciation of the role of women.”

The President called on the international community to “deal positively with the Arab peace initiative of 2002, as it provides the necessary basis for a just, comprehensive and permanent solution that is consistent with international resolutions.”

She met with several Arab leaders including President Mubarak of Egypt; Mr. Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh; Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Her statement is available now in Arabic and we are awaiting the English translation.  As soon as it is available, we will post it to the website.

**General Assembly Plenary

The General Assembly met in plenary this morning and granted observer status to the Islamic Development Bank.  It also adopted a decision by which, hopefully, it would fix the “broken system” that Matthew was talking about.  The Assembly would continue at its sixty-second session its consideration, under the item “Administration of Justice at the United Nations,” of the report of the Redesign Panel on the United Nations system of administration of justice and the comments of the Secretary-General on the Panel’s recommendations.  The decision also requests the Secretary-General to provide more details on strengthening the Office of the Ombudsman.  The Fifth Committee, on the other hand, is continuing consultations on the same subject and may end up adopting a framework resolution endorsing a new internal justice system at the United Nations.

**Security Council Reform

On Security Council reform, consultations are continuing with the facilitators who are expected to have a report ready for the President upon her return.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You express that she was the first Arab woman to address an Arab League Summit.  Let me ask you again -- I asked it before.  Does Sheikha Haya have a driver’s license?  And if she does, is it valid in Saudi Arabia?

Spokesperson:  She does have a driver’s license, yes.

Question:  Is it valid in Saudi Arabia?

Spokesperson:  I suggest you call the Saudi Mission and ask them that.

Question:  It had been said that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was going to make its presentations to the General Assembly, to the Fifth Committee, in this current session.  Did that happen?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t looked at the calendar.  I’m not sure if it’s this resumed session or the next resumed session.

Question:  We keep hearing that they’re going to give a briefing here, but only after they finish with the General Assembly.  But that was in December.  But they’re not doing it, now, until May.

Spokesperson:  I will check the date as soon as we finish and I will let you know.

Question:  And if you have any “in” with them, and if you get them to sit where you are, that would be very good.

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  How was her speech received?

Spokesperson:  I was watching it on Al-Jazeera this morning, and it was fairly well-received. 

Question:  Did everybody applaud?  Was there full applause?  Or was it... I’m wondering.

Spokesperson:  Al-Jazeera moved to live news at the end of her speech, so I cannot tell you if there was wide applause or not.  I suspect that it’s a regularly courteous thing to do when the leaders speak.  They applaud each other when they finish.

Question:  One would hope.

Spokesperson:  They do.

Question:  I hope so.

Spokesperson:  Anything else?  Thank you.

* *** *

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